Archive for October, 2007

Halloween — Humor Writing Techniques

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

In this article we’ll revisit two excellent Halloween articles by guest author Avish Parashar.  If you haven’t read them, check them out.

Dressed To Thrill! and The Twisted Trick of Tacky Treats!

If you have read them, you may want to read them again after reading this review about what makes the humor tick.

Let’s take a look at a few of the great humor writing techniques that Avish used in creating his articles:

Pop Culture and the Headlines (things with which readers could identify)
  – Halloween (timliness made the articles resonate)
  – Las Vegas
  – Little Bo Peep
  – Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz
  – Lions and tigers and bears
  – Batman
  – Marathon Man
  – Child obesity
  – Hansel and Gretel

Comparisons, Metaphors and Similies (wonderful examples in this area)
  – The tension in the car was palpable. It was like “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” minus the sisters, wheelchair, and horrible physical abuse.
  – It’s the online dating of parties — you may have a lot more going on, but people are really only paying attention to the picture.
  – It’s like society issues a get-out-of-jail-free card once a year.
  – Not dressing up for a costume party is like showing up to a food drive without a can of food.
  – Distribution of the “white powder” (aka: sugar).
  – The child will have to convince his parents to let him go to McDonalds to redeem his coupon, which can more difficult than trying to convince Britney Spears to have a modicum of self-respect.
  – It’s like being excited to go a blind date with someone your friend has been hyping up to you.
  – Candy that is the equivalent of Christmas fruitcake.
  – It’s like the Great Pumpkin.
  – It tastes like fermented plastic.
  – It’s the Soylent Green of Halloween candy.

Rule Of Three:  The structure of the costume article was set with a triplet.
  – You have three basic costume options when it comes to dressing up for Halloween: Funny, Serious, or Sexy.

The Truth Is Funny
  – Most “funny” outfits at costume stores aren’t all that funny.
  – It is the only decision you make all year that allows people to judge your attractiveness, wit, financial status, and creativity all with one look.
  – Sexy beats funny every time.
  – You can get life lessons from anywhere, even from a movie about a man dressed up as a flying rodent. 

Philosophical Observation
  – Just letting themselves “be real” for one day out of the year and putting on a mask the other 364.

Light-Hearted Business Lessons
  – Maximum ROI (Return on Investment).  Low investment, high return. Leave the chicken suit at home.
  – There is a very interesting business lesson here. While the real value of the money you are giving out is greater than the cost of the small piece of candy, the perceived value is actually much less.
  – Your logic is meaningless. All that matters is what the customer perceives.

Weaving in Practical Humor Advice
  – If you have to explain your joke in detail, to everyone, it’s not funny. It’s like a Zen Koan: If a person tells a joke at a party and nobody laughs, was it really a joke? The answer is no. No it was not.

Puns Can Be Funny
  – I was probably the only person in the city who was both a Cowboy and an Indian!

Humorous Definitions
  – The original pagan meaning of Halloween is “night for repressed women to overcome their inner inhibitions.”

Creating Funny Pictures
  – I would walk around wearing a Fedora and leather jacket and have a bull-whip attached to my hip.
  – Women who feel uncomfortable undressing for the shower will walk around in public like Victoria’s Secret runway models — with “kitten ears” thrown on to make it an actual costume.

Humorous Asides
  – Boxes of raisins (Ewwwwww!). 
  – Hundreds of apples to be dumped on your lawn, or hurled at other trick or treaters (not that I would know anything about that).
  – Non-candy options: bags of Goldfish (the crackers, not the animal, though if you did give out water filled bags with little Nemos in them, I would certainly applaud your initiative)
  – Can’t say I would be too happy myself getting crayons or stickers, but I wouldn’t hate you like if you gave me an apple.
  – Kids will think you were too lazy to go out and buy a few bags of candy (and they might be right).
  – A well meaning aunt gives you a U.S. Treasury Bond on your eighth birthday — it’s all very nice and practical, but you can’t very well unwrap it and go play with it that day. (can you guess that this happened to me?)
  – Find yourself sitting in a restaurant across from Sloth from the Goonies. (I’m sure he/she has a great personality).

Exaggeration
  – No kid, no child, no one, nobody, nowhere wants a piece of fruit in their Halloween bag. 
  – The last thing you want is an apple orchard in your bag.
  – And no one ever, ever buys candy corn for themselves.

Funny Word Choice
  – You could blow through a week’s paycheck.
  – Full-blown fast-food meals.
  – Bicuspids.
  – Helped a family with their sundry shopping.
  – Inedible dreck.
  – Sloth From The Goonies.
  – Snickers, Twix, Kit Kats, Smarties, Now and Laters, Candy Corn.
  – The alien chemical components.

What If?  (what if someone thought or said something)
  – I would love to be inside of the head of someone who makes the decision to give out toothbrushes on Halloween. “Hey, I know! Kids are going to be eating all sorts of candy tonight, and if I give them a toothbrush then at least they won’t get cavities! I am so brilliant and clever!”
  – No child is going to look at your brush and say, “hey, maybe I should give some consideration to the health of my bicuspids.”
  – Have you ever been hanging out with friends or family and heard somebody say, “You know what I could go for right now? A giant bag of candy corn”?
  – I do think we need a holiday where adults can walk door to door and get free stuff — not candy, but something fun for adults like DVDs or mutual funds or something.

