IT’S NO WONDER the self-help industry is worth billions of dollars. Everyone wants to know how to be more popular, more interesting, more charming, more approachable, less introverted.

But for something as subjective as charm, attractiveness, and humor, are there really ways to improve fundamental aspects of yourself? Surprisingly, there are.

Just as you can train and eat right to improve your appearance, hone your conversational skills by engaging with more people and going on more dates, and improve your public speaking skills by getting up in front of people and embarrassing yourself a few times, you can teach yourself to be more funny. Just ask a stand-up comedian.

“They say it takes 10 years before you really find your voice, so I don’t think I’m quite there yet,” says Chris Gersbeck, a New York City-based comic. But comedy is always a work in progress, and he’s dedicated the last three years to tuning that voice and using comedy as a means to overcome his shyness and anxiety. “I’ve talked to comics who have been doing comedy for decades, and they still get this wave of nervousness. Once I realized it’s a thing that’s not going away, I learned to embrace it. Also: Zoloft.”

Here, Gersbeck offers some tried, tested, and practical ways to overcome your comedic hangups and make a woman laugh.

1. Be comfortable laughing at yourself.

Just as writers are told to “write what they know,” your sense of humor should come from the same place—yourself. “I find that drawing from personal experiences is what usually lands the most,” Gersbeck says. “Some of the best comedians base their entire act on self-deprecation. There’s something to be said for making fun of yourself. It shows that you’re cool and laid back. I wouldn’t know, though—I’m a big, stupid idiot.”

One thing to note: Self-deprecation can take a turn from funny to awkward if you take it too far. Joking about being a klutz or horrible at cooking is one thing, but an extended rant about how you’re terrible at life will become a pity party fast. And a pity party is never funny.

2. Practice “word economy”.

Knowing when to quit while you’re ahead is an essential comedic skill. “Word economy is super-important,” Gersbeck quips.

Put another way: You don’t need to talk a lot to be funny. Some of the funniest people are masters of the one-liner who save their words for when they have something meaningful to say. Stop and listen. Humor is based heavily on interaction, knowing your audience, and knowing when to plug in or hang back. Trying to spout off a bunch of lukewarm jokes will just drown out the ones that actually land.

3. Don’t be afraid to be corny.

Deliberately being corny is a good, safe way to get a chuckle without being offensive, especially if you don’t know her or her sense of humor just yet. Humor doesn’t need to be particularly unique or clever. Sometimes the best laughs are cheap laughs, and if off-the-cuff, elaborate wit isn’t your forte, arm yourself with a few cheesy icebreakers. But remember to, especially in this case, practice that word economy we just talked about.

“Some people actually like corny jokes,” Gersbeck says. “Not me, though. There’s only so much material you can get out of corn.”