Never *Try* To Be Funny; Try This Instead

Tips from Colin Jost

Every once in a while, I’m asked about my favorite storytellers. I usually do a pretty bad job of answering (sorry – um, Steve Jobs? Oprah? Rod Serling?). Just because I don’t usually think in general storytelling, but in specifics…what traits they have that I respect, or study, or work to emulate? So I’ll tell you one that I just adore as of late: Colin Jost. Yes, Colin Jost, the smirky host of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. I’ve been listening to his book (A Very Punchable Face) and laughing out loud while walking down the street or riding my bike or pulling weeds in the front yard. He just tells story after story, which he clearly doesn’t get time to do on Weekend Update. But he does some very specific things that can be helpful to your story practice. I’ve zeroed in on a few things that Colin does well:

1. Aim at Yourself
Colin’s title, A Very Punchable Face, hits himself in the face right off the bat. He’s clearly great looking in a classical chiseled chin kind of way. So people want to punch him. And he goes right at that…and it becomes a theme, why people want to punch me. So, make fun of yourself…what’s one thing about you, or one practice you have that is obsessive, or silly, or extreme? Take a hold of that, and put it into the extreme. Then go to the next step:

2. Wander Into the Absurd
Okay, practically every SNL episode does this. You yake that one thing that is kind of nuts, zero in on it and make it chock full of nuts. So take something crazy that you do. Like if you’re a data nerd, find the most obscure data you obsess about and argue with yourself in the middle of the night. Take it to the extreme. For me, of late, it’s feeding my dog better food than I feed my kids. Now we have a chef for my dog, named Ray, who travels with us everywhere…and now we have to take a family vacation on a fishing boat. Elon Musk did a great job of this on SNL, making him much more likeable (link in the comments.)

3. Extend the Metaphor
Metaphor is the Trojan Horse of communications. Like, “Life is a Highway.” Sometimes life is a highway with no offramps, so you end up having to leave your car and hop the fence and slide down a trash-lined berm and run five miles to get to your meeting. So you can have your highway…I think life is a good Lyft driver that knows how to take surface streets. (This is my three-minute time limit extended metaphor, so you might not like it, but you might just remember it). Colin is a genius in this regard, bringing him to come across as both bold and humble. Take something very small and zero in on it, and parallel it to something else. So make a practice…see something strange about your day, your work, your life, and say it differently. As you consider a concept, especially one you say often or land a story with your message, stretch it into a metaphor. Then reference the metaphor again in your talk…twice.

See you on the surface streets!

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