Toppers And Callbacks
  – There were two houses that would hand out pamphlets explaining why Halloween is Satanic. I don’t need to make a joke here, it kind of writes itself.
   (followed by) The only thing worse would be getting an informational pamphlet about proper brushing and flossing. (topper/call back).
   (followed by) Which would still be better than fruit. (topper/call back)

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Halloween Humor: The Twisted Trick of Tacky Treats

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Here’s another fun Halloween article from guest author and improv expert Avish Parashar

We recently published his article on Halloween costumes:  Get Dressed To Thrill!

Subscribe to his Avish’s Ezine:  Improvised Musings.  Highly recommended.

Halloween Humor: The Twisted Trick of Tacky Treats
by Avish Parashar

It’s Halloween time, and that means candy! You can’t walk more than 10 feet without seeing something about child obesity in America, and yet no one cares at all when it comes to Halloween. It’s like a modern day Hansel and Gretel, only instead of being shoved into an oven by a witch the kids are going to suffer a slow death due to heart disease and diabetes.

Don’t worry, I am not going to proselytize about how you should not give out candy this year. On the contrary, I believe that if you are going to participate in Halloween, you should do it all out.  One night a year, I am ok with the free flowing unrestricted distribution of the “white powder” (aka: sugar).

However, some of you will resist the pull of sweets and try to give out alternative treats. Here then are a few guidelines to help you make your Halloween decisions easier. Proceed with caution; your choice of Halloween treats should never be taken lightly.

Fruit — Let me start out by stating it plain: Fruit has no place on Halloween. 364 other days of the year, sure, get healthy. But on Halloween, you should never give out apples instead of candy. Or boxes of raisins (Ewwwwww!).  No kid, no child, no one, nobody, nowhere wants a piece of fruit in their Halloween bag.  They can get fruit from their parents! Plus, fruit is heavy! If you’re walking around from house to house all night, the last thing you want is an apple orchard in your bag.

Do you really think you are somehow inspiring change? You are not. You might be inspiring hundreds of apples to be dumped on your lawn, or hurled at other trick or treaters (not that I would know anything about that). If you really don’t want to buy into the Halloween obesity machine, then go with the lesser of two evils and give out money or gift certificates. If you are going to be truly obstinate, then you can try other non-candy options: bags of Goldfish (the crackers, not the animal, though if you did give out water filled bags with little Nemos in them, I would certainly applaud your initiative), pretzels, and even non-food items like stickers or crayons. Can’t say I would be too happy myself getting crayons or stickers, but I wouldn’t hate you like if you gave me an apple.

Money — Overall, giving out money is a pretty poor strategy. When I was a kid, if someone gave change, the thought process was, “come on! Where’s the candy!” Kids will think you were too lazy to go out and buy a few bags of candy (and they might be right). You would have to give out a decent amount of money to make them appreciate it. The rare dollar bill would elicit an, “ok, that’s cool,” but then you could blow through a week’s paycheck in your quest to not give out candy.

There is a very interesting business lesson here. While the real value of the money you are giving out is greater than the cost of the small piece of candy, the perceived value is actually much less. You may whine and moan about how the kids should be happy that they are getting money, and that they can then use that money to buy whatever they want, but most kids won’t see it that way. Most adults wouldn’t see it that way either.

Lesson: Your logic is meaningless. All that matters is what the customer perceives.

Then there are the people who give pennies and nickels. I won’t deign to comment on you.

Gift Certificates — Gift certificates are a safe and simple way to give stuff out. Unfortunately, they take away the immediate gratification element of Halloween. It’s like when a well meaning aunt gives you a U.S. Treasury Bond on your eighth birthday — it’s all very nice and practical, but you can’t very well unwrap it and go play with it that day. (Can you guess that this happened to me?) And now the child will have to convince his parents to let him go to McDonalds to redeem his coupon, which can more difficult than trying to convince Britney Spears to have a modicum of self-respect.  Of course, once you are there you’ll be tempted to buy a value meal. Talk about the fattening of America! You’ve gone from small pieces of candy to full-blown fast-food meals. It gets worse and worse.

Toothbrushes and Floss — Hard to believe, but it happens. I would love to be inside of the head of someone who makes the decision to give out toothbrushes on Halloween. “Hey, I know! Kids are going to be eating all sorts of candy tonight, and if I give them a toothbrush then at least they won’t get cavities! I am so brilliant and clever!”

Come on. You do realize you are accomplishing nothing, right? The kids already have toothbrushes at home. If they are not brushing their teeth, your little brush is not going to make them suddenly dentally responsible. No child is going to look at your brush and say, “hey, maybe I should give some consideration to the health of my bicuspids.” In fact, no child will even give your brush a second look. Mom will take the toothbrush and throw it into the medicine cabinet for future use. You have essential helped a family with their sundry shopping.

I don’t care if you are a dentist, dental hygienist, work for Oral-B, or are Laurence Olivier from Marathon  Man; save the toothbrushes for the office.

Informational Pamphlets — I read a comment from someone who said that in his neighborhood there were two houses that would hand out pamphlets explaining why Halloween is Satanic. I don’t need to make a joke here, it kind of writes itself. The only thing worse would be getting an informational pamphlet about proper brushing and flossing. Which would still be better than fruit.

