Archive for June, 2007

Observational Humor — Case Study #8

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

This past weekend I attended Patricia Fripp’s Speaking and Presentation Skills School for the third time.  A fun and fabulous event.  I can’t get enough.

On the second day of the workshop I presented an Observational Humor Monologue in the morning and another one in the afternoon. 

Observational humor is structured around what is happening and being said in the present moment.  It’s fresh and the audience can readily identify with it.  It will kick up the audience response to your humor a notch or two. 

Observational humor is amazingly powerful.  It’s also the type of humor where “you had to be there” to fully appreciate it.  It’s presented here as an exercise in creating something that works and is not intended to having you falling out of your chair as you read it on the computer screen.

Here’s what Patricia Fripp said about the impact of the Observational Humor at her event:

As you could tell by the laughter and delight of the audience, your observational humor was a great asset to my conference. Consider yourself booked for all my future events in Las Vegas. I was amazed at your observations, insights, and speed in preparation. Thank you for your valuable contribution; it was the perfect pick-me-up after hours of content!
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, Past President National Speakers Association

Here is a look at the construction of those two monologues.

THE SET-UP (What happened at the event before I delivered the monologue)

1.  Fripp suggested an opening line for one of the student presentations on a technical subject:  “Sit back…and be amazed!”

2.  One of Fripp’s pet peeves is that she hates the use of the word “stuff”.

3.  Opening a talk with a statistic was discussed as a possible option.  One student opened his talk with “Eighty-one percent….”

4.  Although it wasn’t mentioned at the event, the TV show So You Think You Can Dance aired twice that week.

5.  Fripp posed the question to the class, “What are the five questions people most frequently ask about what you do?”

6.  A student shared a story from his past when he had fallen off a boat and lost his leg.  He subsequently set a World Record in mountain climbing.  And still holds that record.

7.  Fripp suggested that one option to open a speech was “It was an ordinary day…”

8.  One of the students was named Winton Churchill.

9.  During a discussion on getting participation from audience members who do not want to participate, one student said that she had a group of doctors who were afraid to answer questions, fearing that the other doctors would think they were stupid if they didn’t know the answer.  Specifically she had a slide of a moose and was afraid that they might not know exactly what a moose was, and hesitated to ask them to name the animal.

10.  A student (Sam) arrived three hours late the first day of the class.  He said that he had been out all night partying and had not been to bed.  Then we found out that he lives in Las Vegas (which is where the event was being held).

11.  We discussed the problem of telling old jokes, in a speech, that everyone has already heard.  Two specific old jokes were mentioned:  (briefly, here are the punchlines)
     “What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?”
     “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
And a second old joke.
     “You must be nervous.” (said by a woman to a man)
     “No, I’m not nervous.” 
     “Then why are you in the ladies room?”
12.  Fripp told us that a woman had hired her to give her husband some presentation skills coaching.  Her comment to Fripp was, “I want to hire you for my husband for his birthday.”

13.  We discussed the proper placement of a punch word at the end of the punchline.  Patricia gave the example of the classic punchline smothered with one word added to it.  “Take my wife…please…today.”

14.  Fripp said that one of the secrets to being a better speaker was:  “To be a teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny bit better.”  The small things make the big difference.

15.  Fripp talked about breathing from the diaphragm.  In showing people how to breathe, she would normally ask someone:  “Would you be more comfortable placing your hand on my stomach, or with me placing my hand on your stomach.”

16.  We learned the value of using metaphors to describe our talks. 

17.  The class learned that I am a humor speaker who used to work with nuclear weapons.

18.  A student (Dan) presented a humorous speech where he said that flight attendants were “pretty” while his facial expression said that it wasn’t always true.

19.  A student (Stephanie) gave part of a speech for an upcoming convention where she was to be a featured speaker.  In her talk she used the acronym C.R.A.P and used the phrase “cutting through the crap.”  The talk was well-constructed, well-presented and well-received by the class.  She received a lot of laughs.

20.  The same student (Stephanie) was described by Fripp as a tall and attractive speaker (maybe six inches taller than Fripp).  Stephanie replied that being a member of the Short Women’s Club wouldn’t be all that bad.

