Betty White Reveals How She Became So Funny

Many would agree Betty White is funny. She had the opportunity to show off her comedic chops in hit shows such as The Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland. Here’s what White said about how she became so funny.

Betty White says humor is all about timing

Betty White |  Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
Betty White as Rose Nylund on ‘The Golden Girls’ | Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

The key to a funny joke is timing, says White in her book If You Ask Me. A poorly timed joke won’t land as well as one that’s timed perfectly. White says some people tell a joke and then ask if the person they told the joke to understands the punchline. According to White, this isn’t funny. If you have to ask if someone understood your joke, you’ve failed.

“Some people think they have a tremendous sense of humor,” writes White. “They make a remark and look at you and say, ‘Did you get it? Did you hear what I just said?’ And it just kills the humor altogether. For me, humor is about rhythm. It’s like an ear for music. It’s hard to explain.”

White says when it comes to comedic timing, it’s important to “listen for the beat,” as if you were listening to music. “For instance, at the table reads each morning for Hot in Cleveland, you listen to learn the timing,” writes White. “You hear the other characters, and you know where they’re coming from, and it helps you map out the show—it puts you way ahead of the game for rehearsal. It’s listening for that beat, like with music.”

How Betty White became so funny

White can have an audience doubled over in laughter in no time. Her delivery will make just about anyone laugh. The actor says she learned about comedic timing from her parents. She had to have the right timing when contributing to their funny dinnertime conversations.

“I think what helped my comedic timing most were those breakfasts and dinners growing up—I was raised with such funny parents who told marvelous stories,” writes White. “I’d be sitting there as a kid, wanting to add to the conversation, wanting to jump right in with an idea, but if I blurted something out it might ruin the moment. It taught me a lot about the power of waiting.”

Betty White doesn’t always get the comedic timing right

The Golden Girls star admits she sometimes misses a beat when it comes to comedic timing. She says her “mental editor” falls asleep sometimes.

Sometimes something hits my brain and my mental editor falls asleep and it comes right out and it’s simply less funny than it would have been had I waited a beat. I remember being on set with Allen [Ludden] and trying to explain it to him once, listening to him deliver lines and thinking, Oh, he should wait a beat.

But he kept doing the scene the same way, kind of rushing through it. I was cringing. When I finally mustered the courage to mention it to him, he did not take it well. That’s an example of when a wife and husband shouldn’t work together! I kept my mouth shut after that. Another good example of the importance of your mental editor!

Betty White in ‘If You Ask Me’

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