Archive for July, 2006

Humor Skills — What People Find Offensive

Friday, July 28th, 2006

What people find offensive and why is a question that does not have a simple answer.  One person’s joke is another person’s rude comment.  What makes one person laugh makes another person blush in embarrassment.  What some people consider subtle wit is nothing but an insult to someone else.  Some feel humor encourages stereotypes.  Some feel it breaks them down.  Let’s look at some of the factors that account for some of these differences.

1.  Conditioning By Society.  We are programmed by our culture, family and other social influences to think that certain things are funny, and that other things are offensive.  This isn’t necessarily good or bad.  It just is.  Although it starts to be bad when the offensive humor begins to ruin relationships and eat away at a group’s self-esteem.  Humor based on a stereotype, even if it’s accurate, can have a negative impact on society.  On the other hand, humor can disarm a stereotype.  The power that the humor has depends on the reader or the listener.  Creating effective humor based on stereotypes is not easy.

2.  Self Esteem.  An interesting thing is that attack and put-down humor is often created by people who are trying to boost their own self esteem.  In other words, this type of humor is created by those who lack self esteem in the first place.  It’s a negative self worth directed at lowering the self worth of others.  I’ve noticed that people who are emotionally healthy and balanced are less likely to use attack and put down humor than those who have self-worth issues.

3.  Playing Police Officer.  Some people find material offensive not because it offends THEM, but because they are afraid that it will offend someone else.  Their self-appointed role is the protector of society and they censor material which feel may cause discomfort to others.

4.  The Two Percent.  It’s said that two percent of people will be offended by anything you say or do.  There is truth to that.  Almost every joke in our Gender Contest will probably be found offensive to someone.  If your goal is to not offend a single person…don’t speak or write to anyone.  A better goal is to find that proper line which divides the humor of good and bad taste and learn not to cross it.  And accept the fact that some people will be offended no matter what you do.

5.  Perspective.  A humor line can be offensive to men for one reason and to women for another reason.  In our contest, we had a line:  Pants are feminine because in most homes it’s the women who wear them.  This can be offensive to women feeling it’s a putdown of assertive women, professional women, women who work outside the home.  It can also be offensive to men who feel it’s an attack on their masculinity and that women are superior to them.  In either case it doesn’t matter what the attitude or intent of the writer was.  To offend or not offend was solely based on the perspective of the reader.

6.  Internalized Put Down.  Some groups have lived with such a history of oppression that they’ve become conditioned to see a negative put-downs in places where none was intended.  Being offended becomes an automatic, knee-jerk reaction.  You would think that ultra sensitive reactions to humor would be easy to understand.  But that’s not the case…you haven’t lived someone else’s life.  You see things only through your own filters.  A good personal approach is:  Habitually reacting to something in an ultra-sensitive fashion is probably not a productive way to live.

7.  The Psychic.  Some people are offended because they always know WHY someone created a certain joke.  They always know the motivation of the writer or speaker.  Of course the truth is that they don’t know the motivation.  They are only guessing.  My suggestion is not to fall into the trap of labeling other people’s actions and behaviors with the motivations behind them.  You are only shooting in the dark.  And often your guess will be wrong.  And the resulting negative judgements will disempower you.

8.  Pushing Buttons With Satire.  I found a couple of satire web sites that hit a lot of hot spots.  I present these sites to you as interesting case studies. You may or may not find them funny.  You may find them offensive.  You may love them.  We will have subscribers that fall into all those categories.  Some feel that satire exposes and breaks down stereotypes.  Others feel that it reinforces and encourages stereotypes.  Each site, after you read the comments sections, will push buttons for people on both sides of the issues.  When you check out the sites, before you read the feedback of others, ask yourself how you feel about the content of the sites.  And ask yourself WHY you feel the way you do.  Then check out the feedback postings which the sites have received.  People on both sides of the issue (black/white and pro-gay/anti-gay) find reasons to be offended or reasons to love the site.  On the Black People Site click on Your Letters. On the Gay Marriage Site scroll down to see the posts from people responding to the site’s content.  With that said, here are the sites:  Black People Love Us and 10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage Will Ruin Society.