Candy — The best choice. However, I think it’s time that we, as a society, standardized on candy choices. I remember some Halloween nights coming home and feeling like I had a huge bag filled with candy, but when I dumped it out there was at least 50% of inedible dreck in there. It’s like being excited to go a blind date with someone your friend has been hyping up to you, only to find yourself sitting in a restaurant across from Sloth from the Goonies.  (I’m sure he/she has a great personality).

There are too many great candy choices out there to justify giving out nonsense. You can’t go wrong with Snickers, Hershey’s Twix, Reese’s, M&M’s, Nestle’s Crunch, Kit Kats, etc.

And yet, for Halloween, people give out candy that is the equivalent of Christmas fruitcake. Nobody likes it, nobody eats it, and nobody even understands it. I propose a ban on the following: O’Henry, Payday, Smarties, Now and Laters, Circus Peanuts, and 90% of anything manufactured by Brach’s.

Here’s a rule of thumb: Next time you are in a supermarket or convenience store, take a look at the candy section. Not the bulk candy aisle, but the individual candy bars section, like at the checkout. If the candy you are planning to give out on Halloween warrants a place on that aisle, you are usually safe giving it out (Paydays being the exception, of course). If not, well, there’s a reason that candy isn’t popular enough to be sold on its own.

And now it is time to discuss candy corn. Another Brach’s specialty. What the heck is up with candy corn? It’s like the Great Pumpkin: it only comes out at Halloween, no one knows where it comes from or what it really is, and only one or two kids in the entire world anticipate its arrival. It tastes like fermented plastic. And no one ever, ever buys candy corn for themselves. Have you ever been hanging out with friends or family and heard somebody say, “You know what I could go for right now? A giant bag of candy corn”? Ever? Me neither. It’s the Soylent Green of Halloween candy.

If you are sitting there considering sending me an angry email saying, “I love candy corn!” then stop, step away from the keyboard, and go see a doctor. You have eaten too much of it, and the alien chemical components of the candy corn must have seeped into your brain and impaired your judgment.

The candy corn manufacturers must have the world’s best marketing department because year after year they get people to buy this stuff even though no one likes it. There’s a lesson there: Even if your product is terrible, you can still sell it.

Have a great, happy, and safe Halloween, and please, give out your treats with caution.

*****

John’s note:  I’ve eaten hundreds of Payday candy bars, dozens of bags of candy corn, and I love fruitcake.  And if you see me in a restroom after a restaurant meal, I’m probably flossing my teeth.  Maybe that’s why the article was funny.  Please don’t send me any candy; I no longer eat sugar.  But a brochure on dental hygiene is always appreciated.  Thanks Avish for a fun article.

Cartoon Caption Contest Results

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

We had 350 entries in our Caveman Cartoon Contest.  Our panel of seven judges selected our top lines.  Enjoy!

And remember:  New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of the month, and new Joke Contests are announced on the 15th of the month.

Our contests feature the art of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich. Visit his web site for new daily cartoons and a wide listing of cartoons by category.  Dan is available to customize cartoons for your specific need.

Enter our current joke contest which closes October 28, 2007.

And now…our October Cartoon Caption Contest results:

Cavemen

** FIRST PLACE **

How will we ever carry it down this hill?
   Jim Potter, Hutchinson, Kansas, USA

** SECOND PLACE **

This won’t fit on her finger; but I bet it’ll be the talk of the cave.
   Grace, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

** THIRD PLACE **

It’s so easy, a modern man could do it.
   Michael Cortes, Erie, Pennsylvania, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

Look son…it’s your IQ.
It represents love…you’d understand if you played tennis.
Idiot, it’s not a cornerstone!
Ed, it doesn’t LOOK like a 78R15.
I didn’t say wheel.  I said whee!
The first step in a unicycle.
The invention of rock & roll.
Now, let’s put the finishing touches and make it look like Michelin.
No, this isn’t as important as the lighter I invented yesterday.
One small wheel for a man…
We are halfway through to the digital age.
Are you sure one of these is enough?
I say let the celebrities make their own darn HOLLYWOOD sign!
This ring should keep her home
Me make wedding band for T-Rex!
I’d like to see the folks at GEICO try to do this.
And then she is going to ask, “Why can’t you do something productive?”
This should be good for 75,000 miles or years, which ever comes first.
Now I’ll stick it in the boiling wooly mammoth fat, and you go get the chocolate sprinkles.
As soon as we get  that Smog Check, we can take her out for a spin.
This is too much work.  We need to make one that is all-season.
Just chip away anything that is not a wheel.
I foresee the day when these will be what drives the commerce of powerful nations.  Only they’ll be much smaller and be sold by the dozen to law enforcement officers.
Before we go public with our idea, we should really look at what Internet names are still available.
Great sculpture, Bob, but wasn’t the assignment to create something USEFUL?
This monument to the Sun seems like a big waste of time.
Of course it rocks. It’s gonna be a rolling stone.
Wheel be famous!
Programming is fun, but making the binary numbers is hard work.
If we were meant to roll why did we evolve with feet?
Real heroes do more than zeros.
We’ve invented a rock movement!
Add a “G” and the tribe will know it’s your cave.
Shouldn’t a compact disk be smaller?
Four more, then we’ll do the crosses.
Come on, let’s see what this baby can do?
Seventeen more and we’ll have the world’s first eighteen-wheeler.

Halloween Humor — Get Dressed To Thrill!

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Here’s a wonderful and timely article by guest author Avish Parashar.

Haloween Humor — Get Dressed To Thrill!  by Avish Parashar.

