Archive for March, 2006

10 Ways To Make Your Boss Laugh

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

People like and trust someone with a good sense of humor.  A good sense of humor shows the boss that you are happy and like your job.  A sense of humor is good for job security.  Developing a great sense of humor is a commitment.  If you wanted to be a good golfer, it’s not likely you’d think that reading one article would do the job.  So it is with humor.  Here are a few thoughts on impressing the boss with humor which will get you started and point you in the right direction.

1.  Analyze the humor style of your boss.  If your boss likes Gary Larsen cartoons, wouldn’t it make sense to clip a great cartoon when you see one and attach it to a memo?  Does the boss laugh?  Does she tell jokes?  Does he smile?  Just because your boss doesn’t tell jokes doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have a sense of humor.  She may be a carrier of humor, rather than a creator or initiator of humor.  He may be the first one to laugh at someone else’s jokes.  It’s also a possibility that your boss may never laugh at jokes and yet appreciate and enjoy humor.  Your boss may have MY personality.  I don’t often laugh out loud, but I love humor.  Everyone’s humor personality is different. 

Here’s a word of caution.  If your boss seems to like off-color humor, I’d avoid using that style of humor yourself.  If she tends to tell or laugh at sex jokes, it’s still unlikely that she will want the person she promotes to sales manager to be a teller of sex jokes or bodily function humor.  And just because the favorite movie clip of the boss is the campfire scene from Blazing Saddles (where the cowboys had eaten far too many beans), that doesn’t mean that she will appreciate a whoopee cushion on HER desk chair.  For an upward-bound career, keep your humor clean and know your audience.  Blue humor is a comedy-cop out.  It’s too easy to tell a sex joke.  Leave that style of humor to the lazy and less inspired.  You can do better.  And your career will thank you.  For more on blue humor:  www.humorpower.com/art-bluehumor.html

2.  Understand what makes humor tick.  Humor is primarily about surprise and relationships.  One of the basic principles of telling a joke is keeping the punchline and punchword disguised until the end of the joke.  The punchword is the word that triggers the laugh.  Ideally it should be the last word you say.  And the element of surprise is the reason it’s best not to say: Here’s something funny that happened to me on the way over here.  That’s called telegraphing the joke, and it works against you.

Also a critical concept of humor is relationships.  A good joke or cartoon is almost always a connection of two previously unrelated thoughts.  I arrived early before a speech and noticed two signs over the exit door in the back of the room.  The signs were not related, but posted one above the other.  The lower sign said “Capacity 475” and the upper sign said “Restrooms”…  In my opening remarks I observed that the SIGN over the back door said “Restrooms capacity 475…I guess that means there’s no waiting.”  It got a big laugh.  The humor connected two previously unrelated signs.  Get into the habit of looking for connections and relationships.  It’s the number one skill for creating your own humor.  For more insights on what really makes humor tick: www.humorpower.com/original_humor.html

3.  Get in shape.  Go to the gym.  No, I’m not talking about free weights and admiring yourself in the mirror.  We’re not talking about pumping iron.  I’m suggesting that your humor skills get stronger with exercise.  Many of our blog readers participate in our monthly humor contests.  We normally get between 250 – 600 entries for each contest.  These are people who not only want to have fun, but know that their humor focus is sharpened by writing funny lines until they have none left…and then writing ten more lines.  Just about anything of value takes work.  Developing a relationship takes work.  Becoming talented on the piano takes work.  Getting in better shape takes work.  And improving your sense of humor takes work too.  It’s about commitment and focus.  Check for the contest announced on the HumorPower Blog on April 1 and give it a shot.   Even if you just set aside just a half hour to develop some funny lines…you’ll be preparing your mind to be funnier in the future.  Step into the humor gym and give yourself a workout.  For a look at several of our past contests:  www.humorpower.com/blog/category/humor-contests

4.  Take Mind Vacations.  To make your boss laugh you have to be in a state of fun, to be relaxed.  It’s hard to be funny when you’re stressed out.  When you’re tense, you’re humor tends to be negative.  Sarcastic humor is the result of frustration and tension.  It works against you.  Here are some ideas to keep your mind, and humor, on a higher plane:

a. Keep something that makes you laugh or smile near your phone.  When you get placed on hold for thirty seconds, flip open your favorite book of humor writings or cartoons to lighten the moment.