9.  Your Intent.  Get a good understanding on why you use humor.  What is your motive behind a specific line?  Is it that you really don’t like the group you’re poking fun at?  When you’re coming from a negative place, the humor is likely to be off target, offensive and divisive.  Remember the person suffering from low self esteem writing put-down jokes to compensate for his or her lack?  Don’t be that person.  The result is probably offensive.  The bigot who writes put down jokes is not helping him or herself and is hurting society as a whole.

10.  Don’t be an easy target.  Don’t let jokes easily push your buttons.  Be “hard to offend.”  Don’t try to speculate on the intention of the person who created the humor.  That doesn’t mean that you have to think that everything is funny.  Rather, you should avoid giving your “emotional remote control” to someone else.  View something from a level emotional state.  It will empower you to effectively respond to the humor should a response be necessary.  Coming from an emotional state disempowers you and reduces your effectiveness and your ability to influence others.  Keep your power.

11.  Be Challenged.  Don’t take the simple road to humor by doing the easy jokes based on sex, body parts and negative stereotypes.  Create humor that takes thought and creativity.  It’s more challenging.  It’s more funny.  It’s less offensive.

12.  Walk A Mile.  Step into the shoes of someone different from you.  Be sensitive.  Build links, relationships and bonds.  Use humor to grow our collective family and not tear it down.  Let your positive humor shed light.

Public Speaking Skills — Reacting To Your Audience

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

When you speak or perform, some audiences will seem better than others.  And although the quality of audiences do vary, in reality it’s not always the audience.  YOU will be better on some days than on other days…causing the audiences to react differently.  And apart from the qualities of the audience and your personal energy level, sometimes the difference is how you REACT to the audience.  Your reaction affects your performance.  Your performance then affects their reaction to you.  As a result of bad assumptions on your part, you could be setting up a negative cycle for a very bad performance.

My improv troupes have performed many public shows during the past ten years.  Three of them stand out as not being tops.  Normally we would measure the quality of a performance by the audience reaction.  When you leave the performance disappointed with the response of the audience, you feel that the program was a failure.

Most of the comments in this article are based on the assumption that most of your programs are great, and that occasionally you have one of those programs that just don’t measure up.  If nearly everytime you speak or perform you find yourself in front of a bad audience…the problem is probably NOT the audience.  Tape your program and spend time critiquing your performance, your content and your delivery.

The first show was for a group of senior citizens.  An improv show needs audience participation to be a success.  Normally the troupe asks for suggestions from the audience for scene starters.  “Give me the name of a place you would never go on vacation.”  Most audiences would give suggestions like…a dumpster, the police department, or the bottom of the ocean.  When we would ask the seniors for a suggestion…blank stares.  Silence.  In the end, the troupe ended up shouting out the suggestions for the players on stage.

The next show was for a group of professionals attending a convention.  The energy in the room wasn’t what we were used to.  Maybe it was the long day, the wonderful dinner, and a pillow calling them for a good night’s sleep.

The most recent show was for a group of young people.  The feeling of the troupe was that many of the kids were not paying attention to the show.  The troupe wrapped up the show feeling less than thrilled.

Here’s the most interesting part.  After each of the shows we heard great comments from individuals in all three audiences about how much they enjoyed the shows!  The vast majority of the audience loved the performances. 

So what was happening to cause us to feel that the audience reaction was substandard? 

1.  Selective memory.  There is a tendency to remember the bad more than the good.  If a show has 14 good scenes and two weak ones, we often remember the two that didn’t measure up.  If you get 100 critiques from a talk and three of them are negative, sometimes they have the biggest impact on us.  It’s helpful to be able to put the negative feedback into the proper perspective and not let them cloud the entire experience.  In all three of the improv shows, most of the scenes did receive a good response.

