Archive for May, 2006

Being Funny — Public Speaking

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

When it comes to making people laugh, the rule of Less-Is-More usually applies.  This rule points to the fact that the harder we try to be funny the more our extra effort gets in the way of creating the laughs we want.

Think about the last time you saw a five-year-old who was trying desperately to get laughs.  The youngster does everything he or she can think of to get attention.  The intense showing off will often backfire, resulting not in laughs but annoyance.  Often it’s the quiet child who is the funniest.  Why?  Because life itself is funny.  Humor comes most easily out of the relaxed, natural state.  Kids are cute without trying.  A five-year-old just playing and being himself is funny enough.  When they try too hard, it gets in the way.

This principle of Less-Is-More applies to many areas of our life.  This is especially true when playing sports.  Michael Gelb, in his book about the efficient use of the body (Body Learning), points out that to master many physical activities we need to “give up trying too hard, but never give up.”  He says that’s at the very heart of the Alexander Technique.

I played disc golf with a friend this week. The game is a lot like real golf, except that you throw a frisbee instead of hit a golf ball.  You drive (throw) from the tee box, and near the hole (basket) some 300-500 feet away you “putt” from short range.  There are specialty driving and putting discs.  On the course, there are trees to avoid and sprinklers to contend with.  You can hook, slice, and dribble grounders into the grass.  I even lost a disc high in a pine tree.  The 24-hole course takes over two hours to play.

Since I hadn’t played disc golf in over two years, it didn’t surprise me that I had sore muscles the next day from throwing the disc. Off the tee box, the goal of your drive is to get as much distance as you can.  As a result, you put everything you’ve got into the throw.  I was soon to re-discover that the more effort I put into heaving the disc, the less control I had over the accuracy.  It wasn’t unusual to have my release trajectory fifteen or twenty degrees off track.  In fact, I had one of my longest throws when my release point was about seventy degrees off target.  I watched as the disc sailed over four lanes of traffic which paralleled the course.  The frustration of the bad throw was smothered by the joy of not hitting a car.

In disc golf the harder you try, the worse you do.  The trick is to relax and use good technique.  With a smooth release, it was possible to actually throw straight and long down the fairway.  I occasionally accomplished that miracle in my 102 strokes. It’s the same in golf, tennis, bowling, and dozens of other sports.  Relaxed technique beats the heavy-handed, grunting, heave-ho any day.

And so it is in trying to be funny.  A friend and terrific speaker is currently rehearsing a talk for a Regional speech contest in Toastmasters.  Knowing that a good speech will normally have some funny lines in it, he has seeded his speech with about ten laugh lines.  He’s in the process of figuring out how funny the lines are, and which lines are the best.  Next week he’ll be presenting the speech in front of a dozen different audiences.  I suggested that he measure and score the response to each humor line every time he gives the talk.  That’s easiest to do if you record the talk and listen to it later.  The goal would be to remove the weakest lines from the speech.  The bottom line is that Less-Is-More.  Although you might think that weaker lines would make the stronger lines standout, the more likely result is that the weaker lines actually dilute the impact of the better lines when examining their impact on the speech as a whole.  I’d rather have five funny lines in a talk than a dozen lines of mixed quality.

When using toppers, the technique of following one joke with another joke on the same theme, the jokes need to be strong and build.  Comedians often use a joke-topper-topper formula.  Each joke needs to be stronger than the previous one.  A topper which is weaker than the first joke will drain the energy from the routine.
While sharing the platform with Improv and Toastmaster friends, I’ve come to the surprising conclusion that people who have the most trouble with the Less-Is-More rule are usually the ones who are the funniest.  In many cases, they end up being less funny than people who have fewer natural humor skills.  And almost always, trying-too-hard results in them being less funny than they potentially could be. 

The key is Less-Is-More.  Hold back a bit.  Selectively use your best lines.  Don’t try too hard.  Don’t feel a need to be funny.  Don’t beg for laughs.  Don’t feel down if the laughs don’t come.  In the end, you will almost certainly be more funny than would be by trying harder.  Your humor is more likely to hit the mark when you’re relaxed and in the present moment.  Life itself is funny.  You really don’t have to try so hard.  Just live and the humor will happen.  Try too hard and your efforts will get in the way.

