Archive for May, 2007

How To Write Humor — Alternate Word Meanings

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

The basic principle used to create most humor is that of finding connections and relationships.  Words that have double meanings are ripe for picking when you are creating a funny line.

In the movie Vegas Vacation, Chevy Chase (as Clark Griswold) worked the principle of alternate word meanings to the max when his family visited Hoover Dam.  The tour guide introduces himself with something like:  “Welcome.  I’m your dam tour guide.  Please don’t wander off the dam tour.  But let me know any time you have a dam question.”

For some people the joke would be so obvious as to be unfunny.  And some would think it was in bad taste.  I’m not a big fan of obscene language, but for me, since it wasn’t really a four-letter-word used for shock value, as you see in the comedy clubs, it was a funny sequence and I liked it.

Another principle at work here is the disconnect between the expected proper behavior of a public tour guide and the apparent rude behavior created by the alternate word meaning.  Once the joke is played, playing it again allows it to become its own topper, actually becoming funnier each time. 

It’s a pretty obvious joke.  When I toured the dam seven years ago, the visitors were joking about being “dam tourists.”  Many of them had probably seen the movie.

A widely circulated joke is the one of the duck walking into a drugstore.  He picks up a stick of lip balm and starts to leave the store.  The clerk shouts, “Hey, you haven’t paid yet!”  The duck replies, “Just put it on my bill”  Alternate word meaning in action.

In a joke about a car I describe the car as yellow in color.  Here an alternate association, while not an alternate literal meaning, implies “lemon.”

Get into the habit (when brainstorming for relationships, connections, links and disconnects) of always thinking, “what else could this word mean.”  Sometimes the funny connection or relationship you’re looking for is found within the word itself.  The alternate word meaning could be just the twist you need to bring the humor to life.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Storytelling — Truth and Embellishment

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

When telling a story, is it OK to stretch the truth?  When is it OK to not tell the truth?  In the humor business, the term embellishment is often used to describe the process of dressing up a personal story with little bits of exaggeration and describing things which may not have happened exactly as you say.

Embellishment is a legitimate and widely employed technique used to punch up stories to make them funnier.  It’s actually a subject I haven’t given much thought to until a comment came from a reader last week.  I looked at all the personal stories I tell and can’t find a part in any of the stories where I don’t tell it exactly as it happened.  I’m sure I’ve used embellishment at some point.  I just can’t put my finger on an example of when I’ve used the technique.  Yet, I think it’s perfectly OK to use embellishment and probably should explore the possibilities of using it a bit in my story-telling.  Later in this article, I’ll share a couple of embellishments I’m thinking of adding to my presentation.

When does the not-telling-the-truth cross the line? 

A glaring example would be telling someone else’s story as your own.  This should be an obvious no-no and goes far beyond anything intended as embellishment.  In the speaking business, someone’s story is their property.  Using their story as your own is nothing short of theft and doesn’t even fit in the category of embellishment.  Using their story and giving them credit, while on the surface seems acceptable, is also frowned upon.  Audiences deserve to hear the story from the originator.  It’s not fair to the creator of the story to share his or her story with an audience, and discover that they’ve heard it from another speaker first!  And it rightly brands you as a speaker who isn’t creative enough to come up with your own material.

What about taking a common-domain joke and creating a story around it as though it happened to you.  You aren’t stealing some else’s story.  Again, this technique is really not really embellishment and is not a good idea for two reasons.  First, it’s not creative and the quality of the story and the humor will almost always have less impact than original and compelling true-life stories of your own.  Second, the audience has probably already heard the generic joke and will realize that this “personal story” you are telling is nothing but a common joke that everybody knows.  It destroys your credibility.  Even if the rest of the stories in your speech are original and true, the audience will suspect that you just made them up too.