21.  A student said a customer once brought a photo of Cindy Crawford to a hair stylist and said she wanted to look like the photo.


Note that the events described above did not happen in the sequence listed.  They happened in random order, but I’ve listed the set-ups in the order that matches the lines in the monologue.  As the two-day class happened, I jotted notes on observations that I thought had the potential for developing a humor lines.  Many of the observations I wrote down, I didn’t use.  After collecting a number of observations, on a separate sheet of paper I began to write the humor lines for the monologue.  The final step was to put the lines in the best sequence for opening and closing.  I’ll make comments, line by line, as the monologue unfolds below.


Sit back…and be amazed.
(This turned out to be a perfect opening line.  It’s funny because it implies that I think the lines will be amazing when, in fact, they are untested, and the audience doesn’t even know who I am.  In fact, based on my quiet personality, many of them are thinking: “I’m going to be amazed?  Yeah, right!)

I have some stuff to share with you.
(Simple line.  But simple lines can get good laughs.)

81% think they’re in the top half of all speakers.
Mathematically 38% of them have to be wrong.

(Just a fun statement of the obvious.)

That’s why Fripp is producing a new Reality TV show:
So You Think You Can Speak.

(Reference to current events and cultural happenings are fresh candidates to drop into an Observational Humor monologue.)

Just what we need…another game show with a British host.
(This was not in my pre-planned monologue.  It came to me as I was delivering the lines and I decided to throw it in.  Fripp is originally from the UK.  It got a really big laugh.)

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I became a humorist.
(Set-up for the joke)

It was an ordinary day…30 years ago…when I fell off a boat and lost my sense of humor.

Subsequently I became one of the funniest persons from North Dakota.
(Topper.  A second joke on riding on the wave of the original joke theme.)

And I still am.
(Topper.  This sequence closely followed the exact wording structure of the student’s brief description of his life.)

I’ll have to tell my friends that I attended a conference with Winton Churchill. 

I’m sure they’ll say “Winston Churchill?”

I’ll have to tell them that it’s WINTON.  His parents had a sense of humor. 

They said, “Let’s take WINSTON and delete one letter.”
(As part of the set-up for what follows, I chose to make it crystal-clear that ONE LETTER had been deleted from his first name.  I didn’t want to assume they would immediately figure that out.)

If his last name was Lincoln…he’d be ABAHAM Lincoln.
If his last name was Roosevelt…he’d be FANKLIN Roosevelt.

Last month I was speaking to a group of doctors.  I showed them a slide of my dog.  One of the doctors said:  “Oh look…a moose!”
(A very big laugh.  Comic license.  I don’t have a dog.)

All the other doctors laughed and pointed at him.

Sam:  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
(Joke.  Good laugh.)

But when you live here…that’s not good.
(Topper.  Stating his name (Sam) first was necessary to set-up the context of the joke series.)

What’s the difference between arrogance and apathy?  Ask me in the ladies room.
(Occasionally a good technique for creating a funny line is to use a set-up and punchline from two different jokes.  They’re expecting a stale punchline…and they get one…from another old joke.)


I gave a speech last week.  A guy came up after it was over.
“I want to buy you for my wife for her birthday.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Take my wife…please…today.”
“Why did you pick me.”
“Because you’re a teeny, teeny, teeny, teeny bit better.”
“Well tell me this…
Would your wife rather put her hand on my stomach or have me put my hand on her stomach?”
(This is an interesting example of four separate and totally unrelated observations being pulled together for a joke theme, resulting in a joke with three toppers.)

I’ve come up with a new title for my Keynote Speech:
Everything I know about humor I learned by working with nuclear weapons.
Or the sub-title: 
Everything I know about humor I learned by bombing.

(Joke using metaphor followed by a topper.)

And this morning I realized that being a flight attendant is like knowing that you’re considered pretty…by your mother…and Dan.
(Humor created by using the expected pattern and adding on the unexpected twist at the end.  They think the joke is over when they hear “by your mother.”)

