Archive for June, 2006

Humor Writing — The Gender Contest Results

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Here are the results from our Gender Contest.

The writing challenge was:  Let’s pretend that the English language is being modified so that NOUNS have gender as they do in many other languages. For example in French, table is feminine (la table) but pencil is masculine (le crayon).  We don’t want to copy the gender labels of other languages.  Instead, we want to create our own logical (funny) reasons for assigning gender to the words. 

Writing funny lines on a Gender theme is tricky business.  See our Lesson Learned at the end of the post.

We received about 200 entries.  A panel of seven judges (speakers and improv players) scored the lines without knowing who who wrote them.  Here are the results:

Potatoes are masculine.  All eyes.  No ears.
Kris Huffman, Bethany, Oklahoma, USA

Boomerang is feminine because like an old girlfriend it keeps coming back. 
Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia

Tennis is feminine (Love – 30).  Football is masculine (sudden death).
Humor Mill Toastmasters Club, Bloomington, Minnesota, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

Television Remote Control is feminine.  Look how lovingly it is held by a male.

Actions are masculine for they speak louder than words and require fewer syllables.
Action is feminine if it involves more that watching TV and drinking beer.
Carpet is masculine because it just lays around thinking it looks good.
Diamonds are masculine because they are rated by their brilliance and are known as a girl’s best friend.
Computer is masculine because nobody can figure out how it works.
Software is feminine because everyone knows that software can multitask.
Directions are feminine because they are the only ones who ever use them.
Marriage can’t decide what it wants to be.
Earring should be feminine, but there’s always one old guy with a pony-tail who spoils it.
Driving is either masculine or feminine.  Good driving is definitely masculine.
Speedo, unfortunately, is masculine.
Map is feminine. Men don’t need directions.
Computers are feminine because men love to push their buttons.
Money is feminine. Men can’t get enough of it.
La-Z-boy recliner is masculine. It just sits there all day.
Door is generally masculine because its nature is to be closed. 
Map is feminine because a guy doesn’t have a clue how to read it.
Keyboard is feminine because there are a lot of buttons to push.
Oven is feminine because it needs to get warmed up. 
Microwave is masculine because it’s done in 2 minutes.
Apple is masculine as in Adam’s.
Microphone is masculine.  That’s why it’s called Mike for short.
Phone is masculine because it hears everything you say but doesn’t remember a word.
Email chat phrases can be feminine: “You seem like a nice man who respects women.”  Or masculine: “What are you wearing?”
Keyboard is masculine because you can push its buttons
Time is feminine because it goes on and on and on, but you never have enough of it.
Magic is feminine because it does the unexpected.
Boats are feminine because they are expensive.
String is masculine when wrapped around a little finger.
CD player is masculine because its a player.
Confusion is the opposite gender of the speaker. Because it doesn’t make sense.
Talking to a therapist is feminine therapy. 
Getting drunk and beating the hell out of your best friend is masculine therapy.
Quiche is feminine.  Raw eggs are masculine.
Boxing is masculine.  Kick boxing is feminine.
Spending all of your money on fancy shoes is feminine. 
Spending all of your money on wine, women and song and having to go barefoot is masculine.
Shaving your legs is feminine.  Going bald is masculine.
Beer is masculine and wine is feminine.
Salads are feminine, steaks are masculine, clogged arteries are masculine.

Weddings are feminine.  Funerals are masculine.
Drag racing is masculine. Racing in drag is feminine.
Watching professional wrestling is masculine. Wrestling professionals are feminine.
Stop signs are feminine, men often don’t see them, or pretend that they don’t.
A quick 18 holes is masculine.  18 holes of conversation is feminine.

Lesson Learned:

Jokes based on gender can easily approach borderline areas of taste, political correctness, sexism, and other issues.  The subject of what is offensive and why is not a simple thing to understand.  Although I tried to edit lines that I felt were blatently offensive, a subjective call on my part, it’s impossible to do that editorial job perfectly.  I would love to have your general comments on what you find offensive and why.  And also your specific comments on any of the lines which you feel were not appropriate and why. Or your comments on which lines you feel may be offensive to someone else, even though they did not bother you.  I’ll write a future article on the subject of Humor That Offends.  Your inputs will be valuable.

