THE EXPERT: Gene
Levin 56, physics professor at the City University of New
York, author of The Best Jokes and Stories and How to Tell
Them (available through iuniverse.com), and veteran of decades
of helping students chuckle through their fear of science.
THE QUESTION: How can I tell a joke that makes people laugh?
THE ANSWER: Levins number one comedic rule is to
never forget the punch line. His second? Dont ask if your
audience has heard the joke before. (Whos to say they
wouldnt enjoy hearing it your way? he says.) Know
your material well so you dont stumble or hesitate, lest
your fumbling distract from your storys spell. You
want to use details to tighten your listeners anticipation
like a spring, until bing!, you hit the punch line and everything
releases, Levin says. To ratchet up that spring, Levin says,
Launch yourself into the stories. Use accents, hand-motions.
You need to be a ham. But not an oaf. Dont dominate
conversation; slip your stories into the normal ebb and flow of
talk. And respect your audience. Levin is fond of salty
material (heard the one about the amorous mouse and the elephant?),
but not when hes with kindergarten teachers. The funniest
stories, the professor counsels, "are built on simple