Halloween is upon us! As an adult, I am assuming you are not going trick or treating (although I do think we need a holiday where adults can walk door to door and get free stuff — not candy, but something fun for adults like DVDs or mutual funds or something). However, you may find yourself invited to a Halloween costume party. If you plan to attend one you will need a costume. Picking one can be a high stress activity, but have no fear! It’s really quite simple. You have three basic costume options when it comes to dressing up for Halloween: Funny, Serious, or Sexy. I outline the main points of each below so you can decide what approach you want to take this year.

Funny Costumes — Make people laugh and you can wear pretty much anything.  One year I tied a big red bow around my body and attached a gift card that said, “To: Women. From: God.” (Not my original idea, but as Einstein said, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”)  It only took a quick run to the fabric store, $3 for the ribbon, and two minutes to tie it on and apply the card. I did feel a little guilty when my minimal effort/minimal cost outfit won me second place and my friend, who takes this stuff seriously, won nothing. He went all out and donned an elaborate pirate costume complete with hat, jewelry, and makeup. I won second place and he won nothing. I drove him home that night, and the tension in the car was palpable. It was like “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” minus the sisters, wheelchair, and horrible physical abuse. We still can’t talk about Halloween without him mentioning what he considers to be “a great injustice.” Some wounds never heal.

If you want to go funny, don’t buy an off-the-shelf outfit. Most “funny” outfits at costume stores aren’t all that funny. The funniest things about them are the poses and sincere expressions on the faces of the models on the costume bags. That makes me laugh. And God forbid you show up in the same “funny” costume as some one else. If you think showing up in the same dress at a party as someone else is embarrassing, imagine showing up and being just one of two giant bananas.

Two things to remember if you go with the funny costume: 1) Maximum ROI (Return on Investment) is key — rely on your humor, not on your elaborate costume.  2) The humor should be easy to get. I went to a party a few years ago where someone tried real hard to do the funny costume. She dressed up as a chicken and walked around carrying a butterfly net with a picture of Tori Spelling caught in it. Do you want to guess what she was dressed up as? Any guesses? Anyone? “Chicken Cacciatore” (Chicken-Catch-a-Tori”) Get it? No? Neither did anyone else. You can not make this stuff up people. This outfit violated both rules. First, acquiring and donning a chicken suit is not a high ROI activity. Second, nobody at the party got what she was without her explaining it.

Humor Lesson: If you have to explain your joke in detail, to everyone, it’s not funny. It’s like a Zen Koan: If a person tells a joke at a party and nobody laughs, was it really a joke? The answer is no. No it was not.

Business Lesson (especially small business): It’s all about ROI. Low investment, high return. Leave the chicken suit at home. Incidentally, my pirate friend came back strong the following year and won second place by dressing up as the spitting image of Flava Flav.

Serious Costumes — Dressing up can create quite an internal struggle. It is the only decision you make all year that allows people to judge your attractiveness, wit, financial status, and creativity all with one look. It’s the “online dating” of parties — you may have a lot more going on, but people are really only paying attention to the picture. You have to find just the right balance; you want a costume that shows you put a little thought into it, but not too much thought because if it’s stupid, you don’t want people to pity the amount of effort you put in (think Chicken Cacciatore). Going with a straight costume is the easiest and safest course of action. You can just walk into a store, plop down a few bucks, and Presto! You have just fulfilled your dressing up obligation. Years ago, I walked into a store, bought a cowboy hat and poncho, and boom — instant costume! I may not have been the only cowboy there, but at least I had a costume that didn’t take too much effort.

On a side note, I was probably the only person in the city who was both a Cowboy and an Indian! Get it? No? (You may not realize that I am of Indian background. I know, with a name like “Avish,” you probably assumed I was Irish) Well nobody else would have either, which is why I didn’t try to tell people that I was a “Cowboy and Indian.” That would violate my “explaining the joke” humor rule above.

For serious costumes, I don’t begrudge people spending time or money. That just shows that you are really getting into the spirit of things. Just don’t be annoyed if you get beat out for best costume by someone who spent five minutes and $3 on their costume.

Sexy Costumes — Go to enough costume parties and you start to wonder if the original pagan meaning of Halloween is “night for repressed women to overcome their inner inhibitions.” Women who feel uncomfortable undressing for the shower will walk around in public like Victoria’s Secret runway models – with “kitten ears” thrown on to make it an actual costume, of course. It’s like society issues a get-out-of-jail-free card once a year and boy do people take advantage of it.

In the party above where I won second place as “God’s Gift to Women,” and the following year my friend won second place as “Flava Flav,” would you like to know who won first place? Same woman both years. Year one, she was a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader — short shorts and all. Year two she went as a Vegas showgirl. Show some skin, win a prize! Sexy beats funny every time.

Speaking of Las Vegas, I never knew how attractive cats, Little Bo Peep, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz could be until I spent Halloween in Las Vegas. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I just think this is an interesting sociological phenomenon. We need more holidays where we, everyone, all of us, can act out our repressed desires. I would walk around wearing a Fedora and leather jacket and have a bull-whip attached to my hip.

I recently re-watched “Batman Begins.” At the end, Batman’s (Bruce Wayne’s) girlfriend tells him that Batman is who he really is, and that Bruce Wayne is really the mask. Kind of makes you wonder on Halloween when people let their inner desires out, whether they are putting on a costume or just letting themselves “be real” for one day out of the year and putting on a mask the other 364… If the latter, then maybe they should consider flipping things around — it can be much more rewarding and satisfying.

