Archive for December, 2008

Being Funny — Cartoon Caption Contest

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Our December cartoon was very popular.  We had over 400 entries.  Our panel of 10 judges (improv players and speakers) picked the winners.  We had a tie for first place.

Our cartoonist is Dan Rosandich.  Check out his web site for information on how he can create custom cartoons for your next special project, book, flyer, web site, T-shirt, and more.

We announce a new Cartoon Caption Contest tomorrow.

Our next Joke Writing Contest is announced on January 15.

Here are this month’s top entries:

** FIRST PLACE ** (A Tie for Two Entries)

When the Club said we’d get a bar code I thought it would be a secret knock!
     Grace MacGregor, Salwa, Kuwait
For the millionth time, you haven’t yet expired!
     Raul De la Vega, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines


So this is the government’s answer to identity theft?
     Lisa Benson, Buffalo, New York, USA


I hate this new barcode dating system. The women just scan the room and they know everything about you!
     Rae Nell Krusen, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – And they say vertical stripes make you look thinner!
  – My personal preference would have been the blinking sign.
  – I hate those scanners.  Remember when we used names?
  – You call this innovation? Proactive? The boss simply can’t remember names and personal data.
  – I have no recollection of what we did last night. I hope it was worth it.
  – I only said to her that the checkout was a little slow today.
  – The new security measures seem to have gone a little far.
  – I feel like I’m going through an identity crisis.
  – I can’t get the cost of living out of my head.
  – What separates us from animals is our individuality.
  – Can you believe it!  My wife sold me just for two dollars.
  – George McBaldy: At least your hair partially covers it.
  – You just had to upset the big guy behind the cash register, didn’t you!
  – I know! I know!  Wanting to get a unique tattoo while we were drunk seemed like a good idea!
  – I don’t know about marriage in this new millennium.  Whatever happened to a simple ‘I do’ and a ring?
  – I was hoping the 666 would go on our forehead and the barcode on our hand.
  – Instant comb-over bangs, my eye!
  – I should’ve known there’d be a catch when the bank began offering free checking accounts.
  – Face it Son, forget about an acting career.  You were born to be a retailer like the rest of the family.
  – How in the BEEP did they know it was us?
  – First it was ethics, now honour…I’m up to here with codes
  – They’re all wrong Fred, we’re friends, not code dependent!
  – Now let them say we wear our hearts on our sleeves!
  – Do they think we’ve got IDIOT tattooed on our foreheads?
  – We’d better run!  There’s a price on our heads.
  – If I could understand your code, I could read your mind.  Otherwise, just tell me.
  – I only hope this price on our heads has an expiration date!
  – My wife says if I don’t lose some weight she is going to exchange me for a smaller size.
  – I’ve been marked down for the third time.  I’ve never been this low.
  – I don’t see how anyone could confuse us.  I’m 00014986259 and you’re 00014986259 Junior.
  – Well, at least you don’t expire next month.
  – Now my wife can track me wherever I go.  I got the seven-year-itch, but I don’t dare scratch.
  – Your mother and I considered several names for you, but then we just settled on 004925693569 Jr.
  – They said this would attract women.
  – I thought the speedier check out at the grocery would be worth it.
  – Why did we think getting drunk was the cool thing to do?
  – Not only are we not identical twins with this strange birthmark.  I happen to be the one with no hair.  So don’t complain to me.
  – This was your big idea.  “We’ll never need to carry ID cards ever again”,  you said.   Big hairy deal.
  – The latest, newest fad.  The cutting edge.  We will stand out from the crowd.  Am I quoting you correctly?
  – So now when the girls walk up just rub your head on their stomachs and if you hear a “Ding” they have bought it.
  – Yeah we are from SCANada . What’s it to ya?
  – I told you alcohol and tattoos don’t mix.
  – I am never playing tag with a librarian again
  – If one more person asks for my ISBN, I’m going to flip out!
  – I didn’t realize that St. Peter had gone digital until now.
  – Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
  – Never, never let the doctor run that scan on us again.
  – They say no two humans are alike.
  – Were staying out of that bar.
  – Damn, that girl just checked us out.
  – Well I guess that this is proof that we are unique.
  – I told you we shouldn’t nap on the production line.
  – The next time we decide to get tattoos, I pick the design.
  – Read my mind!
  – Now do you think we’ll be universally accepted?
  – I found my long lost brother in an old bookstore.
  – I need a fake ID to get into the bar.
  – Yeah they threw the book at me.
  – Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  – I never thought I would be in a situation where being called “You are just a statistic” would have been much better.

