Archive for May, 2009

Improv Makes You a Better Speaker

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I’ve done a lot of things to improve my public speaking skills:  Toastmasters, professional coaching, singing lessons, acting lessons, directing classes, dance lessons, studied foreign languages and sign language, and much more.  The single most important thing I’ve studied, the most challenging, the most exciting and the most fun…has been my study of improvisation skills. 

You might think that improv skills would primarily give you the skill of being funny.  But that’s not the number one thing it did for me.  The most important gift from the study of improv has been the skill of being connected to the present moment and, more importantly, connected to the audience.

In my opinion, the most effective speaker is the one who is truly connected to the listeners.  It’s the speaker who isn’t on auto pilot.  It’s the speaker who isn’t locked into speaker-voice.  It’s the speaker who moves and gestures with meaning and not in a rehearsed and robotic fashion. 

For me, this gift of connection was the most unexpected benefit of studying improv.  What is it about improv skills that help make you a very connected speaker or performer?

Improv Comedy or Improvisation for the Theater teaches you be in the present moment.  It teaches you to accept the gifts of the present moment and to react to what is happening in the here-and-now.  It teaches you to avoid pre-scripting your performance.  The great actors aren’t acting.  They are RE-ACTING to what is happening in the moment.  That is what makes them appear real and natural.

In improv we learn to work with the other players.  We always want to accept their offers.  We learn to avoid premeditation.  We learn to listen to our emotions.  We learn to have a sense of what a scene needs, and not just add what we want to add.

On the improv stage we play an assortment of games which COULD detract from being in the present moment.  In fact, that is what happens to the inexperienced improv player.  The game focus is often so strong that it kills the scene.  It prevents the player from being in the moment.  The skill that improv players learn is to play the game and really remain connected to the present moment.  That’s the same skill needed by speakers.  A speech is never a monologue.  It’s always a dialogue with the audience, even though the audience may have a non-speaking part.  Improv skills teach us to deliver a speech naturally without being IN THE SPEECH.  Rather than being a slave to the speech we are free to deliver the talk in a natural and connected way.

Improvisation principles helped me to raise my connection with the audience to a new level.  I highly recommend joining an improv troupe if you’re serious about improving your speaking skills.

Cartoon Caption Contest Results — Creative Writing

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

It’s time for the results of the May Cartoon Caption Contest featuring the art of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

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

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

Here are this month’s top lines:


When my owner said, “Let’s go to the Vet to get tutored!”  I was excited.  Now I realize that I need my hearing checked.
     Ron DesGroseilliers Jr, Spring Lake, North Carolina, USA


My date wasn’t an Alaskan Husky…she was just a heavy smoker.
     Les Hardin, Brisbane, Australia


I shouldn’t have gotten all eight of them pierced.
     Rose Smith, Eugene, Oregon, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – I’m a Cat trapped in a Dog’s body. My parents just don’t understand.
  – I should have stopped after 3 beers.
  – Why is our owner comparing me with her husband?
  – All I saw was when they sang, “Ya put yer right foot in…”  After that, they locked me in the bathroom.
  – Yeah, they’re sharp…my Mom says is that Dad was a porcupine.
  – Cockapoos, labradoodles, meagles, foxingese, chinaranians…nobody wants mutts like us anymore.
  – Ever since Bo was adopted by the Obamas, he has no time for us anymore.
  – I think I got the swine flu.  I only want to roll over in the mud.
  – I forgot to do the math assignment last night.  I know,  I’ll tell the teacher my owner ate my homework.
  – It’s 7 am.  Of course, I’m a little grouchy.  Don’t you know to let sleeping dogs lie.
  – I feed my sled dogs “Me-ams” because there is no, “I” in team.
  – My owner has taken that “change” bit too far cuz I’m now getting cat chow.
  – My master said, “I’m not your best friend.” She’s mad about something.
  – So when I asked her out, she said I was barking up the wrong tree.
  – My wife had nine beautiful puppies, and then she got a ticket for littering!
  – There I was, sniffing like any normal dog, when this dog with a white stripe down his back decided he didn’t like it!
  – You can be a good dog for years, but roll in the mud and go in the house just once…
  – I don’t know why, but they got really mad when I bit the guy in the red suit in our fireplace.
  – When she said dip, I thought it was food, not a bath!
  – We changed churches. We go to Good Shepherd now.
  – When the priest told my master that dogs don’t go to heaven he didn’t think about how I’d feel.
  – Extreme Makeover doesn’t do dog houses.
  – I thought I was Presidential quality.
  – It’s just not the same since Bo moved to DC.
  – The Secret Service won’t let me see Bo.
  – I used to be a Hunting Dog, until the cops confiscated my guns.
  – If you ask me, Cats are just too damn curious.
  – The vet said I’ve only got a year to live… and he’s talking dog years!
  – I ask you, how can a stupid meow be cuter than a bark.
  – I love roadkill, but who can afford the gas.
  – We need a government bailed out at Dinner Dogfood, then they could use real meat.
  – The Hokey Pokey stinks…which left foot do you put in?
  – One mistake and my career as a Champion Breeder ended forever…damn barbed wire fence.
  – Swine Flu, Mad Cows and bird flu…I’m worried that we’re next on the menu.
  – The whole two weeks I ran in the Iditarod, all I could think about was how big my butt’s gotten.