An embellishment which builds false credentials is something that crosses the line.  Saying you have a PhD when you don’t, just because it makes the story funnier, is not likely a good thing.  To say you’ve met the President when you haven’t most likely crosses the line.  It’s worse than name-dropping.  To say you’ve had cancer when you haven’t may add punch to a cancer story, but crosses the line.  To say you earned a million and then lost it, if it’s not true, crosses the line.  To imply that you were next to the twin towers when they fell, if you were actually ten miles away, crosses the line.  If your embellishment tries to make you a hero, it’s probably not a good thing from an integrity standpoint. 

Comic license is the belief that it’s OK to change, or embellish, some of the small details of a story.  For example, let’s say you slipped on a banana peel and three people actually saw you fall.  The story may actually be funnier to say that 50 or 100 people saw you fall.  Why?  The comedy device at work here is embarrassment and tension.  A larger watching-audience increases that embarrassment and tension.  Therefore the humor is stronger with the embellishment of the size of the audience that witnessed your mishap.

Is it a lie?  Well yes, if you say 100 people saw you fall and it was really only three.  But so what?  If done solely for the sake of the humor, what harm?

Let’s say you walked out of a restroom and had one sheet of toilet paper stuck to the heel of your shoe.  Another embarrassing moment.  Would it be funnier if a ten-foot trail of toilet paper was following you, stuck to your shoe.  Yes!  And again, the principle of comic license comes into play and says that this type of embellishment is a good thing.

The “Not Really” technique.  One of the stories I share from the platform is about a retired Army Colonel who served in WWII.  Think Patton.  As a result of this article, I’m thinking of trying this line.  “Several things about him reminded me of General Patton.  His gruff voice.  His stature.  The green helmet with four stars he was wearing.  OK…so he wasn’t wearing a helmet.  But you get the picture.”  This technique allows you to deviate from the truth, get the laugh, and then admit that you were just kidding.

The convenience factor.  Living in Las Vegas, I often open a talk with a welcome-to-Las-Vegas segment.  I’m preparing to add two photographs to the presentation to show people the barren desert landscape around Las Vegas.  “Here a picture of what Las Vegas looks like without the buildings.  No, wait a minute (switch slide).  THIS is Las Vegas.  (back to first slide)  This is Mars.  (switching back and forth between two slides)  Vegas.  Mars.”  Initially I started searching for Mars Rover photos to use when comparing the Martian landscape to our local desert.  Both have a similar red tint to the soil.  Then I decided that I could just take two different photos from the Las Vegas desert and say one of them was a photo of Mars.  This is acceptable embellishment in my opinion.  There ARE real photos of the Martian landscape and everyone knows that.  It’s believable that a photo which I took COULD be a photo from the Mars Rover.  And it gives me better photos with matching lighting and color balance.  I’m not claiming that I was a research scientist for NASA.  It’s just a quick visual joke with a bit of comic license thrown in.  Using my own photo was convenient.  It made the point.  And it was not a big lie that was designed to manipulate or cheat the audience.

Good embellishment is normally a minor tweak in your story to make something sound funnier, look funnier, make it more memorable.  It’s often related to accenting a punchline or magnifying a humor trigger and not connected to misleading the audience on substantial facts or implying that an experience happened to you, when in fact it never did.

Explore the possibilities of adding a touch of embellishment to your stories to make them more memorable and to take the drama and humor to the next level.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Observational Humor — Case Study #7

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

This case study presents observational humor delivered after an NSA chapter meeting.  Here is the background information on what happened during the meeting before the observational humor was presented:

THE SET UP

1.  It was monthly meeting with guest speaker and branding expert Dick Bruso.  He presented an awesome program and I highly recommend his services.

2.  Anita Johnston, chapter Membership VP, showed up early to help with room setup.  Also helping were her husband and four other men.

3.  Dick Bruso’s style is very pleasant, relaxed and friendly.  The whole day was focused on Branding.

4.  Dick shared with us that he was the oldest of eight children.

5.  He mentioned a client who had developed a successful business after surviving a fall into an 80 foot crevasse.

6.  Patricia Fripp mentioned that she knew someone who had been affected by the Charles Manson murders but didn’t think the story was a good one to support a speech on customer service.