Public Speakers — Being Funny

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

How do we, as public speakers, know what’s funny?

I was recently asked:  “What do you look for when searching for a funny punchline?”  Who is the best judge of what is funny?  Me?  You?  The audience?  There is no simple answer.  The art and science of humor is complex.  To figure out whether or not a line is funny…and how funny…you must look at the structure of the line, the word choice, the timing, the physical delivery, the common knowledge of the audience, and more. 

I’m a pretty good judge of what’s funny.  But what might be funny when I deliver it, might NOT be funny when you use the line.  And your best line might fall flat if I were to use it.  My audience is not your audience.  My style is not your style.  You may live in a different city or country.  You may have a high-energy style rather than an low-key style like mine.  Because of the complexity of humor, the only way you’ll know for certain whether or not a punchline is funny is to try it on a live audience.  Sometimes a joke will work, sometimes it will bomb. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle.  Falling teaches you how to stay on the bike.

When a line doesn’t work, make a note.  Take a serious look at the line and analyze why it didn’t work and what you could do to improve it.  If the line does work, make a note for future reference, “I guessed right!”  Trial and error will show you the path to choosing funnier lines.  After you pass enough lines by a live audience you’ll begin to internalize the skill of knowing what is funny and what isn’t.  And remember, YOU are not the judge of what is funny…the audience is the judge.  The skill of knowing what’s funny is the skill of knowing what THE AUDIENCE will think is funny. 

Sometimes you’ll realize that something is funny even when you, personally, don’t think it’s very funny.  What matters is the opinion of the audience and the trick is knowing “what will be the audience reaction,” before you deliver the line.  The only way of knowing the answer is to take a hopefully-funny line and test drive it.  That’s one of the great things about Observational Humor.  When you work on developing that skill, you’re always testing out lines which you created, and getting immediate feedback.  It’s the best way to learn what’s funny and what isn’t.

Office Humor — Fun In The Workplace

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

The workplace should not be all work and no play.  To have fun at the office we need to be able to laugh at our mistakes.

Sixteen years ago my marketing director and good friend Connie handled all my speaking booking and correspondence.  We had a second office set up in her home and she handled the administrative end of my business.

In preparing confirmation letters for upcoming engagements, we would include the closing sentence:  “Please sign a copy of this letter of agreement and return to us to confirm the engagement date.”

Of course, Connie would always run the letter through the spell checker to ensure there were no spelling errors.  Once blessed by the spell checker, we knew everything was perfect.  One day a signed letter was returned to us and we discovered that the meeting planner had been instructed to “SING a copy of the letter.”  The meeting planner had SIGNED it, but we always wondered if she also SANG the letter before returning it!

We laughed about that incident for years.  Spell checkers are nice, but we learned first-hand the funny situations which can happen if you totally depend on them.

That reminds me of the ODE TO A SPELL CHECKER by Jerrold H Zar which starts:

Eye halve a spelling check her,
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye kin knot sea.

As a side note:  I asked Connie (16 years ago) if she would like to enroll in an English class at the local college and that I would pay for the tuition.  Since she had not attended college, she loved the idea.  After she completed the first class, she enrolled herself in another.  And another.  Three years ago Connie received her Masters Degree in English!  I’m sure the Chancellor of the University wanted to SING her diploma!  Congratulations Connie.

Laughing at your mistakes is a positive thing and can lead to wonderful results.

Public Speakers — Be Funny By Doing Less

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Less is More.  As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet:  “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  This especially applies to public speakers.  And it applies to using humor.

1.  Brevity makes strong structure.  The punchline is the payoff.  Traditional wisdom is that the shortest distance between the setup and the payoff is best.  When a story has a long set up before getting to the joke, it’s said that the punchline is carrying a lot of baggage.  Top comedians work hard on writing a tight setup because it’s the most effective way to structure a joke.

2.  Brevity clarifies.  The key to humor is relationships and connections.  Concise writing helps to make crystal clear the precise words that need to be connected to activate the joke.  Doing more results in confusing clutter.

3.  Brevity gives focus.  Wordiness makes for noise that can hide the punch word or the punch line.  That’s why the punchline and the punch word normally go last.  It puts the spotlight and focus on the key words.  Anything added after that only camouflages the joke and confuses the mind.

4.  Brevity creates scarcity.  The person who is trying to be funny all the time, wears out his welcome.  People get tired of the showboating.  The person who is selectively funny wins.  Scarcity creates value.  It wins the attention and admiration of others.