Visit the web site of Dan Rosandich for information on how Dan can design custom cartoons for your next project, book, newsletter, web site, T-Shirt, and more!

Writing A Cartoon Caption

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Last week I received my winning-caption cartoon from the New Yorker, matted and ready for framing.  A nice memento.  You can order professionally reproduced New Yorker contest cartoons with YOUR caption, whether it wins or not.  They send you a link when you enter your caption.

Here’s my caption:

“You’re in trouble when we get to the bicycles.”

Here are some comments about my winning caption:

It’s basically a triathlon joke.  The joke drops itself into the middle of a triathlon, between the transition from the swimming to the biking.

One of the strengths of the joke is that it doesn’t SAY that it’s a triathlon joke.  That’s both a strength and a weakness.  It’s a strength because the Superiority Theory Of Humor tells us (in part) that a joke will be stronger if the reader is allowed to connect the dots to figure out the joke for himself.  The reader finds the joke funny because she “gets it.” 

But a strength is often a weakness.  A friend told me:  “I don’t get the joke.”  He didn’t link the caption with a triathlon event.  If the reader didn’t connect the caption with a triathlon, he would most likely think the caption was stupid.

Most jokes need a setup.  Sometimes the setup is best when clearly spelled out.  Sometimes it’s best when it’s simply implied, allowing the reader to do some work.  Deciding how much the reader should be allowed to figure out on her own is a judgment call.  Making the right choice comes with experience.

How to you win a New Yorker contest?

1.  A bit of luck never hurts.  The right caption at the right time.

2.  A master mind group can help you sharpen your caption.  I have a group of three who enjoys creating and critiquing caption entries for the contest.  Three heads are better than one.  Changing one word, or eliminating one word can make all the difference, and another set of eyes may help you see a new angle.

3.  The New Yorker allows only one submission per person per contest.  That’s a good thing.  It forces you to select your best line.  Each week I normally write about ten captions.  I pass the best three or four captions by my humor buddies.  And then I submit what I think is the best caption to the New Yorker.  We’re persistent.  We’ve been submitting weekly entries for over two years and this is the first time we’ve had a winner OR a top-three caption.  Here’s a link to the top three captions for the man/fish cartoon. 

4.  Winning is nice…but growing your humor skills is even nicer.

5.  Here’s a challenge to you.  Enter this week’s New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.  And good luck!

Humor Contest — The Car Business

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Let’s help re-engineer the Automobile Business.  They’re looking for ideas to re-invent the Car Manufacturing business.   Maybe we can help.

Why limit the making of cars to Ford, GM and Chrysler? 

What if cars were made by someone other than traditional car companies?

For example:

If the Cruise Ship Industry made cars…there would be an extra charge for windows that would let you see outside.

If Golds Gym made cars…they’d get rid of spare tires.

If Beano made cars…they would run on less gas.

What great and creative ideas can you come up with?  Make your list and submit your best lines to by May 30, 2009.

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.  And new Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of the month.

Improv Skills Applied to Life

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Improv comedy skills are not just for the stage.  The principles which make for great humor also apply to leadership skills and building strong relationships.  Let’s look at three areas where improv skills help us succeed with the challenges of life:  Energy, Creativity and Trust.

ENERGY:  As an improv player you need to energize yourself to be your best as a performer.  As a speaker you need to energize yourself to deliver your message from the platform.  As a leader you need to energize yourself and your team to be productive. 

