Our next few tricks rely on the art of misconstruing. The banter chain is the first of these. Banter chains are a series of exchanges that rely on you having misconstrued an ordinary remark as the other person plays along. You put forth a purposeful misinterpretation, and if they bite on it, you have now entered what you can call a banter chain, and can continue to ramp it up.
The Art of Witty Banter: Be Clever, Quick, & Magnetic By Patrick King
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Have you ever noticed that some people seem to enjoy funny banter with everyone they meet?
It’s not a coincidence. They are doing some of the exact things in this chapter to create that feeling whenever they want. It’s easier than you think, but again, like most of the tactics here, you will be utilizing mental muscles that you haven’t often practiced before.
There will be a slight learning curve, and you shouldn’t expect to do it perfectly the first few times. That said, when you do grasp it more fully, you’ll see the opportunities you’ve been missing to interact with people in certain ways. Also, the more you use this tactic, the better you’ll get at it. Your initial attempts will likely fall flat, which can be embarrassing, but it's worth trying so that you can improve the next time.
One of the easy ways to inject humor in any kind of conversation is when you instigate and create a banter chain. A banter chain involves both parties and allows a playful exchange that feels collaborative.
What’s a banter chain? Well, it sounds something like this… and try to find the pattern that you were just using in the previous section of this chapter.
A: “That’s a heck of a pant suit you’ve got there.”
B: “Thanks, I had trouble finding a skirt to fit over my powerful thighs.”
C: “You’re squatting about 250 pounds now, right?”
D: “Closer to 350 pounds. Dogs are afraid of me when I walk by.”
E: “You could use them as a screen for a drive-in movie theater.”
F: “Did that last week. The double feature paid my rent this month. Did you know the design for those two skyscrapers downtown was inspired by my legs?”
That’s a banter chain. You can see how the conversation flowed and how both parties played off each other. It was a collaborative effort and sounded like something you might find in a television show. In fact, that’s what most of us think of when we think about witty banter: we’re going with the flow and creating conversational chemistry.
But, what exactly just happened there, and how can you replicate it? Let’s take a step back for a second.
A banter chain is notable because it’s funny not based on what you say by itself, but how you play off the other person. If the other person catches on, then this gets funnier the farther along in the sequence you get. The situation gets more absurd, but that’s the funny part.
It quickly becomes apparent to everyone listening that something funny is happening, and they will want to contribute to the shared experience. A joke was initiated, and both people stayed in the joke for as long as they could. Keep in mind that just as it’s important to know how to instigate a banter chain, you must also end it and move on at an appropriate time before the chain feels overdone and the conversation becomes stale again.
When you say something and another person builds something on top of what you have said, you forge an instant bond. This creates an instant comfort amongst everybody participating. It’s as if somebody is passing around a bottle and sharing a story. It feels good to everybody because they feel that they are part of something, and this can produce very funny situations.
If you have been to a comedy improv club, the banter chain might seem familiar. It is essentially improv comedy, where you collaborate with the other person to build a scene, or conversation in this case. Improv comedy and conversation really have the same overall goal (to play and amuse), so it’s no surprise that the same techniques work for both.
If done properly, this chain of statements becomes weirder, funnier, and more outrageous. Everyone involved takes ownership over this, and all come away feeling like you’ve worked on something together. At the very least, you’re going to have a solid inside joke to build upon for further interactions.
A banter chain has a few main elements and a few rules. Once you learn the mechanics, you’re off to the races and can see how you prefer to approach it.
First, you need to misconstrue something in some way to enter the banter chain.
That’s what statement B (Thanks, I had trouble finding a skirt to fit over my powerful thighs.) was. It doesn’t matter how you misconstrue it, all you’re doing is moving off-topic. You can also make an assumption about the other person out of nowhere, exaggerate something about their characteristics, or even make a non-sequitur. Alternatively, like in this case, you can make yourself the subject of banter. What’s important is that it’s a non-serious statement that the other person is aware is a joke.
