May 04

How Do You Know if Your Comedy is Quantifiable?

“How Do You Know if Your Comedy is Quantifiable?”, “How do you know you’re being funny?” and “How do you measure comedy?” These were just some of the questions I was asked recently.

I responded: “yes, comedy is measureable. If somebody laughs, it’s comedy. If no-one laughs it isn’t. But if you get no laughs, that doesn’t automatically make it tragic. It’s just comedy that doesn’t work”.

Comedy is also subjective and a matter of taste. If you watch the films of Charlie Chaplin and you don’t laugh, does that mean to say that he wasn’t funny? Or that it wasn’t comedy? Of course not.

He was extremely funny otherwise he wouldn’t’ve had the success that he had. Then does success in comedy equal funny? Just because I’m not famous does that make me any less funny? But I think that this potentially opens a whole can of worms.

“So by that rationale if you laugh at a tragic news story, does that make it comic?”
No, because laughter in that situation is a release. If we find something so extreme that we cannot fully process it, we laugh partially due to it being uncomfortable for us and partially because we’re embarrassed. But that doesn’t necessarily make it comic.

“So how do you measure comedy?”

I think it’s important to clarify what you mean by comedy, after all it’s a pretty broad term. Romantic comedy, stand-up, sketch comedy, black comedy and so on and so forth. In Shakespeare’s time and right up until the 1940s comedy was often defined by the fact that it ended in marriage. Not so today.

I think delivering verbal humour is measureable because if you perform at a comedy club and no-one laughs, then you’ve not done your job. You’re a bad comedian because the prerequisite of being a stand-up is that you make an audience laugh.

It gets problematic, I think, for people like myself who are humorists. Traditionally speaking humorists don’t necessarily get big belly laughs. Instead there are often wry smiles and nods of recognition or appreciation. It becomes funny of the head as opposed to funny of the gut.

People are more than likely to laugh hard at comedy performances like those in Knocked Up, Clerks or by Billy Connolly. Whereas, I can’t imagine the same response occurring with watching Oscar Wilde plays, Woody Allen’s later comedies or reading Private Eye magazine.

There would probably be nods of appreciation at the intellectual humour on display. The former being defined as low humour because of the often base nature of the jokes, with the latter being as highbrow humour again because of the nature of its wit.

This is something that I personally struggle with because although I like the diversity that being a humorist allows, I still need to get those belly laughs going because that’s what I’m used to.

My background is sketch, stand-up and improv comedy so live audience laughter is my measure if things are working. This is why software such as The Comedy Evaluator Pro that comes with The Killer Stand-up System is invaluable to me as a verbal laughtermaker. Check out a review of that system here: KSS review . There’s also a streamlined version if you’re on a budget check it out here: the fast start guide

An interesting clarification comes from British author and teacher John Wright, founder of the theatre companies Trestle and Told by an Idiot. In his book Why Is That So Funny? John says:

“I prefer to talk about laughter rather than comedy because laughter is less conceptual and more specific. You do something in a certain way and either we laugh or we don’t, as the case may be. It is a simple contract and it is non-negotiable. We know exactly where we stand with laughter.”

So let me ask you this: How Do You Know if Your Comedy is Quantifiable? How do you measure comedy?

Note: There are affilifate links in this post. That means that if ypou purchase a product through one of my links I get a commission. It helps me pay the bills.


  1. Terry Gault

    Thanks for the post!

    I’ve been thinking about a topic very similar to this one: how do you know if your presentation was a success? Is this quantifiable?

    Not really…

    For me, the most important metric of all is my basic gut feeling.

    Nonetheless, there are some indicators that can be helpful:

    The audiences was engaged – giving strong eye contact, taking notes, nodding/smiling/laughing, asking meaningful questions, listening intently, (not playing with their blackberries), the energy in the room was high (which is dictated by my own level of passion and enthusiasm), people approach me afterwards to ask questions or share their experiences.

    Laughter of course is a good indicator that your comedy is working…but not always. Are they laughing with you, at you, or at the situation?

  2. Jason Peck

    Hey Terry

    Thanks for dropping by with your insights.

    In terms of defining a speech or presentation I think that it is slightly more quantifiable than comedy per se.

    I don’t think you can quantify it when you’re doing it. Perhaps, like you say, if there is laughter. That can be a good indicator. As can the audience being engaged.

    However, I’ve found that a good way to quantify the success is based upon other people’s reactions. Ordinarily, when it comes to measuring success people often say you should judge success against your own standards. But when happens when you feel lousy about what you did?

    Here’s a case in point:

    I came 2nd in the Area Level of the International Speech contest. A disappointment for me. I felt I had a really strong speech that should’ve placed. In all honesty I thought about “throwing in the towel”. I had people praising me afterwards, but it’s hard not to feel as though they were treating me nicely because I came 2nd.

    I had the opportunity to re-do the speech for the Evaluation Contest as a mystery speech in a different division. I ended up getting some good feedback not only from my evaluators, but also from audience members.

    One guy even met me when I went along to my Division contest as a spectator. He saw me do the speech in his decision and didn’t have the opportunity to say how much the speech had affected him.

    Now THAT is a good indication of a speech going well. People had praised me on the night I came 2nd, but I couldn’t hear them because I was wrapped up in how I felt it went.

    People complimenting your speech or presentation when they don’t have to can be a good indicator.

    And to pick up on your final thought, I don’t really mind if people are laughing at me on the situation i’m describing. As long as they’re laughing. Generally if you prepare enough then people shouldn’t laugh at you unless you make them.


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