b. Have a fun photo on your desk, something that recalls wonderful memories.  Maybe you have a picture of your kids at Disney World.  Maybe a picture of your last year’s Halloween costume.  Perhaps a photo will remind you that your dog makes you laugh.

c. Consider breaking the pattern when you’re in a stressful mood.  Do something differently.  If you’ve been with people, spend some time alone.  If you’ve been sitting, take a walk.  If you’ve been in a quiet environment, go someplace stimulating.  If you’ve been indoors, step outside.  Whenever you’re stressed, your body is usually telling you that you need to do something differently.

d. Help design a better break room.  This will provide a place for you and your co-workers to have a mini-vacation.  Find some fun posters to decorate the room.  Furnish the room with fun games and puzzles.  Design a bulletin board for fun photos, cartoons and contests.  You’ll make the work environment more fun for you and for everyone else.  The boss will like that.  For more ideas on brightening the break room:  www.humorpower.com/humor_workplace.html

5.  The physical leads the emotional.  And visa versa.  If you want to feel like you’re having fun, act like you are.  If your physical posture is depressed, it will be hard to be funny.  Do you spend a good part of your day smiling?  This is a challenge for me.  I’m not a smiley kinda guy.  I wish I were.  On the one hand, if I’m walking down a dark alley and I see someone approaching me, I’m really good at giving the “don’t mess with me” look.  That’s a good thing.  But if I’m at a party and want to meet someone, sometimes my body language will unintentionally say “don’t mess with me.”  Oops.  It’s something I work on. 

One of the keys to developing a great smile is to do some mirror work.  I’ve done that and it has been very helpful.  Here’s the trick.  We know what a good smile looks like.  We just don’t know what a good smile feels like.  By doing mirror practice, your goal is to create muscle memory, to be able to recreate that great looking smile.  Since doing mirror work, my sessions in a photo studio are so much more productive.   I find it easier to get photos with great smiles.  That’s a step in the right direction towards being more humorous.  For more on smile power:  www.humorpower.com/smile_power.html and also www.humorpower.com/art-smilemyth.html

6.  Story power.  A great way to impress your boss with humor is to be great at telling personal stories.  With this skill you can earn the reputation as a great leader, motivator or sales professional.  Telling a story is the perfect way to build one-on-one relationships and a terrific way to bring a speech alive.  Start by keeping a humor journal.  Record every funny thing that happens to you.  You’ll discover that funny stuff happens to you more frequently.  Actually that’s not true.  What really happens is that you become more tuned to the funny stuff that would have normally gone unnoticed.  Then practice telling your stories your friends and family.  You might even join a Toastmasters club. It’s a great place to sharpen your stories.  I joined when I was 25.  I wish I had joined sooner.  When your story gets consistently good, that’s when you tell it to the boss.  Don’t use the boss for practice!  For more on Toastmasters:  www.Toastmasters.org

And remember, when you tell stories, one of the most effective forms of humor is poking fun at yourself.  Humor targeted at you is almost always safe material.  And stories coming from your own experiences will be original and fun to listen to.  People like others who don’t take themselves too seriously.  For more thoughts on the power of stories:  www.humorpower.com/touch_audience.html

7.  Volunteer to plan a party.  This is a hot idea.  Doing this is what led me to a career in humor.  I was in my 20s and noticed that my workgroup was always looking for volunteers to plan parties.  I found two co-workers (who happened to be really funny, since I wasn’t) and together, for three years, we planned and presented holiday parties, roasts, retirements and going-away parties.  This hands-on party planning experience taught me the nuts and bolts of humor skills. For me it was the beginning of becoming a humor expert. And the boss loved it.  Don’t underestimate the value of this suggestion.

