Archive for April, 2007

Comedy and Humor Writing — Breaking the Patterns

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Patterns and formulas can work great for creating humor, such as in the Marriages Made in Heaven theme contest.  However the key, when you’re writing, is to appreciate the gift of the pattern and at the same time explore the ways to deviate from and break the pattern.  The next few posts will explore this topic.  Let’s look at how we could explore a variety of angles in writing lines for the marriage combination contest.  The basic formula is:  If Barbara Walters married George Bush, she would be Barbara Bush.  This is the standard pattern.  Woman marries man and creates a punchline using her first name and his last name. 

Basic variations include:  Hyphenated last names.  Using Initials.  Leaving out first names if not part of the punchline. 

Let’s look at other variations in the process of creating humor.

Non-name punchline
If Rosie O’Donnell married Donald Trump, neither would have much to smile about.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the punchline has to be a name combination.

Use fictional names
If Sgt. Pepper married Belle from beauty and the beast she would be Bell Pepper.
Don’t limit yourself to real people.     

Do not limit yourself to logic
For the sake of humor, proposed marriages could be between people who lived in different eras.  And for the sake of humor, the names could marry men and women in any combination.  And might even use the name an animal.  Or a product.  Many of the examples in the contest included marriages between people who were living and no longer living.
If Mr Ed married Anne Sullivan, he would be Mr Ed-Sullivan.
If Mr Clean married Yo-Yo Ma, then divorced to marry Martin Sheen, he would be Mr Clean-Ma-Sheen.
Humor often breaks logical patterns.

Compound names
If A.J.Cook married Louis Koo, got divorced to marry Geoff Klock, he would be Mr Cook-Koo-Klock.
Another trap is thinking that we are limited to one pair of names.  Here’s a good link to compound name humor (like Mr Locke Ness Munster and Woody Wood Peck Hur).

Double words
If Olivia Newton John married Wayne Newton, got divorced and then married Elton John, she would be Olivia Newton John Newton John.

Taking liberties
Pearl White married Bill Gates, she’d be Pearl E White-Gates. 
This takes the liberty of, makes the assumption that, her middle name is starts with E (it’s really F).

Shorten a name
If Kevin Federline married Malcolm X, he would be Kevin Fed-X.

Add the punchline to the new name
If Vanessa Mae married Andrew Knotte, would Mrs Mae Knotte perform again.
The joke may be just a step behind the new name you’ve created.

Sometimes one name is funny by itself
If Yo-Yo Ma married anyone, would the name be funnier?
A good line, even though there are funny combinations available.
Yo-Yo Ma married Sandy Duncan and joined the army he’d be Duncan, Yo-Yo.
If Mama Cass married Yo-Yo Ma, she would be Mama Ma.

Work backwards
Many of the punchlines I create start with the punchline and then I create the set up.  That was how I came up with the Duncan Yo Yo line above.

Look for rhyme and rhythm
If Milla Jojovich married Bob Villa she would be Milla Villa.
If Oprah Winfry married Deepak Chopra she would be Oprah Chopra.

Look for Almost-Sound-Alikes
If Susan Srandon married Shelley Berman, she would be Sue Berman.
Almost sounds like Superman.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Marriages Made In Humor Heaven — Creative Writing Contest

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Here are the winners from our Marriages Made In Humor Heaven contest for April.

This writing exercise was a fun way to practice making humorous connections, a basic skill in creating original humor.  Coming soon — look for an article on on writing humor for formula or pattern games and how to break out of the pattern to find new angles.

**FIRST PLACE**

If Angelina Jolie married Orlando Bloom, she would be Va Va Voom Bloom.
     Jim Spero, Las Vegas, Nevada

**SECOND PLACE**

If Cher married U2’s Bono, she would be Cher.
     Brian Hinton, Rochester, Minnesota

**THIRD PLACE**

If Oprah Winfry married Deepak Chopra, she would be Oprah Chopra.
     Kim Spero, Las Vegas, Nevada

**HONORABLE MENTION** (in random order)

If Roseanne Barr married Bill Nunn, she would be Ms Barr-Nunn.

If Latoya London married Lloyd Bridges, she would be Latoya London-Bridges.

If Billie Bird married Nicolas Cage, she would be Billie Bird-Cage.

If Billie Bird married Ryan Michelle Bathe, she would be Billie Bird-Bathe.

If A.J.Cook married Louis Koo, then divorced Louis to marry author Geoff Klock, she would be A.J. Cook-Koo-Klock.

If Yo-Yo Ma married anyone, the name couldn’t be funnier.

