They say flattery will get you everywhere — we’d argue that a “sharp wit” works just as well.
A hallmark of intelligence and good humor, witty remarks have the power to make you stand out in a crowd and turn heads.
Is it something you’re born with, or is it possible to develop a witty personality?
Both are viable paths, and today, we’re looking at the latter.
What Is Wit Exactly?
Wit is a category of humor under which quips, repartee (banter), and wisecracks fall. Each is defined as follows:
Quip: A smart, observant remark that connects two otherwise unrelated thingsRepartee: A quick response that builds on a questionWisecrack: Similar to a quip, but often more biting
Sometimes, witty humor is more ingenious than laugh-out-loud funny, as it relies on wordplay and conceptual thinking that draws a parallel between two dissimilar things.
Moreover, timing plays a critical part. Immediacy is a big part of wit; ideally, you want your statement to roll off the tongue without skipping a beat.
Being witty demonstrates a facility with language that only someone with an agile mind could manage. In other words: Wit makes you come across as super bright.
Famous Examples of Wit
What does wit look like in action? Let’s look at a few examples.
1. Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table and widely hailed as one of the most gifted wits of all time.
Take the story of Dorothy’s encounter with a “worn-out toothbrush” in the bathroom at a friend’s party.
Another guest also noticed the beleaguered dental implement and said to Parker, “Whatever do you think she does with that?” Dorothy quickly shot back, “I think she rides it on Halloween.”
2. Oscar Wilde
On January 3, 1882, playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde disembarked the S.S. Arizona in New York City.
The customs agent asked the infamously bombastic writer, “Do you have anything to declare?” Wilde immediately responded, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”
3. Spike Milligan
Irish television personality Spike Milligan is another renowned wit who once said, “All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.”
But perhaps Milligan’s most memorable quip appears on his tombstone, which simply reads, “I told you I was ill.”
4. “The Great” (Hulu Show)
Hulu’s original show “The Great” — an adult comedy that reimagines the early reign of Russia’s Catherine the Great — featured a quick-witted exchange in the episode entitled “Meatballs at Dacha.”
Two gentlemen are admiring the music of a choir. The first gentleman says, “I love this choir,” to which the second gentleman says, “The Chernobyl Girls’ Choir is our finest,” and the first man immediately retorts, “They glow.”
What Are the Benefits of Being Quick-Witted?
Quick-wittedness is an excellent quality to develop. (And yes, you can improve your wit, which we’ll get to below.) But what, exactly, are the benefits? People with sharp wits are usually:
More approachable and likableViewed as more intelligentHighly creativityAt an advantage professionally
Moreover, studies show that quick-witted people who continue to nurture their humor throughout life slow the cerebral aging process. To wit, it keeps you “with it” longer.
How to Be More Witty: 19 Tips to Improve Your Wit
So how does one become wittier? Is it one of those things you’re either born with or not? Good news: You can learn to be funnier.
It takes work, but it’s possible — no matter your IQ. The key is training your brain in specific ways.
1. Play the “Object Game”
At first, the “object game” sounds simple. You set a one-minute alarm and then try to name as many objects as possible in 60 seconds. People with quick brains usually average one item per second.
Give it a shot. Most people find it much more challenging than they thought. Don’t be alarmed if you can’t reach 60 items on your first few tries. You will get better, and your brain will get quicker.
2. Practice Making Categorical Associations
Have you ever played a word association game? The aim is to say the first word that pops into your head when a given word is said. For example, for “plant,” someone may spurt out “green.”
If you want to work on your wit, it’s a super language exercise. But instead of saying the first word that comes to your head, make categorical associations. So, for “plant,” words like “jungle,” “forest,” or “biodome” would work.
Why is this helpful? It speeds up your ability to spice up observational quips.
3. Play the Delayed Response Game
This is another “brain game” to work your wit.
Have you ever thought of a good comeback days after the moment passed? Frustrating!
Instead of kicking yourself, turn it into a writing exercise that will improve your wit. How’s it done? Think back to one of those moments. Then, write down what the person said. Next, come up with ten witty responses.
The goal isn’t to memorize the quips. However, this brain game will help you develop a quicker wit. And who knows, maybe one of the quips you come up with will come in handy one day.
4. Take an Improv Class
Taking an improv class is an effective — albeit intimidating — way to work on your wit. You’ll learn how to make free associations and think on your feet.
Being around other people working on the same thing is often an inspiration.
Many people immediately dismiss the idea of an improv class, thinking everyone else will be skilled actors and comics, and they’ll stand out like a dumb, sore thumb. But in reality, most people are there to learn how to loosen up.
5. Watch TV and Streaming Shows
Watching tons of television isn’t the greatest for your brain — if you watch passively. But if you dissect things you view, take notes, and make associations, watching can be as stimulating as reading in some respects.
If you want to develop your wit, watching shows and movies is a good idea for two reasons:
It allows you to study the jokes and notice dialogue patterns.It gives you fodder to joke about. (Think about how many people have used “winter is coming” — a famous saying from the hit show Game of Thrones.)
