Observational Humor — Case Study #143

February 5th, 2016

Here is another Observational Humor monologue which was presented at the end of a meeting. I observed what was said and what happened during the meeting, and at the end of the meeting I presented humorous observations. We will look at the set-ups, the jokes, and what made the jokes work.

THE SET-UPS (What happened and what was said during the meeting.)

1. In a speech about writing a winning Tall Tale speech, we were told to open with a catchy statement and also to know our closing perfectly.

2. Our Toastmaster was introduced as a District contest winner and an expert in vocal variety.

3. A speaker told us that vocal variety will bring your characters to life.

4. The word of the day was Iota.

5. Bill, a former club member, arrived a half hour late.

6. A speaker talked about four personality styles represented on a
matrix by four symbols.

7. She said that the circle represented water.

8. A speaker told us to increase credibility by citing our sources.

9. She suggested that it was not good to cite Wikipedia as a source.

10. She said that her husband was “a hard circle” in the matrix.

11. She used a repetitive phrase in her speech, “Are you sure?”

12. A speaker’s speech title was: “What in the World Was I Thinking?”

13. A speaker talked about sky diving while “strapped to a guy.”

14. I was wearing a sweater embroidered with the logo of The National Speakers Association.


“And that’s how I jumped over the moon!”

(Good response. Strong laugh.)

I have the last line memorized.

(Good laugh. Nice topper.)

Our General Evaluator is a two-time District winner in Evaluation.
He is a two-time District winner in Tall Tales.
He is a four-time District winner in Humorous Speaking.
But he has never won the International Speaking Contest at the District level.
We apologize for not bringing you a winner.
(Funny because of the truth. Often we tend to remember the negative
things in life.)

I am an expert in Vocal Variety.
I bring my characters to life.
(Self-deprecation. I am not known for my vocal variety.)

I was in a college fraternity, Iota Delta Kapa
(Playing with the word IOTA.)

I’d like to welcome the late Bill Lusk.
(A recycled line which I had used before. Always gets a good laugh.)

Tonight, we’ll talk about the four styles of humor.
The wiggly line represents those who crash and burn.
The triangle represents those who use the rule of three.
The circle represents water, those who wet their pants.
And the square represents those who pun.
(The call back of symbols got good laughs.)
My source for that information is Wickipedia.
What in the World Was I Thinking.

Melanie you said that your husband Jim was a hard circle.
Are you sure?
(The call back of the HARD CIRCLE comment would only work with a follow-on punchline. “Are you sure?” A good laugh.)

After my speech tonight, I thought that Iota have practiced more.
(Playing with the word of the day and sound-alikes (I oughta). Looking for something that almost sounds like the word of the day is usually good for a laugh.)

Next time I give a contest speech I’m going to be strapped to a guy
(Absurdity. Paints a silly picture.)

I was wearing this sweater while playing Black Jack this week. A guy at the other end of the table commented: “You’re wearing a National Speakers Association sweater  but you never speak.” My simple reply: “I only speak when I’m paid.”

(Something that really happened. A funny observation.)

Risk and Reward in Performance

January 13th, 2016

Memorable moments are often a result of preparation, confidence, and taking a risk. In this video clip, Johnny Carson takes a chance by bringing audience member David Tolley on stage to play the piano. Having had a cancellation of a scheduled pianist, The Tonight Show decided to bring up an audience volunteer who said he played the piano. And play he did. Carson introduced him saying, “You know this is not set up, because obviously David would not dress this way if he knew he was going to be on a big television show in front of a national audience.” David was wearing a Nike t-shirt, blue jeans with holes, and sandals. He was a hit. The audience enjoys and appreciates taking a risk, especially when it is successful. David was later scheduled for a repeat engagement on the show.  Prepare for opportunity, have confidence, take a risk.

Post Holiday Season

January 2nd, 2016

Now That The Holiday Season is Behind Us…

We reflect and realize that with each passing year more of our favorite music is played in elevators.

We celebrated the season by hanging our holiday decorations early. No sense waiting until the last minute. That’s why we put up our tree 13 years ago. It puts us in a festive mood early.

