“Everyone likes a kidder, but nobody lends him money.” – Arthur Miller
There is something decidedly magical about wit. Even in its written form, when a comment reveals a refreshing insight, especially within a familiar arena, there is a burst of energy and an experience not unlike when the magician produces a bunch of silk flowers “from nowhere.”
However, unlike the sudden appearance of faux vegetation, wit tends to allude to a meaningful relationship between two or more well-known entities. The witty comment suddenly yanks away the handkerchief et voila, what was hidden is now revealed. Part of wit’s unique charm is that, unlike an overt magic effect, there is seldom a sense of anything hidden or lying in wait prior to the revelation.
Wit in its spontaneous verbal form it is even more magical. To produce a line or comment, obviously on the spur of the moment (after all, the line was in response to a spectator’s comment about her son’s recent birthday party) can appear like a true feat of magic, complete with similar accompanying remarks, “He’s pretty fast!” Improvised wit also has a profoundly grounding effect on both the performer and the audience because improvisation, by definition, is perfectly of the moment and unique to that particular situation.
I love wit. I love the combination of insight, deftness and daring. To not only say sparkling, funny things, but to even run the risk of offending, then instead charm, now that is a thrill! Improvising is magic and juggling combined, and much of its strength lies in it ability to reveal new truths. Two extremely powerful things, the “new” and the “true.” Novelty alone is stimulating. Combined with insight it is a tool capable of inspiring awe. However, such a tool can be easily mishandled so that it offends and separates the performer and audience rather than nurturing an intimacy.
For this reason, the first few witty comments I make in front of a new audience tend to be gently self-deprecating. I will often ask someone if I look like a magician, to which they often reply, “No.” In response, I look a little embarrassed and say, “Thanks for the support!” Self-deprecation can be an extremely dependable way to get an audience on your side, but be sure to keep it gentle. If you are too rough on anyone (yourself or a spectator) it will only reflect badly on you.
After mentioning I am a magician, I will also often quip, “I know what you’re thinking. ’A little more height and hair might be more convincing, Merlin!’” Another self-deprecating line, but I always deliver it with my shoulders back and a big warm smile on my face. My posture and delivery exude strength and confidence while the line undercuts any misperceptions of me as cocky. This in turn only adds to my apparent comfort and sense of security.
Having tossed a few playful darts in my own direction, people will be open to a few witty comments sent their way and even take it as a compliment. As a sign that you trust that they are a secure enough person to not take it “the wrong way.” But of course, choosing the right people to joke with and choosing the right joke is everything. Learning this takes years of performing for “real people” on a regular basis.
Keep in mind, self-deprecating material will not work for everyone, especially if they do not have strong self-esteem. In such cases, the words ring a little too true and can create an uncomfortable mood.