How to make people laugh and why your brand needs it


Once I was faced with a need to make people laugh for professional purposes. The thing I was faced with was not quite clear to me. I was aware of the nature and mechanism of laughter, I had an idea of humor from the standpoint of sociology, but I did not know how to make humor and consciously make other people laugh.

To begin with, I decided to look through as many different quality stand-ups as possible, write the jokes down and, by analogy, compose my own. All I needed was to use humor in a single case.

But I was faced with the fact that there were very few good jokes, even in the highest-rated stand-up. Too much in the stand-up is based on acting and on spectators. Steve Martin in his masterclass even admits that he set himself the goal of making a funny stand-up exclusively on acting, without using jokes.

In a good stand-up, there is an artist with an excellent personal brand, creating the necessary priming and a large number of spectators ready to laugh.

We rarely laugh when we are alone. We may like humor but won’t laugh. But what happens when you are in the company of other people, and someone laughs? Your chances to laugh are greatly increased. Just observe people from the outside. People laugh in an ordinary conversation.

British neuroscientist Sophie Scott, who specializes in the study of speech and laughter, provides statistics about your chances of bursting out laughing while in the company of another person being 30 times higher than while you are alone.

Experiments suggest that when your interlocutor laughs, you are most likely to also start laughing, even if you do not understand what it’s all about.


How does science explain laughter? There are not many studies on this issue. But generally laughter is explained through social behavior. I mean, laughter is not so much associated with humor, as with the maintenance of sociality. At the same time, people often underestimate the amount of their own laughter. Laughter is so integrated in us evolutionarily that we do not even notice how often we laugh during conversations with other people.

Spanish biologists Pedro C. Marijuán and Jorge Navarro conducted a multidisciplinary study of laughter. They consider laughter through the social brain hypothesis. The social brain hypothesis considers the development of the brain in species with a more complex social structure as the maintenance of sociality.

The social structure of our species is quite complex. And laughter is one way of maintaining good relations both within the group and outside. We may not know the language of the interlocutor, but a smile and laughter serve as universal markers of our benevolence toward the other.

Keep in mind that evolutionarily our brain is trained in the first place to pay attention to the faces of other people, in order to identify possible danger for itself in time. It is because of this (and also because of the propensity of our brain to use ready-made patterns) that we tend to notice faces even where there are none. It is called pareidolia. Discerning a face on the surface of Mars, a frightened house or a piece of pepper screaming in horror?

Returning to laughter as an integral part of our relationship within a group of people, we can give an example from the life of our closest relatives — the chimpanzees. For a chimpanzee, an important element of social behavior is grooming. Chimpanzees can spend up to 20% of their time manipulating the hair of other members of the group.

But people in the context of large groups have their social behavior evolved into a more effective ability. After all, conversations can take place among groups several times larger than two participants. Thus, we got a developed language, with laughter being an extension of this evolutionary process.

Marijuán and Navarro suggest treating laughter as the release of the intellectual momentum during a conversation. In this case, it can be expressed in a different way either. Laughter is one of the ways to do it.


Now let’s define when you are to resort to humor. If it is about advertising with humor, it is applied in cases when you aim at memorability of your advertisement. My regular readers know that a memorable advertisement is used in cases where the advertised product is new, and so you have to involve the person’s conscious thinking.

If the product is well-known, involving conscious thinking is hardly the case at all. The most effective way in this case will be advertising which does not involve conscious thinking in any way, it is another topic though.

So you have decided what you need to tell about the new product. You have two possibilities to do it: with the additional use of emotions or without them. According to the data of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, an emotional advertising, which refers exclusively to the unconscious mind, is almost twice as effective as logical advertising, which appeals to the conscious mind. The logical advertising, which has the signs of an emotional advertising, is only a little inferior to a purely emotional one.