It was not announced, but I am also presenting at the upcoming convention following Stephanie’s program.  The title of my program is:  The Four Road Blocks to Humor

(The fact that another speaker used C.R.A.P. and got good laughs gave me permission and made it feel safe to use S.H.I.T.  And it got a very big laugh.  I had guessed that I would have to spell the word to get the laugh and I was correct.  There was no response until I spelled it out.  I chose not to actually SAY the word.  Just spelling it was perfect.)

And like Stephanie, I too have a dream of one day being in the Short Women’s Club. 

In fact, the last time I went for a haircut I showed my barber a photo of Cindy Crawford.
(End of monologue.  All lines in both monologues received excellent response.)

Quirky Perks — Humor Writing Contest Results

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Here are the best lines from our Quirky Perks humor writing contest for June.


At the IBM Compatible Plant, a perk for those who have been fired and then rehired, is that they don’t have to worry about being rebooted!
     S Frank Stringham, Las Vegas NV


Staff get 50% discount on all mahogany cabinets.  No returns.  Ninnis Funeral Home.
     Sanjiv Jetly, Wellington, New Zealand.


Disney Studios Cartoon Characters receive two extra fingers as a reward for 50 years of loyal service.
     Sol Morrison, Santa Barbara, CA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

Inmates at our California detention centre are issued standard uniforms.  Uniforms may not be five star grade as this is not a Hilton.

Leno comedy writers get workshop led by Sienfeld’s Michael Richards.

Workers at Crash Test Dummies, Inc. get a company car.

Mailmen get their own mail delivered by the Post Office on time.

Convention workers get to attend a free convention.  The theme: “How To Get Away From Work.”

Mattress Store Salesmen receive a half-hour afternoon nap on the softest mattress in the store for each big sale.

Hershey’s Chocolate Factory Workers receive a free jar of Clearasil every week on the job.

Master Card is offering their employees high limit credit cards.  Anyone who maxes out his or her card gets free “plastic” surgery.

Junior executives from the Dairy Queen executive offices are treated to a retreat.

A new financial perk is offered to the best resident of the St. Francis nunnery. It’s called Sum for Nun.

At the Sadist’s Society, it’s a perk NOT to torture the masochists.

The great thing about being a warden is meeting interesting people.

Working at an Alzheimer’s Clinic you get lots of practice presenting first impressions.

The best thing about being a kindergarten teacher is learning all the neighbourhood secrets.

An perk for workers at Australia Zoo is that anytime you yell out “crikey” people think your an expert animal handler.

Humor and Public Speaking — Become Good by Being Bad

Friday, June 15th, 2007

The path to brilliant humor is paved by falling flat on your face!

Practically nobody is great in the beginning.  Even the professional comics have places to go where they can miss the mark and fine-tune new material.  A terrific place to visit is a comedy club on Open Mike Night.  It’s not just a training ground for stand-up comics.  If you can make a comedy club audience laugh…think of how easy it will be able to get a regular audience to laugh when you are giving a speech.

Open Mike Night is a special event, usually at a comedy club, where
you can perform on-stage to test new material.  Sometimes the venue
is a coffee house or a nightclub.  Again I’ll remind you, not all
open-mike participants are aspiring comics.  Many performers come
from all walks of life and are simply accepting a challenge to grow. 

Performing comedy at an open-mike night might be compared to
giving a motivational talk to Junior High School students!  It’s
not that you’re speaking to a bad audience…you’re just speaking
to a demanding, sometimes critical, attention-challenged audience.
It gives you a push to be your best.  And that’s a good thing.  It
will make other speaking assignments easier. 

I’d recommend that you make your first trip to the open-mike night
as a spectator.  Get a feel for the room and the audience.  Watch
what works and doesn’t work for the performers.  Checkout the
evening’s routine.  Maybe you’ll have a chance to visit with some
of the performers, both pros and amateurs, after the event. Ask
questions and learn from them.

Normally the performing spots at an open-mike night are limited and
you need to sign up.  Check with the performing venue to see how
this works.  Sometimes you call in advance…sometimes you sign up
the night of the event.

Most open-mike nights allow you three to five minutes on stage.
Small clubs may give you more time.  Do your best stuff.  When
starting out, a shorter routine is better than a longer one.  On a
first attempt, three minutes will almost always be a stronger
performance than five minutes. 

