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How to Be Funnier

“Don Rickles cannot tell a joke,” says his friend Bob Newhart. “He forgets it. ‘Two guys walk into a bar...Excuse me, three guys walk into a bar...They go up to the bar...Oh, and they’re with this lady...So three guys and the woman walk into a bar...’ By now you’ve lost interest.” But if you’re bent on being the life of the party—even knowing that Don Rickles is joke-challenged—Newhart offers these tips: Know thy audience. “Your audience will tell you where to go. One time I happened to use the word denigrate onstage, and it didn’t get any reaction. So as I continued my act, the left side of my brain was fast-forwarding to see if I had any other big words coming up.” Follow the signposts. “I used to do this routine: ‘Let’s be honest, guys. We’ve all done this—the wife’s out of the house and the kids are gone, so you go into her dressing room and put on one of her gowns and walk around the house. We’ve all done that, right, guys?’ And based on how soon they began to laugh, that told me what kind of audience I had.” The world is weird—embrace it! “I saw something in the paper that was so odd, it was hysterical: They assassinated the minister of tourism in Afghanistan. What threat did he represent? And how busy could he have been? A phone call every couple of months? A newlywed couple saying, ‘We’ve argued about this long enough. Let’s flip a coin—Paris or Kabul?’ ”