Finding An Improv Troupe or Starting Your Own

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

1.  Just do it.  Reading a book on improv without actually trying it out is like reading a book on golf and never stepping foot on a golf course.  You need to get involved by actually getting on the improv stage and performing with a troupe.  It won’t be easy.  In fact, your first time, you’ll probably feel like you’re the only person on stage who doesn’t have a clue what you’re doing.  That’s normal.  It’s challenging.  But it IS fun.  So, here are some ideas to get you started on your path to better skills and a great time.

2.  Buy a book.  Before you attend your first improv class, go to your local book store and buy something on improv.  Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg is a good book to get you started.  See paragraph 10 for an extended reading list.  Now that you’ve bought a book…here’s the catch.  You have to read it.

3.  Look for a troupe.  Do an internet search for a local troupe.  Check the community calendar in your local paper.  Look at the course catalogue of your community colleges (don’t forget to check the continuing education, non-credit courses).  You might have a branch of a well-known improv group in your city:  TheatreSports, ComedySportz, Improv Olympic, Second City.  The telephone book white and yellow pages might be a resource.  Call your local theatre groups as they may know of local improv workshops.  Tell your friends you’re looking for an improv troupe. 

4.  How much will a class cost?  Normaly between $5 and $40 per class.  Sometimes more.  Sometimes free.  You’ll find that small privately organized troupes (like mine) might be $5 to $10 per session.  Groups sponsored by professional theatre groups might charge $25 – $40 per class.  The difference will often be the experience of the teacher.

5.  Can’t find a workshop?  Start your own.

6.  My story:  In October 1995, I had two coincidental phone calls within a week.  The first one was from a former student who attended a humor workshop I presented in the San Francisco bay area.  He told me of a special three-day improv weekend he was attending and wondered if I might be interested in attending one of the events.  I had never been to an improv show or workshop in my life.  I immediately said I’d drive up for the entire three-day weekend.  A second phone call came from a friend in my Toastmasters network.  He was a member of a troupe in Santa Barbara and invited me to attend their show on October 27.  I attended that show and the following week began weekly workshops with the Santa Barbara Improv, a 150-mile round trip from my home.  In January I enrolled in a twelve-week ComedySportz beginning and intermediate level workshop, also in Santa Barbara.  During that same month, I started my own troupe in Santa Maria. During January, February and March, I was doing improv three nights a week and driving 300 miles to do it.  Within four months I went from never seeing an improv performance to directing my own troupe.

7.  My first troupe, Santa Maria CA, was licensed as a Theatre Sports troupe and we had an average show attendance of 150 people.  Players from many other troupes came to play with us.  We competed in the California Statewide tournament and reached the semi-finals.  The exciting thing is that this process can be duplicated.  When I moved to Las Vegas, I started another troupe.  You can do the same thing.  Ideally, the best workshops are eight to twelve people, but you could get started with a faithful core of only four to six.  Here’s how I suggest you go about starting your own troupe:

8.  Lay a foundation.  Spend some time in planning your improv troupe experience.  You can actually teach your own workshop even if you’ve never had any improv experience.  I did.  Then, when I moved to Las Vegas I spent the first year spreading the word and collecting contact information from interested people.  By the time I kicked off our first workshop in January 2001, I had a list of forty people who had expressed an interest.  On our first night, 15 people showed up.  We grew to a high of 24 people and have since settled down to a solid core group of about 10.  We conduct weekly workshops and monthly shows.  My approach is non-profit.  We charge enough to pay for the room and other expenses of producing the shows.  We have a logo, banner, shirts, and a keyboard player.  More on that later.

