Have you ever thought of the best comeback only after it was too late? Right before bed, while taking a shower or standing in an elevator, you get your light-bulb moment: “Ahh, why didn't I think of it before?” The French even came up with a term for that, l'esprit de l'escalier—the spirit of the staircase—and it means that the perfect retort arises only when it doesn't matter anymore.
However, this does not apply to everyone. A select few have the superpower of coming up with snappy one-liners on the spot, and the r/CleverComebacks subreddit is the site to go for these legendary comments. As the moderators put it, “If someone just got shown up, this is the place to post it.“
If you'd like to share a post on the “Clever Comebacks“ subreddit page, there's a few rules you need to follow. Firstly, you should know what a witty comment is. According to the moderators, it's “responses to someone that, for lack of a better word, roasts them.” Also, baseless insults, tasteless jokes, “no, u” style replies are what they call garbage content, and nobody likes them.
When you think about it, the only obvious goal when trying to think of a snappy comeback is to get a good laugh and share your original thought. And the same applies to real-life situations. If you hate those awkward moments when your friends or coworkers throw you a snide comment and everything that comes to your mind just sounds lame, don't worry. In real life, not many people can be as clever as Dr. House or Chandler Bing, but there's a few ways you can improve your reactions and become wittier.
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One of the things that could make you better is the world of improv acting. When it comes to showing your wit, timing is everything. The reply should be as spontaneous as the words that took you by surprise. One way of improving would be to become a better active listener. As Abigail Paul, workshop facilitator and training developer, told the BBC, “people think faster than others speak, giving the listener “extra time“ to compose an answer, even while they give the appearance of still listening to what the other person is saying.”
Come to think of it, there have been many times when we already wanted to share an idea with the person who's not yet finished talking. “Most of us don't listen to the whole message,” Paul said, “we are just waiting to make our own points.” So if you want to whip out snappy remarks, you should actively listen to what the other person is saying and use the unexpected material she or he gave you.
Sometimes, when we receive a biting remark, we might feel offended. Belina Raffy, a business improvisation consultant, said that negative comments usually come from a place of insecurity. So when it comes to your coworker who constantly tosses you rude remarks, remember that responding positively might ease the pressure and keep projects going smoothly. ”Positive witty comments build trust among colleagues, bosses and subordinates, and they can turn a formerly harsh environment into an accepting one,” Raffy said.
Another great tip would be silencing your inner critic: “It’s about letting go of the need to judge ourselves,” Raffy explains. You should try saying what's on your mind without thinking about it. In improv theater, actors try to let go of their inner voice and give in to their “deepest fantasies” in order to say something spontaneous that they would never say in real life.
Let's not forget the brands that make clever comebacks a key part of their communication with customers. One obvious example is the fast-food chain Wendy's and their made-up social media holiday—National Roast Day. Their communications team does not hold back when it comes to witty replies in their social channels. The question is, do the customers actually value it?
A survey by Sprout Social suggests that such responses are actually not appreciated by customers. Brand personality should connect your product to its consumers but as it turns out, that's not always the case. Sprout surveyed 1,000 consumers on which traits they want brands to share on social media and what action behaviors like humor or friendliness cause.
It seems that “three-quarters of consumers surveyed believe there’s value in brands exhibiting humor on social but only one-third actually want brands to bring on the snark full force.” The majority of consumers buy from brands that are honest, helpful and friendly. “It turns out that at the end of the day, consumers want brands to use social as a customer care channel”, Sprout explains. So while this kind of risky brand personality offers you a great deal of exposure, it seems that it's actually bad for business.
Lastly, for a clever comeback to be considered great, it has to be honest. "The best retorts speak truth — when a person calls something that the other people didn't see," said Paul. "That's generally what makes us laugh." So if you think of a clever comeback that's piercingly accurate and say it right there on the spot, you feel absolutely great because you know that you've earned it.