6. Improve Your Vocabulary
For wits, words are tools. So if you want to be a quicker thinker, expand your vocabulary. The more words you know, the more options you’ll have.
Sometimes, using the exact right word could be witty in and of itself. For example, saying “crone” instead of “crotchety old lady” is punchier and, therefore, funnier.
7. Become a Better Listener
If you want to be funnier, become a good listener.
As mentioned, observation is the backbone of wit. So, paying hyper attention to how people react and interact will serve your goal.
Moreover, being an engaged listener makes people more relaxed and comfortable around you.
8. Be Light-Hearted
There’s a line when it comes to quips and witticisms; cross it, and you may find yourself the most hated person in the room, not the most beloved.
What’s the Rubicon of which we speak?
Emotional depth. Basically, you should only quip about things that are light-hearted or inconsequential. Life is a beast.
People don’t want to be reminded of their genuine hardships and hurdles at every turn. Plus, when you go too “dark” in a quip, it can come across as more offensive than funny.
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9. Learn To Chill
Forced things feel off, so try not to laser focus on your audience’s potential reaction.
What you say may be funny, but if it comes out stilted and rehearsed, it probably won’t land, and people won’t take notice of your genius observation.
10. Observe Funny People
Professional athletes study their opponents. They learn their stats and re-watch videos of their games, matches, and performances. It’s a super habit to adopt when developing your wit.
Watch standup comedy specials, go to comedy clubs, and open mics. Notice the behaviors and patterns of your funny friends. Don’t forget to also pay attention to when they “bomb.” What went wrong? Why didn’t it land?
Learning about these things will help you craft better puns, quips, and jokes.
11. Read Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde were born in the 1800s and have long since exited the earth. Yet, their wit remains some of the most celebrated. Both had incredibly agile minds and could come up with quips at the drop of a hat.
So if you want to learn from the masters, dive into a few plays, articles, and books written by each, including “The Portable Dorothy Parker” and Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest (A Trivial Comedy for Serious People).”
12. Devour Books, Articles, Short Stories, Marketing Copy, Etc.
Not only should you read masters like Wilde and Parker, but reading more, in general, will help you develop a more sophisticated sense of humor.
For starters, reading makes us smarter. It optimizes brain function, plus we learn exciting facts about life.
But don’t stick to literature (although you should read some). Read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and even the backs of cereal boxes. Study and think about how people and corporations use language when appealing to the masses.
Moreover, the more you know about history and the world, the more material you’ll have to work with. Take our “The Great” example above. That joke only works if you understand the history of Chernobyl.
13. Develop Your Self-Confidence
It takes guts to let a joke fly, so developing self-confidence should also be on your to-do list. Read books on the topic and give self-confidence meditation and mindfulness work a shot.
You’ll notice that when your self-esteem rises, you have less psychic stress, more mental clarity, and you’ll be better able to think on your feet.
14. Study Humor
Yes, there are books you can read to help you become funnier. They break humor down like a science and provide formulas you can learn — much like chess moves.
Contrary to popular belief, you needn’t be born with an extraordinary brain to be funny. You can get places by studying hard.
15. Become More Observant
Great writers, satirists, and wits notice a lot more about life. Many weren’t born that way but instead started keeping journals and notebooks from a very young age. Recording actions, feelings, and quick facts helped them retain more.
Many also carry around a small notebook or use a notes app to jot down funny or interesting things they notice during the day. It’s a super habit that every aspiring wit should try.
Don’t get out much? Luckily, we have YouTube. As an exercise, pick five different “influencers” in the same space and watch a video from each one. Make a note of similarities and differences between each.
Do they wear the same clothes? Have the same color palettes? Speak similarly? How about their reactions? Are they similar? What do they do to convey certain emotions? Remember to make a note of verbal and non-verbal aspects.
16. Remember Good Jokes
We’re not suggesting you steal jokes. That’s a big no-no. Huge!
But there’s nothing wrong with remembering good jokes and writing them down for your own edification. Keep a book of good jokes. If you’re serious about developing your skills, read through it weekly.
Doing so will help you come up with your own quips, as you’ll be more in tune with the cadence of humor.
17. Learn the Art of Holding Back
Too much of a good thing quickly turns bad. This could not be more true for quips, wisecracks, and puns.
If you’re always cracking jokes, it can come across as more obnoxious and nervous than welcoming and funny. As such, learning the art of holding back is vital to becoming a more impressive wit.
18. Learn How to Read People
Everyone is different — and comedy is subjective. What’s funny to an octogenarian father may be offensive to their millennial children. The same goes for people of the same age who grew up in wildly different communities.
What does that mean for you, a student of wit? Learning how to read a room is crucial.
19. Be Yourself
Arguably, authenticity is one of the most important qualities a person can cultivate. Because when we know ourselves and live a life of which we’re proud, things go a lot smoother.
So don’t worry if you’re not the next Oscar Wilde. 99.99% of people aren’t, and that’s OK. The best humor you can produce will come from your authentic self.
Good luck developing your wit. We hope you found our tips on how to be quick-witted helpful. With a bit of dedication, you’ll get there.
And take some advice from the bard himself: “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.”