Related article:  Be Funny By Not Trying So Hard

Humor Writing Contest — The Results

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

We had over 350 entries.  Congratulations to all for the great creative effort.  As you’ll see there were many funny lines written for the theme of “In The Future…”  Without knowing the names of the authors, our panel of thirteen speakers and comedy improv players judged the lines.  Here are the results…followed by observations.

First Place
In the future…we’ll know if we were ripped off by fortune-tellers.
Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia (Les is our first two-time winner.  Congratulations.)

Second Place
In the future…the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will rule that two wrongs actually DO make a right.
Joe Evrard, Bardwell, KY

Third Place
In the future…the world will be war-free, injustice-free, human-free.
Abramo Bagnara, Castel Bolognese, Italy

Honorable Mention (in random order).

In the future…the lion will lie down with the lamb in a civil union.
In the future…you’ll be able to fly from New York to Los Angeles in one hour, while your luggage goes to Des Moines in thirty seconds.

In the future…England will win the World Cup…and then I’ll wake up.

In the future…my super model date will be Miss Universe 1950.

In the future…I will afford a personal plane and limousine, but not gasoline.

In the future…your wristwatch with be your notebook computer, your glasses will include heads-up news, weather and time display, as well as mobile phone but you don’t want to know where all the batteries go.

In the future…all will have learnt is that this was as good as it gets.

In the future…the latest music craze will have been replaced by something just as ridiculous.

In the future…as we age the most exciting things to look forward to are christenings, funerals, and Mission Impossible 28.

In the future…they still won’t discover a better laxative than teenagers.

In the future…tomorrow will still be a day away and the present is still the best place to live.

In the future…accidents will still cause 66% of all people.

In the future…hopefully humans will get one last chance to prove they are an intelligent species.

In the future…we’ll all live longer allowing us to experience debilitating
heath problems for many more years.

In the future…as so many tomorrows fade into yesterdays, the tears for times gone are compensated by the laughs still coming.

In the future…I’ve still have it and I’ll be old enough that it won’t matter that nobody wants it.

In the future…we’ll get even with our kids by spoiling theirs.

In the future…I’m going to exercise, lift weights and study
self-defense…then I’ll let my wife know who’s boss.

In the future…obesity will be cured by global warming as it’s hard to stay fat when you’re being baked.

In the future…I’m letting the whole neighborhood know I sleep in the
nude…that should stop anyone from breaking in to my place.

In the future…it will be cheaper to buy a car than to fill it with gasoline.

In the future…airport security checks will require an overnight stay

In the future…McDonalds will have sold enough hamburgers to justify using a second cow.

In the future…Bourbon will be cheaper than gasoline.  So don’t drive…drink and save money!

In the future…I’m going to live like I drive…fast but smooth with no time for jerks.

In the future…they’ll cross a chicken with kangaroo so you’ll be able to
purchase eggs that are already scrambled.

In the future…odds will be 3-to-1 that I can stop gambling.

In the future…I’m not going to laugh during sex…I’m going to read
something more serious.

In the future…I’m going to learn to understand females…it must be easier than understanding humor.

In the future…I’ll be unforgotten and beloved…I’m dying for that time.

In the future…I’ll be cheerful. Today I’m too stressed by making you

In the future…we’ll stop procrastinating.

In the future…you’ll remember everything I never said.

In the future…I’ll remember why I walked into this room.

In the future…we’ll have our grandchildren first.
In the future…Bill Gates will have more money.
In the future…sex will no longer be a four letter word.

In the future…computers will crash more efficiently.
In the future…..we’ll still be concerned about it.

In the future…I’ll still be late.

Observations from the contest:

1.  The philosophy of competition.  I’ve been entering the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest for eight weeks now.  I know the feeling of submitting lines that are not selected for recognition.  And sometimes I see winning lines that are definitely not as funny as what I submitted.  Well, I’m entitled to my opinion.  There are three reasons explaining my reaction.  First, I’m not a good judge of my own lines. Second, no matter who picks the best lines, most people won’t agree with the selections.  Third, humor is so subjective that trying to pick the funniest line is funny itself.  I often don’t agree with the top three lines for our contests (I’m not a voting judge).  But bottom line for me:  Writing, creating and competing are the rewards.  Winning is secondary.  Hopefully, someday, both you and I will have our 15 minutes of humor fame.  In the meantime, enjoy learning and growing.