You will need to prepare and practice a set of material, which will be different from material you’d use when giving a normal humorous speech.  Material for a comedy club works best when developed around a theme and normally is structured with a setup line or two followed by a joke punchline.  You’d want to shoot for at least three punchlines a minute.  If you can do more than that, that’s a good thing!  After all, this is a comedy club!  Remember, you’re “going to the gym.”

When you’re scheduled to take the stage, especially the first time,
invite your supportive friends.  Most people find this makes for a
friendly audience and a better reception for your material.  If you’re having trouble getting the regular audience to warm up to you, play to your friends!  Even better, talk a friend or two into performing the same night you take the stage.

The great thing about taking this performing challenge is that while on-stage you begin to get a feel for what is funny and what isn’t.  The judge for platform material, whether in a comedy venue or a normal speaking venue, is always the audience.  Maybe you thought something was funny.  But the audience didn’t!  You merely had an error in judgment and they provided you some subtle feedback
(they didn’t laugh)!  This is a good thing.  The next time you’ll be funnier.  And you’ll become a better judge of what an audience will think is funny…which is not always the same as what YOU think is funny!  I know, as a magician, that I’ve learned to perform magic tricks
that I’m not crazy about, because I’ve learned that my audiences love them.  So it may be with humor.  Learn to appreciate what makes an audience laugh.

Tape your performance.  Audio is OK.  Video is better.  Analyze it for audience response, opening moments, your close, your timing and
pacing, your placement of punchwords, your movement and gestures,
whether you’re stepping on laughs.  Then find tune your material,
sharpen your delivery and hit the stage again.

So where do you find an open-mike?  Start by checking with your
local comedy clubs.  Look in your local newspaper’s community
activities calendar.  Let your friends (especially Toastmasters) know you’re looking for an open-mike night.  If you have your antenna tuned, you’ll find opportunities that you otherwise would
have missed.

Get out of your comfort zone and try an open-mike night.  I
performed at more than 25 open-mike nights in the early 1980s and
it was a great experience.  Put a few of them on your calendar and
you’ll open the door to a funnier you!

Using Humor On A Web Site

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Here’s a quick tour of how humor was blended into a web site. It will focus on the humor highlights without having to wade through the entire site. And you’ll be provided with insights into the thoughts behind the humor. The site is

The first observation is that humor on a web site should fit the personality of the business or the person featured on the web site. A person with a laid-back personality and humor style should probably not have a web site written by a slapstick, pie-in-the-face comedy writer. The site should reflect your style and approach to life.

As an easy-going Norwegian kid from North Dakota, my style is to use understated humor. I have a dry, dead-pan delivery. It works for me. Therefore you’ll find the same subtle style of humor on my web site. An in-your-face humor style would be a mis-match. First visit the home page. There is the simple small caption under the head-shot photo. Not Actual Size. It’s so small and subtle that it probably goes unnoticed by some readers. But it represents my style and had gotten many positive comments from viewers. I would avoid using humor ideas you “borrow” from other people’s site and advertisements. I’ve always liked the use of baby pictures for a professional head-shot. It plays on the fact that people’s photos usually look younger than they do in person. But as much as I like the idea of the much-younger photo, I don’t use it because other people are already using the idea. For greater impact find your own unique twist.

Next, take a look at the bio page. It’s done in an interview format. This provides a good change-of-pace for the reader and the interview allows for weaving in several pieces of humor. The format permits you to easily give the necessary setup for each line. Notice the photo. It adds an element of humor by showing that the program is funny without really having to say it.

Here are some tips on capturing a photo where it looks like people are having fun. In my talks, I know exactly where the big-laugh points will come. If I’m having still photos or a video shot of my program, I create a roadmap of my talk, in writing, for the camera operator. I’ll show the photographer exactly when to expect the laughs, the exact words which will trigger the laughs, and I’ll recommend specifically where the photographer needs to be standing. Then as I approach that photo-opportunity laugh spot, I’ll make sure I’m positioned in the right spot for the photo to capture me AND the audience laughing. I also have to be alert to turning my head in the right direction so that the photo captures my profile and not the back of my head. A photo like this does not happen by accident. Also note that a good photo which captures excitement (let’s say you want a photo which shows patrons of your restaurant having a good time), comes as the result of taking MANY photos. Success comes in numbers. For people to look expressive in a photo, to look like they’re having fun…they have to be having a LOT of fun. Moderate laughter on a still photo looks like NO laughter. It’s a challenge to capture the emotion on film.

