Is Your Show Funny?
July 19, 2016
Working with morning show talent, I'm often abruptly reminded of the #1 attribute of any successful morning show; being funny. Shows that are devoid of laughter are simply not enjoyable to consume. It is the simple presence of genuine laughter that indicates whether a show will be good or not. I would argue that this is true of any format, even talk, although it may be less prevalent. Laughter is a key indicator as to whether a show will be able to attract a passionate following.
Before we continue, let's make an important distinction here, I'm not talking about being fun, I am talking about being funny. There is a difference, subtle as it may be. Fun means enjoyment or light hearted pleasure whilst being funny means causing laughter. Fun creates the environment and being funny creates an action. Fun creates a satisfying feeling but being funny actually causes an audience to react to what is unfolding in front of them. Funny is - and always will be - more important than fun, despite what any programmer or consultant may tell you. Yes, you want to create a fun atmosphere but it is the presence of pure laughter that separates the great from the good. You can spot a show's potential for success by whether or not the show can generate authentic laughter amongst themselves and amongst the audience.
Why is laughter so powerful? Well, it's actually good for us; laughter makes us healthier. A good laugh relieves physical tension and stress and leaves our muscles relaxed. No wonder we go searching for people and entertainment that make us laugh - it improves our well-being. Laughter fuses us together like a high quality adhesive. It occurs spontaneously and unexpectedly. It catches us by surprise. We never expect to laugh. This surprise feeling is magnetic and connects us to the person who made us laugh. The more we laugh together the more we bond together. Laughing makes us feel good both physically and mentally. It enhances our mood. We build a strong affinity toward those who make us laugh.
Your audience wants to laugh. It's your primary job to make them.
TV has known the secret of laughter for a long time and has used it to their advantage. Think about all the TV sitcoms you have watched that have the polarizing 'laugh track' running throughout it. TV uses these laugh tracks because they actually work - they make us feel like we are part of a much larger crowd. TV understands that we are more likely to laugh at something funny in the presence of others and they use this to their advantage. Hearing other people laugh - even if it is pre-recorded - encourages us to giggle and enjoy ourselves. In 1974 a study was published that found people were more likely to laugh at jokes on TV that were followed by canned laughter. You can't argue with that as it has certainly worked for The Big Bang Theory amongst others.
We need to be mindful of the fine line between 'being funny' and 'trying to be funny'. Some people are naturally funny and others less so. Funny people seem to understand the formula for funny; they seem to instinctively understand the nuances of timing, creating an expectation, offering an unexpected twist and then moving on quickly once they've dropped the inevitable punch line. Trying to be funny is probably the #1 thing morning shows (or any personality show) do that drives audiences away. It's a precarious situation when you think about it; the funnier a show, the better it does but try to be funny and your show repels audience quicker than Donald Trump seems to repel... well... everyone! Audiences can spot a fake a mile away. They know when someone is awkwardly saying something because they think it might be a funny thing to say. They cringe as they hear someone blatantly reading a joke written by someone else and then stumbling through the punchline. Shows have to actually be funny to win. You must have a cast and content that can generate genuine moments of laughter in an effortless way.
Take a listen to your show. Is there lots of genuine laughter amongst the team? Is the laughter believable or over the top and contrived? Do you laugh as you listen to it? How often? Are there more real laughs being generated by your show than the competition? We use a simple technique to assess the laughter on a show. We turn the volume down. We listen so what is being said is almost inaudible. We can make out that things are being said but not really what. Then we listen for how the show actually feels? We quickly get a sense for whether the show is creating laughs. If there is a lack of laughter coming from the speakers we instantly recognize that the show isn't achieving its potential. Maybe the cast isn't right? Do you need someone who is capable of finding the shows funny? If they show isn't laughing together then you can't expect the audience to.
If your show isn't funny, it really isn't that good. You need to find the funny if you want to beat all the other entertainment choices that your audience has access to. Ask yourself, is your show actually funny? The answer to that question matters.