2. Formula-Jokes.  Those are jokes which are easily adaptable or customized to fit a specific need or audience.  Here’s an example:
In the future…England will win the World Cup…and then I’ll wake up.
A great line that can easily be customized.
In the future…my husband will do the dishes…and then I’ll wake up.
In the future…I’ll get a big promotion…and then I’ll wake up.
In the future…I’ll get a hole-in-one…and then I’ll wake up.
In the future…look for formula jokes like this one that can be customized for your own use.

3.  Toppers and tag lines.  Look for opportunities to follow one joke with another on the same theme.
In the future…odds will be 3-to-1 that I can stop gambling.  And I’ll bet my life-savings on it.
In the future…I’m going to exercise, lift weights and study self-defense…then I’ll let my wife know who’s boss.  And I’ll be out of the hospital within a week.

4.  Philosophical smiles.  Good humor doesn’t have to be roll-on-the-floor humor.  A philosophical observation can be a subtle form of humor that connects with some people. 

5.  New contest.  New theme.  June 1, 2006.  Watch for it.  Put on your humor hat.  Submit some entries!

Humor Presentation Skills — Natural Delivery

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Making others laugh is more than just the right words.  It’s not just what you say.  It’s also HOW you say it and what you DO while you’re saying it.  As a speaker, performer, humorist or comedian you become a delivery vehicle for your humor. 

And what you DO while you are speaking extends far beyond the gestures you use to drive home the funny lines.  What you DO includes all the subtle movements that define your being. The posture that tells people who you are.  Not only that, bad posture and movement, over time, wears on you like rain and wind on the face of a cliff.  How you use your body affects your emotions and your physical well being.  As a humorous speaker your body that communicate either a person filled with stiffness and tension or a someone with a natural and relaxed presence. Your posture and movement either enhances your humor or it blocks it.

The future of speaking lies in a natural connected delivery.  A speaker or entertainer who switches into “speaker mode” at the start of a talk is performing in the style of the past.  Natural delivery is the future. And to achieve natural delivery is NOT natural.  Unfortunately we’re carrying a load of bad habits.  We don’t do what is natural.  We do what is habitual. 

We need to unlearn the old and set ways of behaving to make room for more natural posture and movement.  That’s part of what the Alexander Technique is about. 

An excellent overview of the Alexander Technique is provided in Body Learning by Michael Gelb.  The book is very enlightening and highly recommended.  One of the examples in the book is about learning to juggle.  To unlearn bad habits, we need to learn to let go of the startle response.  It creates a posture caused by tension.  If you juggle while tense (anticipating that you’re going to drop a ball) you are more likely to drop a ball because of the bad use of your body.  But if you can relax and know that dropping a ball is normal and natural, your new use of body will make it more likely that you will NOT drop a ball.  It’s much better explained in the book.  You need to get it.

The parallel with speaking is that our old posture is often shaped by the stress and tension of our life.  When we speak to make an audience laugh, we may have internalized a fear of rejection which holds us back from a relaxed speaking position.  An Alexander coach guides us to relearn how to move, how to stand, how to sit.  A forty-five minute private lesson is an amazing experience.  The feeling of being totally free and relaxed in your movement is an energizing experience. 

A typical lesson with my Alexander teacher included a study of my posture while lying down.  We would also practice sitting, standing, and sitting again.  I would be coached in my standing posture, my head and neck position.  With a light touch he would move my shoulders, my head, my chest.  I would practice walking and get feedback on my stride and arm swing.  This description of a class is in the most simple of terms.  The complexities and subtleties of coaching someone could only be properly explained by a certified teacher.  It’s a terrific experience.  Highly recommended.  It will move you to a new level of poise and professionalism.