8.  Become a humorous summarizer.  Set a goal for yourself.  Every time you attend a staff meeting, try to create a piece of observational humor by the end of the meeting.  This doesn’t mean you always will use it.  But when the timing seems right, weave your humor gem into your closing remarks.  You’ll get better over time.  And eventually you’ll gain a reputation for being a very funny person.  People will learn to listen to you every time you speak.  This is hot tip number two.  Observational humor skills are powerful.  For more on observational and spontaneous humor:  www.humorpower.com/spontaneous_humor.html   For more on why spontaneous humor is powerful:  www.humorpower.com/art-whysponthumor.html   For a case study on creating observational humor at a meeting:  www.humorpower.com/blog/2006/03/creating-observational-humor-a-case-study

9.  So you don’t tell jokes?  No problem.  Show your sense of humor in other ways:  By a toy on your desk, by a plaque on your wall, by a bumper sticker on your car, by the books on your shelf.  There are ways to show your appreciation for and enjoyment of humor without being a jokester.  Wear a funny shirt on casual day.  One of my favorite shirts is filled with cartoon characters.  Send a humorous greeting card.  Look for ways to share humor other than traditional jokes.

10.  Don’t try too hard.  A lesson you learn from the comedy-improv stage is: The harder you try to be funny, the less funny you’ll be.  When you try really hard to be funny you appear to come from a place of need.  You appear to be desperately craving attention.  And that’s not funny.  I’ve known people who were funny, but who tried so hard to be funny that they weren’t.  Does that make sense?  When you try some humor, just throw it out there as though you were simply testing it.  If nobody laughs, pretend you were serious.  If you do it right, nobody will know.  After all, the best humor comes as a surprise.  So since your boss wasn’t looking for something funny, if you weren’t funny, then he won’t have a clue that you were expecting to be.  Don’t beg for laughs.  Just let it go and learn from it.

Contest Results — Life Lessons

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Our Life-Lessons contest received over 250 entries.  Thanks for the excellent writing to everyone who submitted.  Congratulations to all.  Don’t miss the Lessons-Learned section which follows the results.

A panel of five judges (speakers and comedy-improv players) had the difficult task of selecting the top lines.  Here are the winners:

FIRST PLACE

Life has taught me….
No matter how sexy your spouse is, at some point you’re going to have to talk with each other.
Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia

SECOND PLACE
Life has taught me….
When you are in a bad mood, everyone else is a terrible driver.
Sharon Rhoton, Dallas, TX

THIRD PLACE
Life has taught me….
It is difficult to be funny when you have a lack of humor, especially in your audience.
Anish Vyavahare, India, Mumbai

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

Life has taught me….

Cactus is a poor choice to cover your couch with.

Don’t get married because you like wedding cake.

Real heroes don’t wear a cape and usually know how to wear their underwear.

My wife watches Fear-Factor for the cooking tips.

To call my wife Honey, Sweetheart and Darling when I forget her real name.

Tupperware keeps things so fresh I want them to make my coffin.

One mistake can be forgiven, two pushes the friendship and three tells me to find a place for another body.

All time is wasted that isn’t spent breathing.

Never wear your bridal dress to someone else’s wedding.

Being poor is ok until you want to buy something.

It’s safer to smoke than participate in any sport involving the word skate in its name.

Never hammer nails into an explosive.

Life has taught me that the greatest virtue is to be fair…hence, I never go out in the sun.
 
I will love you till the end, especially of this week.
 
I want you to be the richest, most successful person in the world and then I want you to be my friend.

Computer bugs only occur when the technician is not watching.

A vacuum is a device for evenly distributing dirt throughout your house.

The frequency of furnace filter replacement should exceed that of furnace replacement.

Cats prefer to lie on the clean clothes pile.
 
Never get a tattoo from a guy named Nervous Eddie.
The only speeches that change your behavior come from doctors.
 
Women don’t enjoy flirting as much as I do…at least not with me.

Lessons Learned

1.  Quality and quantity.  As is normally the case, the winner was the person who submitted the most lines.  In the comedy writing business, even top professional writers aim for quantity.  The funniest lines seldom spring from the pen or keyboard while writing the first line.  Inspiration comes from deep within the creative process…with the 20th line, the 50th line, the 100th line.  When you go to the gym, your success comes not from the first pushup or curl, but from many repetitions. 

2.  Subjectivity of humor.  As usual, the taste of the judges varied from person to person.  Your favorite line is likely different from the results of the judging ballots.