9.  Your homework.  You’ll need to invest in an Improv library, maybe a dozen books for starters.  See paragraph 10 for some books to get you started.  Try to attend a workshop somewhere even if you have to fly to a special week-long event.  Watch for workshop postings in our Resources And Favorite Links.  Find an improv buddy to help you present your first workshop sessions.  Doing a weekly two-hour workshop isn’t difficult, but may seem challenging when you first start out. Your first session should be shaped around games where people get to know each other.  You’ll need an extensive list of games for your weekly workshops.  Also look for opportunities to do things as a group.  For example this week, our troupe will be attending a Blues performance at a local casino after our normal weekly workshop.  This is fun and builds a trusting ensemble that loves being together.

10.  Recommended books.

Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg

Truth In Comedy by Halpern, Close and Johnson

Improvisation for the Theater by Viola Spolin

Comedy Improvisation by Delton Horn

Improvisation for Actors and Writers by Bill Lynn

Improve with Improv by Brie Jones

Impro by Keith Johnstone

Improv! by Greg Atkins

Acting Games by Marsh Cassady

Musical Improv Comedy by Michael Pollock

Acting on Impulse by Carol Hazenfield

The Ultimate Improv Book by Edward Nevraumont

Improvise by Mick Napier

11.  Improvised Music.  Immediately begin your search for a musical director.  Music is a key part of your performances. We’ve been blessed in Las Vegas with two terrific musicians and several great singers.  You need to spread the word thru your own network that you are looking for a keyboard player.

12.  Guest players.  This is a key to building a strong troupe.  In both Santa Maria and Las Vegas, I arranged for several outside, experienced players to join us for our first show.  We’ve also have had about two dozen special event workshops presented by visiting, seasoned improv teachers from Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.  One of the big advantages of getting the TheatreSports license for our California troupe was to get connected to other troupes for the purpose of guest players and workshops.  I moved to Las Vegas with that network intact and ready to tap into.

13.  Time to get started.  Buy a book.  Find a troupe.  Or start your own.  Improv is the most challenging and most rewarding thing I’ve done in the area of performing arts and presentation skills.  I highly recommend it to you.

Related Articles:

Business and Personal Benefits of Improv

Public Speaking Benefits of Improv

Business and Personal Benefits of Improv

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Attend an improv class.  It’s not about becoming a comedy performer.  It’s not even about becoming a better speaker.  The skills you learn in an improv workshop will be applied to all parts of your life.  They provide building blocks for business success.  Improv skills teach you to have more fun in life.

1.  Build Your Confidence.  In life, the prize often goes not to the fast but to the bold.  Not to the quick but to the confident.  Improv training boosts your confidence.  It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve done.  I haven’t tried everything.  I haven’t climbed a rock cliff.  I haven’t been in a marathon.  I haven’t jumped out of a plane.  But I had conquered my fear of public speaking and had performed as a stand up comedian before jumping into the improv arena.  And in spite of my experience, I found it to be the most challenging thing I had ever done.  Whenever you are personally challenged, it builds your confidence.  You become a better risk taker.  You learn to fail gracefully.  It gives you confidence.  And confidence enhances your performance and competence in the eyes of others.

2.  Stimulate Your Creativity.  Creativity is sometimes the result of talent.  Often it is the product of confidence.  Improv training can help in both areas.  Improv teaches you to be open to possibilities and see the alternatives.  You become less rigid and more flexible.  You learn to piggyback on the ideas of others to create new possibilities.

3.  Build Strong Teams.   You’ll learn strong skills in agreement and consensus.  The improv principle of YES AND teaches you to agree with others and to add to that agreement.  You will also understand that YES does not mean you agree, it simply means that you hear the other person.  It moves you forward.  BUT is an eraser and stops forward progress.  You learn to treat others as though they were a genius.  You develop the habit of going with the flow and trusting the group.  Learn to say yes to at least one stupid idea a week.  That, of course, is an impossible challenge.  There is no such thing as a stupid idea.  Improv games are also great for mixers and introductions. 