Who studies the Alexander Technique?  Speakers, comedians, actors, musicians.  In fact, anyone interested in significantly improving their appearance and poise would benefit greatly.  Leaders in the business world, teachers, sales people and other professionals.  Many actors have had extensive Alexander Technique training (Patrick Stewart and Robin Williams being two of them).  When you’re at a concert, watch the first violinist take his or her chair.  It will probably be done with great poise and confidence.  The chances are good that you’re watching a professional musician who has studied the Alexander Technique.

How would you find more information on the Alexander Technique?  Start by getting the book, Body Learning by Michael Gelb.  Next, find a local Alexander Technique teacher.  Call your a local theatre group, the Drama Department of your local college or high school.  Ask if they know of someone locally who is a certified Alexander Technique teacher.  Or search for an Alexander Teacher online.  Maybe you would enjoy attending an inspiring Alexander Workshop in Malibu, California,  December 27, 2006 – January 1, 2007.  If you take action to add the Alexander experience to your life, it will set you ahead of your peers.  They won’t be doing it.

Humor On a First Date

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

When searching for a partner, some of us like tall people.  Some like ’em short.  Some find that slender is attractive, some don’t.  Some adore redheads, and some love black hair.  For some it’s blondes or brunettes.  Some have a fixation for super-sized body parts.  Many don’t.  Tastes vary widely.  But not so in preferences for a sense of humor.  You’ll look for a long time to find someone searching for a partner with a poor sense of humor or none at all.  A great sense of humor is an almost universally sought-after trait for both men and women…within  American culture.

And a sense of humor is clearly an asset on a first date.  Although women generally place a sense of humor higher on their wish list of desirable traits,  men still place a high value on humor when searching for a partner.  If you lack a good sense of humor, you’re playing with a handicap.

There is no automatic or magical formula for impressing a date with your sense of humor.  Most things in life don’t come automatically or easily.  If you wanted impress your date with flat abs, and wished you had a six-pack instead of a keg, you’d never expect to find a tip to tone up your midsection overnight.  So it is with a sense of humor.  What you got is what you got.  Your sense of humor is not going to changed overnight.  But you can work to improve it.

As in toning up the body, a good sense of humor is developed with exercise.  In past posts I’ve recommended stimulating your humor muscles by entering humor-writing contests and cartoon-caption contests.  Many react with, “Hey…I don’t want to be a humor writer!”  But, if you were serious about flat abs, you’d probably not think twice about spending time at the gym, working out with weights…never thinking, “Hey…I don’t want to be a body builder!”  You’d understand that working out is the path to a slimmer waistline.  And so it is with a sense of humor.  Just as your belt size is reduced a quarter inch at a time, your sense of humor slowly, but surely becomes more sharply tuned.  And the journey is more fun then pumping iron.

Getting The Date

For starters, your sense of humor can actually help you get the date.  You’re more likely to have friends set you up with someone if you have the reputation as someone with a great sense of humor. 

If you don’t have the luxury of a personal introduction, your sharp sense of humor is the perfect tool to spice up a personals ad.  That’s how I found my partner.  I discovered that a longer ad with lots of humor worked like a charm in attracting a potential partner.  A friend took it a step further, going beyond the personals ad.  He registered with and referred those who wanted more information to a web site where he introduced himself in great detail (seven pages).  It didn’t take him long to meet Ms Right.  Such long-form advertising allows you to use lots of humor and helps you to disqualify those who would not be a fit for you.  Or if you were looking for a mate through a video dating service, you could open your video sitting with your back to the camera: “You’ll love dating someone in the witness protection program!”  Look for some fun ways to add color to your listings.  If someone doesn’t like your sense of humor, they’re probably not right for you.  And it’s nice to know that up front.

Who Are You?

You need to know who you are and to be honest with yourself.  How is your sense of humor?  Is it positive?   Is it sarcastic?  Does it need some work?  Do you like to laugh?  What makes you laugh?  How is your smile?  What kind of humor is used within your family?  Are your friends funny?  These questions may suggest areas where you could use some work.

If you don’t have a great sense of humor, you can just fake it, right?  Yes.  And it will work perfectly…up to the divorce!