We honored the holidays by serving foods which we don’t enjoy enough to have all year long. We fill the refrigerator with fruit cake, egg nog and mincemeat pie. We know that we’ll appreciate these treats even more by having them only once a year.

The challenge of the season is buying things for friends and family who already have everything they need. And they’ll do the same for you. It might be more fun to gift strangers who actually need something.

We spend December going to parties with people we don’t socialize with all year. Do you think we could double our enjoyment by going to parties with people we’ve never even met?

We are reminded that the holiday season is the time to keep your sense of humor, drop in on special people to say hi, and phone those who that don’t live nearby. Be thankful for home, food, and friends. Life is a gift and every day deserves celebration.

And may your next elevator ride remind you that you did it your way.

Trying Too Hard

December 27th, 2015

We recently reveived a good comment from Adam Floyd (wingedjoker.com)
about one of the jokes in the Observational Humor — Case Study #142.  His Comment: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but ‘I’ve written eight books. No…I ate my first book. I was hungry,’ felt a little try hard. If I heard it, I would think it was random and forced.”

Good point Adam. You’re right. As a stand-alone joke it isn’t especially clever. But it passed the most important test. It got a good laugh. One clue is that I only publish monologue jokes that get a good response. Not necessarily rolling-in-the-aisles humor, but better than a titter, a chuckle, or a groan. Occasionally I’ll publish a less-than-desired humor response reaction to a joke for the purpose of examining a failed joke and using it to make learning points. I know that in this case the joke worked because I printed it, without mentioning that it was a failed joke.

A reason that an Observational Humor joke works well is that the joke is supported by common experience of the audience. They heard that the guest speaker had written eight books. That gave context to the joke, helping make sense of why I used it.

I feel that an Observational Humor joke, supported by the connection to what went before, adds two points to the effectiveness of the joke. A weak joke response, rated a six, would be bumped up to an eight, very good on my arbitrary scale, because it was relevant to something which had been said or which had happened earlier in the meeting.

Some other triggers supporting the joke, most likely made a simple joke a keeper. “I’ve written eight books. No…I ate my first book. I was hungry.” If a joke is supported by more than one trigger, if one trigger misses, another may connect with the audience.

– A call-back to the mention of the speaker having written eight books.  This connection answers the audience member’s question, “Why is he making this simple joke? Why is the comment relevant?”

– A sound-alike connection between the words eight and ate.

– An implied punch line. I ate my first book implies that I was not
successful and that as a starving artist I ate my work. I immediatelyfollowed that by stating what I had just implied, feeling a need to make that clear.

– Self-deprecation. Stating that I was not a multi-published author, but closer to being a starving-artist.

– Using several connections that require some work on the part of the audience, kicks in the superiority factor.

– Coming at a simple joke from several directions can turn a “trying
too hard joke” into one that actually works. And the old saying is
probably true, that for it to be funny…you probably had to be there.

– But that’s NOT to say that EVERYBODY thought the joke was funny. humor is very subjective. But I know that the joke registered with the majority of those in the audience because I didn’t delete it from the published monologue. Thanks for sharing a good point with us Adam.

The Other Miss Universe Winner

December 21st, 2015

A Recipe For Confusion

You may have heard that Steve Harvey announced the wrong person as winner of the Miss Universe contest last night.  He had been a great emcee, and then mis-read the results card, crowning the wrong contestant.  Harvey is a seasoned performer.  I’m a big fan.  If it happened to him, it could certainly happen to you or me.   As Cavett Robert told us, “Learn from Other People’s Experience (OPE).”

Here is what unfolded:

Harvey while setting the stage for announcing the winner:  “One of you is about to become our new Miss Universe.  If for any reason she is unable to perform her duties, the First Runner Up will take her place.  Good luck to both of you.” Referring to Miss Columbia and Miss Philippines.

“Miss Universe 2015 is … Columbia.”  (The winner was actually Philippines.)

Less than two minutes later Harvey walks back on stage, realizing that he has an error to correct.

“OK folks…ah…there’s… I have to apologize.”

The audience cheers and laughs as if they were expecting a joke.

“The 1st runner up is Columbia.”

“Miss Universe 2015 is … Philippines.”