If Milla Jojovich married Bob Villa, she would be Milla Villa.

If Sgt. Pepper married “Belle” from beauty and the beast, she would be Bell Pepper.
             
If Carrie Fisher married Billie Jean King, she would be Carrie Fisher-King.

If Susan Srandon married Shelley Berman, she would be Sue Berman.

If Charlotte Stacy Rampling married Jack Webb, she would be Charlotte S. Webb.

If Eva Marie Saint married Dan Patrick, she would be Eva Marie Saint-Patrick.
          
If Billie Jean King married Etta James, she would be Billie Jean King-James.

Nine Levels of Laughter — Humor and Public Speaking

Friday, April 13th, 2007

The first time I remember hearing about different types of laughter was at a Jim Richardson comedy workshop.  He talked about small laughs (about a second) which he called titters.  A good, solid laugh was anything between 2-4 seconds, as I remember.  And five seconds or more was a big laugh, a belly laugh.  A professional comic is shooting for as many big laughs as possible and at least four good laughs a minute.  The pro designs a stand-up routine with a typical structure of two set-up lines followed by a punchline.  An even better pace is one set-up line followed by a punchline.

Here are some of my thoughts on Levels of Laughter as they relate to using humor as a public speaker, from the low levels to the high:

1.  Pillar Of Salt.  This is the response of someone who doesn’t think your humor is the least bit funny.  Like a stone statue they react by silently looking at you as though you were invisible.

2.  Poker Face.  This is the person who thinks what you said was funny but you would never guess it from the expression on his or her face.  It might be someone like me, a North Dakota Norwegian introvert.  Someone who loves humor but who isn’t especially expressive.  When attending a humorous speech contest, I’ve occasionally told a friend who was competing not to look at me as a measure of what was funny.  At a comedy club in Montgomery, Alabama, the headliner comic stopped his act, looked at me and said, “Are you having a good time?”  “Yes,” I replied.  “Well then…tell your face!”  In an interview for an article in Speaker Magazine (March 2007), Dan Thurmon observed that when watching a humorous presentation, it’s not unusual to see the “comics and humorists look at each other very seriously and say, ‘Now that’s funny.'”  You need to remember that the Pillar Of Salt reaction doesn’t mean you’re bombing.  It may just be the habitual style of behavior for some of the members of your audience who are enjoying your funny lines.  Not that all funny people are Poker Faces.  S Frank Stringham, an amazingly funny guy and good friend, is also someone who will be the biggest laugher when he’s in your audience.  Some funny people are expressive, some aren’t.  Don’t let it throw you.

3. The Smile.  The next level up is the person who thinks something is funny and reacts by smiling.  No laughing out loud.  I’ve heard it said that Grouch Marx, a very funny guy, was never seen laughing in public.  I can’t find a reference for that, and maybe it’s just an urban legend.  But I do remember seeing him as the host of his TV show, Your Bet Your Life, where he was always reacting to funny comments from his guests with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, never a laugh.  It’s what I call The-Knowing-Look.  He was saying, “Yes, I know that’s funny…and I know…that you know…that I know it’s funny!”  But then YOU never know for sure when watching the people in YOUR audience.  Sometimes you receive a smile from a polite Pillar Of Salt who doesn’t think your humor is the least bit funny.  Don’t let it throw you. Assume the best.

4.  The Titter.  This is the small one second laugh.  The giggle.  The chuckle.  A speech filled with nothing but titter reactions is a speech filled with weak humor.  A titter here and there is fine.  But a steady diet of titters will make you a starving humorist.  Also, be aware that nervous laughter often comes in the form of titters.  If you’re delivering humor that’s slightly on the edge, or off-color, you’re likely to receive more than your share of titters.  But remember, a portion of your titters will come from the Poker Faces, and from them it’s a signal that your material IS funny.  I’ll occasionally let out a light laugh watching a Jay Leno or David Letterman monologue.  I seem to do that more often, laugh out loud, the older I get.  As my dad became older, the more he laughed.  Maybe I’m turning into my dad.  If you’re getting lots of titters, assume the best, but aim higher, for a larger number of bigger laughs from the audience as a whole.