7.  In brainstorming someone’s brand someone used the term “drop dead.”

8.  Dick used an early Volkswagen commercial’s slogan “Think Small” as an illustration of good branding.

9.  Dick used two great branding ideas where books were packaged in milk cartons and cereal boxes.

10.  It was mentioned that I was a retired USAF officer.

11.  Dick cited a successful branding campaign using the slogan “Chef C and the Dancing Mangos.”

12. Dick quoted Mother Theresa:  “Most pitiful is the person who has sight, but no vision.”

THE MONOLOGUE

This is a friendly group.  Setting up the room before the meeting started was Anita, her husband and four other men.  Anita was at the back of the room and shouted across the room to her husband, “Oh Honey!”  And every man in the room stopped what they were doing and looked up.
(What triggered this joke in my mind was that when Anita said “Oh Honey” nearly every man in the room froze and looked up.  Sometimes good observational humor comes from just reporting the facts.  When revisited and given focus, it becomes funny.)

As I watched the program today I couldn’t help but thinking I was watching the Mr Rogers of Branding…who grew up with the Brady Bunch.
(Dick has the Mr Rogers look, straight looking, conservative, good looking.  I could picture him in a sweater.  He mentioned coming from a large family several times, making it a good setup for the Brady Bunch.)

It was a great program.  I have some plans to improve my business.
(Here I’m using a LIST.  This is a good technique for creating and delivering humor.  Not unlike a Top-Ten list, it’s a list of supposed steps I’ll take as a result of the program presented.)

By the end of this month, I’ll take a trip to Red Rock Canyon…and fall into an 80 crevasse.
(Red Rock Canyon is a local scenic spot.  If I couldn’t think of a place locally, I’d I would have used the Grand Canyon.)

And then I’ll develop some drop-dead motivational humor about the Charles Manson murders.
(This line could be on the edge of bad taste depending on how it was brought up during the meeting.  I thought my line was absurd enough to make it safe.  Absurdity is usually safe.  It got a good laugh.)

And I’ll make sure people know that if they’re looking for a professional speaker…think tall.
(I was playing with rhyming, sound-alike words.)

I’m planning on mailing an egg carton to prospects.  It’ll contain my new book, A Dozen Egg Jokes.
(I wanted a joke which tied into food-container packaging.  And I linked Yokes with Jokes.  Silly, but it worked.)

And I’ll be known as Colonel K and the Prancing Papayas.
(Again, a silly line.  But a good laugh.)

I’ll close with a quote from Mother Theresa:  “Most pitiful is the person who has jokes and no timing.”  So I think I’ll sit down.
(I wrote severeal Mother Theresa spin-off lines, and chose to use only this one.  I could have chosen to make a list of lines, but felt that this was the strongest and most relevant line.  Less is more.)

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Creative Presidential Choices — Creative Humor Writing Contest Results

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Here are the results for our May humor contest:  Creative Presidential Choices

**FIRST PLACE**

If Tweety Bird ran for President, speeches would have fewer mispronounced words.
     Nancy Lininger, Camarillo, CA

**SECOND PLACE**

If The Mormon Tabernacle Choir ran for President, there’d be lots more Harmony in Washington, D.C.
     Sol Morrison, Santa Barbara, CA

**THIRD PLACE**

If Bin Laden ran for President, we’d at least know where he is.  
     Tena Beth Thompson, Las Vegas, NV

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

If my Mom ran for President, most of the Senators would get their bums smacked. 

If the oil companies ran for President, they could openly and officially rule the world. 
 
If all the Gods ran for President they could speak for themselves.

The USMC ran for President, we’d by governed by A Few Good Men.

If the USMC ran for President, SOS would be the country’s official breakfast.

If Schwarzenegger ran for President, a second term is guaranteed.  “I’ll be back.”

If Arnold Schwarzennegger ran for President, he could throw whatever he wanted across the Potomac River.

