Improving An Observational Humor Line

At a recent Toastmasters meeting I commented during an evaluation of a speech that the presenter’s talk was so good that “I wanted to hear more.”  And I noticed that many people were nodding in agreement.  So I added “And I see that many in the audience are nodding in agreement.” 

Later, during the Observational Humor segment of the meeting, one of the observational lines (not my line), was:  “When John gave his evaluation of Steve’s speech, he said people were nodding in agreement.  Well, they weren’t agreeing.”  The line received a solid laugh.  I’m guessing that what was implied, and what was received was:  People were “nodding off,” or falling asleep during my evaluation.  It was an excellent line which I would have used myself; if I had thought of it!

One choice for delivering a punchline is:  Not to state the punchline directly; or rather, to imply the punchline.  If that was the intent of the creator of the line, it seemed to work.  I’m not only guessing at the intent of the writer, I’m guessing at the interpretation of the audience too.

What activates this joke is the double meaning of the word NOD.  It means “agreement” and it means “boredom or sleepiness.”  Since the meanings are almost opposite, it makes for a great set-up for a joke.

The joke is excellent.  Funny.  But let’s look at ways it could be been done differently. 

First, I would have made the punchline crystal clear.  “They weren’t agreeing…they were falling asleep.”  Implying the punchline is terrific if you’re sure that the audience can “fill in the blank.”  But if there is a chance they may misread your punchline, being very direct is usually the best approach.

There can be a problem with being too direct.  Insult humor can sometimes be a bit uncomfortable for either the speaker or the audience.  The speaker or audience may feel that the joke is too much of a roast line.  If the discomfort is on the part of the speaker, it will affect the delivery.  If the discomfort is on the part of the audience, they’ll hesitate to laugh. A legitimate concern. 

Whether or not you use attack humor successfully would depend on your relationship with the audience and your relationship to the person who is the target of the joke.  Also, the relationship of the audience to the target of the joke is an important factor.  If the target of the joke is well known to the group and everyone gets along well AND the target has a good sense of humor…the joke gets a green light.  Go for it.  If the target of the joke is a guest at the meeting, or has a sensitive personality, caution is in order.  In the case of this joke, directly going for the punchline makes sense since I was the target, a long-time member and also the person who introduced Observational Humor to the club.

A way to improve the joke and also soften the attack-nature of the line, would be to have the joke presented by the person who is the target.  It would have been a safer joke (not necessarily funnier) if I would have delivered the punchline (ignoring the fact that the line never crossed my mind!).  That would have made the joke self-deprecating instead of an attack-style, roast-like joke.  That makes the joke safer because it is usually reduces the discomfort level of the audience when a joke is self-targeted at the speaker delivering he joke, instead of an insult zinger from a third party.

In the final analysis, it was a fun joke.  Good humor thinking. Well-delivered.  Good laughter.  Yet it’s fun to examine how even a good line might be improved.