We normally open each improv workshop, and warm-up before a show, with energy-building exercises.  Zip Zap Zop, Bunny, Whoosh Bang Pow, My Name is Joe…are examples of energy building exercises.  These exercises could also be used to open a staff meeting.  They build energy and are fun.  I’ve used exercises to warm myself up before a speech.  I remember doing My Name is Joe at 7:00 am in an empty hallway before a keynote speech.  It worked.  It warmed me up mentally and physically.  It energized me.

CREATIVITY:  Improv games are good for changing routine patterns, for breaking pre-occupation, and for stepping outside your comfort zones.  Improv can help us with the brain-storming process by helping us to suspend judgment and to accept different solutions.

Improv games help us focus on looking for connections and get our creative juices flowing.  Just as the key to humor is in the connections we make, the key to creative problem solving is also linked to seeing connections and approaches which give us fresh insights for solving problems.

TRUST:  Improv helps us to develop a sense of trust that our team is there to support us.  One of the guiding principles of improv is to accept all offers.  What that means is that when one improv player suggests something, the correct behavior is to accept the “gift” or the “offer” and to build on to it.  The principle is referred to as “Yes…And“.   The idea is to agree with what has been said, done or offered and then to add to it.  The reverse of this behavior is to say NO to an offer.  Also blocking an offer is the response of “Yes…But.”  Good improv players learn to accept what is offered by other members of the troupe.  This skill is valuable in the workplace too.  People are encouraged to contribute if they feel that their contributions will be accepted and valued. 

We need to have the mindset that we are always giving and receiving gifts.  We need to treat our fellow players and co-workers as though each one is a genius.  Look for what is right and good in each person you are dealing with.

An amazing thing I learned on the improv stage is that when you’re having a hard time working with a “difficult” player or team member…the problem isn’t them…it’s you.  I remember watching a seasoned player in the Santa Barbara improv troupe playing onstage with a novice player who was doing everything wrong (based on traditional improv rules).  His approach was to accept everything she was offering…and the result was a brilliant and very funny scene.  In one of our Santa Maria shows we hosted a guest player from Los Angeles, Dan O’Conner.  I remember a scene where he played with one of our players who would always do the unexpected.  Again he played Yes…And to the extreme, and the result was absolutely amazing. 

What I learned from these experiences is that whenever you are having difficulty playing with another player, perhaps one who doesn’t have the seasoned skills necessary to guarantee success…the problem is that YOU aren’t good enough to play with them.  The problem isn’t them.  The skilled player…the pro…brings out the best in others.  That’s a profound message.

Strong improv skills help you to bring out the best in others.  Consider this:  What would this world be like if everyone you dealt with was present with you, if everyone listened to you, if everyone treated you like you were a genius, if everyone agreed with you, if everyone trusted you?  And then consider, what would it be like if everyone you met experienced that kind of world because of you?  Apply the principles of improv and you can create that kind of world for you and for the people you meet.

The Almost Dictionary — Contest Results

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Here are the results from our Almost Dictionary contest.

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of the month.

Here are this month’s top lines:


Whine Flu:  Contagious disease whose primary symptom is complaining about everything.

     Terry Wall, Washington Township, New Jersey, USA


Entertamer:  A comedian that can handle rough audiences.

     Les Hardin, Brisbane, Australia


Punitentiary:   A jail for making bad puns.

     Sol  Morrison, Santa Barbara, California, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – Shabitat:  A dilapidated house.
  – Pundemic:  Lots of bad puns going around.
  – Hummonyms:  Two tunes that sound similar.
  – Serendopity:  The accidental discovery of a really stupid idea.
  – Goobernatorial:  A weird, nut-ball candidate for Governor.
  – American Idle: A competition for dedicated Couch Potatoes.
  – Hunkback of Notre Dame: The sexy new Quarterback for the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish.”
  – Pistil-whipped:  A  form of torture using a really big flower.
  – Peekini:  When you are over-exposed on the beach.
  – Lair conditioner:  How bears stay cool.
  – Tyrannosaurus Rx:  The first pharmacist.
  – Clearinet:  A see through woodwind.
  – Claptop computer: It applauds every time you use it.
  – Giggle:  Internet search engine for locating jokes.
  – Antifacterial:  political spin doctoring.
  – OK 47:  An assault weapon that works only in Oklahoma.
  – Sometimes with my wife I go from being a champ to being a chump in the blink of an eye.
  – Newdle: Brand new Pasta.
  – Axe of the Apostles:  How Paul lost his head.
  – Grosseries:  High food prices.
  – Steed Limit:  How fast your horse can go.
  – Gambulance:  An emergency medical vehicle for people with leg injuries.
  – Gasp Station:  Where you struggle to breathe after buying fuel.
  – Claptop Computer:  It applauds every time you use it.
  – Trestle’s:  Chocolate in the shape of railroad bridges.
  – Tinker Ball:   Annual Dance for Tinkerers.
  –  Humorous gardening site.
  – Slimdog Millionaire:  Heartwarming movie about a Sumo Wrestler who gets to the final round in India’s version of The Biggest Loser.
  – Federal Reserve Bunk:  Don’t believe a word they say.

