Archive for May, 2008

Creative Humor Writing — Contest Results

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Here are the top lines from our Credit Union Cartoon Caption Contest.

Visit the site of our artist, Dan Rosandich, to see how easy it is to have cartoons customized for your next special project.

Our new caption contest will be posted tomorrow.

Look for our new joke contest on June 15.

And now, here are the top entries selected by our panel of judges.

Credit Union

** FIRST PLACE **

Lady, if I wanted to be robbed, I’d have gone to a bank.
     Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia

** SECOND PLACE **

If I don’t get that loan to buy myself a diamond earring, all the guys at the truck stop will think I’m a wimp.
     Sol Morrison, Santa Barbara, California, USA

** THIRD PLACE **

Wow, that’s really a rich men’s club!  401K plan?  I don’t even have 3K now.
     Grant Pan, Wilton, Connecticut, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

– But without this loan…I can’t pay your last loan. 
– And make sure your repossession agents don’t come before 10:00 am.
– I need that loan today! I have a video chat with my online girlfriend tonight and she thinks I’m only 28.
– I’m sorry, I just can’t give you any credit.  I already saw that joke on HumorPower.com.
– What do you mean I have to roll over my “Cool Biker Dudes” 401K account to the “Old Biker Dudes” account?
– I just want you to credit me for all the years I lost to drugs.
– 22% interest isn’t good enough for us to start a loving relationship.
– In my day, money was worth much more than gasoline.

Evaluating A Speech

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Eric Feng, The Public Speaking Blog, wrote an excellent post today on giving and receiving effective speech evaluations.  He lists thirteen points, including: 
  – Be generous with your smiles.
  – Compliment the speaker.
  – Clap like you mean it.
  – Drop the speaker a nice email.
  – And NINE more!

Visit Eric’s site for his thoughts on those points and more.

I’d like to add seven of my own points:

1.  Have good intentions.  What if you don’t like the speaker’s topic?  Or maybe you don’t like the speaker!  Come from a good place.  Share your good will in an open-minded way.  Likewise, when receiving an evaluation, always assume that the intentions of your evaluator are good.

2.  To flinch is normal.  Be aware that as an evaluator, the speaker you’re trying to help may show some resistance.  Sometimes an evaluation feels like criticism, even when it’s meant to be helpful.  That’s human nature and don’t take it personally.  If you’re receiving an evaluation, avoid being defensive.

3.  Remember the level of the speaker.  Are you evaluating a novice speaker or a seasoned pro?  The depth and tone of your evaluation will change depending on the experience of the speaker.

4.  You were them.  Remember that you were once a beginning speaker too.  How did you feel giving a speech when you were starting out?  What did it feel like getting an evaluation?  What elements of an evaluation did you find especially effective?

5.  Suggest one DOABLE thing.  For each suggestion, give a very specific, DOABLE thing.  I learned that from speaker-coach Max Dixon.  Something that they can actually DO is easier to impliment than something to THINK.  Actions are easier to apply than mindsets.

6.  Keep your sense of humor.  Whether giving or receiving an evaluation, keep your sense of humor.  A little laugh can sweeten a suggestion.

7.  It’s only an opinion.  When giving an evaluation, remember that you’re only sharing your opinion.  It’s not fact.  It’s not the word of God.  You’re simply a mirror that reflects back to the speaker how his or her speech affected you and how you think it might be improved.

Performing Like A Professional — Barry Manilow

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Lessons learned from a Barry Manilow performance.

This weekend (Memorial Day weekend) I saw Barry Manilow perform Music and Passion at the Las Vegas Hilton, a sold-out show for 1700 people.  It’s been about two years since I’ve seen his show.  It was one of the best in town then.  And it still is.  I ran into friend Peter Pizor at the end of the show who also had seen it two years ago and he said:  “Two years ago I thought it was the best Las Vegas show I’d ever seen.  Tonight’s show was even better!”

I reviewed lessons learned from his show in an April 2006 blog post.  I highlighted:
1.  His smile.
2.  His eye contact.
3.  His natural delivery.
4.  Story telling.
5.  His personal contact with the audience.
6.  Poking fun at himself.
7.  Clean humor.

