My first radio mentor was my father and, to this day, he’s still the one I turn to the most for advice. But, I’ll never forget what he told me when I first starting trying to venture out and do bits on the radio. “You don’t have to be funny to be on air and son you’re not funny. Just rely on those pipes God gave you and you’ll be fine.” I completely understand where he was coming from. Dealing with someone who thinks they are funny that isn’t is awful, in life and obviously on the radio. Plus, you can certainly have a solid on-air career without comedy being your strong suit and jocks that think they are funnier than they actually are, don’t tend to get very far.
That being said, he was wrong, I was funny. But, I wasn’t radio funny yet. It’s one thing to be the guy in your group of friends that makes everyone laugh by doing something over the top or having the timing to correctly place an off the cuff remark. Being able to elicit that same reaction via the radio is an art form that takes a long time to master, especially when you’re doing that on a solo shift.
Growing up my default way of making people laugh was by saying something very odd and quirky. My first attempts to take this on-air were just as awkward as you’d expect. I remember doing a bit called “Five Thingies” where I’d come up with a list of things like “Five Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Cop” or “Five Ways to Tell A Girl You Like Her.” One of which, if memory serves was, ‘Draw her a picture of what you think she might look like naked.’ I can hear the crickets in your head as you read that.
My challenge then, and still today, is that I’m weird. In real life most people don’t like me when they first meet me because I crack the same kind of jokes around brand new people as I do around life-long buddies. I also despise saying things like “I’m kidding” or “I’m just joking around,” because I enjoy keeping a straight, stoic look on my face in those few awkward seconds after I say something outlandish while they try to determine whether or not I’m serious.
None of that naturally translates well to the radio. That’s because, just like how I probably should behave in the real world, you have to let the audience get to know you a little better before you get weird on them. Especially if you don’t have a partner to even it out. Not unlike a new romantic relationship, you have to ease into it, only letting your crazy out in small doses at first.
In my experience, the most universal way to be radio funny on a solo show is by doing single breaks that are similar to late night host monologue jokes. Give them a hook, explain the meat of the story in as few details as possible so they’re not bored or confused, then deliver the one liner joke (What we call an out.) Of course, in a new shift/market those jokes will need to be a little more bland/mass appeal until they’ve to warmed up to you.
Plus, like anyone who has to come up with daily content on a deadline will tell you, they aren’t all going to be winners. Even Colbert, Kimmel and Fallon are lucky if 70 to 80% of their monologue works and they all have a team of writers. Becoming comfortable with that 20 to 30% is critical to getting over the hump of consistently trying to do jokes on air. Lucky for us, you can’t hear people on the other end of the radio not laughing. I call it becoming comfortable with occasional mediocrity. It’s ok if they don’t all work. I’ll take a miss every now and then over a break with a hook and content that just kind of ends.
In markets across the country I still hear lots of air talent delivering decent hooks, followed by content that’s topical and then stammering while they hope something comes to them, or happens organically, to serve as the out. That typically leads to them just throwing out some cliché or platitude and firing the promo. Don’t get me wrong, outs don’t have to be funny, but there does have to be an out. That’s why its always a good idea to have one prepared ahead of time in case we need it.
What do you think, is there a difference between being funny and radio funny? Comment below or email me at email@example.com.
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