Humor is the opportunity to make your logical advertising emotionally tinted to increase its effectiveness. But such advertising is obviously not to be designed for a long time period of use. A consumer will be interested to watch it once, maybe twice or thrice. But the effect decreases every time. So it has be a one-time product such as the Super Bowl’s commercial or an ad in the hope of getting virality.


How to use humor in sports? First of all, I’m going to emphasize that professional sport is an entertainment for fans; therefore there are really many opportunities to use humor.

The most obvious application of humor lies in the field of SMM. Of course, a lot depends on the social network, but even in LinkedIn the application of a small amount of humor is in many cases welcomed.

A more unusual option was suggested by me in the article called “3 ways to use the evolutionary power of a smile to grow your brand”. If your fans are to go through an uncomfortable situation (like waiting in line), just engage humor. In the context of the article on the smile, a different approach is used (the interconnection between the muscles involved when we smile and our perception), but it is suitable for laughter as well.

Come up with a contest to allow people in line to the stadium not to be bored and experience negative emotions, but to involve opposite feelings.

For example, you can offer a fan to participate in a competition, while the line is moving forward. Have the person make a photo with a ticket in his/her teeth and send it to participate in the contest with some prizes. In this case, the positive effect will be evident not only from holding the ticket in the teeth (involving the muscles used when one smiles), but also from getting many to start doing it, amusing themselves and others.


So what is the way to make people laugh? It becomes clear from the article that human laughter is not particularly associated with humor. Neuroscientist Robert Provine in his book “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation” reports that in the course of his research, he became convinced that in less than 20% of cases, the source of laughter is something that resembles humor.

Mandatory for laughter is the audience of people. It is extremely difficult to make one person laugh. When your humor is directed at a person who will consume it alone, you need to clearly understand your own target audience in order to build a specific appeal to each segment. In this case, you can come up with a specific humor, understandable only to a certain segment. This method is actively used by Netflix, when creating various trailers for different segments of its audience.

To create a successful humor, you can take advantage of the workings of Steve Martin from his masterclass, the reference to which I provided at the beginning of the article. But there exists a more scientific approach to creating a joke as well. It was suggested by Thomas C. Veatch and was called the N + V Theory of Humor.

1) V — something is wrong. That is, the perceiver thinks that things in the situation ought to be a certain way — and cares about it — and that is Violated.

2) N — the situation is actually okay. That is, the perceiver has in mind a predominant view of the situation as being Normal.

3) + — both occur at the same time. That is, the N and V understandings are present in the mind of the perceiver at the same instant.

So, according to the N + V formula, humor is emotional pain (V) that doesn’t actually hurt (N). Or a violation (V) (a negative situation) that you care about, overlaid with (+) the conviction that everything is normal (N) (either good or neutral, but not bad).

I got to know this theory from the book “The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny”. In the commentary for the authors of the book, Thomas C. Veatch gives an example of a joke according to his formula (it was this joke that pushed him to invent the theory): “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? Because it was dead.”

Such a joke may seem not funny, but it is the kind of humor to be well perceived by a prepared audience. An additional advantage of this theory is that it can be used outside the context of a joke.

Thomas C. Veatch’s favorite example of the theory application is peekaboo. Operating on the same principle, everything likewise ends in laughter.

As reported in the book, in the professional community the theory was evaluated, but found not fully formed. Since then, they have tried to develop it, but in fact it remains fairly narrowly applicable. This, however, is not bad either, since it can serve as one of the tools in your arsenal to form a humorous appeal to your audience.

However, to create the quality humor, you will obviously need a solid preparation and constant observations. Nevertheless, humor can serve as an additional opportunity for your brand to position it and make it emotional. Humor is still not that widely used among brands, so any normal use of it by the brand gets proper virality.

Do you want to get professional consultation or assistance in creating a strategy? Write to me on E-mail, and we will respond within 24 hours.


Best regards,

Leon The Alien


Subscribe to our cool E-mail newsletter, and join my channel on Telegram.


SEE ALSO: How to wean people from lying


Images: Pexels, Giphy