Here are some more Keepers from Barry Manilow’s Music and Passion.

Keep in shape.  In less than a month, Barry Manilow turns 62.  He looks great.  Fit. Energetic.  Enjoying himself.  He has been performing nightly at the Las Vegas Hilton for over two years and shows no hint of being tired of it.  What impressed me both times, in addition to his overall good shape, was the fitness of his voice.  To sing for 90 minutes with no break, while keeping a strong voice, is amazing.  Professional singers have great coaches  who show them how to perform.  Effective use of the voice.  Proper breathing.  There is a lot we can learn from that as speakers.

Powerful Stories.  He tells the story of his grandfather and his first performance at Carnegie Hall.  The audience was noticeably moved.  He added power to the story by including photographs and sound clips from those early days.  He also shared video footage of one of his first TV appearances, being introduced by Clive Davis.  It showed the young Manilow singing Mandy. It was one of my favorite parts of the show.  He closed that segment by singing a duet with the younger Manilow.  Powerful storytelling, taking us back in time.

The Power of You.  As speakers, we’ve examined in previous posts the power of YOU versus ME or I.  He opened his show with It’s A Miracle (the miracle is you) and This One’s For You.  Perfect choices for connecting with the audience right at the start.  As speakers we need to open with segments that connect and relate to our audience.  It’s not about us.

Building The Energy.  There are at least two elements to this lesson.  First part of lesson, he built the energy before the show started with high-energy recorded music.  One of the last songs (not THE last song) before the show started was The Village People’s YMCA.  I don’t think any recorded song does more to get the audience involved than that one.  The next song was also high-energy (I don’t remember what it was) but the audience basically sat down and listened to it.  However, the musical energy continued to build.  What was interesting was the obvious increase in energy when the LIVE band struck the first chord, reinforced with lighting cues.  It was Showtime and the audience was primed and ready to go.  The second part of the lesson, he built the energy throughout the show, closing with Copacabana (At The Copa) and a drop-down stage that brought him into the middle of the audience. Streamers. Confetti.  A first-class closing to one of the best shows in town.

Catch him at the Las Vegas Hilton while you can.  He won’t be there forever!  I also highly recommend Barry Manilow’s Music and Passion DVD recorded live at the Las Vegas Hilton.  It’s the next best thing to being there.

Your Sense of Humor — Funny Signs

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I’m a fan of looking for humorous signs.  I have my own collection of photos.  Some of my favorites from the Las Vegas area are:

1.  A sign from Itchy’s Pizzaria — Everything is made from scratch!

2.  A sign next to a casino parking garage:  No Stopping.  Just below that sign, a STOP sign!

3.  A freeway exit sign:  Las Vegas Boulevard (Strip).  Maybe that explains all the naked drivers in Las Vegas!

I captured photos of all three of those signs before they were removed.  All three signs are now gone.  You need to keep your radar tuned.  Sometimes the photo ops are fleeting.

Looking for humorous signs when traveling abroad usually offers something to smile about.  Here is a link to some signs which are lost in translation.  I’m sure tourists to the USA find humor in our signs which have translations in their native language.  Probably more so, because Americans are some of the least likely people in the world to be bi-lingual. 

When it comes to humor, keep your eyes focused on the signs around you…and always carry a camera.  Signs are a great place to find a laugh or two.

Observational Humor — Case Study #24

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Normally when I present an Observational Humor monologue at a Toastmasters meeting, I almost never present all of the ideas that pop into my head.  In the following monologue, I created only 5 lines from the 12 ideas that I came up with.

SET-UP (what was said or what happened at the meeting before I presented the monologue)

1.  Someone mentioned Moses from the Bible.

2.  During the Observational Humor part of the meeting, a member opened his observations with the fact that, because I always brought a clip board to the meeting, he decided to bring one that evening.

3.  That meeting, instead of my normal clipboard, I had brought a large notepad of paper to write on.

4.  We had a celebration-type cake.  It had someone’s name on it.  Someone had jokingly requested to be served a piece of cake with his own name on it.