4.  Sharpen Leadership Skills.  An amazing thing I’ve learned after presenting improv workshops for more than ten years is this:  There is no such thing as a weak improv player.  There are only skilled improv planers who are not skilled enough to make the weaker players look good. When a worker has substandard performance, the question is: Are YOU good enough to lead, motivate, and work with them.  You are responsible.  Make them look good.  Bring out their best.  This isn’t a gimmick.  This is a reality of life.  The responsibility and power lies with you.  Lead by example. What would the world be like if everyone was present for you, if everyone listened to you, if everyone treated you like a genius, if everyone agreed with you, if everyone trusted you.  What would it be like if each of your employees experienced that kind of world. It’s your job to be the “someone” who creates that experience for them.  Every choice you make affects other people.  Improv gives you a better understanding of that view of life.

5.  Have Fun in the workplace.  A workplace with no play is usually rigid and inflexible.  Improv teaches you to play.  Use it to start the day playing a game with your team.  Use improv games to warm up before a meeting or brainstorm session.

6.  Develop Listening skills.  Listening is more than hearing.  Listening is also watching.  Listening is understanding. Communication is more than facts.  Communication is watching for feelings and intention.  Improv teaches you that often you contribute by NOT saying something.

Public Speaking — Benefits of Improv

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Improv training will give you more presence on the platform.  It will connect you with your listeners and make your presentations memorable.  In the area of pubic speaking, it’s one of the most valuable skill-building resources available to you.

1.  Connect With Your Audience.  In 1995 I attended my first improv class.  My improv experience has given me many skills to improve my speaking, of which the most valuable has been improving my presence on the platform.  Improv training teaches you to be in the present moment and not to simply be in your notes or in your speech.  You learn to listen without premeditation as to where and how things should be going.  You learn that listening includes eye contact.  That skill turns out to be at the very core of audience connection.  Improv tunes you into the body language of others and improves your connection with others by matching and mirroring.  By internalizing these skills you involve, energize and connect with your audience.

2.  Improve Your Physical Delivery.  Improv skills are ideal for preparing your body for a performance.  I’ve used improv warm up games before early-morning keynotes to energize myself before taking the platform.  Improv training also builds your confidence by reducing your self consciousness.  You learn to let your hair down and have fun.  Your delivery has more confidence because you understand more about movement.  The essence of confidence and status is not who you ARE, it’s what you DO.  It’s how you move and act.  It’s how you use space.  These skills are learned and developed in an improv workshop.

3.  Make Your Talks Memorable.  When audience members are having fun, they remember what they have learned.  Improv teaches you to be a better story teller.  Stories help you show rather than just tell.  Stories build emotional connection.  Emotions lead to associations which lead to memories.  Improv teaches you to become a student of life.  You watch others.  You learn to read the body language of others.  You become better at bringing stories to life by understanding characters, relationships and objectives.  The result of your improv training is that you are able to present engaging programs that stick in the minds of your listeners.

Watch for the next article:  Business and Personal Benefits of Improv

Introducing Yourself With Humor — Make Your Networking Payoff

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

I conduct workshops on Business Networking Power — How To Introduce Yourself in 60 Seconds for Business Success.  Although the focus of the workshop is on Getting Attention, Making It Remembered and Making it Sell, we have a short discussion on using spontaneous humor to brighten your introductions.  Humor is a powerful tool to let people know who you are both at formal networking events where you stand before a group to speak, and also at mix-and-mingle networking events.  Here are some thoughts on the subject of introducing yourself with humor:

1. When you go to a formal networking function, especially at a format where you will have an allotted timeframe to introduce yourself to the group, plan and prepare your introduction before you arrive at the event.  This will give you the time and confidence to relax and LISTEN to the introductions of other people.  If you want to use spontaneous and observational humor in your introduction, you must pay attention to what is happening and what is being said around you.  This is difficult to do if you are preoccupied with the basics of your own introduction.  You prepare in advance so you can truly be present.  Your most powerful humor will come from observations in the present moment.

2. Look for connections and twists with what other people do for a living and what you do.  If you are unable to come up with a direct connection, maybe you can just fabricate one.  I was at a networking meeting with someone who owned a business called Melissa’s Puppy Tub.  She explained that you could bring your dog to her establishment and she would help you give it a bath.  I opened my introduction with “Hi, I am the owner of John’s People Tub.  If you know someone who needs a bath, give me a call.”  Silly.  Funny.  Got their attention.  Then I continued with my introduction.  One of the keys is breaking people’s preoccupation so that they focus their attention on you, remember you, and talk about you afterwards.

