Archive for July, 2007

Creative Humor Writing — Jobs To Please Our Parents

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

One of our Ezine subscribers, funny-guy Sol Morrison from Santa Barbara, suggested this month’s contest theme:  Jobs To Please Our Parents.

Sol shares an example:

My  Mom  wanted me to manage the family-owned fruit orchard but my Dad said I should make shoes.  So I became a Peach Cobbler.

Here are three samples I wrote:

My Mom wanted me to go into the underwear business but my Dad wanted me to open an internet dating service.  So I opened a business called Brief Encounters.

My Mom wanted me to be a geologist but my Dad wanted me to be an astronomer.  So I became a Rock Star.

My Mom wanted me to be a baker but my Dad wanted me to be a math teacher.  So I opened a dessert shop called Pie R Squared.

1.  This is a great writing exercise because it gets to the heart of what makes humor tick–finding relationship connections.

2.  Take the challenge to spend five or ten minutes creating some funny lines.

3.  Let them simmer overnight.  Edit and rewrite.  Bounce them off your humor buddy.

4.  Submit your best lines to by August 15, 2007.

5.  We’ll publish the best lines by the end of the month.

Writing a Funny Speech

Friday, July 27th, 2007

I received some great questions from a reader who is also a competitor in Toastmaster speech contests.

1.  What is more important: laughs per minute or humor quality?

I’d say they’re generally linked.  Quality humor gets more laughs.  Keys to quality are:
  – Your writing
  – Your confidence
  – Your timing
And not necessarily in that order!  Great timing and confidence can often make up for writing that isn’t top notch.

2.  How many laughs do you shoot for?  How many applauses do you hope to get at the district level?  (The TM District level is the fourth step of competition and normally the highest level for the humor contests.)

My observation is that a typical district winner gets 12 percent response rate.  I time both the length of the speech and the audience response segments to get my percentage.  I once had a 33 percent response rate at a Regional contest for an audience of 300 people (they used to have contests one level above District, but TM no longer sponsors contests at that level).  I’d say anything from 15-20 percent is very competitive, and probably a winner.  On the subject of applause, it takes a VERY strong line, usually a line customized specifically for that audience, to get applause in the middle of a speech.  I rarely see that in my presentations or the presentations of others.  For me, applause is never a goal, it’s just a rare measure of quality.

3.  Can you tell us more on the topic of laughs per minute?

A stand up comic shoots for at least 3-4 laughs a minute.   Even more is better and top comics will get more.  I prefer the response percentage approach because it pays attention to the length of the laughter.  A lot of small laughs, or titters, are not worth much.  It’s the huge laughs that really pay off.  In a speech, I’d rather have one huge laugh a minute than 6 small laughs.  In reality, a good speech will have a mixture of small, medium and (hopefully) some big laughs.  If I were to count laughs I would use a scoring system:
titter one second                  1 point
medium laugh 2-3 seconds   3 points
strong laugh 4-5 seconds     5 points
huge laugh over 5 seconds   8 points
It’s not a science, but the weights I’ve assigned seem appropriate to me.  The quality of the laughs have to be weighted to make the laugh-count system accurate.  That’s why I prefer to just use a ratio.  To calculate the ratio, I play a recording of the speech starting/stopping a stopwatch while the audience is responding.  Then I do the math to come up with the response ratio (divide the total audience response time by the total length of the speech).  Although I used to calculate a response ratio all the time, I don’t do that much anymore.  Now, I pretty much intuitively know the ratio after a speech is over.

4. What type of humor do you find generates an applause?

Often it’s observational, spontaneous or customized humor written just for that group.  The strongest line in the 33-percent speech was an ad lib about the food service at the banquet the night of the contest.

5. What is the criteria that you use to rank certain speech topics and ideas to be contest worthy?

I look for a seed idea that has the potential to generate lots of humor lines.  I usually come up with a seed and let it germinate for a year before I use it.  Although I usually write my humorous speeches just a few days before the first contest, I’ve normally been thinking about it for a year.

6. Any special tips to making storytelling work in a humorous speech?

Be a lifetime student.  Get books, CDs, go to workshops.  Do everything you can to improve your skills.  Be a life-long TM.  I joined TM in 1973.  I recommend Doug Stevenson’s How To Write and Deliver a Dynamite Speech.  Doug is a master story coach.