5.  Someone in the dating scene said that she was in search of an enlightened man.

6.  A new member of the club mentioned that he had bought some sexy wine glasses.

7.  Someone mentioned that there was nothing to do in their hometown except to have a Bar-B-Que with the neighbors.

THE MONOLOGUE

I’m Moses.  And I brought my tablet.
(I combined two elements from the meeting.  Without saying it, I noted that I had not brought my normal clipboard.  I linked the writing tablet that I did bring, with Moses, who came down from the mountain with two tablets.)

I wanted a piece of cake with my name on it too.  But since they didn’t have one, I made do by eating it in the John.
(Light self-deprecation, making fun of my own name.)

I woke up this morning…jumped out of bed…and looked in the bathroom mirror hoping to find an enlightened man.  Oh well, there is always tomorrow.
(Self-deprecation, suggesting that I was less than enlightened.)

Steve…I’ve never had any sexy wine glasses.  But I do have a really hot corkscrew.  We should get together sometime.
(The member’s comment about the sexy glasses got a laugh when he said it.  Corkscrew is a funny word.  This line approached the edge, but I decided it was OK to use it.  The line received a good laugh.)

I grew up in a neighborhood of cannibals.  It was a boring town.  They rolled up their sidewalks at 8pm.  There was nothing to do except “bar-b-que the neighbors.”
(A good twist of words.  A good closing line.)

Creative Humor Writing — Joke Contest

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

The theme for our May Joke Writing Contest is Quirky Corporate Sponorships.

It’s common these days to see a corporation’s name on a facility as trade for a financial contribution.  It’s a form of advertising.  For example: 
Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego
Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas
Staples Center in Los Angeles

What if Tinker Stadium in Orlando picked up a new sponsor and became Tinker Toy Stadium?

What if the federal government decided to balance the national budget by finding sponsors for buildings in Washington DC?  You could visit The White Castle House.  And while you were there you could tour The Ovaltine Office, The Lincoln Log Bedroom and the Bose Garden.

What kind of corporate sponsorships can you come up with?  Switch on your imagination. 

Collect your best lines and submit them to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by May 30, 2008.

Writing a Joke — Contest Results

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

It’s time for the results from our April Quirky Sports Teams joke contest.

New joke contests are announced on the 15th of the month.

New cartoon caption contests are announced on the first of the month.

Here are the top lines:

** FIRST PLACE **

A cricket team with a vitamin C deficiency — The Rickety Crickets
     Martyn Bernstein, Oak Park, Illinois, USA

** SECOND PLACE **

A team of spendthrifts who like to max out their credit cards — The Sans Dinero Chargers
     Takeshi Young, San Jose, California, USA

** THIRD PLACE **

Texan hot air balloon racers — The Ballast Cowboys
     Abel Goddard, Cedar Hill, Texas, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

– A team of cooks from Kansas — The Kansas City Chefs
– A team of sluggards from Wisconsin — The Green Bay Slackers
– A team of forest navigators — The Oak Land Radars
– A team who uses second-hand uniforms — The Old Jersey Nets
– A team of barbers from LA — The Los Angeles Clippers
– A racecar team of drug junkies — The Speed Racers
– A basketball team of stock market investors — The Chicago Bulls and Bears
– A fishing team of geometricians — The Right Anglers
– An olympic team of Polish athletes — The Pole Vaulters
– A skating team who lives dangerously — The Thin Ice Skaters
– An olympic team of small golfers — The Short Putters
– An equistrian team of underwear models — The Jockeys
– A body building team of lewd and vulgar musclemen — The Bawdy Builders
– A boardgame team of oriental inspectors — The Chinese Checkers
– A darts team of star wars fans — the Dart Vaders
– A Czechoslovakian basketball team for fraud artists — The Czech Bouncers
– The Bear-Stearns Downhill Racers
– A baseball team of Ohio communists — The Cincinnati Reds
– A debating team of entomologists — The Tick Talkers
– A bowling team of fast, accurate bowlers —  The Lightning Strikes
– A football team for East Coast comedians — The New York Jests
– A baseball team of landscapers — The Houston Astro-turfs
– A baseball team for oil well owners — The San Antonio Spurts
– A football team for crazy people — The Baltimore Raven-Maniacs
– A Bicycle club for old maids — The Spinsters
– Hang Gliding for Pedicurists — The Hang Nail Gliders

Laughing With Friends

Monday, May 12th, 2008

“You’re the average of the five people you hang out with most.”  I love that quote from Jack Canfield.

