The ability to be funny on cue is a huge business asset. Co-workers, employees, bosses, and customers alike enjoy working with people who can bring some laughter into a stress-filled workplace.

While some people are natural humorists, being funny is a set of skills that can be learned, according to David Nihill, author of Do You Talk Funny? 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker.

Here's what he learned from interviewing dozens of comedians.

1. They tell stories, not jokes.

A joke is a fake story that sets up for a punch line. If the punch line falls flat, you end up looking like a fool. 

Rather than tell jokes, exceptionally funny people tell relevant stories that have humorous elements.

If people don't find a story funny, no big deal, because the story has a point beyond just being funny. If people laugh, so much the better.

2. They keep a "funny" file.

Exceptionally funny people don't depend upon their memory to keep track of everything they discover that they find funny.

In the olden days, great comedians carried notebooks to jot down funny thoughts or observations and scrapbooks for news clippings that struck them as funny.

Today, you can do that easily with your smartphone. If you have a funny thought, record it as an audio note. If you read a funny article, save the link in your bookmarks.

3. They draw on real-life experiences.

Ever since the 1960s, exceptionally funny people have relied upon what's called "observational humor" to make people laugh.

The classic examples of this are Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, whose experiences led them not just to do standup comedy, but also to create two award-winning comedy shows.

The beauty of using personal experiences as fodder for humor is that your life experience is unique and therefore stories based on it are guaranteed to be original.

4. They get to the point.

There's an old saying that "brevity is the soul of wit." Exceptionally funny people leave out the boring details and get to the funny part as quickly as possible.

However, while they get to the point quickly, exceptionally funny people put the funny part at the end, rather than in the middle.

My favorite example of this is from Jack Handey: "The crows seemed to be calling his name, thought Caw."

5. They use voices to create characters.

The funniest stories are always about people, and people are funny (in the telling) only if they have something to say.

Exceptionally funny people use different voices to represent the various people, or even the states of mind of the same person, in their story.

For example, if your story has you saying something aloud but thinking something else, you make your "aloud" voice very clear and your "thinking" voice an audible side whisper.

Published on: Mar 8, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.