Well that was kind of heavy…But it does go to show that you can get life lessons from anywhere, even from a movie about a man dressed up as a flying rodent.

A Word to People Who ‘Don’t Want to Get Dressed Up’

There are always a few people who go to a Halloween party and don’t dress up.  “Do I have to?” they whine. Yes! It is Halloween! It is a Costume party! Not dressing up for a costume party is like showing up to a food drive without a can of food. Don’t be that guy. Here’s a thought for this year: if you get invited to a costume party, dress up or stay home.

Sorry, but it had to be said.

Besides, it takes far more effort and is far more embarrassing to complain about dressing up than it is to throw on a simple costume. No one expects you to spend a ton of money or come in a full body outfit. If you’re really confused, go to a Halloween store or even your local discount store. Buy a pair of horns and a pitchfork (should be less than $10 total). Go home, wear some decent party clothes, put on the horns, and carry the pitchfork around. Boom!  Instant costume. Now stop whining and go have fun at your Halloween party you sexy devil 🙂

Subscribe to Improvised Musings, a terrific ezine by Improv Expert Avish Parashar.

Creative Humor Writing

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Our October Joke Writing Contest: Places To Meet People.  It’s a humor contest just for the fun of it.  The theme of the contest was suggested by Sol Morrison from Santa Barbara, California, USA.

The challenge in this writing exercise is to connect the name of a person (real or fictitious) or a group of people, to an occupation or workplace or other location. 

When making up names, it would be nice if they sound like something that COULD be a real name.  Work from a list of names and connect them with locations/occupations.  Then work the opposite direction, starting with locations/occupations and looking for names.

Here are some creative possibilities:  Look for names that link to a specific workplace.  Look for names that create a verb/object pattern.  Look for names that create a possessive, like David’s Letterman Jacket.  Look for names that sound like a longer word.  Look for names that can be subtly blended into a sentence, as we did with the word MENU, in this case linking to a group of people (men) and not a specific name.  Don’t limit yourself to these ideas.

Here are some examples:

I went to the Mortuary to meet my friend Paul Bearer.
I go to Court to watch my attorney Sue Mee.
I go to the Bowling Alley to see Lois’ Lane.
I tried to introduce a bill in Congress but was held up by Phil O. Buster.
I go to a Restaurant to look at the men.  You?

TO ENTER THE CONTEST

1.  Put on  your humor hat and brainstorm without regard to quality.

2.  Set your work aside and come back to it later.

3.  Pass your good lines by your humor buddy.

4.  Select your best lines and then submit them to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by October 28, 2007.

5.  The best lines will be recognized early in November.

Humor and Public Speaking Resources

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

October Tip Sheet

Humor College:  Learn from some of the top Speaking and Humor Pros in the business.  This course includes teleseminars, audio files, CDs and one-on-one coaching.  Kicks off on October 17.  Faculty includes:  Patricia Fripp, Darren LaCroix, Doug Stevenson, Tom Antion, Steve Roye.

Good To Great:  Patricia Fripp presents an advanced coaching session for experienced speakers only.  October 27 – 28, 2007.  Location, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.  I’ll be there.

One of the most popular Speaking blogs is the Public Speaking Blog by Eric Feng from Singapore.  He has just released his new book, The FAQ Book On Public Speaking.  Cut your learning curve with tips from all areas of public speaking.  Eric was featured as a guest author on the Humor Power Blog, International Humor — So You Think You Can Make A Singaporean Laugh!

A Toastmasters Speech Contest

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

I’m going to share a Toastmasters Area Contest speech with you which was written and delivered by Steve Pavlina.  Steve is a serious student of humor.  He practices Observational Humor at the same Toastmasters club I attend.  He played with my improv troupe and performed in two of our shows.  And every week he beats me in 18 holes of Disc (Frisbee) Golf by about three strokes.  Very funny.

Here’s the text of his speech about polyphasic sleep.  My comments and a few observations by Steve follow the text.  (Note: Steve makes references to “act-outs” which is the technique of “stepping outside the speech” to bring drama and theater to the talk.)
 
39-1/2 Winks

Do you ever feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it?  What would you say if I told you there was a way you could gain an extra 6 productive hours every day?  Imagine what you could do with an extra 6 hours a day.  You could write a book.  You could learn a foreign language.  You could almost serve as Area Governor.

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and welcome guests.  Two years ago I learned about a strange experiment done by a group of college students.  They claimed to be sleeping only 2 hours a day, and they kept it up for 6 months.  Now my reaction was probably the same as yours.  It’s humanly impossible, right?  But it was true.  What the students did was called polyphasic sleep.  Polyphasic means “many phases.”  They slept only 20 minutes at a time…every 4 hours…around the clock.

Adjusting to polyphasic sleep is not easy.  Eventually your brain will adapt to the shorter sleep cycles, but until that happens, you’ll have to endure several days of severe sleep deprivation, including fatigue, irritability, and memory lapses.  It’s like being VP of Education.

I run a popular personal development web site, so I thought it would be fun to try adapting to polyphasic sleep as a public experiment, logging each day as I went along.  But when I announced my plans, my loyal readers said that I would surely fail, that it would probably kill me, and that they couldn’t wait to read about it! Would you like to know how it went?  Alright, here’s what I wrote in my logs.