Who do I hang out with?  Let me introduce you to five of my friends.  We are disc (Frisbee) golf buddies.  Once a week we tee off at 6:00 am and spend two hours walking the disc golf course set up in a public park.  Here are our regular players:

Jim Jackson (Immediate Past President of Las Vegas Chapter National Speakers Assn)
Darren LaCroix (Winner 2001 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking)
Steve Pavlina (popular blogger, Personal Development For Smart People)
Bryant Pergerson (Finalist 2007 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking)
S Frank Stringham (Music Director of the Las Vegas Improvisation Players, appeared on the opening show of Season-One America’s Got Talent)
John Kinde (Little old me)

What does this group have in common…besides playing disc golf together?  They all happen to be speakers, entertainers or bloggers.  But more importantly, they all have a great sense of humor and are fun to hang out with. 

We take the game seriously.  We have spreadsheets with score averages and win/loss percentages.  But our primary goal is exercise and fun.

We didn’t break any records this morning…unless you count a disc stuck on an awning with two water bottles.  It wasn’t until Steve took off his belt, the closest thing we had to a rope, that a maintenance man came by with a golf cart and a rake to rescue us.  Once the second water bottle got stuck, I think we broke the record for laughs.

People either lift you up or drag you down.  Who do you hang out with?  Do they make you feel good?  Do they make you laugh?  Do they whine and complain?  Do you spend too much time with toxic people?  Does your circle of friends need an extreme makeover? 

What kind of a friend are you?  Are you a magnet for positive thoughts?  Do you gossip?  Are you an asset in other people’s lives?  Do you bring smiles to your friends?  Do you need to change your own behavior? 

Food for thought.  You become the people you hang out with…and the people you hang out with become you!

Observational Humor — Case Study #23

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Here is another Observational Humor monologue from a Toastmasters meeting.

THE SET-UP (what happened and what was said during the meeting before the monologue was delivered)

1.  Our club has an AH Counter (many clubs do).  The job of the AH Counter is to count audible pauses:  AHs and Umms.  Our AH counter also counts the unnecessary times we say AND, SO, WELL, YOU KNOW, etc.  I was caught saying WELL a few times too many.

2.  Eric Culverson presented a great tall tales speech.  He won the district contest this past weekend.  At the time this monologue was written, I was also in the running for Tall Tales.  Both of our Tall Tales speeches used a cell phone to take imaginary phone calls during our talks.  Eric’s Tall Tale was about running for President.  He took calls from Clinton and Obama during his speech.

3.  Eeric had a visual aid which didn’t fit well on his easel.  It fell off.  He got lots of laughs from the mistake.

4.  We have lots of funny people in our club.  The speech evaluators (who always present before the Observational Humor session) were especially funny.

5.  A speaker told a joke about a fence around a cemetery.  The fence was there because people were dying to get in.

THE MONOLOGUE

Let me do another Ronald Reagan impersonation:  “Well…”

If I compete against Eric again, I have a secret weapon.  I have an easel that’s worse than his.

I learned from watching Eric’s speech.  I’m going to use the cell phone more than once.

(answering cell phone)  Hello…oh Hillary!  Yes, you were right.  He IS talking to Obama.

My rhythm was thrown off today.   The evaluators were funnier than get free ringtones for my cell phone | free ringtones for prepaid phone | free metro pcs ringtones | mobile phone ringtones | free cingular ringtones | cricket ringtones | free ringtones for verizon phone | download ringtones motorola | free make own ringtones | send free ringtones to your phone | free nokia mp3 ringtones | free motorola razr ringtones | free make own ringtones | download free cricket ringtones | free ringtones and wallpaper | free polyphonic ringtones download | ringtones for sprint phone | nextel ringtones | cell phone ringtones | free jamster ringtones | the speakers.