7.  Should I try humor that is not my style?  Should I stretch myself or keep developing my skills as a storyteller.

Do both.  Yes, stretch yourself.  Do something out of your comfort zone.  And continue to work on storytelling skills.  For important speeches, go with your strength.  For growth, try things outside your comfort zone.  In my opinion, speech contests are growth experiences.  Although when you reach the District-level finals, the speech begins to feel like it’s in the important category!   When I say important speech, I generally mean something like an presentation to the board of directors, an important sales presentation, a professional talk where you’re being paid good money to speak.

8.  I’m going to keep trucking along and writing speeches.  I’ve written 3 funny ones so far, although not good enough to win a Division Contest in my opinion.

Always compete.  In ALL the contests, not just humor.  Don’t take the results seriously…win or lose.  You’ll know when you’ve given a great speech.  The audience is the true judge…not the judges.  The judges don’t pick the best speech, they just pick the winner.  It’s important to be addicted to the process not the trophy!  Go for the growth, not the affirmation of the judges.  Humor is definitely a learned skill.  I’ve learned it from square one.  And if I can learn it, anyone can.  Of course I’ve been studying it for 31 years.  But I started getting pretty good at it, and developed a reputation for humor, after about three years of study and competition.  The results are worth the effort.

9.  Any final thoughts on becoming better at using humor?

If your TM club has a joke master, throw it out the window.  Instead, have an observational humor segment at the end of the meeting.  It’s fun and everyone sharpens their humor skills.

Responding to Offensive Humor

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

About a year ago I wrote an article about What People Find Offensive.  Recently a reader asked this question:

“What should people do when someone tells a joke that is offensive to the listener?  Do we have a right or responsibility to respond to racist jokes?  If so, what should or can we say without seeming prudish or too politically correct? Would love to have a variety of suggestions.”

There are several factors that should be considered when reacting to an offensive joke:

Why are you offended?  It’s important that you first understand yourself, before you make any attempt to “fix” someone else!  Be aware that if you are highly offended, you are probably in a disempowered state to make your point effectively.  I normally like to advocate that a person be “difficult to offend.”  If you’re coming from a place of good self-esteem, and if you are centered emotionally, it’s less likely that people will be able to push your buttons.  And that’s a good thing.  You’re likely to be more persuasive when your emotions are not clouding your thinking or your ability to express yourself effectively.

What is your relationship to the person who told the offensive joke?  Your best friend?  A total stranger.  It makes a difference.  When sharing information that may be perceived as confrontational, relationships are a major part of the equation when predicting a good result. 

Where are you?  If you stopped by a bar in a strange town and a drunk stranger is telling dis-tasteful jokes, hit the road and don’t let the saloon doors whack you on the way out!  On the other hand, if you’re at a party at a friend’s home and an acquaintance is the guilty party, the situation is obviously different.

What do you risk losing?  Your job?  Your friend?  Your life?  Will you be a social outcast?  Nothing to lose and everything to gain?  Remember that some friends may best be lost!

What is your personality?  How do you deal with giving constructive criticism?  How do you deal with confrontation?  Are you a whistle-blower-type personality?  This is a big factor which keeps many people quiet.

Don’t laugh.  Your first choice in reacting to an offensive joke should be “don’t laugh.”  This subtle clue is often enough feedback to a joke teller that a joke missed the target.  For most people, the pain of a joke falling flat is possibly reason enough not to repeat it.  But even if the joker is oblivious to the feedback, it’s important that you dis-honor the joke by giving it the appropriate silent treatment.

Speak to the offender.  My preference is to talk to the offender…in private.  Since there is a good possibility that the person telling the joke will be defensive, having a confrontation in front of others is a bad idea.  And I personally prefer a live conversation to a written note.

Use I-Language.  Explaining how the joke strikes you is better than making direct assertions about the character or judgment of the joker.  “That joke made me uncomfortable,” will have a greater chance of being heard than “That joke was in poor taste.”  In the first approach you shared your feelings.  In the second approach you made a judgment call.

