Topping a Joke

I competed in the District 33, Division C, International Speech Contest yesterday.  Five excellent speeches.  I placed second behind Bryant Pergerson, an international stage finalist from two years ago.  A very competitive contest.

One of the most fun parts of a contest is always the contestant interview.  I was the fifth speaker (the last speaking slot) and the speaker before me was Bryant.  During the interview he was asked, “Is there anyone you would like to recognize?”

He responded by listing the names of four or five people he wanted to thank.  And then added:  “And Pam” (his partner).  It received a good laugh, since it appeared that he mentioned her  as an afterthought.  Earlier in the event Pam had a major role as Emcee of the Tall Tales Contest where her humor was a hit.  She also received the Division C Toastmaster of the Year Award.  Both Bryant and Pam are well-known and well-liked Toastmasters in the Las Vegas community.  And both are good friends of mine.  I mention those factors because they are relevant when you’re considering making a joke which involves someone else.

My contestant interview followed Bryant’s.  I had considered the possibility of recycling an interview line from last year, a line which is perfect if you are the contestant speaking in the last slot of the contest.  I then planned to top it with a new Observational Humor line.  Here was my response to “Is there anyone you would like to recognize?”

“Yes.  I’d like to thank the other four speakers for warming up the audience (laugh) (pause) …and Pam.”  (bigger laugh)   Then I blew her a kiss (and she blew a kiss back to me) (even bigger laugh).

Here is the structure that made the humor work:

1.  I used a recycled line that had worked in 2008 during a contestant interview.  It was safe, tested humor.  I was confident it would play well because it had worked in the past.  Confidence helps to improve your delivery.  It’s easier to pause to let the joke kick in if you “know” it’s going to connect.

2.  The “…and Pam” line was simple and not cluttered or buried under a pile of unnecessary words.  It was a topper which used minimum words, the exact words that Bryant had used.  I paused a couple of beats before delivering it to give it the feeling of an afterthought.

3.  I then added a physical beat topper, the blowing of a kiss.  A topper or punchline doesn’t need to be a string of words.  It could be some form of “take” (a physical response to a joke), such as shrugging the shoulders or raising an eyebrow.  Or in this case it was a gesture that implied a punchline. 

4.  In this case the Joke, Topper, Topper sequence worked perfectly.  Each subsequent addition to the humor progression received a stronger response than the previous. Ideally, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.