If an Octopus ran for President, the USA would be way ahead in The Arms Race.

If Martha Stewart ran for President, she would avoid dirty politics and clean up The House with sweeping reforms.

If Pluto ran for President, the International Astronomical Union would be stripped of its power to declassify planets.

If Gas-X ran for President, all the political hot air in Washington would be eliminated.

If Tony Blair ran for President, the British would have a reason to smile.

If my wife ran for President, global disputes would be settled over a large dinner.

If Mr Clean ran for President, we’d clean up the White House.

If Windows Vista ran for President, it would take 4 years to work out the bugs.

If a book ran for President, you couldn’t judge it by its campaign promises

If a toaster ran for President, we’d have crummy politics

If Lay’s Potato Chips ran for President, you couldn’t have just one.

If a deck of cards ran for President, we could play War.

If a balloon ran for President, we’d have more hot air.

If a blanket ran for President, we’d feel more secure.

One Good Joke Deserves Another

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Sometimes one joke leads to another.  This is a good thing, because it’s often effective to follow one joke with another on the same theme.  In the humor business, this is called a Topper.  You tell a joke and get a laugh.  Then you top it with another joke along the same subject, theme or pattern.  You ride the coat tails of the first joke.  Normally the second joke will almost always get a laugh because the audience is already in motion.

Sometimes the temptation is wear out a line of jokes.  How much piling on is too much?

Professional comedians will typically use a pattern of JOKE, TOPPER, TOPPER.  One joke, followed by two jokes that ride the wave.  The rule of thumb is that the first topper should be funnier than the original joke.  And the second topper should be funnier than the first topper.  Based on this rule, if the topper isn’t funnier than what just preceded it, don’t use it. 

The reasoning for this rule is the classic humor rule:  Less is more.  Keeping to the rule of three, the joke-topper-topper pattern will almost always work better than slapping on five or six toppers.  After all, how long can you continue to add lines which keep getting funnier and funnier.  Creating two excellent toppers is a challenge that isn’t easy.  Going beyond that often detracts from the quality of the humor.

Patsy Dooley, a terrific motivational humorist from Texas uses toppers like a pro.  In her classic Helicopter Speech, a signature story about taking a helicopter ride to visit an oil-drilling platform off the coast of California, she uses a series of toppers.  She refers to her oil company tour guide as The Drill Sergeant:

“Then the Drill Sergeant tells us to step outside for the weigh in!” (joke) 

She then reacts to that order with a wide-eyed, you’ve-got-to-be kidding-me look.  (a take, her physical response to the first joke line) 

“Nobody told me about a weigh in!” (topper)

“Weigh ins are NOT my favorite adventure!” (topper)

This sequence of funny lines give her the perfect ride on the wave of laughter.  Each subsequent line funnier than the previous one.  This leads her speech to a sequence of how she managed to cope with a weigh-in on a truck scale where the arrow pointing to the weight was taller than she was.  It’s funny story using the power of poking fun at yourself and using the technique of toppers.

If you find yourself excessively piling on the toppers, try this.  Be glad that you’re able to come up with many lines.  Quantity is the first step to great humor.  Once your brainstorm gives you an abundance of lines, you need to avoid the temptation to use ALL your ideas from the platform.  Analyze the lines and rank order them from funniest to not-so-funny.  Then see if you can come up with an optimal structure of a joke followed by the two funniest toppers on your list.  If you have good lines left over, examine them to see if they might trigger another joke theme which could then be followed by two new toppers.

A great way to practice the technique of toppers is to exercise your skills of creating observational humor and try to frequently create humor with the pattern of joke/topper.  Try to top each joke, just once, as an exercise in sharpening your ability to use this humor form.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Humor — Written, Spoken and Visual

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Is there a difference between written humor and spoken humor?  Most definitely.

