Archive for August, 2009

Humor Delivery Vehicles — Part 2

Friday, August 28th, 2009

A Top-Ten List is a great vehicle for creating and delivering humor.  It’s a regular feature on the David Letterman show.

The key isn’t TEN items.  The key is that it is a LIST.  Yours could be a Top Five List.  In fact, you’re usually better served to make your list shorter.  It’s better to be short and brilliant, than long and good.  The risk of using a longer list is that you run out of funny lines before the list is complete!

It works well to make the theme of the list topical.  In other words, select for the theme of the list something that is current and a subject of discussion. Some examples: 

     – If the boss is retiring:  Ten Things the Boss will Be Doing in Retirement.

     – If you best friend is turning 50.  Ten Great Things about Turning 50.

     – If your sister just had twins.  Ten Reasons Twins are More Fun.

Once you’ve selected a theme, you have a structure to work with.  Writing jokes to fit a structured theme is easier than just writing jokes in a vacuum.  Let’s look at the first example and ask some questions:

1.  What hobbies does the boss have?  Make a list.  Then look for funny twists.  Golf?  Cooking?  Going to Las Vegas?

2.  What does the boss hate to do?  Wash the dishes?  Make her own coffee?  Get up early?

3.  Any characteristics or habits that stand out?  Tall or short?  Speaks with a strong accent?  Always smiling?

4.  Find trivia by using all resources.  A spouse?  A secretary?  Friends?  Conduct some interviews.

5.  Come up with your own list of questions that will enable you to create a working list from which you can mine humor.

Create as many lines as you can.  If you’re doing a Top Ten List, try to create at least 20 or 30 lines.  From that list you can then select your best ten.  I the “boss” example, working your list of questions maybe you would come up with some list items like:

Ten Things the Boss will Be Doing in Retirement
1.  Going to Las Vegas to invest her retirement funds.
2.  Buying some golf balls that float.
3.  Replace her fine china with paper plates.
4.  Move to Germany where her accent will not be noticed.
5.  Etc.

After you pick your top ten (or five), figure out which lines are the funniest.  I’d suggest closing with your best line…and opening with your second best line.  Weave your stronger lines throughout the list.  Some lines may have the sequence set, as one line may provide the set up for another line.  And the final product is presented as a countdown, from the TENTH reason all the way to reason number ONE (your best line).

There you have it.  Good luck.

Humor Delivery Vehicles — Part 1 

Cartoon Caption Contest Results — Report Card

Monday, August 24th, 2009

It’s time for the results of the August Cartoon Caption Contest: Report Card.  We feature the art of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

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

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

Here are this month’s top captions:


Okay:  E means Excellent, but are you sure D means Distinguished?

     Gerald Fleischmann, Fountain Valley, California, USA


Straight A’s, huh?  No offense, son, but let me get my glasses before I congratulate you.

     Eric Johnson, Gastonia, North Carolina, USA

I don’t know who I’m more disappointed in, you or your teacher.

     Ryan Mulligan, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – Well son, looks like I’m going to have to repeat the fifth grade again.
  – Don’t lie to me, these grades aren’t all for gym class.
  – And that’s the story of how I barely passed the third grade. Now, where is your report card, son?
  – So my boss gave me my performance appraisal today. In short, the family will be needing you to get a paper route.
  – Apparently somebody has stopped taking their Ritalin. Performance enhancing drugs are not just for baseball players you know.
  – Son, last time it was Edd’s, before that it was Dec’s, and this time it’s Dee’s.  Why do you always bring home someone else’s report card?
  – Looks like medical school is out… That leaves running for President.
  – How did you get a D minus in English?  “Que?”
  – No, I don’t think you deserve an A+ for consistency.
  – It looks like you are spending to much time on one subject!
  – I got grades like these too. Look what I became.
  – Unconditional love, son. I only hate your teachers for this.
  – Many geniuses did poorly when young. But make no mistake, I know you aren’t a genius.
  – You know what you get for this. Two boots in the rear and one whack in the back of the head.
  – Well, I see three characters, son, but there’s sure not much of a plot!
  – Obama got a better report card than this from Fox News.
  – It looks history repeats itself.  You’ll be repeating history.
  – I hope you’re not expecting any cash for this clunker.
  – What do you mean that you are within  the first letters of the alphabet?
  – Sorry son, “Cash For Clunkers” doesn’t apply to poor report cards.
  – On the plus side, your grades spell out your nickname.
  – Obviously education is not working for you.  Maybe you should consider being a comedian.
  – No, Junior, I do NOT believe it stands for Does Everything Excellently.
  – Eggsalint werk, Joonyer!  I new all them ours i spint tooterin yoo wuld hellp yoo emproove yore grayds.
  – So, you thought that I wouldn’t know that “e” is a fake grade?
  – With grades like this, how do you expec to get into a good skool?
  – This reminds me of a similar report card I got when I was your age. When my father saw it, my hat spun around, too!
  – Your teacher called and said you accidentally left this in her trash can.
  – If I was going to change Fs, I would change them to Bs.
  – If you are running a temperature, it must be a low grade fever.
  – Ahh, a chip off the old blockhead.
  – Congratulations!  Looks like you’ll be the oldest first grader again next year.
  – A D minus?  Pace yourself, son.  Leave something to learn next year.
  – I don’t care how you grade me, son, you’re going to eat that spinach.
  – You call this fascinating reading?  Shocking bombshell more like.
  – I can’t blame you for not learning if your teacher can’t even spell ‘F’ correctly.
  – Help me think of an excuse for grandma
  – Add a P+ and that’s how much trouble you’re in.