[Days 1-6 act-out of progressively worse sleep deprivation]

Day 1.  The first night wasn’t bad.  A little TV, a little web surfing.  I felt like I accomplished something just staying awake, even though I didn’t really do anything.  It’s like I was VP of PR.  What actually worked best for staying awake was cooking. When I first told my wife Erin I was going to do this experiment, she said, “Sleep deprivation?  Why can’t I just have a normal husband?”  When she got up this morning though, she said, “Sniff sniff.  Is that sweet potato curry?”  After that she’s been very supportive.  But we both agreed I’ll stop the experiment if I show signs of suffering a psychotic break, like running for Area Governor.

Day 2.  Oh, the sleep deprivation finally hit me.  I’m taking all my naps on time, but they aren’t helping much.  I have to keep slapping myself to stay awake.

Day 3.  I feel like a total zombie.  I came this close to quitting, but a friend convinced me to stick it out a little longer.  It wasn’t until after my next nap I realized I’d been talking to a cantaloupe.

Day 4…or is it 5…no, no, it’s 4.  This morning Erin asked me, “Steve, why is your deodorant in the fridge?”  “I’m sorry, Erin; it was the cantaloupe’s idea.”

Day 5.  I stayed up all night cooking, but now I can’t find any of the food.  I really shouldn’t drive, but after five days of this, I’m going stir crazy.  So I made a quick trip to Costco.  I bought a 36-pack of kitchen timers.  I also picked up a sack of cantaloupe to keep me company.  They don’t say much, but they’re good listeners.  Apparently I bought some bubble wrap and duct tape too, but I can’t remember why.

Day 6.  Today is Halloween.  Erin unpacked her old witch costume and found this putrescent orange slime in the hat.  Turned out it was sweet potato curry.  Hopefully the cabbage rolls will turn up soon. When it got dark, Erin took the kids trick-or-treating, while I passed out candy.  When Erin came back, she said, “That was weird, Steve.  All the neighborhood kids are talking about some psycho who’s passing out kitchen timers.”

[Narrator mode] Now it took about a week, but I did successfully adapt to polyphasic sleep.  I had more energy than ever, and my productivity skyrocketed.  There was only one problem.  The rest of the world was still monophasic. 

Here’s a log entry from day 150:

[Acting psycho] These past 5 months on polyphasic sleep have been incredible, but the long nights are getting lonely.  I tried to convince Erin and the kids to get up earlier just so I can have someone to talk to.  Unfortunately they’re not into coffee, but I found another natural stimulant that will help them wake up…adrenalin.  Just before dawn I grab one of those kitchen timers and head upstairs.  I set the fuse for 5 seconds, and then I quickly open the bedroom door, lob it onto the bed, and shut the door.  When that piercing alarm goes off, oh they’re wide awake…especially since it takes them a while to remove the bubble wrap and duct tape.

[Narrator mode] 5-1/2 months after beginning this experiment, I decided to return to monophasic sleep.  I was sad to see it end, but my family threatened to have me committed. Even though it didn’t work out, I’m glad I tried polyphasic sleep, and I learned some valuable lessons.  I learned that people are more important than productivity.  I learned the migratory patterns of sweet potato curry.  And I learned there truly is no greater insanity than to serve as Area Governor.

JOHN:  Terrific speech.  It was delivered at the Area Contest.  How was the speech different from the one you gave to win the Club Contest?

STEVE:  I improved the speech a lot after the club contest, but unfortunately I overdid it, and I got disqualified for time.  (A contest speech is suppossed to fall within a 4:30 and 7:30 time frame.)  When I practiced it myself, I came in between 5:30 and 6:00, and that included what I thought were reasonable pauses for laughter.  I figured a 90-120 second buffer for extra laughter would be plenty.  But many of the jokes got such big, sustained laughs that I had to wait a long time for the laughter to die down.  I saw the red light come on and tried to wrap it up quick, cutting about 30 seconds from the end, but my final joke still got too big a laugh.  Even so, I thought I managed to close on time, but apparently I didn’t quite make it.  If I’d done the whole speech as originally planned, I’d have run well over 8 minutes.

JOHN:  Moving up the competition ladder is challenging.  One of the biggest differences is that you usually get more laughter the higher the competition level.  There are several reasons for this.  First, the audiences are usually larger.  Because of the contagious nature of laughter, this usually means more response.  Second, your speech is usually better written, thanks to your own analysis and the feedback from members at your club.  Third, you know your content better and can focus on your delivery and connection with the audience.  These three factors all help you earn more laughter from the audience.  Because of that, you need to allow time for the laughter and also be prepared to cut a segment near the end of the speech, just in case.

JOHN:  Here are some observations on the speech content:

1.  Notice that Steve doesn’t rush into getting the laughs.  He takes time to set the premise and lets the audience know where he’s going.  Then he alerts them that he’s moving to the next part of the speech with, “Alright, here’s what I wrote in my logs.”

STEVE:  The slow build-up at the beginning was intentional, with only three laughs in the first 90 seconds.  As I gave the speech, I could see the audience becoming uneasy as I explained the details of polyphasic sleep.  I could see they were wondering where the humor was, and it seemed like I was launching into a dry factual speech that would at best be punctuated with some humorous commentary.  But I was using this time to establish a connection and build speech value while setting them up for later, so all of this was just premise.  This was very effective, since that early tension only made the later laughs stronger.

