25 Tips to be Witty (If You’re Not a Quick Thinker)

Scientifically reviewed by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

Witty people are good at making funny, clever, off-the-cuff comments and jokes about a situation, another person, or life in general. Their quick sense of humor often makes them seem charming, insightful, and intelligent.

Some people are naturally funnier than others, but most of us can learn how to be more witty. In this guide, you’ll learn how to be more quick-witted around other people.

  1. Becoming a quick thinker
  2. Knowing what to say to be witty
  3. Avoiding the pitfalls of using wit

These are the steps to be witty:

  1. Practice being a quick thinker
  2. Make unexpected associations
  3. Take improv theatre classes
  4. Watch sitcoms
  5. Remark on the obvious
  6. Use irony
  7. Use puns

Part 1. Becoming a quick thinker

Part of wit is timing—it’s about quickly coming up with things to say. Luckily, you can practice becoming a faster thinker, which will help you be funnier in a conversation.

Wit is often about unexpectedly associating things. If your friend has started lifting weights and looks like he’s added a pound or two, a witty remark could be, “I see that the steroids are paying off.” It’s witty because it’s an unexpected association. In this section, you’ll learn how to become more witty by practicing this ability.

1. Name objects around you as quickly as you can

Look around the room and see how fast you can name everything: Lamp, plant, window, chair, etc. This exercise helps you practice finding the right words more quickly. Charismatic people average under one second per object.[1] It’s surprisingly hard!

2. Make unexpected associations

Instead of naming the objects with their correct words, come up with associations. This exercise trains your brain to make unexpected connections. It’s not about being funny, nor about memorizing words. It’s about speeding up your ability to associate.

Lamp -> Searchlight
Plant -> Jungle
Chair -> Butt parking
Etc.

Being quick at associating helps you make sharp, witty remarks in real life. If your friend bought two plants for her apartment, you might make an unexpected association and joke, “I feel like I’m inside a jungle.”

3. Practice naming and associating objects regularly

Naming and associating objects daily for 2-4 weeks can help you become both quicker at associating and talking.

2. Practice your witty response afterward

Think back to a situation where you weren’t witty and quick but wanted to be. Now that you have time to think, what would have been the perfect response to give? When you come up with a good reply, what components does it have? What can you learn from analyzing it?

It’s not about memorizing witty responses. It’s more about improving your skillset so you are quicker in the future.

3. Take improv theatre classes

Improv theatre is about improvising instant reactions. I took an improv class for a year, and it helped me become a quicker thinker. I thought I would only meet extroverted people there who were already fast thinkers, but the truth turned out to be that most people go there because they want to learn to loosen up.

Part 2. Knowing what to say to be witty

This section contains tips to help you come up with witty comments. It can take a while to develop a style of wit that suits your personality and sense of humor, so give yourself permission to experiment and figure out what types of jokes and comments come most easily to you.

1. Watch TV shows

TV shows, especially sitcoms, are full of funny, quick remarks. Watch some, and pay attention specifically to the humor in the conversations. Don’t try to remember the actual lines. Instead, try to understand the underlying principles and how you can apply them.

Below are some of these principles.

2. Make unexpected associations

The exercise in the previous chapter helped you make unexpected associations faster. These can be used in different types of wit. When I asked my friend, “Do you want food?” and he responded, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit,” it was an unexpected association. He associated an offer of food with an offer of something less healthy and more addictive, such as alcohol or cigarettes.

3. Use obvious misunderstandings

When your friend at dinner asks if you can hand him the butter and you give him the flower vase next to it, it’s funny because it’s an obvious misunderstanding. If there’s a way to very clearly misunderstand a situation, that can be funny.

4. Remark on the obvious

Seeing the obvious in a situation and pointing it out can be funny. In a quiet elevator, stage-whispering, “It’s so quiet,” is amusing because it’s a remark about the obvious.

5. Use irony

When my friend and I ended up next to a busy motorway, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and said, “I can feel the calm.” It was funny because he pretended that the reality of our situation was completely different.

6. Swap around similar words of different meaning (puns)

Swapping words that sound similar but have different meanings can be funny. An example is when you’re cooking and referring to oregano as origami. But although these jokes can be funny, they are not overly humorous. They are called dad jokes and can quickly get old. Use this type of wit in moderation.