Improv and Comedy

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Improv and comedy are often thought of as the same thing.  Because excellent short-form improv (Whose Line is it Anyway?) always gets big laughs, it’s natural to link improv with comedy.  But the truth is that the skills which make for good improv are almost completely different from the skills needed to make good comedy.

I began teaching improv workshops fourteen years ago.  When I started offering my classes, I was already a humor expert and had been working as a professional comedy entertainer for twenty years.  I had won three TM District Humorous Speech Contests.  And then I attended my first improv workshop.  I didn’t have a clue.  I felt like I was the only person in the room who didn’t know what was happening!

I had also been teaching humor workshops long before I started teaching improv.  The interesting thing is that the skills I teach in my humor-in-speaking workshops are totally different from the skills I teach in the improv classes.

In humor and comedy workshops we study the principles of set-ups, punchlines, timing, the rule of three, funny words, just to mention a few.  In improv we study agreement, relationships, status, listening skills, and more.  The skill sets are very different.  In fact, with improv, the harder you try or plan to be funny, the less funny you are.  It should be noted that the actors on Whose Line is it Anyway? are tops in their profession.  And yes, they are trying to be funny…and they ARE funny.  They are exceptions to the rule.  As professionals, their humor skills are internalized to the point that they can apply the rules of improv AND tap into their tool kit of comedy skills with great success.  The average improv player does not have the high-level humor and comedy skills, and for them, trying to be funny detracts from doing good improv.  The result is something less funny than would otherwise be possible.  It’s not unusual to see a first-time visitor to an improv workshop struggle to be good at improv even though they have years of experience at being funny.  That is because improv and comedy are not the same thing.

So why is improv funny?  Because life is funny.  In improv we try to connect with real emotions and relationships.  When done well, this connects with the audience’s funny bone because they can relate to it.  A rich improv scene usually has a well-developed relationship between two characters.  The true link to a real-life situation is usually funny just because life is funny.

Studying improv may not make you brilliant at creating and delivering jokes.  What improv offers you is a set of skills which WILL make you a better speaker and leader…and yes, even a beter comic…but those skills are not directly related to making jokes.  Improv will teach you how to be present.  How to be in the moment.  That skill will connect you with the audience and make you a more powerful speaker or comic.  I’ll write another post on the improv skill-set of being present sometime soon.  I’ll also write a post on how improv teaches you skills that apply to daily living, both in your personal and business life.  Although improv teaches us those skills, it’s not immediately obvious to most players how those skills apply to everyday living…because the connection is not often talked about during a workshop.

If you’ve never tried it, I’d encourage you to join an improv troupe.  It’s the most challenging and exciting thing I’ve done to improve my impact from the platform.  And it has very little to do with making me funnier.  I highly recommend the experience.

Cartoon Caption Contest — Creative Humor Writing

Friday, May 1st, 2009

It’s time for our May Cartoon Caption Contest featuring the art of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of the month.

We announce new Joke Contests mid month.

Here is this month’s cartoon and some possible captions:

  – She was all attitude.  Like it’s a big deal she can catch a Frisbee!
  – Simon hated me.  Paula rolled her eyes.  But Randy called me The Dog!
  – So we got married…and then I find out she can’t run a can opener.

Take the challenge to write some captions for the cartoon.  Edit them to make them funnier.  Then select your best ones and submit them to by May 15, 2009.

Visit the web site of Dan Rosandich for information on how he can create custom cartoons for your next book, web site, newsletter, T-shirt and more.