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Four Ways To Be Funny

Rod A. Martin, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, specializes in clinical psychology and has published his research on humor. In his 2007 book, The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach, he classified humor into four fundamental categories, centered on a joke’s effect and its target. “Understanding the four styles helps you determine the type of humor you want to use,” says Tarvin, the New York engineer-turned-comic. These important distinctions offer a simple, practical approach to humor that puts speakers in better control of their jokes.

  1. Self-Enhancing. Focuses on yourself in a positive way, showing you thriving through something bad that happened to you. I’ve learned to accept my limitations, so I can move beyond them!
  2. Affiliative. Focuses on others in a positive way, a type of “we’re all in this together” humor about commonly shared experiences. It’s the safest form to use at work or in a club meeting. Everyone knows that money talks. For most of us, all it says is, “Good-bye.”
  3. Self-Defeating. Focuses on yourself in a more negative manner—humor at your own expense. I would’ve signed up for the Toastmasters speech contest, but I was too busy practicing my speech.
  4. Aggressive. Focuses on others in a more negative manner. Stuart’s always late to meetings, because he gets lost in his cubicle!


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