7. Focus on the conversation rather than what to say

Witty people act on instinct rather than by thinking, “What’s something clever I can say?” When we get nervous, we tend to end up in our heads. Instead, focus your attention on what’s happening around you: the group, your surroundings, and the conversation you’re having. To become witty, use the things that are going on right at that moment as inspiration for your wit.

8. Be brief

Wit is most effective when only a few words are used. When we played games at a friend’s party, we got divided into three competing groups. My group was in last place. I said, “At least we got third place,” and people laughed. Saying, “My group got third place, so I think that’s good” would have been less effective.

9. Speak in an easygoing tone of voice

When you’re being witty, especially when it’s unclear if you’re joking or not, use an easygoing tone. If you’re poking fun at someone else, it’s even more important to show in your tone and facial expressions that you shouldn’t be taken seriously.

10. Be self-deprecating about things you don’t care about

Being able to laugh at yourself is a good trait, and you don’t risk stepping on anyone else’s toes when you do it.[3] However, only joke at your own expense about things that don’t matter to you.

For example, if you’re terrible at soccer but agree to join your friends’ game for fun, you can joke about your inability to kick the ball. However, avoid joking about things that matter, like being worthless or a bad person.

When you joke about things that make you feel genuinely bad about yourself, other people will think you have a poor self-image. Your audience might also feel uncomfortable when you make these types of comments; it’s hard to know what to say when someone puts themselves down.

11. Don’t worry whether others will laugh

Don’t think, “I wonder if they’ll laugh at this.” Say what you think is funny. Being witty in an attempt to be rewarded with laughs can make you look needy. Instead, say things because you think they are hilarious and you want to share them with the group.

12. Pay attention to how people around you use wit

If you know someone funny, pay attention to how they do it. See if you can find the patterns of wit we’ve covered in this article. Pay attention to when they joke, what tone they use, what they joke about, and equally, what they don’t joke about.

Part 3. Avoiding the pitfalls of using wit

Wit isn’t always appropriate in every social situation. To avoid causing offense or making the conversation awkward, you need to understand when to refrain from making witty remarks.

Here’s how to avoid coming across as annoying or rude when you’re using wit:

1. Know that trying to be witty can be offputting

Use humor if you want to fit into a group by “shooting the shit.” However, if you’re trying to be witty all the time, it can make you look like a try-hard. You aren’t always on stage. Make comments only when you feel inspired and think what you have to say is funny.

An example is James Bond, who is occasionally witty and seen as very attractive. Then there’s Deadpool, who is amusing all the time, which also makes him annoying.

2. Realize that being a quick thinker doesn’t make you likable

An interesting study showed that people who can name objects faster are also seen as more charismatic.[1] However, they aren’t seen as more likable. It’s easy to use wit the wrong way and step on people’s toes. It’s safer (and kinder) to joke about situations rather than people.

3. Avoid trying to be witty by memorizing lines

Wit is a quick, spontaneous reaction to a specific situation that can’t be canned. In this guide, we’ll talk about how to train your wit rather than learning funny lines or witty examples.

4. Avoid trying to be witty with strangers

Save wit and sarcastic remarks for the people you know well. If you don’t, you may offend someone accidentally, and your friend will forgive you faster than a stranger.

Keep in mind that some people just don’t appreciate wit. You have to get to know them to know what they like or don’t like.[2]

5. Avoid making someone else the butt of your jokes

It’s easy to make a joke about someone, get rewarded with laughs, and then feel tempted to make more jokes about that person. This gets old really quickly for the person you’re teasing, and it shows a lack of integrity. Just because everyone laughs doesn’t mean that you should make someone the butt of your jokes.

6. Avoid witty responses to “How are you?” with strangers

If someone new asks, “How are you?” and you attempt to be witty in response, it can come off as rude. When someone asks how you are, they’re putting themselves out there by initiating contact. If you make a joke out of that, they might not try to talk to you again. The best response is “I’m good, how are you?” and then follow up with a friendly, sincere question, like “Did you do anything fun this weekend?”

Part 4. Making witty banter

Banter is lighthearted, affectionate teasing between two or more people. Good banter can strengthen social bonds, and it can be a lot of fun.