5.  Brevity teaches discipline.  By selecting only the best jokes and delivering only the best lines, you develop the discipline of knowing which lines are funnier.  When you blurt out all your funny thoughts, you’re not having the mental exercise of filtering out the weak lines.  Being selective will make you a funnier person because it will make you a better judge of good humor.

6.  Brevity makes you appear funnier.  The person who self-selects and uses only the best lines can appear to be funny most of the time.  The person who insists on sharing all lines, strong and weak, will appear to be funny a smaller percentage of the time.  I’d rather be known as a person who delivers a gem nearly every time he speaks, than someone who speaks all the time and is occasionally funny.  One skill set is attractive.  One stands a good chance of being annoying.

Santa Claus — Joke Contest

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Did you ever wonder what Santa does after Christmas?  Here’s your chance to find out.  It’s your challenge to tell us exactly how he spends the off season.  This is a contest inspired by Sol Morrison from Santa Barbara.

We announce new joke contests mid-month.

And we announce new cartoon caption contests on the 1st of the month.

Here are some sample lines of where the Santa contest could take you:

  – He shaves his beard and for six months works as a Chippendale dancer in Las Vegas.
  – He goes back to Washington DC where he is a Senator from a small mid-western state.
  – She takes off her costume and starts rehearsal for the next Rosie O’Donnell show.

It’s time for you to exercise your creativity.  Write as many lines as you can think of.  Sleep on them.  Rewrite and improve the lines.  Creating good humor is often a numbers game.  Go for quantity first, then work on quality.  Select your best lines and submit them to by December 30, 2008.

Joke Contest Results — Creative Humor Writing

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

It’s time for the results of the Alternative TV Joke Contest

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

And new Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of each month.

Here are this month’s top lines:


Desperate Houseflies:  Animal Planet special explores the perilous lives of suburban houseflies.

     Gary Bachman, Hagerstown, Maryland, USA


Supper Man:  Amazing feats of Culinary speed and power, as the Man of Steel goes up against The Iron Chef for control of the Universe.

     Sol Morrison, Santa Barbara, California, USA


Two and a Half Men Six Feet Under:  The search for half a body continues.

     Gerald Fleischmann, Fountain Valley, California, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – Star Trek Honeymooners:  Ralph and Alice both go to the Moon.
  – E R Cops:  The city’s finest, doing their best to keep malpractice to a minimum.
  – Survivor of Gilligan’s Island: The Millionaire!
  – 3rd Rock from the Sun:  Manhattan is proved to be the center of the universe.
  – Star Trek M*A*S*H:  Treating space sickness across the galaxy in the 23rd century.
  – The Dukes of Hazzard Meet the Press:  Red necks and yellow journalism get together weekly.
  – House Without A Trace:  Sixty minutes of high powered vacuum cleaner commercials every week.
  – I Love Losers:  All the losing November election candidates compete for Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
  – How I Met Your Mother on The Streets of San Francisco:  A man recounts to his two children how he met their mother on a street corner in San Francisco.
  – Knitting with the Stars:  Celebrities compete to create the most beautiful afghan.
  – Wall Street Blues:  A look at the recent decline in the stock market.
  – Love Boat Wife Swap:  Swingers frolic aboard a luxury cruise ship.
  – Mad About Ewe:  Discovery Channel special explores the life of the sheep herder.
  – Ex-Men:  The ups and downs in the lives of three men who underwent a sex change.
  – The Three Stooges:  An in-depth interview with the CEO’s of GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
  – Green Acres And Ham:  Sam-I-Am down on the Farm, bothering everyone to taste his delicacies.
  – Eater’s  Digest:  On the Cooking Network, this program comes on at end showing just what all that food looks like going thru your Digestive Tract.
  – Two and a Half Men:  A & E Biography on the life of  Al Gore.

Observational Humor — Case Study #30

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Here’s another Observational Humor Monologue presented at a Toastmasters meeting.  If you’re not a Toastmaster, keep in mind that these case studies apply equally to any speaking situation:  A business meeting, a networking meeting, a PTA meeting, and more.  And your end goal is not to create monologues, but to sharpen your ability to create just one Observational Humor line to open a presentation.

This is a long and excellent monologue.  It was presented at the end of a high-energy meeting with about 35 members and guests present.

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

1.  The theme of the meeting was generated by the visit of Kai Steinbach who lives in Spain.  The meeting’s theme was:  Coming To America.