5.  Solid laugh.  This would be our ideal goal, a solid laugh, or better than that, each time we deliver a funny line from the platform.  Two to four seconds of laughter is a solid laugh, above and beyond a nervous titter.  But we know from our own experiences that what is funny to one person is not funny to someone else.  Although I tend to be more reserved than the average person, there are times I’ll react with a big laugh.  One of my favorite funny movies is There’s Something About Mary.  Although it had some lame moments (the zipper scene early in the movie is one that comes to mind), I probably laughed harder at this movie than any other I’ve attended.  I loved the scene where he threw the flaming dog out the window.  Now I’m sure many people didn’t find that as funny as I did.  And maybe there was more at play than I realized when I was watching that scene in the movie.  Maybe there were factors involved such as what was happening in my life on that particular day.  I’ve not watched it a second time, hopefully I’d find it as funny again, but then I might not.  When you’re a speaker, your audience members have their own personal influencing factors happening in their lives.  The science of laughter is not simple.  I remember going to the first Austin Powers movie (the only one I’ve been to).  About half way through (after the “tastes nutty” comment after taking a sip from the coffee pot), I walked out of the theater.  At the start of the film I thought, “This looks like it’ll be a terrific spoof of a James Bond film.”  The longer the film went, the lines became more and more lame.  Of course that was just MY opinion when I looked at my friend and said:  “You ready to leave?”  On the other hand, my hair stylist LOVED the film.  She thought it was one of the funniest movies she had seen in a long time.  We face this each time we speak.  In almost any audience, there will be people who love our material and people who think it’s totally unfunny.  Focus on those who love you.  They are the ones who will be giving you the solid laughs and sending you energy.

6.  Belly laugh.  This is the huge laughter response that gets five seconds or more.  On occasion, a great line will get 10 seconds.  Sometimes 20 or 30 seconds of laughter.  These are magical moments.  Relax.  Enjoy the moment.  Don’t step on your laughs.  You need to remember to let them laugh.  Although President Bush is not normally considered an exceptionally funny guy, his recent speech at the Annual Correspondents Dinner hit the mark and had several magical moments.

7.  Applause.  This is a category beyond the belly laugh and it includes laughter AND applause.  The applause is usually the audience’s way of saying, “Yeah, exactly.  Right on.  That’s so true.  I was thinking the same thing.”  Or expressing some similar thought.

8.  Beyond applause.  When the audience is almost on the verge of losing it, they’ll cough, whistle and cheer, all mixed with the laughter and applause.  I had an observational humor line speaking in Atlanta in 1983 that fell into this category.  Twenty-eight seconds of response.  These moments don’t happen often, unless you consider a quarter-century often.

9.  Loss of Control.  Laughter releases tension.  It relaxes you.  If you laugh too hard, you may have more muscles relax than you planned on.  Wit happens.  The classic “wet your pants” can happen.  It happened once (that I know of) to an audience member who was sitting in the front row during one of my comedy-magic programs.  She ran from the room laughing and shouting, “Stop! Stop! Stop!”  It’s even happened to ME.  I was thirteen and was hiding under a card table (with a sheet over it) in a home-made haunted house which we created in the garage of our home in Martinez, California.  There is a saying in the comedy business, if you repress laughter it builds up pressure within you.  That pressure has to come out one end or the other.  Of course most of us would prefer to be in a room full of people who are laughing.  Before I took my hiding place under the card table, I don’t remember if I had just enjoyed a dinner of beans or not.  But all of a sudden I became a human whoopie cushion.  Then I started to laugh.  That was a mistake.  In a matter of seconds I was doing a one-person re-enactment of the Blazing Saddles campfire scene.  I totally lost it.  A dash into the house solved the problem with a quick change into dry clothes.  The funniest thing I’ve recently seen on TV was a Whose Line Is It Anyway show with guest star Richard Simmons.  The audience members were laughing so hard they were practically falling out of their chairs.  Laugh hard enough and you will lose control.

Here Comes The Judge.  As best you can, avoid pre-judging or over-interpreting the reaction of your audience.  Even if they’re not laughing, you can assume that they’re enjoying your program and your humor, unless they’re throwing things at you.  Most people are just like me…they’re different.  And each person has a default mode of behavior.  I tend to be non-expressive.  Some are just the opposite.  An empowering frame-of-mind, as a speaker, is to assume that everyone is coming from a good place, is enjoying listening to you, and is enjoying your humor.  If that’s not the case, deal with it after your program, not during your program.  Happy speaking!

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Plant Humor Seeds — Enjoy Growing Older

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Is a good sense of humor genetic?  I don’t know the answer to that.  But I suspect that it is. What I do know is that both my parents have a great sense of humor.  Also, neither of them had a reputation for being big joke tellers as I was growing up.  I like to say they are “carriers” of humor.  They laugh at funny things and spread good cheer to people around them.  But they are not the life-of-the-party person wearing a lamp shade on their head!  Like me, they tend to be introverts.

