Remembering A Joke

Hear a great joke and later you can’t remember it?  I often have that problem too.  Here are some things I do to help me recall the funny line or story.  This post was inspired by Martha Warren who posted a blog comment on February 23 with a question about how to remember a joke.  Thanks Martha!

1.  Create a visual image.  Let’s create a joke and examine it:   Why did the elephant cross the road?  It was just following the chicken.  OK.  I didn’t say we’d create a funny joke.  But let’s look at what we have here.  It’s a story that we can put in pictures.  If this is a joke that you want to remember, picture the elephant crossing the road following a chicken.  Often  we think and remember in pictures, not in words.

2.  Make a link.  The trick to remember the first joke is to remember the picture you created.  So you need to create another picture to help you remember the elephant picture.  Here’s how it works.  Let’s say you’re in a fast-food restaurant and you hear Fred tell the elephant joke.  You decide you want to remember it, so you created a picture in your mind.  You now want to create a trigger to get you to the elephant picture.  When your meal is finished, you know you’ll be leaving the restaurant and getting in your car.  Visualize that when you insert your key into the car door you hear a loud noise, look up, and see an elephant crossing the road following a chicken.  Presto, you remember the joke.  Adding the loud noise into your story/picture helps to make the image even more vivid and more memorable.

3.  Extend the string.  If you have more than one joke to remember, string your links together.  Let’s pretend Fred told you about the winner of the Twisted Movie Titles contest:  So White — Seven dwarves teach a princess about diversity issues.  Step one, create a visual picture of this joke.  The princess is white, so white that it is blinding just to look at her, you wish you had sun glasses.  She is surrounded by seven dwarves.  Because of the joke, you may want one dwarf to be black, one to be white, one heavy, one thin, one in a wheel chair, one with a white cane, both male and female.  You get the idea.  Now the challenge is to remember THIS picture.  A new link:  The chicken is crossing the road to be with So White.  You picture the chicken, wearing sunglasses,  running across to be with a blinding-white princess who is surrounded by seven diverse-looking dwarves, etc.  Get the picture?  Or rather, get the pictures?

4.  There is no limit.  Say you hear another joke from Fred.  Dentist and motivational humorist Charles Jarvis was once asked:  “What should I do for yellow teeth?”  His answer, “Wear a brown tie!”  The picture:  A person with a large smiling mouth and yellow teeth.  Maybe you want to picture his teeth as lemons.  The more vivid the picture the easier it will be to recall the image.  The necktie he is wearing is brown, and is so long that it stretches out in front of him where the dwarves are standing on his tie.  Another link.

5.  Put yourself into the picture.  Some other tips for remembering the funny line or story.  When you create your story, make it a story that is happening to you.  It’s easier to remember a story where you are actually experiencing what is happening.

6.  Recall time.  Time comes to leave the restaurant.  Oh no!  I’ve forgotten those three wonderful jokes that Fred told me while we were eating.  What to do?  Don’t worry.  You walk to your car.  Take your keys from your pocket.  As you start to place the key into the door lock…boom!  You hear a noise and look up…there’s an elephant crossing the street.  Oh my, he’s following a chicken that’s wearing sunglasses!  They’re running up to a radiant much-too-white princess surrounded by diverse little people.  The little people are standing on a big brown tie which is being work by a guy with a big smile and very yellow teeth.

7.  Burn it into memory.  Sometimes I’m in a long program or a meeting and have a string of humorous observations I want to remember.  I create my pictures.  Then link them together.  And then replay my linked stories in my mind several times as I sit and listen to the remainder of the lecture or meeting.  Then when I leave the meeting hall and hit my trigger (key in the car door in this example), presto!  The images pour forth and I’m able to recreate the lines, stories, key points that I wanted to save. 

8.  Short term memory.  This memory technique can help you with both short and long-term memory.  My preference is primarily to use it as a tool for short-term memory (for the purpose of remembering jokes) and when I’m near paper and pen, I write the jokes down for long-term retention.

9.  Block your joke telling and storytelling.  This is a tip that comes from the theater.  Actors learning their lines for a play, often start by blocking the movement on stage before they memorize their lines.  That is, they get the physical movements of the scene committed first, then they work on the lines.  It will help you in joke telling to have a specific gesture to emphasize the punch line.  Also, if you have characters and dialogue, can you play the parts and act out the story with movement and sounds?  Every joke is different, and some jokes may lend them self to doing this, some may not.

10.  The idea outline.  When I’m presenting a program, I create an idea outline of the main points and stories of the talk.  Then I rehearse the talk and burn the outline into my memory.  I don’t actually use a written script.  I’m not trying to memorize anything word-for-word.  But with enough rehearsal, I can actually see the written outline in my mind.  I know what is at the top of note card number two, for example. 

11. This works.  Try it.  In the example we used, we created links to recall three totally unrelated jokes.  The link technique is exactly what I use when I need to remember a string of unrelated funny lines.  For a more detailed look at the linking process, and other memory techniques, get a copy of The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne.  He’s a memory expert and this is one of the classic books on the subject.

12.  Check out Seven Tips for Telling a Joke, by Brad Montgomery.  It was featured on our Feburary 20 blog post.