“Miss Philippines, take your first walk as Miss Universe.”

“Listen folks, let me just take control of this.  This is exactly what’s on the card.  I will take responsibility for this.  It was my mistake.  It was on the card.  Horrible mistake.  But the right thing.  I can show it to you right here…the First Runner Up is Columbia.  It was my mistake.  Still a great night.  Please don’t hold it against the ladies.”

A Recipe For Confusion:

1. Announcing the wrong winner started the confusion snowball rolling downhill. Nobody was confused yet, with the exception of the head judge and ballot counter who knew that the wrong person was crowned the winner.

2. Harvey was probably informed of the mistake by a messenger bearing bad news.

3. Steve Harvey had been an excellent emcee for the event. But to err is human…and it could have just as easily been you or me getting that panicky feeling accompanied with the thought: “Now what am I going to do?” The cliché tells us there are two kinds of emcees.  Those who have made mistakes in the performing of their duties, and those who will make mistakes in the future.

4. It took almost two minutes for Harvey to walk back on stage with the mission to correct the mistaken winner announcement. He needed to fix the announcement of First Runner Up and of the Winner.  But if we think of those announcements as punch lines, they need set-ups to give them context to make them understandable.  The opening line of, “OK folks…ah…there’s…I have to apologize,” tells the audience that something is to follow, but does not make it clear that a serious correction is coming.  He was trying to say, “we made a mistake,” but he doesn’t get the words out.  Therefore, when the corrections were made without proper context (set-up), they were a bolt out of the blue, totally unexpected.  The reaction of the audience following the word apologize, was laughter and applause which seemed to indicate that they were expecting a joke.  The correct 1st Runner-Up and winner were announced, but didn’t immediately sink in with the audience or the contestants.

5. When announcing corrections or changes, be clear how and to what they apply.

6. Part of the problem was that Harvey was not “on a script.”  The card he was reading simply had the names and place annotations for 2nd runner up, 1st runner up, and the 2015 Miss Universe winner.  He announced the Second Runner up, which was on the top of the card, Miss USA.  The card did not specify what to do next:

– Announce the 1st runner up, in which case the winner is implied and never heard over the cheers of the audience.

– Announce the winner and let the 1st runner up be implied.

– So it becomes an improvised choice on the part of the emcee.

7. The card also didn’t give instructions to say the words “in the event that she’s unable to perform her duties…” So Harvey was improvising, using standard pageant phraseology.  As important as the results of a contest are, avoiding improvisation, and working with a prepared script is a good idea.

8. If this was a recipe for confusion, who could have been confused:

– The emcee, in this case Steve Harvey, but it could have been you or me.

– The audience.  It took them a minute or two to understand what was happening.

– The winner, who was told to take her “first walk,” and who was standing next to the 1st Runner Up who was wearing the crown and sash of the winner.

– The 1st Runner Up.  Was she supposed to take the crown and sash and give them to the winner?

Lessons Learned for Future Emcees.

– Work from a complete script.  Improvisation does not have a place when the accuracy of results is important.

– Practice getting a completed results card from the Head Judge or Ballot Counter.  Read it out loud to ensue it’s clear and understandable.

– When announcing corrections or changes, be clear how and to what they apply.

– Ensure that the results card is printed or typed and a font size which is easy to read.

– When announcing corrections or changes, be clear how and to what they apply.

– If you are the emcee, bring your glasses if you need them.

– If you question what is on the results card, get clarification before you make the announcement.

The Cliche

December 13th, 2015

Avoid clichés like the plague.  So advises William Safire in Rules For Writers.  When a writer or speaker uses a cliché, it’s often with the intent of being descriptive or creative.  However, the effect of using a cliché is often the opposite of what is intended.

By its very nature, a cliché is a tired descriptive choice which lacks creativity.  Any phrase used by a bunch, loses its punch.  If you’re going to use a cliché…be the first.  If you use it first, you claim the fame.  Use it second, you’re blamed as lame.  In other words, create the fresh, catchy expression which other people will copy, and maybe making it a cliché. It’s like a multi-level-marketing opportunity.  The first to create the concept and the first to jump on the band wagon, are the ones who will profit he most.  Late comers to an MLM opportunity are like late adapters of a cliché.