2.  Kai served as our General Evaluator (someone who critiques the conduct of the entire meeting).  Some of the comments he made:
  –  He noted that this was a funny club.  He said that he had been to other clubs where you find that occasionally a speaker is funny.  In this club, he noted that you have to look hard for a speaker who ISN’T funny.
  – He noted that time limits for our impromptu speeches (30-90 seconds) were shorter than what many other clubs use (one to two minutes).

3.  Immediately after Kai’s General Evaluator Report, he introduced me, the Observational Humor Master.

4.  Bryant Pergerson gave a talk on how to write a speech.  He took suggestions from the audience to create a speech on the spot.  It ended up being a speech about Aliens.  One of the questions asked was, “Do aliens gamble?”

5.  Bryant commented on the coincidence that my last two contest speeches were about Space Aliens and Gambling.

6.  Bryant was sitting in the front of the room.  His son, visiting from out-of-state, was sitting in the back of the room.  Their last name is Pergerson.

7.  The person assigning impromptu speech topics to members, gave a topic to a member whose name he didn’t know.  He said, “You…Sir.”   This was later critiqued by the General Evaluator who suggested that we use name badges.

8.  A member mentioned Area 51, the Top Secret government area where Space Alien research is allegedly conducted.

9.  My Tall Tales speech last spring was about Space Aliens and I “came out” as a space alien.

10.  S Frank Stringham, The Toastmaster (emcee) of the meeting, introduced a speaker saying that the speaker’s goal was to eventually give a competition speech what would beat a speech given by S Frank Stringham.

11.  This fall I won First Place in our club humor contest.  S Frank Stringham also competed in that contest.

12.  Inspired by the meeting theme (Coming to America), the subjects that came up during the meeting were:  Columbus, Indian Reservations, Is the world flat?

13.  Someone commented that if someone from the other side of the world were dropped into the middle of Las Vegas, they wouldn’t know what to think of it.

14.  People who have been to Las Vegas and walked the famous Las Vegas Strip are familiar with the people on the sidewalks who pass out “adult entertainment–escort flyers.”  To get your attention, before they try to hand you a flyer, they hold the flyer in one hand and flap it on the open palm of their other hand.

15.  A speaker gave a speech about a guy on a date who had an accident in his pants.  What he thought was going to be gas turned out to be a solid.  And he was wearing tan pants.


I have this uncomfortable feeling that I’ll be the first one tonight who isn’t funny.
(My first two jokes followed on the heels of the Master Evaluator’s comments.  My monologue was written as I listened to his remarks, and I created my first two lines in my head just before I was introduced.  Opening with something that just happened is a great way to open your remarks.)

Our observational remarks tonight will be one to two seconds in length.
(This is the second line I was talking about.  I took the “short impromptu speech” remark to an extreme and applied it to the Observational Humor segment.)

As the expert…Yes…Aliens gamble. 
(The pauses built the tension for the punchline.  It combined the content of Bryant’s talk with an implied reference to my two previous contest talks.)

When I came to the meeting tonight, I had no idea Bryant would be writing my next speech.
(Stating what seemed to be a pretty obvious connection.)

It’s great to have the Perger family here tonight.  In the front of the room is the Perger-Dad and in the back of the room is the Perger-Son.
(Their real name is Pergerson.  I couldn’t resist playing with the name.)

Does anyone have any observational humor tonight.  Yes…You sir!
(A medium but good response.  The weakest line of the monologue.)

I came to America…from Area 51.  I’m proud to be the original alien.
(A call back to my Tall Tales Speech.)

I have a goal to give a humorous speech that will beat a humorous speech by S Frank Stringham.
(A call back using parallel construction.)

Wait…I’ve already done that.  (taking pen and boldly crossing an item off my list)  Don’t you just love crossing something off your To-Do List?
(Since this line was actually a topper, it was unexpected, and that gave it more power.  A huge laugh.)

Columbus discovered America…and all the people who were already living here. 
(Stating the obvious is funny.)

Actually the world is flat.  It may look round, but it isn’t.  A pie looks round…but everyone knows that Pie-R-Square.
(A connection between FLAT and the sides of a SQUARE.  I used a cliche mathematical term to drive the joke.)

I attended the District Conference two weeks ago.  I had trouble checking into the hotel.  They asked where I was from.  I told them Las Vegas.  The CITY of Las Vegas, they asked?  Yes.  “I’m sorry…you can’t check in unless you have a reservation.”
(The subject of Reservations was brought up several times during the meeting.  The line received a strong response.)