2.  Expectations.  We are often prisoners of the past.  Based on previous experience we come to assume that future experiences should be the same.  Our improv troupes have been spoiled by having a terrific, loyal fan base.  We perform our regular monthly shows in front of a mostly adoring audience.  They are people to love improv, love us, and come back again and again.  Then we perform for an outside group!  It’s usually at an event where many of the people did not come expecting to see improv.  In fact many probably didn’t know what improv was.  So while they’re watching the show, they’re trying to figure out what’s going on and whether or not they like it.  And we, the players, are wondering why they aren’t responding like our family, friends and fans did.  Likewise, giving a speech to a local civic club audience isn’t the same as giving one to your home Toastmasters Club.  All audiences are not the same.  They express their enjoyment in different ways.

3.  Benefit of the doubt.  Our troupes came to the conclusion that since the audience wasn’t laughing (or wasn’t paying attention), that they weren’t having a good time.  Although that is always a possibility, my past experience has taught me that the opposite is usually the truth.  When someone is just sitting there looking at you, not laughing, not applauding…assume they’re having a good time.  Even if it’s not the case, at least the thought will energize you and make your performance more engaging and connected with the audience members who are having a good time.

4.  Go to school.  Make each experience, both the good and bad ones, a learning event.  The goal of growing as a result of each program or talk makes each event a rewarding experience.  We learned something in each of our three improv shows about game and scene selection, length of program, pacing, planning and rehearsal that will help us to do a better job next time.  This focus helps make the whole event a positive experience.

Creative Humor Writing — The Love Contest

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

The LOVE Contest — Here are the results.  The best lines were selected by our panel of judges from over 350 entries.

Les Harden becomes our first three-time winner and will become an honorary Judge for future contests.  Congratulations Les.  What’s his secret?  Besides having a talent for humor he consistently submits the largest number of entries each month.  Usually 100 or more.

First Place

I love that I have the best boss in the world…I should have started my own business years earlier.
Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia

Second Place 

I love that know-it-alls don’t.
Nancy Lininger, Camarillo, California

Third Place

I love that Mr. Rogers didn’t give a damn if I liked his cardigan.
Cindy Tebo, Catawissa, Missouri

Honorable Mention (in random order)

I love idiots…they make my boss seem normal.
I love her soft touch, her sweet kiss and the way she wags her tail.
I love that lazy people always want to tell you what to do.
I love that my uncle is a member of a secret society…when I’m mad at him, I tell everybody.
I love that my wife loves strange things…otherwise she may not have married me.
I love serious people that don’t realize how funny they are.
I love that I feel so much lighter when my wife is off my back.
I love that my Brother-in-law is extremely allergic to shellfish but can’t
detect them when they are cut up fine in his meal.
I love that Toastmaster’s are always encouraging and not once has any evaluation stated I need to lose weight.
I love that my grandmother knows all and everything she says is backed up by the International Authorities and Storekeepers of Knowledge…a group called “They.”
I love the fortunetellers that don’t look into their Crystal Balls and
scream in horror.
I love fish but if they find something strange do they think it smells
humany?
I love that holding hands with my wife slows down her spending.
I love my wife.  I wish I could make a Taj Mahal for her.
I love that my best friend shares my jeans, and that my sister shares my genes.
I love that my grandkids go home.
I love my husband Bill, but I don’t like bills.
I love that my cat knows all my secrets, but will never tell anyone.
I love the weatherman, just for the humor.
I Love my spouse whenever the Sun rises in the West.
I love that my mom reminds me how many hours she was in labor before I was born.
I love having fun with my kids at Summer vacation destinations like Disney Land, but I absolutely adore the Fall.  That’s when the kids go back to school and quit asking “Are we there, yet?”
I love when my wife decides to stay up all night.  That’s when I get my best sleep.

Public Speaking — Using A Microphone

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

Many speakers fall into the trap of thinking they don’t need a microphone.  “I’m a REAL speaker.  I don’t need a microphone.  I’ll just shout my speech!”   Don’t make that mistake.  The mike is your friend and allows you greater flexibility in your vocal variety.  This is especially important for speakers who are using humor.  Vocal variety adds spice to the humor and the audience needs to hear your punchlines.  A microphone helps you meet both needs.