Here’s how to make witty banter:

1. Match the other person’s type of banter

The same witty banter can work well with one person and be a disaster with someone else. Some people just don’t like witty banter. When you come across someone who does, you’ll know. They’ll communicate with you through friendly teasing. Meet that person by communicating back in the same way, with the same level of friendly teasing.

If someone jokes with you and says, “Don’t you have something better to do than sit here?” a good response could be, “I was having a great time until you came by.” It’s okay because it’s a similar level of insult. Pro-tip: avoid escalating the put-downs.

You can only do this with people you know reasonably well or that rare individual who is so easygoing and quick-witted they rarely take offense. But be aware that people can be offended and not show it. You won’t know until MUCH later, if at all.

2. Take what you know about someone and tease them about it good-naturedly

What do you know about someone that you can tease them about? Perhaps your friend jokes about your dry dating life. What do you have on your friend when it comes to dating? Well, there’s that short summer romance he had with Monica that turned out to be a disaster. You can, in a friendly, joking way, respond with, “Well, at least I didn’t date Monica.”

3. Use friendly body language

Use relaxed, open body language when you’re being funny. Unclench your jaw, part your lips slightly, and relax your eyebrows. Keep your arms by your sides. Smile. Have a friendly voice and laugh when appropriate. This signals that you’re warm and will make what you say sound playful and teasing rather than aggressive.

4. Make witty comebacks

If someone makes a joke about you and you aren’t sure what to say, try to turn the focus back on them.

For example, let’s imagine someone says, “Nice shirt. I had the same one in college.”

What joking insult can you respond with that focuses on them? Maybe you could go with, “Cool, I didn’t think you went to college.” Or “That’s such a funny coincidence! I had the shirt you’re wearing when I was in elementary school.”

Making comebacks takes some practice because you’ll need to think of an appropriate response immediately. If you can’t think of anything, try acting as though you’ve misunderstood an insult as a compliment. A simple “Thank you, that’s so sweet of you” is witty and can be applied to any insult.

If you found this guide useful, you might also like our guide on how to be more fun.

Show references +

David Morin is the founder of SocialSelf. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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  1. This document is of great help to those working on there relatively poor personality.Just like it has boosted me socially,I encourage all of u Check it out.

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  2. This is exactly what I was looking for. I am in an environment where I’m around witty people. Because of my underdeveloped wit, I get picked on, which makes me irritable and more fun to mock. This is very, very useful and I am thankful for finding it, I’ll be applying it as well.

    Reply
  3. I love this! It’s good exercises to improve conversation in general. I agree using wit with caution. But this isn’t just to improve wit, it improves quick thinking in conversation and helps us to focus on what is being said. This can help anyone wanting to improve focusing on the moment. Thank you so much!

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  4. This is so useful. I am becoming accustomed to notice what type of joke type im using wether its a dad joke or an unexpected connection. This is extremely useful. I often lose train of thought while speaking to someone new and tend to not look at the bigger picture and come to say bland jokes or replies. Later, I come up with hilarious replies i could have said but was too nervous it would come out wrong to the person listening. Im pretty young and feel my jokes are 3rd grade jokes. It’s humiliating considering a majority of people around me come up with actual meanigful, clever jokes. I aspire to be more charasmatic by the time im in highschool. Anyway to whoever reads this sorry but kinda not sorry for my incorrect grammar or run-on sentences. Take into account I’m just a tween. k? But, i will say one more thing..im so thankful for the internet. When it comes to SOME matters. I get a bit addicted but hey im positive there’s some articles on the internet that’ll help me. :)I’m a ranter if you couldn’t tell.

    Reply
    • Great comment. I just want to add that using others help is so important and very powerful. Take advice warily …. it might not be good advice.
      AND this article speaks of making sure you know how to properly use non verbal skills when communicating to others. Grammar, Spelling, ALL of those pesky skills are SO IMPORTANT and make a big impression on what people perceive about you… so LEARN THEM, USE THEM, LOVE THEM… the wittiness will come.
      🙂

      Reply
  5. While I did like a few points in your article, I didn’t really take to the examples given. They all seemed a tad bit rude, less witty. I’m not trying to be be offensive and genuinely came to learn something that interests me.

    Reply
    • I feel like it *really* depends on the situation. The remarks would be considered rude and innapropriate in a formal situation, but in a lighter situation with your friends and people who you know like it, banter and the such is good.

      Reply

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