The Words and The Delivery

Written humor relies almost entirely on the words and placement of those words.  Spoken humor, in addition to words, adds delivery style into the mix.  Because of the impact of delivery, spoken humor has more options, is more flexible and is often funnier than written humor, but not always.

One of the reasons that spoken humor is more powerful than written humor, is the impact of the characters which deliver the funny lines.  When you’re delivering a speech, the character may be YOU.  Or you may play the part of a character in a story which you are telling.  It’s easier to deliver a funny line with an accent when speaking, for example, than to put the accent on paper.  Consider lines delivered by a strong comic character (like Lucille Ball).  They will usually have more power than the same lines delivered in written form.  Lines delivered in a dry style (like Steven Wright) will sometimes be almost as funny when presented in writing.  This is one reason we frequently see lists of Steven Wright’s clever observations in written form, but almost never do we see written dialogue from an old I Love Lucy show.

The lesson is to maximize your physical delivery when presenting spoken humor.  Although the words are still critically important, it’s the vocal and physical delivery qualities that really add the extra punch to your humor.  Words in print don’t have the added impact of changes in rate, pitch, volume and the energy or force changes that your spoken presentation provides.  Even more critical is the power of pacing and the pause.  Although you can use a pause technique in written form (I usually do it using the ellipsis…as I just did here), you don’t have the precise control over the length of the pause that you would have while speaking.  It’s the pause that adds focus to the key words and also adds the power of tension, in the form of anticipation, to magnify the humor.  Control of this process is so much more precise and powerful in the spoken form, compared to humor in writing.

What is often missing in the written form is the ATTITUDE that the speaker or comic can use when delivering a line.  The speaker may be happy, angry, sarcastic or flavor his or her delivery with some other attitude.  In writing, also missing is the speakers REACTION to the funny line.  In the humor business, this is called the TAKE.  For example, a speaker delivers a funny line, then raises his eyebrows.  It’s a reaction to the punchline intended to magnify the impact of the line.  This technique, the physical take, is normally missing when humor is in the written form.

Power From Written Humor

Although the spoken form is usually funnier, sometimes the written form has more impact.  The specific word choice may make the written form of humor more powerful than the spoken form.  For example, let’s look at this line:  The over use of puns is an extreme form of audience PUNishment.  Although, in the spoken form, this line may be an obvious play on words, the pun part of punishment could go totally unnoticed.  In the written form, especially with the use of capital letters, the intended word play is unlikely to be missed. 

Another example:  Three cows walk into a bar.  The bartender says, “We don’t serve cows in this bar.”  The cows respond, “we’ll just go to an udder bar.”  In the written form the intended word is crystal clear.  In the spoke form, the word play could be missed and the listener could just hear “other” instead of the intended word.  Humor based on word-play is often stronger in the written form.

While word selection and placement are important in both written and spoken humor, they are more critical in the written form since they carry almost all the weight of the humor impact.  A line which is not structured for optimal humor impact when spoken, can still be funny because of the power of the physical and vocal delivery elements.

Also, it’s probably true that the more complex the humor, the better the written form is for the delivery vehicle.  When humor is spoken, the listener has only one shot to get it.  Although, in my opinion both forms, written and spoken, should be kept simple and direct from a humor structure standpoint.  Even though written humor allows the reader to go back, re-read and analyze your attempt at humor; excessive complexity is rarely a humor enhancer.  If they don’t catch it the first time, most people won’t dedicate the time to solve a humor puzzle!

