Humor is one of the most attractive traits someone can have. In fact, the idea that women love a man who can make them laugh is an almost universal cliche. But what doesn’t get said is how humor helps increase attraction. After all, you can’t just tell joke after joke and expect to get into somebody’s pants.
Just as there are many ways to flirt, there are many ways to be funny. Using humor to increase attraction is all about using it correctly and finding the ways of using humor that works with your flirting style.
Humor That Makes Us Feel Good vs. Humor That Hurts Us
When used properly, humor is an incredibly powerful tool for making people like you. It’s also a very good way to turn people off if you’re not careful. While there’re many attractive aspects to being funny and having a strong sense of humor – signalling your emotional intelligence, for example – the biggest reason why humor is so attractive is that it makes people feel good. When we make people feel good in our presence, they’re going to prioritize their relationship with us over their relationships with other people. This is known as the Reward Theory of Attraction.
However, while humor can make people feel good, it can also hurt others… and that is going to work against your desire to connect with the person you’re flirting with. Jokes at other people’s expense, even if they’re people who you’re not actively talking to, can work against you if you’re not careful. Making someone the butt of a joke may get the laugh, but it can leave an unpleasant taste in people’s mouths, especially if you do it regularly. It’s very easy to cross the line from someone who’s funny to someone who’s mean, even if you’re not actively making fun of the people around you. While there’s room for all kinds of jokes, topics and subjects, if you’re going to use humor while you flirt then you have to be careful about the subject of your jokes.
When you want to use humor to flirt, consider what you’re joking about. Self-deprecating jokes can be good – they show that you have a sense of humor about yourself and can take some good-natured ribbing. At the same time, there’s a difference between self-deprecating humor and having no self-esteem. If you’re just going to be talking about how awful you are, you’re going to quickly reach the point inspiring someone to think that you’re not actually joking.
If you’re going to make a joke about someone else – which can be a good way to flirt – consider what you’ll be poking fun at. There are always going to be things that we’re sensitive about, deep-seated insecurities that sit almost like raw wounds. A joke, no matter how lovingly intended, at one of these areas, can end up causing pain, even if it gets a laugh at first. Some laughs, after all, aren’t because we find something funny.
Similarly, jokes that denigrate who a person is at their core – or who they want to be – are a bad idea. Jokes that imply somebody is or would be a failure at their dream job, for example, are likely going to go over like a lead balloon. Even if they made a similar joke first, your making a similar crack is more likely to hurt than to be seen as funny. It implies negative things about them as a person. As a result: they’re left feeling judged at best, actively insulted at worst.
We’re all more likely to be open to jokes at our expense about things that we don’t take seriously. Similarly, things that aren’t a core part of how we see ourselves tend to be fair game. To go back to the “bad at their career” example, if someone hates their job, then those jokes are more likely to be well-received. This is an area where practice and social calibration are going to be key. The better you are at reading someone, the more leeway you have with subjects for jokes.
Now, with that having been said, there are ways you can make jokes about other people in ways that don’t necessarily make them the punchline. A joke about, say, someone’s ugly shirt is one thing. Using their ugly shirt to make a joke about how your taste is (or used to be) worse makes it about you, not them. This helps mitigate the implications about the subject and makes it more acceptable.
You can also make jokes about people in ways that are actually compliments. Talking about how it’s not fair of someone to be so successful or good at their job, for example, is going to make them feel good about themselves and get a laugh. You can use jokes that create an “us vs. them” atmosphere that can create little mini-conspiracies, secrets that only the two of you share.
Just remember that intent isn’t the same as effect. You may not have intended a joke to cause hurt feelings, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. Put some thought into what you’re going to joke about and what the conveyed message will be.
Speaking of humor that hurts vs. humor that feels good…
Teasing… the Right Way
Teasing is a classic use of humor as a means of flirting. It’s also one that people get wrong. The “classic”1 PUA tactic of “negging” is an attempt to use teasing for flirting and doing it badly. Teasing isn’t about trying to trigger somebody’s subconscious need for your approval, it’s about getting the laugh, the release. Teasing, especially in a flirting sense, is about using humor to create a push-pull dynamic with the person you’re flirting with.
A push-pull dynamic is simple at it’s core, but remarkably versatile. Think of it as “two steps forward, one step back”. You’re giving something (the pull), then taking it back or deflating it (the push). It’s a way of building, then releasing tension. Sexual tension in particular. Push-pulls work best when you mix compliments with humor; you give a compliment (the pull) and then defuse it or otherwise take away from it.
The pull is relatively obvious: it’s an indication of your interest, whether as a compliment or statement of intent. “You look gorgeous,” for example, would be a pull. So would something like “you’re hilarious” or some other flattering remark. The push, on the other hand, can show up in a number of ways. In a more banter-y, antagonistic style of flirting, it’s the joking insult that covers the compliment without negating it. “You’re hilarious, it’s just a shame that you’re kind of a dork” is one example. You’re giving a compliment but defusing it with the gentle tease.
However, the push or the tease doesn’t need to be antagonistic; it’s also possible to give a push with references to yourself. Following a compliment about somebody’s accomplishments with a slightly self-deprecating remark – “Graduated with honors, that’s awesome. I myself graduated summa cum laude from Hamburger U…” or “You’re gorgeous… and that’s why we just can’t be friends” or “… Ok, I’m not supposed to blurt things out like that”. You can use vague innuendos or even a mix of self-deprecating and banter with something along the lines of “but you know, my standards are also kind of enh…”
Remember: the subtext of what you’re saying matters when you’re teasing, often more than the actual words. You may be saying “my standards are low”, but the understood meaning is that she’s actually very attractive and you’re interested in her. The key to push-pull dynamics is that the teases aren’t mean and the humor is clear. Your tone of voice, your delivery, your facial expressions and your body language should be make it clear that this isn’t to be taken seriously.