I come from a laid-back North Dakota Norwegian background.  My brother and I can’t remember our dad telling a joke as we grew up.  But he DID have a good sense of humor.  He is what I would call a carrier of humor.  He was always ready to laugh at someone else’s jokes.  Not the life-of-the-party, but easy going and fun.  Everybody liked my dad.  But when it came to creating my own humor, I wasn’t born with the talent.  I had to start at square one.  Step by step I learned the building blocks of what makes humor tick.  It is a skill that can be learned.  Where you come from is a given.   Where you end up is the result of the journey you create by doing certain things.  Learn to use observational and spontaneous humor. Learn to develop your own original humor.  There are many ways to take your humor to the next level.

The reality is most of us have a sense of humor which is pretty good, in the right circumstances, with the right people.  And yet, most of us have room for growth in the area of humor.  A sense of humor grows as you use it.

Your good sense of humor helps relax you when meeting someone you’ve never met.  I remember the first time I met someone face-to-face as a result of an internet date.  We had not exchanged photos.  And I drove 250 miles for the date.  My best friend said, “your date will have buck teeth and coke-bottle glasses.”  That light-hearted send off from my friend kept a smile on my face.  By the way, my date was really cute.

Who Is Your Date?

It’s nice to know something about your date before you meet.  Do your friends know your date?  Have you exchanged emails?  It’s amazing how well you can get to know someone by Instant Message.  My partner and I chatted by Instant Message for 20 hours, over two weeks, before we talked on the phone.  We knew each other well before even hearing the sound of a voice. 

Getting to know your date BEFORE the date helps you to know whether the two of you are a good humor match.  It helps you decide what to do on the date and where you’ll go. When you feel you know each other, you’re more likely to be relaxed as you start the date and that opens the relationship to a more light-hearted conversation.  Invest the time getting to know someone before you meet, if you’re serious about developing a quality relationship.

Where Are You?

Are you meeting your date with a group of people?  A double-date?  Or just the two of you?  That may affect your style of humor.  For example, I’m much better one-on-one when it comes to humor.  In a group situation I tend to be more of a listener.  If I want someone to see my sense of humor, I look for some time away from a group, allowing more personal interaction.  Some people are just the opposite and are more lively and funny in a group. That’s where knowing yourself comes into play.

If you were on a blind date and you knew nothing about your date in advance, a double date might be a good option.  If one of the people in the other couple was a good friend (a humor buddy would be ideal), that might put you in a comfort zone for using humor.

Where you choose to meet for the date is also important.  If you were concerned with humor on the date and were going to a movie, The Pink Panther would be a better choice than United 93.  That’s obvious.  Not as obvious would be choosing between two funny movies.  Everyone has different tastes. One person’s hilarious film is sometimes another’s totally lame movie.  Talk about it and make a decision together.  Some restaurants have fun interactive wait staff.  Amusement parks are fun for some and stressful for others.  Selecting were to go is an important decision.

On The Date

By focusing on the humor qualities of your date you’ll be looking beyond the physical attributes and seeing more of the real person.  That’s a good thing!

Be a Listener.  Good conversationalists are good listeners.  Good humorists are good listeners.  If you’re going to create fresh humor in the moment, it comes from good listening and being in the moment.  One of the special skills of funny people is the art of reincorporation, making connections with something that happened earlier. 

Poke Fun At Yourself.  People love it if you don’t take yourself too seriously.  Direct some of your humor at yourself.  If you were uncomfortable that your car wasn’t the perfect first-date vehicle, get a bumper sticker: “My other car is a real car.”

Don’t try too hard to be funny.  You don’t want to appear needy.  For good humor, less is more.  Relax.  Let the humor flow naturally.  A little bit of good humor goes further than a lot of forced humor.

Be a story teller.  Look for embarrassing moments to share.  Those awkward memories, along with other stories, are great vehicles to carry your style of humor.

Keep your humor positive.  Negative humor, sarcastic humor, is a turnoff.

Always keep your humor in good taste.  Off-color humor is a comedy cop out.  Bodily function jokes and sex jokes are too easy.  Leave that style of humor to the immature.  If you’re looking to attract a quality partner, use quality humor.

Good luck.  Good humor.  Enjoy the date!