Visual Humor

Good humor, both written and spoken, is often visual.  With our words we paint pictures in the mind of the reader and listener.  Often, written humor paints stronger visual images in the mind of the reader than spoken humor does in the mind of the listener.  Consider the power of visual imagery created by the fiction novel.  Compare that to the visual images in a movie.  At first glance, you might think that the imagery in a movie is more powerful.  But in reality, the images left to the imagination of the reader are often more powerful because the reader creates a picture in his or her own image.  It’s the reader’s past experience that allows him or her to paint a picture exactly the way that he or she thinks the scene SHOULD look.  The visual experience can actually be richer and more powerful than seeing a scene visually acted out by a speaker. Say, for example, you’re sharing a personal story with an audience, perhaps an embarrassing moment in your life.  That same story may actually be more powerful in writing because it allows the audience to see YOU as they want to see you.  In their mind, they may actually create a funnier picture of the story than watching you actually tell the story from the platform.  But knowing which delivery form, written or spoken, is more powerful is never an exact science.  It’s complicated by the factors of physical delivery elements, structure of the lines, specific word choice and other considerations.  The key is to remember which format you’re using and to optimize the elements which you can control for maximum impact of your humor.

Combining Written and Spoken Humor

Sometimes the written or printed humor comes in the form of a cartoon, a photograph or a headline.  What we’re talking about is a visual-element which is not just a classic joke line.  A printed picture or cartoon is very similar to written text. It stands on its own with no delivery style attached to it.  And as a speaker, realize that you are often combining the elements of written and spoken humor in a speech.  The key is to consider when when you know that your laughs come from a picture, a cartoon or a headline is: “What makes it funny?”  What specifically is the punchword or the trigger of the laughter. 

In some cases the picture is actually just the set up for the joke, and the written or spoken words that follow the viewing of the picture are the trigger to the laughter.  An example is a Gary Larson cartoon of two deer, one with a huge target-pattern on its back.  The one deer says to the other deer with the target-hyde, “Bummer of a birthmark Hal.”  The cartoon is only the set up.  The bummer-line word caption actually triggers the joke.

Sometimes the trigger is just seeing the picture, the cartoon or the headline.  Some cartoons, pictures or headlines are funny all by themselves.  But then, some visual humor needs a written or spoken set up, after which the picture itself is the actual trigger for the humor.  Example:  I use two newspaper headlines to get audience laughter.  Although it’s part of a spoken presentation, the visual elements of the headlines are delivered in written form.  Each headline generates a humor response for a different reason.  The first headline:  Police Stop Car with Twenty Naked People.  That headline, by itself is funny.  It needs no spoken setup.  It needs no spoken punchline.  A second headline is actually a photo of a freeway exit sign for the Las Vegas Strip (also known as Las Vegas Blvd).  The photo needs a setup to trigger the humor.  After showing the car-with-twenty-naked-people headline, I ask, “Have you ever seen a freeway exit sign that says “Take Off All Your Clothes Before Your Leave the Freeway?”  I then show the highway sign which says, “Las Vegas Blvd (Strip).” By itself, the sign isn’t funny.  With the setup lines, and set in the context of the first headline…it gets a great laugh.

When creating humor, remember to take advantage of the elements which magnify your laughs for the style, written or spoken, that you’re using to deliver your humor.  You may be serving your humor in writing or spoken to an audience.  Or you may be using a combination of both.  Blend your mastery of words and delivery to add punch to your funny lines.  It’s an art.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde

Creative Humor Writing — Presidential Choices

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

Are you tired of the same old choices for President?  Are you tired of voting for people?  What if anything could run for President?  A company, a concept, an animal, a city, a country, a color, a language, a food, a planet?  That’s the theme of this month’s contest.  Here are some examples:

If Wal-Mart ran for President their campaign slogan would be:  Low Taxes…Always!

If Las Vegas ran for President, what happens in the White House would stay in the White House.

If Global Warming ran for President we’d realize that the problem all along was the hot air from political campaign speeches.

If money ran for President…wait a minute…that’s not new.

Here’s your challenge:

1.  Don’t limit your self to a small number of categories.  Part of the creativity exercise is to find the most unlikely candidates for President.

2.  Write down interesting candidate choices even if you don’t have a punchline.  You can work on the funny part later.

3.  Brainstorm.  Write.  Let it simmer or a few days.  Bounce your ideas past your humor buddy.

4.  Submit your best lines to:  HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by May 15, 2007.

5.  The top lines will be published by the end of the month.

6.  Happy writing!