3.  Life philosophy.  Many lines had an excellent philosophical message with a humorous touch.  Often a great source of humor is the truth.

Life has taught me…
Never write what you really think.
Death is a waste of a good life and justice for a bad one.
First impressions are often judged by the words you should have said.
The more I learn the more I need to learn.
Health problems are the speeding fines for living life in the fast lane.

4.  Target audience.  Sometimes a humorous line was written for a specific target audience.  Someone who lived in Las Vegas would enjoy this line more than someone who lived elsewhere:Life has taught me…
When you live in Vegas, “What happens in Vegas” catches up with you quickly. 
Note:  This is a play on Las Vegas advertising slogan “What Happens In Vegas,  Stays In Vegas.”
And members of Toastmasters would be more likely to appreciate:

Life has taught me…
If at first you don’t succeed; you’ve got the makings of good Toastmaster’s speech.
If the joke is good for Toastmasters, the mates at the pub won‘t understand it.
5.  The Joke Set-Up.  The Set-Up for a joke is as often as important as the punchline.  The Cactus joke was actually submitted as a Set-Up for the punchline (an aside) which followed:

Life has taught me…

That Cactus is a poor choice to cover your couch with.(This is a test of the National Humorous Impact of the “K” Sound Association. This is only a test)
Note:  This was a link of the K-sound article with the contest announcement which were both in the last newsletter.

6.  Implied Set-up.  Sometimes the Set-Up is not directly stated.

Life has taught me…to run like hell when a chicken sneezes.
What is implied is your awareness of the news headlines on the bird flu.  Without that awareness (setup) your likely response to the joke would probably be “Huh?”
Life has taught me…that the battle of the sexes will never be won until women learn they have already lost.
Note:  What is implied is your being aware of the supposed sexist attitude of the imaginary writer.

7.  The twist.  Often, a good humor line has an unexpected twist.

The teachers always hated me, even when I was the principal.
I once tried reading a book upside down, but I had a hard time keeping my legs up in the air.

8.  That’s it for this month’s contest.  Look for our next contest announcement on April 1.  No fooling.   

Observational Humor — Case Study #1

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

My regular Toastmasters Club meeting serves as a visit to the gym.  It’s where I exercise and strengthen my observational humor skills.  It’s always a good workout.  If you’re not familiar with Toastmasters, it’s an organization which helps members to become better speakers (www.Toastmasters.org).

One of the special things, included in our club’s meeting agenda, is a segment near the end of the meeting called The Observational Minute.  During that part of the meeting the Observational Humor Master rises and asks for contributions of observational humor from the audience.  It’s always a fun point of the meeting.   Last night’s meeting was no exception.

Here’s a taste of the observational humor I created and shared last night.  For it to make sense, I’ll need to give you the situation or setup (what happened at the meeting), before I share the lines with you.  And then I’ll analyze some of the lines.

Keep in mind that observational humor is powerful because it’s customized for a specific audience. 

“You-had-to-be-there” is an expression which underscores what gives observational and spontaneous humor such impact.  Consequently the lines which were funny at the club meeting are presented here NOT to make you laugh.  Putting this on paper is like a laboratory experience.  To paraphrase EB White: Examining humor is like dissecting a frog, it dies in the process.  But we learn from it.  Learning and growth is the reason I share this with you.

The Set Up

Here is how the meeting flowed (not everything, just the background you need to understand the humor that follows).

1. The Toastmaster of the evening (the MC) was Steve Pavlina (www.StevePavlina.com).  He had done his homework and did a terrific job of weaving fun into the entire meeting. 

2. Our meetings normally have a theme chosen by the Toastmaster of the Evening.  Steve chose a very unusual theme:  “Being John Kinde.”  He chose that theme because, two days earlier, I had won the Area level speech contest.  I expected the meeting to feel like a roast, and in some respects it had a touch of that. 

3. The word of the day was Jocularity.  A good choice for the theme of the evening.

4. Bill Jacky, in the opening of the meeting, suggested turning off all cell phones.  He mentioned that he had once been embarrassed by his cell phone ringing while he was singing in a church choir.

5. President Ron Lewison, recovering from Bell’s Palsy (which caused loss of control and drooping of the right side of his face) made the self-observation that he was still “Half-Faced.”