Consider it a favor.  Often, people do not intend to be offensive.  They’ve just not given much thought to how their humor is perceived.  People need to realize that listeners come from a variety of situations and have extended family and social networks.  Some have interracial marriages, children with physical challenges, friends who are gay and lesbian, good neighbors who are members of many different religions, and connections to so many other elements of diversity that it would be impossible to list them all.  These aspects of diversity are not readily apparent to someone telling a joke to an apparently homogeneous-group of the “good old boys/girls.”  Invisible diversity could put a friend in an embarrassing situation.  You could be doing your friend a favor by re-framing how he views his network of friends.

Consider the timing.  You’re often better off giving a cooling-off period before giving the feedback.  It allows you to simmer down, if that’s a concern.  And you have much better control over the environment, the emotional state, and perhaps a chance for one of you to sober up before entering into a discussion.

Give feedback anonymously.  In some circumstances a possible avenue is to make a comment on a speaker feedback evaluation form, or to make a complaint to Human Resources.

Be challenged.  As best fits your personality, courage, and circumstances, I encourage you to speak up about inappropriate humor.  Your boldness and strength to do what is right will make your part of the world a little more civil.  And you’ll be doing all your friends a favor.

Creative Humor Writing — Heavenly Humor Contest

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Here are the top lines from our “You Know You’re In Heaven” contest.  The lines were selected from over 200 entries by a panel of five judges (speakers and improv players). 

Look for our next contest on August 1.  The theme will be Jobs Your Parents Would Love.  If you have an idea for a future contest, drop us a line!


You know you’re in heaven when…getting by with a “wing and a prayer” is the norm.
     Michele Evans, Buffalo New York, USA


You know you’re in heaven when…you yell, “Heaven Help Me!” and the environment starts responding.
     Ken Egervari, Windsor Ontario, Canada


You know you’re in heaven when you’re hanging out with Einstein, Shakespeare and Hendrix.  And you’ve not been drinking.
     Jonathan Deamer, England, UK (check out Jonathan’s popular blog)


You know you’re in heaven when…a day watching the Angels does not involve baseball.
     Nancy Lininger, Camarillo California, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (In random order)

You know you’re in heaven when…you win the Humor Power contest, New Yorker cartoon contest, and your husband laughs at your jokes.

You know you’re in heaven when…the puffs of clouds around you aren’t smog.

You know you’re in heaven when…all queues are at Hells Gate, airport security check in.

You know you’re in heaven when…angels sing prayers for glory of God, not rock songs for global warming.

You know you’re in heaven when…you are absolutely protected from fire.  All the 9-11 firemen heroes are around you.

You know you’re in heaven when…you stand on a weigh scale and think you don’t need to continue your diet but you really do.

You know you’re in heaven when…low-fat foods taste heavenly.

You know you’re in heaven when…your address is “Cloud 9.”

You know you’re in heaven when…the “wings” you ordered don’t come in a bucket.

You know you’re in heaven when you discover cherubim and seraphim are not brand names of dietary supplements.

You know you’re in heaven when…the audience tells the heckler to shut-up.

You know you’re in heaven when…the music on hold is always “Stairway to Heaven.”

You know you’re in heaven when…the toilet seat is always up (or down; whatever).

You know you’re in heaven when…the pistachio nuts are always easy to open

You know you’re in heaven when…there aren’t any cell phones ringing.
 You know you’re in heaven when…there’s a ring around your head instead of your collar.
You know you’re in heaven when…you find out Britney Spears has quit singing.
You know you’re in heaven when…there’s nothing on the news about terrorism.  And it’s not just because Paris Hilton is out of jail.

You know you’re in heaven when…you can always find a bathroom when you need one.  And it’s not in a McDonalds.
You know you’re in heaven when…you hit the World Series winning Homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning that breaks the career record for homeruns. And you catch it while sitting in the stands and sell the ball for 3 Million dollars.

You know you’re in heaven when…you always have time to stop and smell the roses.

You know you’re in heaven when…you are asked to enroll into the Cross Celestial Adaptability Course.

You know you’re in heaven when…you get to eat all the angel food cake you want and never have to diet again.

You know you’re in heaven when…you now know how to play a harp.

You know you’re in heaven when…you kick the smoking habit…which is what got you there in the first place.

You know you’re in heaven when…Elvis brings cheeseburgers to your golf game with Abe Lincoln and everybody plays like Tiger Woods. 

You know you’re in heaven when…Ray Charles loves your new hair-do, and yells his approval across the room.

You know you’re in heaven when…the music doesn’t have a rap beat.