You also don’t need to balance out every compliment with a tease. Not every pull needs a push, especially after things are starting to heat up. As the tension grows between the two of you and the attraction improves, use the teasing more sparingly.
Telling stories can serve as a subtle way of bragging about yourself. It’s also a good way to use humor to flirt. The cool thing about telling stories is that not only can you use them to make people laugh, but – unlike other forms of flirting – you can use it on groups as well as when you’re talking with someone one-on-one. Telling a funny story about yourself can be an amazing way of getting the group’s approval as well as making yourself more interesting to the person in the group you want to talk to.
When you’re going to share a story, you want to get people’s attention and set the stage. If I’m going to tell the story about nearly being killed by an elephant or the time I was used as target practice by Chinese acrobats, I want to set people’s expectations accordingly. Using a preamble or attention getter like “so, check this out…” or “true story” help grab the attention and set up people’s expectations. Saying things like “true story” or “my hand to God” are ways of capturing people’s imagination and interest, because it suggests to them that what you’re about to talk about is unusual or unbelievable.
Using check-ins like “You know what I mean?” help keep people’s attention while you’re telling the story. It’s a way of engaging them and drawing their focus back to you, especially if someone is the sort of person to make comments while you’re talking.
To be sure, not all stories are going to be inherently funny in and of themselves. That doesn’t mean that the story isn’t worth telling, or that it won’t make people laugh. Part of what makes a story more interesting – and thus, funnier – is that you want to inhabit it. You want to bring it to life, not just relate a “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened” list of events with a leading to b and then to c.
That’s why, when you’re telling your story, you want to create characters. Changing your voice and your facial expression for each person is key: you’re making these people more vivid. You don’t need to be incredibly complex or detailed. In fact, broad brush strokes can work best. Creating these characters helps engage the listener and makes your story that much more entertaining. These characters can make even an otherwise run of the mill story that much funnier to your audience.
Similarly, you want to use your body to make the story come alive. Make gestures that demonstrate things that you or those other characters did. Recreate moments with your body; if you’re talking about something that scared you, actually mock-cringe and hold your hands out in front of you. If you’re talking about nearly getting into a fight, put up your hands or make little “pre-fight” gestures like the “come-at-me-bro” thump. It captures the imagination and triggers those moments of absurdity or surprise, which are keys to being funny.
Just as importantly: you need to commit. When you’re telling a story, you need to give it the focus and energy it deserves. A monotone retelling is boring. Trailing off while you’re telling your story tells people it’s not worth paying attention to. If you’re creating characters, you need to put energy into them instead of letting them fade. Your energy and enthusiasm will carry you much further and get the laughs you want, even if the story itself isn’t a knee-slapper.
Using humor to flirt doesn’t mean that you have to be a comedian and cracking jokes. Not everybody has the personality or flirting style that lends itself to being funny. Doing things that are fun and humorous are just as effective means of flirting, even if you’re not the immediate source. We tend to attribute the we they feel to the people we’re with, rather than the actual source of the feelings. Just as riding roller-coasters or crossing scary bridges can make us feel more attracted to the person with us, laughter is transitive. If the things we are doing make people laugh, they will associate that feeling with us. Even if we’re not the direct cause of those good feelings, we are the source. They wouldn’t be laughing and having fun if they weren’t with us.
This is why playing games or going on off-beat dates work well as part of a flirting strategy. It’s a way of bringing humor to your interactions and triggering that rewarding feeling that makes us more attractive. Playing games is a simple, versatile and flexible – something that can be worked into a cold-approach situation as easily as a first date. It’s also an easy way to emphasize those mini-conspiracies I mentioned earlier, the “us vs. them” effect. Playing a game of guessing the stories of the people around you, for example, lets you make up absurd narratives that only you two share. This person’s a spy, that person over there is clearly a counter-spy out to stop them. That person over there is obviously an alien or three kids standing on each other’s shoulders.
Mini-role plays – “if we were on a desert island, you’d…” – or “what-if” let you spin silly ideas. Ice-breaking apps for your smartphone or games like Exploding Kittens, Cards Against Humanity or Red Flags are all ways of making each other laugh and even bringing up risqué topics. You’re borrowing someone else’s sense of humor, but reaping the benefits. You may not be making the joke, but you’re the one who’s making them laugh regardless.
Even more straight-forward games or activities can be vehicles for fun and humor. If there’s a pool-table, then challenging each other to make absurd or impossible shots. It’s refreshingly different and often more fun than playing by the traditional rules.
To Be Funnier, Find The Things That Amuse You
If you want to find the humor that works with your flirting style, then get in touch with what makes you laugh. The more things that bring a smile to your face, the more you’ll be able to express it to others. This has the added benefit of making things your humor feel more genuine. The things that make you laugh work better than anything you think you should do.
Don’t be afraid to just be a little silly if that’s what sets you off. Sometimes humor comes from the most unexpected places. Surprise and absurdity are key parts of humor after all. A willingness to embrace the moment and run with it is a sign of self-confidence. Similarly, accidental humor works just as well as intentional ones. That accidental dirty joke may not be what you intended, but that laughter still gets you where you want to go.
The most important part of using humor in flirting is the fun. The Rule of Fun trumps everything else. Clever wordplay can be great, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Challenging somebody to a game of foosball and talking smack may be far more their speed. They may like swapping stories or playful banter. A sudden dance off may be exactly what the Doctor ordered.
Incorporating that sense of fun and knowing how to bring a smile to someone’s face makes you instantly more attractive. Find the style that works for you and you’ll find the dating success you want.
- and I use that word in the most ironic sense [↩]