Humor Skills — Raising The Bar

Voice of Experience.  It has been over twenty-five years since I performed in a comedy club.  My material was clean by comedy-club standards.  But my material also had an edge, often using innuendo to imply something that was not directly stated.  Since I was also performing for corporate clients in that same time period, I occasionally got the idea that the material that worked in the comedy club would also work well in the corporate setting.  More than once, I was wrong.  And I learned the hard way, by using a piece of material and having it received with lukewarm response.  I wish I could have taken a smart pill.  But instead I learned the hard way, from experience.  The more experienced I am, the more conservative I’ve become when it comes to tasteful material.

Copy Cat.  Oftentimes, people use off-color material because they see others use it and get big laughs.  I think many types of entertainers fall into that trap.  Magicians are no exception.  I’ve been performing magic for almost 50 years.  I’ve attended many magic conventions.  About twenty years ago I stopped going to conventions for about 15 years as I was focusing more on attending speaker conventions.  Five years ago, I attended my first magic convention is a long time. To be sure, they had raised the bar on magic as an art form.  And I could list many excellent magicians today who perform to high standards.  What caught me by surprise was the large amount of tacky, suggestive, sexual-charged and insulting humor that was used by a good many of the performers.  It wasn’t a new trend.  It all came back to me as my memory was refreshed.  And yes…I had been guilty of using a few of those lines 25 and 30 years ago.  Not totally obscene humor, mind you.  But just enough to be the kind of material considered unsuitable for today’s sophisticated business audiences. 

Monkey see.  Monkey do.  Keep in mind that just because somebody else is using a certain type of humor and getting laughs doesn’t mean that it’s classy material.  You need to make good choices if you want to be considered a professional.  Reflect on which names in the comedy business have really made it big.  Although you can name a few foul-language comics that have become somewhat successful, their numbers are small compared to the really successful names who have made it big on TV and in the movies.  Think Bill Cosby.  Story teller extraordinaire.  Squeaky clean.  Successful.  Rich.  Respected.  Influential.  His name is recognized by nearly everyone.  He’s a role model.  Besides, sophisticated, clean humor is a bigger challenge to write and deliver.  And more fun.

Play It Safe.  I was sitting at a blackjack table with two strangers last week.  At the table was a very elderly woman and also a man who was probably in his 50s.  He was wondering how old the woman was and was bold enough to ask.  The woman responded that she was 91 years old.  His response was:  “Oh my goodness, my grandmother was 91 when she died!  When you get to heaven, look her up and tell her I said hi.”  It struck me funny as I thought his comment was almost the same thing as saying:  “Oh my goodness, you’re almost dead!”  But I didn’t say a word.  I remembered that what might strike me as funny, may not be funny to someone else.  Always remember the perspective of your audience.  In this case, I’m sure the man meant well and might have been offended that someone would mis-interpret his comment.  And hopefully the older woman wasn’t offended in the first place and COULD have been offended by my observation.  I just enjoyed the humor in my own mind.  That was a safe choice.  It made me smile.  Some humor is best when kept to yourself.

Raise The Bar.  In our Las Vegas improv troupe, we have set the bar for our performances at a high level.  We take the stage with the expectation that every show will be suitable for a family audience.  In fact, there are usually several children in every audience.  Sure, we slip a little, occasionally.  But our shows are squeaky clean when compared to those of most troupes you might compare us to.  And we’re funny too.  As a speaker or performer, set your standards high.  You’ll appeal to a broader audience, earn laughs for the quality of your humor rather than simply for the shock value, and quite likely, you’ll make more money too.  Take the high road.