You know you’re in heaven when…when everyone hears the same language; the tones of united peace, total acceptance and respect. 

You know you’re in heaven when…all your wives agree you’re right.

You know you’re in heaven when…no-one is saying “I’m bored!”

The Rule of Three

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Here’s a humor technique from the world of comedy.

There is a useful joke structure in humor writing called the rule-of-three. 

Here’s an example of the rule-of-three which I’ve used as the greeting on my telephone answering machine:  “Sorry I can’t personally answer the phone.  I’m either motivating thousands of people, appearing on the Oprah show…or taking a nap.  Please leave a message and I’ll return your call when I wake up.”

Here’s what makes the rule of three work:

A funny line is sometimes said to be like a train wreck.  You know where the train (your train of thought) has been, you think you know where it’s going, but then you’re surprised when it goes off track. 

The same sort of thing happens when you see the unexpected slip on the banana peel.  The surprise or twist helps build the tension to create and magnify the humor.

The rule-of-three structure sets a pattern like the train coming down the tracks.  You’ll see a similar principle in action in a two-person comedy act.  The straight person sets up the pattern which the funny person’s punchline will break. 

The rule-of-three uses this same structure.  The first two items in the
triplet set the pattern (the “straight” line) and the third item breaks the pattern (the curve/the twist/the derailment).   Breaking the pattern heightens the tension and creates the surprise, usually resulting in laughter (which relieves the tension). 

There are countless patterns you could use:

Same Category/Same Category/Different Category (T-shirt which lists world-class cities:  Paris/Tokyo/Fargo).

Expected Trait/Expected Trait/Unexpected Trait (She was pretty, she was shapely, she was a man).

Something Everyone Loves/Something Everyone Loves/Something Everyone Hates (A Las Vegas wedding package contains everything you will need; music, flowers, divorce papers).

Ordinary/Ordinary/Ridiculous (I go to Las Vegas to see the shows,
eat at the buffets and visit my money).

Extreme/Extreme/Ordinary (Speaking to thousands, appearing on
Oprah, taking a nap)

Rhyme/Rhyme/Rhyme (rhyming sets a pattern and can disguise or add a special twist to the third-item punchline).  Here’s an example I
created for a 50th birthday party using the “give the answer first
then give the question” vehicle which Johnny Carson made famous.
“The answer is…Three things that describe Suzie Smith.  And the
question is…what are Nifty, Thrifty and Fifty.”  This example also
uses the category Something Good/Something Good/Something Not So
Good (people don’t want to get older).  I could have used the word
Shifty as one of the first two words, but that would have been less
effective setting the proper pattern.

Why three?  It’s just one of those tried and true rules of comedy.  It’s a rhythm that works.  It’s part of the music of the humor structure.  Experiment and you’ll find it’s true…a series of three almost always works better than a series of two or four.

Use the rule-of-three technique and it will become a natural part of your humor tool kit.  You’ll find yourself to be funnier, you’ll connect better with your audiences, and in only fifteen years you’ll become an overnight success.

More Humor Skills Articles

Monday, July 9th, 2007

About half of our NEW humor skills articles are published in our Ezine which comes out twice a month.  These articles do not appear in the blog until 12 months have past. 

After one year, some of the articles from the ezine are updated and revisited as blog posts.  If you want to get all the latest articles, be sure to subscribe to the Ezine.  There is no fee to sign up. 

The July 1 issue features the article:  Having Permission to Be Funny.  If you were an Ezine subscriber for the past year, you would have received about 20 articles that have not been posted to the blog.  Also, you would receive two Special Reports:  Show Me The Funny and When They Don’t Laugh! 

Visit our subscription page and sign up today.  It’s quick and easy.

Organic Humor — Better Than Jokes

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

David Brooks spoke in Las Vegas this past weekend on Eight Essentials of Effective Speaking.  He is the Toastmasters 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking.  More importantly he is an inspiring, informative and entertaining speaker.  He connects with a natural and conversational style.  I had heard that he was an awesome speaker…and he was.

What most caught my attention was that he averaged of about two audience laughs a minute during his 90-minute speech. This is impressive because he was speaking to inform and inspire, not primarily to entertain.  Keep in mind that a standup comedian who scores three to four laughs a minute is doing a great job…and that’s his primary job!  A speaker who gets two laughs a minute is almost unheard of.