My first Toastmasters club didn’t have an AH counter.  We had a Geiger Counter.  We kept track of every time someone said GEIGER.

There must be something wrong with me.  Today I passed by a cemetery with no fence around it…and I had no urge to get in.

How To Be Funny

Monday, May 5th, 2008

Play It Big — Play It Small

Some speaking, comedy, and drama coaches insist that humor plays best when it’s played big.  At the same time other coaches insist that small is the key, Less-Is-More.  Sometimes the truth lies in the middle, combining elements of exaggeration with elements of minimalism it’s possible to create magic.  And yet, it’s possible that the power doesn’t lie in the middle, but exists at both ends of the spectrum…at the same time.

I create my humor on the platform at the small end of the scale.  For me, less is more.  Playing something over-the-top would come across as untruthful…for me.  And what is big for me, if I experiment with playing big on the improv stage, is nowhere near the definition of big for most players.  But my style works for me.  And even on the improv stage, my performance characteristics are strengths for the troupe as a whole.  I can do more by doing less than most other players in our troupe.

By contrast, there is the style of my good friend, and Musical Director of our improv troupe, S Frank Stringham.  He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met.  He’s bigger than life in his physical movement, vocal variety, and facial expression.  We stand at totally opposite ends of the performance-style spectrum. 

Sometimes a person’s performance style is best described by comparing it with the styles of well-known performers.  I asked S which performers’ styles were inspirations to him.  His response included the names of playing-it-big performers:

“Steve Martin is, and has always been, my influence for playing-it-big,” says S.  “When Martin was doing straight stand-up comedy, not only was he wild-and-crazy, he was unique and original.  Add to that the fact that he used his other talents as a musician (banjo/singer), magician and balloon artist to enhance his act.  He hasn’t used BIG humor, as much, in the movies he has made, except for his first movie, The Jerk, and cameo appearances in movies and TV shows like the Muppet Movie, Little Shop of Horrors, and Saturday Night Live.  What amazes me most about Steve Martin is how smart he is.  His parody of Cyrano De Bergerac into Roxanne was genius.”
 
Another influence on S was Dick Van Dyke.  “He used playing-it-big as a family medium, entertaining the adults as well as the children with his incredible rubbery style of dancing (Mary Poppins with the penguins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s ‘The Ol’ Bamboo’ and ‘Truly Scrumptious’), his pratfalls on The Dick Van Dyke Show or his early days of great facial expressions as a story teller on television.”
 
S continues, “Finally, kudos have to go to Jim Carrey…even before he was discovered in movies such as The Mask or Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, he was my main reason for watching the television show In Living Color.  This man knows how to play-it-big and he does it with style, aptitude, and panache.  One of the things that I admire most about Jim Carrey is that he never seems to repeat a gag.  I’ve often thought to myself how disappointed I would be if he started doing what some comedians do, and that is to try and fall back on, and reuse, some of their earlier material that worked.  Jim Carrey has NOT done that, which I find very refreshing and admirable.”

In contrast to the experience S described, I can’t say that I’ve had a role model for developing my humor style.  But I can certainly identify funny people that I’ve liked and who may have sub-consciously influenced my humor development.  Some performers I’ve admired and consider somewhat similar in performing style to my own are:  Jack Benny, Steven Wright, Bob Newhart and Johnny Carson.  The deliberate delivery of Will Rogers also resonates with me.  Their styles are closer to the understated style that works for me.  They mastered the use of the pause, which is usually a strength of a person who plays it small

Jack Benny is famous (as is Johnny Carson) for his reacting to a punchline with a slow turn of the head.  He was one of the best at playing the long, tension-building pause to add power to his comedy.  His classic robbery skit, first played on his radio show in 1948, showcased the power of a strong character combined with the pause.  Benny was returning home when he was confronted by a mugger.  After asking for a match to light a cigarette, the mugger said:  “Don’t make a move.  This is a stickup.  Your money or your life.”  Benny paused and, well aware of his tightwad character, the audience laughed.  The mugger came back with, “I said your money or your life!”  Benny’s response:  “I’m thinking it over!”  A huge laugh.  George Burns had said that Jack Benny was funnier when he wasn’t saying anything.  The power of less-is-more.