About ten years ago, we had a family reunion in Florida.  My mother
was living in Orlando and her sons and grandkids flew in to enjoy
spending time together.  At the end of our vacation she played taxi
driver taking everyone to catch their flights home.  At the
airport, Michael and I loaded our bags onto a small dolly and the
two of us, plus mom, headed to the gate.  I was having a hard time
pulling the dolly because the handle was too low for a person who
was six-foot-three.  Michael is even taller than I am.  My mom
said, “No problem, I’ll pull the luggage.”  She’s a healthy, active
woman, so we didn’t think anything of it.  Halfway to the gate it
hit me.  I shared my thoughts: “I wonder what this looks like to
other people?  Two tall, strong, young men letting their mother in
her 70s pull all the luggage.”  We stood there in the terminal
laughing like we had lost control.  I love being in a family that
laughs. 

My dad died six years ago. He was in good spirits till the end.
One of his outstanding character traits was his ability to
go-with-the-flow.  Happy people are able to enjoy the NOW.  My dad
was good at that.

Although he spent a lot of time in a hospital during the last two
months of his illness, he was able to spend his last week at home.
He kept his sense of humor during uncomfortable times.  When family
members were awkwardly trying to roll him over on the hospital bed
at home the week before he died, he said “Wait, I’ve got an idea.
Why don’t you run down to the library and get a book on Nursing!”

The week before, on his last hospital visit, as he lost his strength, he was unable to hold the phone to his ear and the phone would slide down the side of his head.  People would say, “Howard,
hold the phone to your ear.”  One afternoon, while chatting on the
phone, he said to the person on the other end of the line: “I’m
going in for surgery tomorrow.”   Then he paused, like a professional comic. 

Those of us in the room looked at each other, “Surgery?  What
surgery?”

Then he continued:  “They’re going to move my ear!”

Maybe I get my humor genes from my mom and dad.

One of my favorite “mom” stories comes from fellow humorist Allen
Klein (Mid-Month Mirth Memo, humor@allenklein.com).  His 80 year
old mother, who was unable to find a cab to take her home, walked
into a Pizza Restaurant.  “I’d like to order a pepperoni pizza
delivered…and I’d like to go with it.”

A good sense of humor helps us to have a sense of control.  It
helps us to enjoy the present moment.  It provides pain relief.  It
reminds us that there is always another way of looking at things.
Our sense of humor is critical as we grow older. 

Something I’ve observed recently is that when we become older, we retain our character traits.  In fact they grow more pronounced.  A sweet person becomes sweeter.  A disagreeable person becomes a real crank in their old age.  The attitudes and traits you are planting now
will take root and become rigid habits later in life. 

My uncle Harry is a shining example.  All his life he was one of the most kind, sweet and gentle men you could ever meet.  His character made him a good fit for being the minister of a church.  Today he’s in his mid-80s and living with dementia. He’s unable to communicate clear sentences that make any sense.  And inspite of that challenge, he has the most pleasant, cheerful, smiling disposition.  He can’t express him self with words, but his smile and the twinkle in his eye have never been lost.  The personality traits you have in life today will stay with you as you grow older…and more so.

It’s important to make a commitment to live a daily life of optimism,
hope, generosity, gratitude and fun.  Whatever your lifestyle choices you make today…you can be guaranteed you’ll have more of the same…and I do mean MORE…later in life.

Plant happy seeds and enjoy today.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Open A Speech With Humor

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

Here some ideas on how to open a speech with humor.

1.  I love to open a speech with observational humor.  It’s fresh and in-the-moment.  Observational humor is powerful and it almost always connects with the audience because it’s about them and their immediate experience.  Check our an article on why spontaneous humor is powerful, another article on making spontaneous humor work, and some case studies on Observational Humor.

2.  Plan a Book-End.  If you open your talk with humor try to close it with humor that is related to the opening.  Read our article on book-ending.  It’s the feature article in our April 1 Humor Power Tips Ezine.

3.  Your Speaker Introduction.  Build some laughs into the introduction which is read before you take the microphone.  Or write a line for the introducer which will set up a laugh for you early in your speech.  For example, the introducer might read a very flattering quote about you or your programs.  In your opening, you might say:  “That was so nice for Susan to read a quote from my mother!”  Not a super-funny line, but an example of how the technique could be used.

4.  Slide Show.  This works great as an opener if you’re not especially funny.  Bill Gates used this technique to carry the opening humor at his opening keynote for the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

5.  Canned Joke.  This is NOT recommended as an opener.  You want something original.  Something that is yours.  If you must do a canned joke “that belongs to the public domain”…at least make it relevant to the talk.