3. If someone says something funny during their introduction, it is an opportunity for you to piggyback on that laugh by weaving the theme of their funny line into your introduction by repeating or twisting the humor they used.  Keep your radar tuned for group laughter.  What was said or done to make them laugh?  How can you link that to your own introduction?

4. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate.  It’s usually a safe form of humor. 

5. Don’t be afraid to look silly.  Let your hair down.  The rewards are great.  I remember wearing fake teeth and a hair-hat to a networking meeting.  I felt the butterflies.  It was a bit out of my comfort zone and I hadn’t done it before.  You need to work past that and take a few chances.  In the long run it will be worth it.  And it will be a learning experience too.

6. If they don’t laugh, pretend that you never expected them to.  If you thought something would be funny and the audience does not, it’s your secret.  It’s not a big deal.

7. If you are really courageous, sing or rap.  It will almost always be a sure laugh.  Here is a tip from improv comedy.  If you are not a singer, then sing loud.  The key is your commitment.  If you are committed to the performance, the audience will love you.  And they will remember you.  And they will be alert the next time you stand to make an introduction.

8. In mix-and-mingle networking, consider having an introduction partner work the room with you.  It’s sometimes easier for someone to use a humor line about you as they introduce you.  Or sometimes it works well for them to set up a humorous line for you as they introduce you.  You then follow the humor line with your punchline.

9. Wear something humorous.  People love my denim shirt covered with cartoon characters.  Wear a funny name badge.  Carry a small pocket-magic trick.  The possibilities are endless.  Look for something that makes a great ice breaker and conversation starter.

10. Related articles.  The keys to observational humor are Preparation, Observation, Courage and Practice.  Check the article Using Spontaneous and Observational Humor.  Another related article is Why Spontaneous Humor is Powerful.

Memorizing Your Speech

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

We just sent our June Ezine, Humor Power Tips, featuring a 1200 word article titled Memorizing Your Speech.  Be sure to subscribe to get tips which are not published anywhere else.

Creative Humor Writing

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Here’s the information for the June humor contest.

Drum roll…  The Gender Contest

Let’s pretend that the English language is being modified so that “nouns” have gender as they do in many other languages. For example in French “table” is feminine (la table) but “pencil” is masculine (le crayon).  We don’t want to copy the gender labels of other languages.  Instead, we want to create our own logical (funny) reasons for assigning gender to the words.  Here are some examples:

PANTS are feminine.  Because in most homes, it’s the woman who wears them.

PAIR OF SHOES is masculine.  But only in the singular form.  Multiple PAIRS OF SHOES is feminine.

NIGHT STAND is both masculine and feminine.  Because it takes both genders to make one night stand.

THONG is either masculine or feminine.  Unless the wearer is over 40, in which case it has no gender.

COWBOY is masculine.  Unless he’s line dancing.

POP is masculine.  Unless it refers to the sound of an exploding weasel.

PRESIDENT is masculine.  But would be more effective if it were feminine.

Enter the contest.  When is the best time?  Right now!  Write now!
Put on your thinking cap and exercise your creative humor skills. Find a humor buddy you’d love to work with.

Send your best lines to by Thursday, June 15. 

We’ll post the contest results by Tuesday, June 27.

Idea corner:  Here are some themes and writing techniques to get you started:

Cliches and common phrases, as in “one night stand,” and “Multiple pairs of shoes.”

Philosophical or Social Commentary, as in “President.”

Except when….    Unless….   This is a good use of the reversal technique, and applies especially well to this joke theme.

Clothing items, as in “who wears the pants.”  Many clothing items and accessories are very gender specific and lend themselves to this joke theme.

Humorous observation, as in “line dancing.”  Or, “thong over forty.”

Play on words, as in “pop goes the weasel.”

Don’t limit yourself to these ideas, there are many more approaches.  Happy writing!