Bob Newhart’s one-sided telephone conversations were great examples of the pause being used to magnify the laughter.   He would pause while the audience was left to imagine what the person on the other end of the phone was saying.  And Johnny Carson had a slow take style similar to Jack Benny, squeezing every bit of laughter out of a punchline.

The style S uses is true to his character and personality.  My style is true to me.  If either of us were to try to copy the style of the other, it would be funny…because it would be so unfunny. 

However that’s not to say that the two of us could not learn from each other.  An occasional stretch into the territory of bigness would add variety and power to what I do.  Patricia Fripp often quotes Ron Arden:  “The enemy of the speaker is sameness.”  Predictability can equal boring.  So it is, too, for the over-the-top performer who uses an occasional minimalist technique.  He or she may find that the diversion from one’s strength might be a high point of one’s performance.

TRIAL AND ERROR

We often settle into a comfortable performance style by experimenting to see what works.  Because of our own character traits and personality style, either the big style or the small style is often a better fit for us.  In time, our track record of success helps us to develop a style that becomes ingrained.  Our natural style evolves and becomes second nature, like riding a bicycle.  S can’t help but be big.  It’s a habit.  Likewise, being small is automatic behavior for me.

S adds, “Personally, I think that I like playing it big, because I don’t trust my audience to ‘get’ my jokes if I play-it-small.  I’ve done enough gigs where I tried playing-it-small.  When I do that, I bomb.  I’m sure there are two reasons, at least, for that:
    1)  I think deeper, or maybe the word is more esoterically, than most people.  It takes a certain kind of mind to understand where I am coming from, and I find few audiences that can relate to me.
    2) I’ve always relied on pratfalls and gesticulations to get my point across…and I think that people understand that about me, so when I say something funny that isn’t accompanied by a gesture or a facial expression, people don’t know that they’re supposed to laugh…even if they think that what I said is funny.  So over-the-top is the way for me…playing-it-big!  When done right, a person can get big laughs without even saying anything.”

Like S, I’ve developed my personal style through trial and error.  Some funny people have the reputation for being the class clown while growing up.  When I was a kid, I wasn’t particularly funny.  I really didn’t start to study and learn humor skills until I was 29.  I was a magician and wanted to add humor to my magic shows.  Bigger-than-life was just not me.  I was a quiet, laid-back, North Dakota Norwegian kid who started applying humor techniques on top of a less-is-more personality.  I evolved into a dry, low-key style by accident more than by intentional design.  I stayed true to my personality and the style developed out of that.

THE INTELLECTUAL STYLE

S observes, “It seems to me that the intelligent comedians usually do the playing-it-small gig, but Steve Martin (who is smart), and I (I consider myself smart, too) play bigger.  For me, I may just play it big because I am big, but no…I played it big from the time I was a little tyke.”

I agree, neither big nor small players own the market on intelligence.  Because of the very nature of humor (being analytical and making fresh connections), humor people, regardless of performance style, are smart people.  And there is certainly no disconnect with being big or physical and being smart.  Most people I know who are gifted physically and athletically are also gifted intellectually.  The assumption that jocks are dummies is a myth.  The masters of the physical just approach the creative process from a different angle than their more cerebral friends.  Both are intelligent.

WHAT IT MEANS

Know who you are.  Play from where you are.  Experiment to confirm what works best for you.  Master your foundation of either big or small style.  Then learn from people who are different from you.  Not only should you study artists who have your style but look for opportunities borrow from performers who are different from you to add a dash of seasoning, to sprinkle just a bit of variety into your performance.  Have the courage to step outside yourself occasionally. 

Your strength may come from big.  It may come from small.  Or it may come from a combination of both.  But the most important thing is that it comes from truth.  You can only be you.  That’s what will make your style uniquely you and give you power on the platform.