Why a Joke Is Funny

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

The humor which follows is from Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia.  He could have written the line:  With my luck…my submissions for the April humor contest will vanish into cyberspace.  They arrived after the winners were announced and I wanted to share fourteen of them with you.  You may recognize his name, he is a past contest winner.  Besides being very creative with humor, part of his success is in the numbers.  He submitted over 200 lines for both the March and April contests.  Almost 500 lines in two months!

Here are the lines.  And if youre interested in what makes the lines tick (in addition to surprise, twist and talent), read the next section, Humor Triggers.

The Humor 

1.  With my luck…the vicar and the police commissioner would be the only other suspects. (J/L)

2.  With my luck…Im too old to be a Toy Boy and not rich enough to be a Sugar Daddy. (M)

3.  With my luck…my soul mate be as tall as me and shell insist on wearing high-heals. (J/N)

4.  With my luck…when I have a day off sick, the boss will go to the same game. (L)

5.  With my luck…the best business proposition Ill receive all day would be from an undercover cop.  (H/K)

6.  With my luck…my blind date will be slim, sexily dressed and have an Adams apple.  (A)

7.  With my luck…people will perceive me as funny peculiar and not funny humorous. (E)

8.  With my luck…Ill go down in history as a forensics case study. (F)

9.  With my luck…by the time I lose weight, all my old clothes will have gone out of style…for a second time.  (C/G)

10.  With my luck…the hand that pats my back will be holding a knife. (I)

11.  With my luck…if I pass away on Easter Friday and came back on Easter Sunday, someone would have eaten all my Easter eggs. (F)

12.  With my luck…Passover will be the time of year that my boss considers my promotion. (E)

13.  With my luck…if they ever made a movie of my life, Danny DeVito would look the most like my first wife. (B)

14.  With my luck…Ill spend 8 years at toastmasters before learning that Ive got nothing worth saying. (D)

Humor Triggers

A.  The Rule of Three.  Setting the pattern.  Expected, Expected, Twist. (6)

B.  Exaggeration of the Truth. (13)

C.  The Truth is Funny. (9)

D.  Self-deprecation.  Poke fun at yourself. (14)

E.  Alternate Word Meanings.  A great humor tool. (7/12)

F.  Contrasting Relationships.  Hero/victim. (8/11)

G.  Use of Topper.  One joke immediately followed by another joke which builds on the first. (9)

H.  The Unexpected Twist.  Punchline from right field. (5)

I.  Combining Two Clichés. (10)

J.  Question:  How could this be worse?  Ive been arrested for a crime, how could this be worse? Shes taller than me, how could this be worse? (1/3)

K.  Question:  How is this too good to be true? (5)

L.  The Implied Set Up.  Often the setup is stronger if you let the reader fill in the blank.  I was arrested.  I went to a ballgame. (1/4)

M.  Contrasting Pairs.  Too old/too young; too rich/too poor, too tall/too short. (2)

N.  Extrapolation.  How can I extend this to make it even more exaggerated or worse? (3)

Humor Contest About The Future

Monday, May 1st, 2006

The theme for our May 2006 Humor Writing Contest is:

In the future…YOUR PUNCHLINE.

Here are some examples.

In the furture…every hotel room in Las Vegas will feature its own Cirque Du Soleil performer.

In the future…the US federal budget will be considered balanced when our national debt will exactly equal our total national assets.

In the future…a Global Warming Conference will convene on the Pacific coast of Las Vegas, Nevada.

In the future…politicians will do what’s best for the country.  (That’s a joke)

In the future…everyone will realize there is nothing but the present.  (Philosophy with a smile)

Entering The Contest

1.  Submit your entries to by May 14.

2.  Try working with a humor buddy to create funnier lines.

3.  Check out our humor writing tips.

4.  Entries will be judged by a panel of speakers and comedy improv players.

5.  We’ll post the results not later than May 24.

6.  The winner will receive the admiration (or disbelief) of family and friends.  And the winner’s name will be added to the Humor Power 3X5 Card of Fame along with past winners:  Nancy Lininger, Terry Wall, Sharon Rhoton, Les Harden, Susan Parsons-keir, and Karen Porter.