6.  Funny Story.  Story-telling is a perfect vehicle for delivering the laughs.  For great story-telling resources, visit Doug Stevenson’s web site.

7.  Cartoon.  Again look for something original.  Can you come up with your own cartoon?  You may need to enlist the help of an artist.  And maybe a humor writer.  Nancy Lininger, a compliance expert, designs her own cartoons and writes original captions for her business holiday card each year.  If she gave a speech, she could easily use one of those cartoon sets as an opener for a talk.

8.  Quote.  Use a funny quote.  Get it from the world of business and literature, NEVER something “borrowed” from a professional speaker or comedian.  Give credit.  The audience knows it’s borrowed wit and wisdom.  You get the laughs.

9.  Audience Participation.  I frequently open my talks with comedy-magic.  It involves the audience.  They love it when one of them is on stage having fun.  An improv game could also be a humor vehicle for involving the audience at the start of your talk.  I’ve seen speakers open with an audience member doing some silk juggling.  Simple, silly and fun.  It works.

10.  Props.  Some speakers use a comedy prop to open a talk.  A wig.  A clown nose.  A rubber chicken.  Or other prop designed to get a laugh.  Magicians have a variety of comedy props which they use.  Silk handkerchief which changes to a lapel rose (Silk To Rose), break-away wand, instant-change necktie, etc.  If what you’d like is a quick visual gag, a stop at a magic store might be a good idea.  I have a break-away table, where the front legs fall off one at a time…to be replaced by a set of human legs.  It’s a good opener for my comedy magic programs.  I’ve never tried it for a speech opener, but maybe I should!

11.  Humorous poem or limerick.  With a little practice you can learn to write your own material.  We practice this art form in our improv workshops and can write a poem or limerick on-the-spot on almost any topic.

12.  A Contest.  Audiences love contests, especially now that television features a variety of reality-contest programs.  Design a game show or trivia contest and give away prizes.  A trivia contest could be about the company sponsoring the program or about the host city.  I’ve done it.  Works great.

13.  Open with a song parody or spoof fake-book-cover-titles.  I almost never use these techniques, but David Glickman is an expert in these humor vehicles. 

14.  Use a mastermind group to refine your opening humor ideas.  If you don’t have a mastermind group, look for a couple of friends who make you laugh and start a new group.  A group can fine-tune a humor line better than an individual.

15.  Make it relevant.  Your humor should support the rest of your program.  Sometimes I think that my openings are for the sake of the laughs.  To get the audience moving and having fun.  I’ve often called my comedy-magic speech opener “my Ed McMahon.”  Just as Ed would warm up the audience for Johnny Carson, my comedy-magic warms up the audience for me.  But it’s interesting to note that my opening magic, although not designed to support a specific point in the speech, is still a relevant part of the talk because I speak about the power of humor and having fun.

16.  Open your talk with humor.  Wake the audience up.  Build a connection.  You’re off and running.  Enjoy!

Creative Humor Writing Contest — Marriage

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Marriages Made In Humor Heaven

Our humor writing challenge this month is looking for humorous connections when two names are paired together by marriage.

For example:

If Mr T had married Vanilla Ice…he would be Mr Ice-T.

If Mama Cass had married Barak Obama…she would have been Mama Obama.

If Shirley Temple had married Beau Geste and her middle name was Ursula…her name would have been Shirley U Geste.

Here are some writing tips:

1.  Make a list of fun sounding names.  Look for names with double meanings.  For example some names are also nouns, verbs, adjectives, and locations:  George Bush, Stevie Wonder, Red Buttons, Carrot Top, Paris Hilton, Johnny Cash, Janet Reno.

2.  From the list you’ve made (if you’ve done it right it will be a LONG list) look for humorous connections.  With a long list, humorous connections will almost fall in your lap, once you get into the groove.

3.  Some of the name combinations will be hyphenated names.
Some will be novel combinations of first and last names.
Some will use initials.
Some will use more than one first name or more than one last name.
Some of the combinations you find will be unique to your creative mind only.
Some of the combinations will be punny…and not funny…but that’s OK.  It’s about the creative process and it’s not critical that each line has your friends rolling on the floor.

4.  Write down all your lines.

5.  Sleep on it.

6.  Re-write and find tune your lines.  Bounce them off your humor buddies.

7.  Select your best lines and submit them to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by April 15, after you’ve submitted your tax return.