Continuing on the bio page, let’s look at the content. Typical of my humor writing style, I use the technique of “book-ending” the content of the page with humor. I both open and close with humor. There is a humorous answer to the first two questions and again for the last question. And there is a small amount of humor sprinkled in the body of the bio. I didn’t want a standup comedy routine because I wanted it to present relevant content in a credible way.

A good way to add humor to a web site is by featuring audio or video clips. I’ve included three sound clips to let my audiences show that my programs are funny. Program clips and Magic clip

Considerations for better audio/video clips are: Record in digital. Mic yourself. Mic the audience. I don’t normally mic the audience, but that’s the best way to capture the excitement.

It’s always better having a third party saying something good about you and your business than having to say it yourself. In addition to clips from live programs I also use testimonial quotes. You’ll find a half-dozen places where my past clients do the job of saying that I’m funny.

Here’s a great tip for collecting great testimonials. After a talk, people will likely tell you that they really enjoyed your presentation. You need to get those comments in writing. The problem is that even though they’d be happy to send you a testimonial letter, the average person just won’t get around to it. Here are two techniques you can use. Carry a digital voice recorder and capture the comments on the spot, along with their name. Another technique is to get their business card and write them a note afterward. In your note say, “I appreciated your taking the time to talk to me after the program. I especially appreciated your saying ‘That’s the funniest program we’ve ever had!’ May I quote you?” In my experience, they have always said YES. It’s a wonderful technique for collecting perfect testimonials.

On the Ezine signup page, I wanted to included the standard “we will never share your email address” statement, but notice the small humor twist.

The most off-the-wall humor on the site is found on the Las Vegas Tips page. Those photos happened by accident. I went to a local photography studio for some new headshots. During the session, I noticed some Las Vegas style props and costume pieces. A bright-idea light bulb clicked on. “I think I could use an Elvis shot and one as a Showgirl.”

The pictures came out great…the big question was where on the site would I use them. I made the conservative choice to put them on the Las Vegas Tips page. I was afraid that featuring them in my core marketing message would have been too much and could have been mis-understood. I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that I present my programs in a Las Vegas showgirl’s outfit!

When placing humor on your site you need to make sure you aren’t too cute for your own good. Avoid shooting yourself in the foot trying to be funny. That was a quick tour of a web site with just a sprinkling of humor.

Remember that when using humor, the concept of “less is more” almost always applies. Use what you feel is the highest quality of humor that compliments your personal style, and use it strategically. Over a period of time, as you upgrade your site you’ll sharpen the quality of your humor. It’s no easy task. But it’s worth the effort.

Quirky Perks — June Humor Writing Contest

Friday, June 1st, 2007

This humor-writing contest was inspired by a news feature on AOL about workers at a brewery who received a “perk” of a case of beer.  I started to wonder:  What other possible quirky perks might companies offer employees.

We’re looking for made up perks — not real ones.  Use your imagination to come up with some far-out, made-up, tongue-in-cheek perks.

Here are some examples:

Workers at Sansbag Airline receive free luggage once a quarter.  The clothing in the bags is not guaranteed to fit the employee.

Law enforcement officers are provided two nights free lodging while on vacation.  May be required to share accommodations with someone named Bubba.  Frequent travelers allowed to park inside the barbed wire fence.

Members of congress receive an annual pension larger than their salary while serving in office.  Wait…that’s not a perk…that’s an entitlement.

To Enter the Contest:

1.  Pick a company or make up a company and brainstorm funny perks they might offer.

2.  Or use a reverse approach.  Think of a strange perk and then search for a company that might offer it.

3.  Write down you ideas.  Go for quantity.

4.  Sleep on it.

5.  Edit.  Edit.  Edit.  This is where you work on quality.

6.  Bounce your ideas off your humor buddy.

7.  Submit your best lines to by June 15, 2007.

8.  The best lines will be announced before the end of the month.