2.  He customizes his humor by making references to which the audience could relate:  Area Governor (the host of this competition), VP of Education, VP of PR.  If you were speaking to a corporate audience, reference to the Division Manager, the Director of HR, the VP of Marketing, might all be good for laughs.  You need to know the group.  You need to do your homework.

3.  Steve uses the Rule-of-Three very effectively:
  – You could write a book.  You could learn a foreign language.  You could almost serve as Area Governor.
  – My loyal readers said that I would surely fail, that it would probably kill me, and that they couldn’t wait to read about it!
  – I learned that people are more important than productivity.  I learned the migratory patterns of sweet potato curry. And I learned there truly is no greater insanity than to serve as Area Governor.

4.  Steve has picked funny-sounding words.  Note that all the ones listed here include the “K” sound, which many comedy experts say are funnier.
  – cantaloupe
  – kitchen timers
  – sweet potato curry
  – cabbage rolls
  – bubble wrap and duct tape

STEVE:  I didn’t even realize I was using so many words with a K-sound.  That was accidental, not intentional.  Interestingly, my original version used “napkin” instead of “cantaloupe” (also a K-word).  When I ran the speech past Darren LaCroix, he suggested using a kumquat because it was a funnier word (and also a K-sound).  I liked cantaloupe better, so I went with that.
 
5.  The speech is rich in call backs; making reference to things introduced earlier in the speech (cantaloupe, kitchen timer, sweet potato curry, etc).  By my count there are at least nine call backs.

STEVE:  I intentionally tried to include a lot of callbacks in this speech because part of the reason I wrote this speech was to specifically experiment with that technique.  Clever callbacks can work like punch line insurance.  If the first time I make a joke about an object doesn’t quite work, by the time the speech is over, the audience will think it was only intended as a setup for a future joke anyway.  But if both jokes work, the laughter on the callback can be doubly strong.
 
6.  “Steve, why is your deodorant in the fridge?”   “I’m sorry, Erin; it was the cantaloupe’s idea.”  I’d consider changing it to: “I’m sorry, Erin; the cantaloupe asked to borrow it.”  This gives the cantaloupe a more active part, which I think makes it funnier.  I also wonder if there might be a humor connection between Musk-scented deodorant and Musk Mellon, a name by which cantaloupes are also known.

STEVE:  There were several variations I considered.  One I almost used was, “I’m sorry, Erin; the cantaloupe said he was lonely,” but I ditched it because I thought some people might construe it as sexual, and I didn’t want to use any blue humor in this speech.   Another joke I almost inserted into the 2nd paragraph was this:  “It’s humanly impossible, right?  It’s like Bachelors & Bachelorettes becoming President’s Distinguished.”  B&B was one of the clubs in this area.  I thought the joke was too harsh and opted not to use it.  It might get a big laugh, but I thought it would more likely backfire and cost me the audience.

7.  “I bought a 36-pack of kitchen timers.”  A brilliant line.  When writing a speech a person asks, “What would be the most unusual thing to be bought in a quantity-pack?”  You’d ask yourself, what item would you only need one of.  Kitchen timer is a fabulous choice.  Taking it too far, like “a 36-pack of snow tires” would lessen the impact.  Kitchen timers are closer to something you could visualize as being real, but at the same time absurd.

STEVE:  In my first draft of this speech, I made a joke about a 6-pack of kitchen timers (not a 36-pack) because I had a segment where my alarm clocks kept meeting an untimely demise.  I’d smash them, flush them, etc.  So originally that line was there to show that I was buying alarms in bulk to replace the damaged ones.  During my actual polyphasic sleep experiment, I used a kitchen timer as my primary wake-up alarm, so I was simply using exaggeration for the joke.  But in the second draft, I found the joke worked even better after I cut out the earlier mentions of the kitchen timer, since it became even more absurd.  So this was a case where using a callback turned out to be weaker than using a fresh, totally unexpected, punch line.

8.  I like Steve’s closing line, a call back and a triplet.  One alternative closer might be:  “I believe it’s time to wrap up my speech.  (Pull a kitchen timer from pocket wrapped in bubble wrap and duct tape.)  My kitchen timer is vibrating.”
 
STEVE:  I love your closing line idea.  I could have put a kitchen timer in my pocket and set the alarm to go off at some time during the speech.  Maybe then I’d have been able to bring it in on time!

Steve Pavlina’s post on Polyphasic Sleep.

Why Practice Observational Humor?

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

So you’re never going to do a monologue?  Does that mean that you’ll never have a use for Observational Humor? 

Here’s the truth.  I don’t practice my observational humor so that I’ll be better at doing humor monologues.  For me, an observational humor monologue is a push-up.  It’s an exercise to build my humor muscle.  It’s a means to an end.  It’s not the end.

This past week I attended a terrific two-hour presentation by NSA National President, Mark LeBlanc.  If you have a chance to hear him speak, don’t miss it.  Inspiring substance delivered in an engaging style.

Although I had no intention of presenting a monologue at the end of the evening, I still decided to “put on my humor hat” and focus on the process of collecting observational humor.  I listened.  I jotted notes.  I looked for connections. 

In Mark’s opening comments he told of his Anti-Boot-Camps where people attend for free.  Then at the end of the camp they write Mark a check for whatever the feel the event was worth.  Marilyn, our NSA Las Vegas Chapter Secretary gave a testimonial about the Camp and said she loved it.  In fact at Mark’s camp she met her husband!