Not only did he get lots of laughs, they were good laughs, not just polite titters.  And he did it without telling jokes.  He achieved humor organically.  Let me explain.

A joke is a stand-alone piece of humor.  If a joke is used in a speech, it’s something that has its own structure and could probably be told around the water cooler at work the next day.  A joke is probably not dependent on the context of the speech to make it work.  In fact a joke is often a set-up/punchline bit that was often heard somewhere else and then dropped into a speech.

Organic humor springs from the context of the talk.  In fact, it’s so seamlessly woven into the fabric of the talk you almost don’t notice it.  It’s there.  It’s keeping you engaged.  But if you were asked to write down all the humor you heard in the talk you probably couldn’t remember much of it.  Organic humor blends into the talk and becomes one of the enjoyable but often invisible parts of the speech.  It’s unlikely you’ll repeat any organic humor lines to your friends the next day because, even if you could remember the lines,  “you had to be there” for them to be funny.  Separated from the context of the speech, organic humor loses its power.  Within the context of the talk, its power is amazingly magnified.  For most speakers, this is great.  What we want remembered are our points and not our jokes anyway.

One quick example of organic humor:  David told us that his web site was  He explained that is owned by a pottery maker.  “So if you are looking for some pottery, go to…but if you just want a crock…” 

This is a fun piece of humor which:
    1.  Plays with the double meaning of the word crock.
    2.  Uses self-deprecation.
    3.  Re-enforces the proper web site.

What followed were three more customized humor bits about his name; all organic humor relevant to the context of David’s speech, and which would have made no sense if another speaker tried to “borrow” the lines for his or her speech.

As I listened to his talk, it hit me:  He was using lines that I’d use as an observational humorist if I were watching his talk and preparing comments for later.  In fact, a few times (maybe six or seven) I picked up an observational humor insight from one of his sentences and then…like magic…it was the next line he delivered.  It was a Wow Moment for me.  After 30 years of studying, using and teaching observational humor, it was the first time “a light bulb” went on as a result of seeing someone over-laying observational humor onto his own speech!  I was amazed.  (A recent blog post discussed creating observational humor at a recent Patricia Fripp event.)

Now I’m not saying his punch lines were obvious.  Definitely not.  In a 90-minute talk with maybe 170 laugh moments, I rarely saw the punch line coming.  And the average person probably never saw the humor coming because, like most people, the study of humor isn’t their life.  All they knew was that David Brooks was a fun and likable speaker who was easy to listen to. 

The Ah-Ha for me was to re-examine my talks using my observational-humor skills to pinpoint new humor lines.  These are skills which are not exactly the same as the skills I use to develop humorous stories, cartoon captions or monologues.  And in the past, I’ve normally limited my observational humor talents to developing opening lines for my talks and to create closing monologues for events at which I’m only a spectator.  Thank you David for modeling a skill that provided me with a terrific learning moment.

So when you practice your observational humor skills…remember that you are creating a tool that:
     You’ll be able to use to open your speech with comments about what happened prior to the start of your talk.
     You’ll find handy for creating a fresh and humorous transition into any closing remarks you may make at the end of a meeting.
     You’ll can use to develop an entertaining observational monologue after someone else’s talk.
     You’ll be able to use to increase the laughter throughout your entire talk by adding organic humor.

Heavenly Humor — Creative Humor Writing Contest

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

The theme for July’s  creative humor writing contest is: 

You know you’re in heaven when…

– Your lines could be humorous.  I checked with God and she has a sense of humor.

– Your lines could be philosophical.  Often a non-funny line will still bring a smile.

– Your lines could be anything you want them to be.  Just be creative.

Here are some examples:

     You know you’re in heaven when…there’s nothing on TV because there is no TV.

     You know you’re in heaven when…every joke you tell is funny.  (We’re not in heaven now.)

     You know you’re in heaven when…everyone is worshiping the same God.

     You know you’re in heaven when…you have no money because there is nothing you need.

     You know you’re in heaven when…every phone call is local unless you want to call a friend in Hell.

     You know you’re in heaven when…nobody gambles because it’s boring to always win.

 Take the challenge this month.  Enter the contest.

 Put on your Creativity Hat.

Brainstorm.  Sleep on it.  Rewrite.

Send your best lines to by July 15, 2007.

We will publish the best lines by the end of the month.