6. Steve circulated copies of the agenda which featured my photo, the entire size of the page, screened and printed as the background to the entire agenda.

7. Steve followed his meeting theme by frequently referring to my varied background and the many jobs I’ve held.  Among others, these included blackjack dealer, improv director and nuclear weapons custodian.

8.  Steve mentioned the terms splitting and doubling down involved in playing blackjack.

9.  Steve told the group that immediately after the Area Contest I went to work as a blackjack dealer.

10. S Frank Stringham gave a speech which included some song lyrics.  Among them was “If you see a john…standing in the rain…” from a popular musical.  The song lines were not intended as a reference to me. 

11. In his speech, S also talked about Adam and Eve and the creation of the earth.

12. Steve commented on how, when a funny joke is told at the meeting, everyone will laugh but me.

13.  Steve mentioned that S laughs at his own jokes.

14.  John Bernstein said, during an evaluation of Randy Mitchell’s talk, that when speakers use self-deprecating humor, it causes him to like the speaker.

15. Steve suggested that Randy could improv his talk by using more enthusiasm.

16.  Randy mentioned that, based on Steve’s comments, it appears that I can’t keep a job.

In a nutshell, those are a few things that happened, at the meeting last night, which setup the jokes in my monologue which follows. 

The observational humor monologue. 

Note that my monologue followed about ten pieces of observational humor made by other members.  Only one of those humor lines duplicated one of the lines I had prepared. 

Lesson:  There is a wealth of situational humor out there.  You’ll catch some, and miss some.  Just know that it’s all around you and to keep your humor radar tuned.  I see observational humor only when I am precisely focused on that task.  And I don’t catch everything. 

Also note that every observational line in the monologue springs from something that was said or happened during the meeting.  No part of the monologue was prepared in advance.  For observational humor to be at its best, you need to be “in the moment.”  

Also note that while I pay attention to the flow and structure of the monologue (my note sheet is filled with deletions and arrows), I normally do not have time to hone the transitions between one line and the next.  It’s a lab experience and my goal is to try as many good lines as possible, creating the entire monologue as the meeting takes place.  It’s a good monologue. It received good response.  But a refined work of art is isn’t. 

With observational humor, you aren’t shooting for perfect.

Here’s the monologue with notes:

1.  (I have the reputation of being a low-key, laid-back speaker.  After I was introduced, I did my best to run to the front of the room with a loud voice and wild gestures.) Thank you for a wonderful meeting. (I threw my arms around Steve, hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.)  Finally a theme I can be good at…Being John Kinde (as I tried to be as un-John-Kinde as possible).

2. The theme of tonight’s meeting was “Everything You Never Asked About John Kinde…And Never Wanted to Know!”

3. (I turned and looked at John Bernstein:) “Was that enough self-deprecation for you to like me?” 

4.  It was mentioned that I can’t keep a job.  You don’t know the half of it.  I’ve also flown a fighter jet, played violin in an orchestra and worked ten years as a printer.  In a former life I was a Jock (gesturing to the word of the day sign, jocularity).  Then I was reborn as a boxer.  (Playing on the double meanings of jock and boxers, both are types of people and types of underwear.)

5.  Bill said that his cell phone went off when he was in a church choir.  What he didn’t tell you was that the embarrassing part was that his ring-tone was a song.  And it announced to the choir that he was a closet-fan of Gangsta Rap. (Note:  I looked for a disconnect between Church Choir and style of music.  Since I’m sure that Bill doesn’t listen to Gangsta Rap, I felt that it was outrageous enough to be safe to use.)

6.  Ron mentioned that he was half-faced.  At least nobody will ever accuse you of speaking out of both sides of your mouth.  (Note:  I then suggested, stepping out of the monologue, that when a speaker is dealing with an affliction, a good strategy is to find lines that take the stress out of the issue while you are speaking.  This will depend on the speaker.  And it will depend on his or her relationship to the audience.  I’m currently looking to blend some lines regarding Parkinson’s Disease into my talk, since that’s an issue I deal with.)

7.  (I held up an agenda sheet on which my head-shot photo was the prominent feature.) I have the feeling that tonight everyone’s dart board will be adorned with this.  (Note:  Again, self-deprecation.)