This applies to all of your content.  Originality rules.  A well-worn joke can give your entire speech or routine the illusion of staleness.  Fast track your road to success with original content and humor.

A cliché may be a poor choice:

– When you are using it because you think it’s descriptive or creative.  The more over-used the expression is, the more poor the choice.

– When it’s the easy or lazy choice.  Don’t take a creative cop out.   Instead, make your target an original, creative, brilliant, catchy thought that’s destined to become a cliché.  Create a brilliant way of expressing something that has your fingerprints all over it.

A cliché may be a good choice:

– When used as a crystal clear set up for a joke.

– When it serves as a disguise to hide a punchline or to set a false expectation.  What may be considered as a hack choice of words, a cliché, may actually be hiding an unexpected punch line. Its familiarity may be just the short-cut you need set up the perfect joke.  Cliché camouflaging it a useful humor tool.

Break through the staleness factor of a cliché by increasing your cliché awareness. When you want to say that your fans are old, “What I’m saying is my fans don’t buy green bananas.”  A cliché.  An old joke which was funny the first time you heard it.  Look for a colorful and interesting way to say that you have older fans: “I’d have more fans here tonight if we had more charging stations for scooters.”

Set a goal to be the creator of clichés.  Be the first to write and deliver something so magnetic that it will attract other writers and speakers to copy it, and in time turning your expression into a cliché.

Stand-Up Comedy

December 6th, 2015

The Power House Pros Second Annual Stand-Up Comedy Competition was held on November 30, 2015. Six brave and funny contestants took the challenge of being funny on stage. Congratulations to Elliott Chase, Andrea Grossen, Beverly Rideout, Joan Wang, JR Wilson, and Bill Parker.

In addition to the competitor presentations, we had comedy and tips delivered by five comedy coaches. Eric Culverson, George Gilbert, Al Jensen, Darren LaCroix, and Scott Pritchard.

And now, by the magic of video, you can drop in to the event and and enjoy the presentations.

Click here to view video

Special thanks to the contestants, the coaches, the Sgt at Arms JD Smith, the timer Jesse Oakley III, the Emcee Bill Brown, the Videographer/Editor Philip Dahlheimer, and the Facility Host Ryan Mulligan. And of course we thank the audience. Without you it would have just been a quiet rehearsal.

Humor Power Newsletter Changes

December 2nd, 2015

Humor Power Tips Newsletter is celebrating its 20th Anniversary in February. That month also marks the 10th Anniversary of our Humor Power Blog.

We have published 245 issues of the newsletter.

We will be changing our Humor Power Tips Newsletter from Monthly to Quarterly. Our plan is to include a more substantial humor-skills article and fewer links in the newsletter to our Blog. Our next issue will be March 1, 2016.

In the 10 years since we started our Blog we have posted 783 times. We will continue to post to the Blog about once a week. For readers who like to hear from us more than four newsletters a year, please follow our Blog.

We may run an occasional contest, but our plan is to discontinue regular contests.

I look forward to a continued relationship through our Blog and quarterly newsletter. If you would like to comment on this format change, you can participate in a quick four-question survey.

Losing A Speech Contest

November 17th, 2015

Here is an inspiring internet posting by Laurette Lynn.  She lost a Toastmasters speech contest, and like all of us, she had to deal with the sting and disappointment of losing.  Her reflections on the experience are like a great movie.  The essay illustrates how we can deal with a challenge, be frustrated, and yet learn from the experience. It’s all about dealing with the upset and coming out a stronger person in the end.

Here are Laurette Lynn’s words

Humor Power Article:  So You Lost a Speech Contest?

Stand-up Comedy Open Mic Contest

November 13th, 2015

The Second-Annual
Stand-Up Comedy Open Mic Contest
Sponsored by PowerHouse Pros

Don’t miss this fun night of laughter.
Monday, November 30, at 6:15 pm

Special Persentation: What Agents are Lookng for in a Comedian.

The location is 920 Pilot Road in Las Vegas.
Join us for an evening of fun. If you miss it…we will have the last laugh!