If you drop a stranger into the middle of Las Vegas, I don’t think they’d have any trouble understanding the Neon Lights, the Volcano, the Fountains.  But I don’t think they’d understand the guys in front of the hotels…(doing the flap gesture with a flyer.  Then I shrugged as if “who would ever understand something like that.”  Just the gesture with no words.)

I learned something tonight.  This is the last time I’ll ever wear tan pants!
(It happened that I WAS wearing tan pants.  I knew that the “accident in the pants” speech would be the topic of many jokes that evening.  And it was, maybe 10 or 12 jokes during the meeting…some of them extremely funny.  Except for my closing line, I intentionally avoided the topic in my monologue.  The first reason is that the joke would be too easy.  Second, the joke would be worn out by the time I used it.  Third, I’m inclined to stay away from jokes that involve bodily functions, although I must admit they can be very funny.)

When Humor Mis-Fires (Part Three)

Friday, December 5th, 2008

I was ready to deliver an Observational Humor line at a meeting, following another speaker.  The other speaker had shared a quote, ” Find out what everyone else is doing…and don’t do it.”  Great advice for people who want to be creative and competitive.

I decided to twist the line and felt the humor was safe, because the speaker was one of my best friends and I was sure he would know “I was just kidding.”  Here’s the line:

“The previous speaker suggested that we find out what everyone else is doing…and don’t do it.  I like the way he walks his talk.  He noticed that everyone here has been getting better at using humor…so he hasn’t.”  It had never occurred to me that this joke could mis-fire.  It got a good laugh, but as soon as I returned to my seat, I had second thoughts about using the line.

I wouldn’t use a joke targeted to someone I didn’t know well.  You can’t intelligently guess how it will be received.

And I wouldn’t use a joke targeted to someone I knew well but who I thought could be offended.

But when it comes to one of your best friends, it’s easy to get lazy in your judgment of how the joke will be received.  I knew the line was not coming from truth.  Not everyone in the club had been getting better at humor.  And my friend was one of the most eloquent speakers in the group and skilled at humor.  In fact that evening, he delivered a humorous observation that was the most repeated line of the meeting.  So neither the set-up nor the punchline were true.  But just because I understand that doesn’t mean that someone else will also know that.

Maybe I was initially less aware of the possibilities of the joke being off target because the speaker was one of my best friends.  But another factor to consider is that a joke, which has some bite to it, may make the audience uncomfortable.

We think that just because WE wouldn’t be offended, THEY won’t be.

And if the target of the joke is our best friend, we know that he or she wouldn’t normally be offended, but we don’t know how their day is going.

If I’m not sure how a line will be received, I’ll almost always leave it out.  But after doing the line, I had this funny feeling that it wasn’t right.  Nobody had said anything.  Maybe it was just me.  Anyway, after the meeting, I sent an Email to my friend apologizing for a “mis-firing joke”

And then again, sometimes we beat our self up.  Maybe the email apology was just for me.  As it turned out, my friend didn’t need it.  We had lunch a week later and he said it wasn’t a problem.  In fact, he didn’t even remember it.  It looked like the issue was all in MY head!

As a result of this experience, I started thinking it might be possible to take a joke about another person and twist the joke to make it about ME.  I could have done that, but it never occurred to me.  “I love the advice ‘Find out what everyone else is doing…and don’t do it.’  I noticed that everyone in the club was getting better at humor…so I haven’t.”  Like the first joke, also not true.  It’s a good joke.  But for sure, it’s much less risky, since it’s about me.

Sometimes the funniest material comes from going to the edge.  But the important thing is that you’re able to see the red flags before you fall off the cliff.  And always err on the side of caution. But occasionally you won’t see the warning flags.  And when you make a mistake…apologize. And don’t kick yourself around the block more than once!

Creative Humor Writing — Cartoon Caption Contest

Monday, December 1st, 2008

It’s December.  Time flies.  And it’s time for our new Cartoon Caption Contest featuring the artwork of  Dan Rosandich.

Our caption contests are announced on the first of the month.

And we announce new joke contests in the middle of the month.

Here is this month’s cartoon with one sample caption:

I just know we have a book inside of us.

Here’s your challenge.  Write as many captions as you can.  Rewrite them to sharpen the humor.  Select your best ones and submit them to by December 14, 2008.

Check out Dan Rosandich’s web site for information on how he can create custom cartoons for your next project, book, newsletter, brochure, T-Shirt and more.