Mark then asked the 20 audience members:  What did they want to learn from the evening’s program?   And several people volunteered answers.

Since I had been taking notes, I was prepared to ask a question.  I waited until about six people had posed their questions.  I raised my hand and Mark called on me:

What I want to know is…when Marilyn attended your Anti-Boot-Camp and met her husband…at the end of the event…how big was her check?”  A big laugh.   The joke implies that such a great benefit (meeting a spouse) would be worthy of a very large check.

Mark was right on top of it.  After the laughter died down, he said:  “She’s still paying me back.”  His joke implies that the value of meeting a great husband was priceless.

Although my line was one I could have used in a monologue, the key point is that I wouldn’t have been prepared with the line if I wasn’t tuned in to the humor-opportunities that were happening that evening.  The fact was that I had been engaged in the process of identifying observational humor, even though I didn’t plan on having a specific place to use it.  Then when a moment of opportunity arrived, I was prepared. 

At a typical meeting, note that I’m not actively looking for chances to contribute a funny line.  A member of the audience can wear out their welcome fast by always trying to be the funny-guy.  If you’ve ever attended a meeting with me, you will probably remember me as someone who normally just quietly listens for the entire meeting.  The advantage of being very selective in your use of humor is that when you do use it, it will probably be funnier.  And when you do use it, people will be more inclined to listen, because of the factors of quality and scarcity.  If you’re always trying too hard to be funny, you will irritate the audience rather than attract them.

I’d encourage you to do the same as I do.  Always be focused on discovering the observational humor connections at every event you attend.  And then be very selective in using your funny lines.  It’ll keep you engaged.  It’ll strengthen your humor skills. And every now and then, when the moment is right, it’ll give you the appearance of being a person with a quick wit.

Quirky Paychecks — Creative Humor Writing Contest

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Here are the top lines from our Quirky Paychecks joke writing contest.

Look for new Cartoon Caption Contests on the 1st of the month. 

Look for new Joke Writing Contests on the 15 of each month.

Our panel of seven judges (speakers and improv players) had a challenging time picking the best lines from the more than 200 submitted.  Be sure to check out the Honorable Mention listing; lots of funny and creative lines.  Excellent writing by all who  submitted.

** FIRST PLACE **

The philosopher gets paid theoretically.
     Brandon Carrasco, New Mexico, USA

** SECOND PLACE **

Spies get paid in Bonds…James Bonds.
     Jim Spero, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

** THIRD PLACE **

Robert gets paid in Dinero. 
     Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

Catwalk Models get paid from the kitty.
Numismatists get paid in token money.
Lousy speakers get paid in a little hush money.
Screen writers get paid in script.
Angry store clerks get paid in counter-fit money.
Ice carvers get paid in frozen assets.
Refrigeration repair persons get paid in cold cash.
Bowlers get paid in spare change
When bowlers get paid they strike it rich.
Book publishers print their own money and they copy right.
Authors get paid in pen money.
Kleptomaniacs get paid in seized funds.
Poker players in one NY city collect their winnings in Buffalo chips.
Authors have money hot off the press and store it in boxes in their garage.
Book printers are paid on demand.
Hypocondriacs are paid in ill gotten gains.
Quarterbacks get paid in sacks of money.
Marine biologists get paid in sand dollars.
Peasants get paid in common cents.
Volunteers get paid in non cents.
Cheney’s friends get paid in buck shots.
Al Gore gets paid with green.
Pet store owners get paid with guineas.
Kings and queens get paid in crowns.
Professional poker players get paid in spades.
Weightlifters get paid a ton.
Bakers get paid in bankrolls.
Vegans get paid in green stuff.
Hillary gets paid in big Bills.
Dry cleaners get paid in laundered money
Janitors get paid in dirty money
Basketball players get paid in body checks
A college professor gets paid in smart money.
A plumber’s paycheck has a low cash flow.
A dairy farmer gets paid with plenty of moolah.
A restaurateur gets paid in cabbage, clams and dough.
A concert pianist gets paid a grand.
Fashion models get paid a pretty penny.
Duck farmers get paid in bills.
Perfumers get paid in cents.
Tailors get paid pin money.
Comedians get paid funny money.
Kilt makers get paid in large checks.
Singers get paid in notes.
Medieval criminals get paid in stocks.
Vampires prefer Blood money.
Boxers get paid in Pounds.
Carpenters get paid by the Pound.
Politicians get paid by the people, while the people get played by the politicians.
Rockstars get paid in hard cash.
Kermit The Frog gets greenbacks.
Miss piggy brings home the bacon.
Race car drivers get paid in fast cash.
Barbers get paid a cut of the profit.
Elephant handlers get paid peanuts.
Hot dog vendors are paid in franks.
School teachers are paid in marks.
Mechanics get their palms greased.
Journalists get paid in currency.
Orthodontists have their money wired to them.
Impersonators get paid in counterfeit money.
Dogs get paid under the table.
Dermatologists get paid in skins.
Phlebotomists get paid with blood money.
Pharmacists get paid with drug money.
Dairy farmers get paid with milk money.
Pig farmers are makin bacon.
Detectives get paid in tips.
Bus drivers get paid in pocket change.
Rappers get paid in bling.
Internet browser get paid in cache.
Benjamin Franklin gets paid in himself.
Hockey players get paid in checks.
Stock brokers are paid in tips.
Bakers get paid in sour dough.