1.  What size audience requires a microphone?  There is no magic number.  Sometimes you don’t need a mike for 75 people.  Sometimes you do need it for only 20 people.  It depends on the venue; the size of the room, the furniture, the drapes, the carpet, the height of the ceiling, the noise from the adjoining banquet in the room or the kitchen.  If you’re ever in a situation where you aren’t sure whether you need the mike or not, use it.  You’ll at least have it set up and can lay it aside if you decide you don’t need it.  If you don’t have it set up and you discover you do need it, it’s too late.

2.  Although wireless microphones usually work great, a corded mike is a safer choice.  Cheap wireless mikes have a poor quality sound.  And we’ve all heard interference over a wireless mike from an outside source, the DJ in the next room or a taxi dispatcher. I usually request a corded mike.  I also prefer a handheld mike over a lavaliere.  You have more flexibility in how you use your voice with a handheld mike.  When you speak softly or turn your head, the handheld mike gives you better sound because you can position it exactly where you need it.

3.  With a lavaliere microphone, attach it where nothing will rub on it, either clothing or jewelry.  Experiment with the perfect place to hook it up for optimum sound.  Wear clothing which will accommodate a clip-on power pack.  Be careful wearing a lavaliere mike when holding something close to the body or hugging someone.  It can create a megaphone effect and give you feedback.  Also, don’t wear it to the men’s room or ladies room while it’s turned on! 

4.  With a handheld microphone, practice speaking and holding a mike at the same time.  Learn to naturally transfer it from one hand to the other.  It normally looks best to grip the mike with the whole hand and not with just the fingers.  And for most mikes, hold it near the top of the mike and not at the bottom where the antenna is often located.  If a mike cuts in and out, you may be holding it too close to the bottom and blocking the signal.

5.  With either type of mike, learn where the on/off switch is.  If there is a power switch or a standby switch, find out how they work.  Know how to work the switches without looking at them or in the dark.  If there is a battery, start your talk with a new battery and have a spare one handy.  Know how to replace it.

6.  Do a live test of the mike before the program.  Have an assistant walk the room to check the volume setting.  Look for feedback spots.  These are usually under and in front of speakers.  Avoid these areas during your talk.

7.  Before you are introduced, watch the speakers who are on the program before you.  How well is their microphone projecting?  Is there something you could learn from their handling of the mike?

8.  When it’s time for you to take the platform:  You’ve already tested the mike.  Don’t tap on it.  Don’t blow into it.  Don’t say, “Is this thing on?”  Or, “Can you hear me?”  Just start talking.  If you’ve done your preparation right, it’ll be working just fine.  If not, you’ll know soon enough.  It’s a good idea to have a room monitor who can watch for things which aren’t just right and who knows how to fix the situation.

9.  When using a microphone, energize your voice.  That means to speak normally but with energy.  Don’t speak into the mike, speak past it.  Let the microphone overhear your conversation.  Speaking into the mike often causes your Ps to “pop” in the mike.

10.  If you get feedback during your talk, try reversing whatever physical action you were doing just before the feedback started.  For example if you were moving forward and then you started to get feedback…move backward.  The feedback will usually stop.  In addition to feedback caused by  a nearby speaker, you can also get interference if there is another live microphone in the room.  The unused mike should be turned off.

11.  If you are using a microphone which is in a fixed position, perhaps on a mike stand or attached to a lectern, imagine that you’re attached with a string between your nose and the mike.  If you’re going to look to the right while speaking, rather than turn your head to the right, you need to first move your body to the left since you’re tethered with an imaginary string to your microphone.  This gimmick keeps the microphone in front of you at all times.

12.  If you are using a microphone stand which needs to be adjusted for height, have someone adjust it for the proper level before you are introduced.  Practice adjusting the stand ahead of time, just in case you need to do it in front of the audience.  If you’re not careful, some stands can separate into two parts!  Once you start speaking, it’s a nice touch to remove the mike from the stand so you can walk around.  Place the stand behind you so it isn’t between you and the audience.  As you wrap up your talk, move the stand back in front of you, and replace the mike before you say your final words.  You’ll look like a pro.