You’ve initiated a joke (not made a joke), and it’s an invitation for your conversational partner to join the banter on top of that joke. Remember, you always have the choice in how you want to reply and engage others.
Second, you have to see if the other person will play ball with you. When you make a non-serious statement, they’ll either make a comment on it, or they will go back to the actual topic at hand. If they play ball, it looks like statement C (You’re squatting about 250 pounds now, right?). If not, it would return to statement A (That’s a heck of a pant suit you’ve got there.).
Third, if they play ball with you, congratulations! You’re in a banter chain: they recognize what you’re doing, they’re playing along, and now you have to figure out how to play along back.
So, how do you do this? You build upon the direct response that they give you. You agree with them, and you add to it by exaggerating and amplifying the sentiment. That’s what statement D (Closer to 350 pounds. Dogs are afraid of me…) does to statement C (You’re squatting about 250 pounds now, right?), and so on. It takes the main sentiment of large thighs and makes the stakes bigger every time, playing with it in a creative manner.
The easiest way to continue the chain is to agree and amplify, which we learned earlier. You take what they say to be true, you agree, and then assume that the hyperbolic sentiment is true. If someone has big thighs, then to you, they have thighs that were the models for skyscrapers.
If they’re still hanging with you, they’ll do something similar and stay in the joke—that’s the key here. You’re staying in the joke that you’ve initiated, and prompted them to do the same.
You can continue this ad nauseam until someone breaks, but at that point, you’ve probably built an hour’s worth of rapport.
The banter chain can be funny, but it depends on how it started and how it proceeds. Everyone involved makes the choice to either say “Haha, yeah,” or actually participate in the chain.
Here is another example of a banter chain:
Normal statement: “Hey, I like the coloring of that cat.”
Misconstrued statement to enter the banter chain: “So, you think that cat is pretty sexy, huh?”
Playing ball: “Yeah, I want to ask it out on a date. You think I have a chance?”
Hitting the ball back by agreeing and amplifying: “Totally. Where will you take it? Somewhere fancy?”
More banter: “Italian. Some wine, some cheese, maybe some place with seafood. Let’s see where the night takes us. Cats are nocturnal, after all.”
The great thing about the banter chain is that it allows you to make fun of each other and highlight a little bit of your wit and intelligence. It is consummate play. It is not just about exaggerating what the previous person said, since anybody can do that. What makes you a good participant in a banter chain is when you make a statement that is not only reasonable, but also funny because it is creative and creates references.
As another example, say you baked a friend some pastries which happened to be too sweet for your friend’s liking. A banter chain in this situation might look something like this:
“How are the muffins?”
“They’re very good. One bite is enough to breed ants in my bloodstream.”
“Oh great! At least now, when people point out how you’re antsy all the time, you’ll have actual ants to show for it.”
“Yeah, that’s why I eat your pastries at all. And I’m not too worried; they make good advancements in the research for diabetes treatment nowadays.”
“Actually, those muffins were specifically ordered for mass production by those researchers to help them gain more test subjects. Talk about cooking for a cause.”
Not only do you create a funny interaction, you are allowing each other to drop your guard. It creates a lighthearted moment. A bond is also created because you are collaborating with each other.
As amazing as this humor approach can be, you need to practice a little in advance to make sure you get it right. Practice exaggerating statements people say to you. How can you step it up in terms of absurdity and outlandishness? What are the extreme consequences of the people’s statements? How many ways can you say that someone’s thighs are huge without actually insulting them?
If someone makes a statement, what is the silly, hyperbolic consequence of taking that statement beyond its logical conclusion?
It’s also helpful to realize that much of the time you will be making fun of yourself and exaggerating negatives about yourself in ridiculous ways. You have to let go of your ego. You might be insulted by things people say, but remember that banter is supposed to be lighthearted and fun. Allow yourself to be the target and exaggerate negatives about yourself. If it makes you feel better, you’re going to be insulting yourself in absurd ways that can’t possibly be true or hit too close to home.
With proper practice and the right approach, a banter chain can make a conversation last a long time, simply by agreeing and amplifying.