8.  I must have been in a strange mood after the Area Speech Contest.  When I got to work, I punched out an older woman.  She was sitting at my table and said, “Hit me!”  (Note:  This is a reference to blackjack where, when a player wants another card, they will sometimes say “hit me.”  That was one of the few blackjack terms that Steve had not used during his part of the program.)

8.  God created the earth in six days.  Then He said, “And it was good.”  He didn’t say, “And it was funny.”  That’s why I don’t laugh. (Note:  It came up twice during the meeting, and it’s a running gag in my club, that I don’t laugh out loud as often as everyone else does. Running gags are ripe targets for observational humor.)

9.  If you see a John…Standing in the rain…
     A Kinde it isn’t…Bernstein’s the name!
  (Note:  Taking advantage of the fact that I wasn’t the only John in the room.)

10. Steve, you suggested that Randy could have delivered his speech with more enthusiasm.  In his defense, he was trying to comply with the theme and he was just “being John Kinde.”  (Note:  I opened AND closed the monologue with self-deprecating humor.)

So there you have it.  Observational humor:  The set up.  The lines.  The analysis.  I hope you enjoyed it and picked up an idea or two you can use.

Life Lessons Humor Contest

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Here’s our humor writing contest for March.

Your challenge is to write funny lines on this theme (sample lines follow)

Life has taught me…

Don’t cook anything that doesn’t match your kitchen floor.

The next time you buy carpet, pick a pattern that looks like dirt.

Never buy anything you can’t sell at a garage sale.

If you burn garlic toast badly enough, it will catch on fire.

The more a medicine tastes like a Fear-Factor beverage, the better it heals.

Ideas to Help You Create Humor

  1. Remember.  It’s not about the jokes.  It’s not about winning.  It’s about growth.  It’s about sharpening your sense of humor.  Writing funny lines is like going to the gym.  It strengthens your ability to see and create humor. Take the challenge.  Write some lines.  Submit your best ones.
  2. Here are some tips to get you started. 
  3. Take a good look at each of the sample humor lines listed above and notice how there is a connection of two (usually unrelated) things.  Food/Floor.  Buying something/getting rid of it.  Preparing food/Destroying it.  Medicine/Reality TV.  This is the key: Looking for links, connections, relationships.
  4. Explore events in your life that made you laugh.  Maybe not right away, but eventually.
  5. Look at things that irritate you and ask yourself why.
  6. Examine events that taught you something.  Leave it under the broiler long enough and garlic toast really WILL catch on fire.  I’ve done it more than once!
  7. Ask yourself what-if and why questions.  When I couldn’t sell something at a garage sale, I asked myself:  WHY did I buy it in the first place?
  8. Look at how things are different.  Notice how some foods, when dropped on the floor, make a mess and some blend in.
  9. Exaggeration.  A Fear-Factor beverage is probably stretching it a bit.  (Fear Factor–A reality show in the USA where people are forced to do things they fear to win a competition).
  10. Extrapolation.  Taking something a step further.  Browning garlic toast.  Burning garlic toast.  Igniting garlic toast. 
  11. Absurdity.  Carpet that looks like dirt?
  12. Look for solutions to problems.  At my house, unless company is coming, the vacuum cleaner sees little action.  Dirt colored carpet is sounding more practical all the time.
  13. Avoid submitting a line you’re heard from another source.  For example, a widely circulated funny line is:  Life has taught me that no man was ever shot by his wife while doing the dishes.  Old line.  Not original.  Take the challenge of writing your own lines.
  14. Set aside 30 minutes and see what you can create.

Here is how the contest works:

  1. Write some lines in the format of:  Life has taught me…
  2. I recommend you set a quota of ten lines or more.
  3. It’s also a good idea to work with a humor buddy to bounce around your ideas and sharpen your humor.
  4. Select your best lines.
  5. Submit your entries (you can send more than one line) by March 15, 2006 to:  HumorPowerTips@aol.com.
  6. A panel of judges (speakers and comedy improv players) will judge the entries.
  7. We’ll post the winners and honorable mention lines on March 20.
  8. Happy writing.  Have fun!