13.  When using a mike fixed on a gooseneck attachment, if you’re going to move the mike, do it while you are speaking.  The sound of your voice will help cover any squeaking noise resulting from the gooseneck.

14.  If you belong to a Toastmasters club or give talks at your workplace where you can practice with a microphone…do it.  You want the sound system to become a natural part of you and that comes only with practice.

The Rule of Three — A Humor Technique From The World of Comedy

Saturday, July 1st, 2006

Check out the article on The Rule of Three in the July 1 issue of the Humor Power Tips Ezine.  Also, don’t miss two other blog posts within the past 24 hours:  July Humor Contest and Current Events Humor.

Creative Humor Writing — The Love Contest

Saturday, July 1st, 2006

It’s time for our July humor writing feature…The LOVE Contest.
A creative writing exercise just for the fun of it.
Tell us what you love about someone.

I love…that my husband treats me like a queen, but doesn’t crown me when we disagree.
I love…that my kids can misbehave and still make me smile.
I love…that the President has a term limit.
I love…that my grandmother knows someone who was seriously injured performing any activity which I’m currently doing.
I love…that the other people in the gym don’t watch me while I’m exercising, because they’re too busy watching themselves in the mirror.

These will be observations:
– about people and pets (not about things or inanimate objects).
– which are often true.  (Let me tell you about my grandmother.)
– which are sometimes tongue-in-cheek humor.
– which are sometimes exaggerated.
– which sometimes point to the inconsistencies and imbalances of life.
– which sometimes play with the language.
– which include your own twist and take on life.
– which make YOU smile.

To enter the contest:
1.  Put on your thinking cap.  Jot down some initial lines.
2.  Ideally, find a humor buddy to help you sharpen your ideas.
3.  Sleep on it (the ideas, not your buddy).
4.  Select your best lines and send them to HumorPowerTips@aol.com.
5.  We need your entries not later than July 15.
6.  We’ll post the results by the end of the month.
7.  The winners will receive a look of amazement when they tell their friends.

Current Events Humor — Finding The Funny in Today’s News

Saturday, July 1st, 2006

To help you tune your humor radar, check out these tips and resources for finding the funny stuff in today’s current events.

1.  When you watch the news on TV or read your local paper, be tuned into the humorous twists.  Give yourself the challenge of writing one humorous line about today’s news.  When that becomes easy, write five lines a day.  As your humor skills grow, increase your daily quota.

2.  As you read the newspaper, keep your eye out for funny headlines.  I can usually find at least one funny headline in each paper.  Sometimes three or four.  To help prime your humor pump, get a copy of a Jay Leno’s Headlines book.  He shares funny headlines and provides his observation/punchline.  Without reading his joke; read the headline; write your own joke; compare your joke to his.  Turn what is essentially a joke book into a text book.

3.  Thirty years ago I subscribed to publications which provided me with current-event humor, delivered by the postal system.  Now, you can almost find the same resources, and sometimes better ones, on the internet…for free.  Check out the following sources for current humor. 

4.  A terrific site which provides an index of editorial cartoons.  Wonderful source of funny thinking about current news.

5.  A humorous look at the week’s news emailed to you every Friday.  Write to fridayfunnies@daleirvin.com.

6.  What’s funny in current events as seen on the late night talk shows.  Best of Late Nite Jokes transcripts by NewsMax.com. 

7.  A rich site which will connect you to many angles of current events humor

8.  An archive of video clip highlights from Jay Leno’s Tonight Show

9.  An archive of David Letterman’s Top Ten lists.  You can search by date or by subject.  His Top-Ten lists are also available in book format.

10.  By studying what the humor professionals are doing with current events, you’ll eventually start to internalize the creative skills.  When that happens, your humor radar will begin to create your own funny lines as you tune into what’s happening in the world around you.