Visit the website of Dan Rosandich to see how he can create customcartoons for your special project, book, newsletter, website, T-Shirtand more.

Observational Humor — Case Study #41

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Here’s another Observational Humor monologue which is presented in the Reverse Question format.

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

1.  A speaker said you could tell a carnivore from a herbivore by looking at their teeth.

2.  Our Area Governor, Karen Lewison, was present at the meeting.  The joke is that she attends meetings only when we’re serving cake.

3.  A speaker joked about almost falling off a 57-story building under construction.

4.  Frank was wearing a cast and walking with crutches a few months ago because he broke his foot playing Frisbee Golf.

5.  A speaker said she sprained her ankle playing miniature golf.

6.  A speaker said she was weird because she liked to read the dictionary.

7.  A speaker said he was so nervous speaking in public that he was afraid he might wet his pants on a conference call.

8.  Ryan Mulligan, our meeting emcee, was asked how old he was.  The answer was twenty three.

9.  I received my DTM award 29 years ago. 


Tonight I’m going to answer your most burning questions.  I’ll give you the answer first and then read your question:

A:  By looking at her teeth when she smiles.
Q:  How can you tell that Karen Lewison is a cake eater?

(Compared to an herbivore and a carnivore, I’m not sure what a cake eater’s teeth would look like.  But the line worked.)

A:  A great speech.
Q:  What would you have if you fell off the 57th floor?

(A very big laugh.)

A:  Frank breaking his foot playing Frisbee golf.
Q:  What is weirder than spraining your ankle playing miniature golf?
       But less weird than reading the dictionary.

(Good joke on an incident familiar to most of the audience.  And a good topper using a callback.)

A:  Depends.
Q:  What is the key to a good conference call?

(A bit of a subtle joke playing with the double meaning of the word Depends.)

A:  I received my DTM.
Q:  Name something that happened six years before Ryan Mulligan was born.

(An age joke…poking fun at myself.)

Creative Humor Writing — Geo Foods

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

This month’s contest is suggested by Sol Morrison from Santa Barbara.  The theme is Geo-Foods.

The challenge is to take a geographic name (city, state, country, lake, river, mountain, etc) and link it with a food.  Then add a sub-title to describe the food.

Here are some examples:
Chattanougats:  Candy you’ll want to chew chew. 
Bowling GreenBeans:  Makes a great spare casserole.
PittsBurgers:  You’ll feel like the Man of Steel.
Last Mango in Paris:  The final mango left in a French refrigerator.

Reasons for entering a contest:

1.  For the fun of it.

2.  Stretch your creative skills.

3.  Sharpen your humor skills.  At the core of good humor is the connections that you can make.  Most jokes link two words, thoughts, or ideas that were previously not connected.  Spending time working on a contest sharpens your ability to come up with humorous connections.

What to do:  Write as many Geo-Foods ideas as you can.  Then play with the sub-titles.  Sleep on it.  Edit, rewrite, eliminate the weak lines.  Submit your best lines to by August 30, 2009.

Humor Delivery Vehicles — Part 1

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

A great tool for creating and delivering humor is to use a delivery “vehicle.” Your vehicle is something that gives a structure or a pattern to the humor. Or it gives you a reason or an excuse to deliver the lines.  The vehicle gives a rhythm which helps the audience get the punchlines.

An example of a delivery vehicle is the Reverse-Question formula (giving the answer first and then giving the question). Johnny Carson is best known for using this form of joke (Carnac the Magnificent), although he wasn’t the first. It was used by Steve Allen before him (The Answer Man). And Ernie Kovacs before him (Mr Question Man). And probably Plato before him: “The answer is: When people confuse me with Mickey Mouse’s dog.  And the question is: What do you find really irritating?”

Being able to take almost any joke and turn it into a Reverse-Question is an art. It’s not hard to do. It just takes a little practice.

A standard joke: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.” In Reverse-Question form: The answer is, To get to the other side. And the question is, Why did the chicken cross the road?

Or you could switch it around: The answer is, He crossed the road. And the question is, How did the chicken get to the other side?  Both structures work. You have to decide which is funnier. I think the second choice is better. It does a nicer job of disguising the joke. The first version (To get to the other side) is a classic punchline, and the rest of the joke is predictable. “He crossed the road” is a sufficiently vague setup that the audience is unlikely to know that it’s a chicken joke. And therefore, it’s probably a funnier structure, because the punchline is a bit more of a surprise. Neither is especially funny, but the versions serve as an example that with the Reverse-Question format, either the set up or the punchline of your first effort can normally be used in any order when switching it to the Reverse-Question format.

So when you first come up with a joke, you need to decide what is the setup and what is the punchline. The original joke order is sometimes better if it is reversed when using the Reverse-Question formula. And create your own jokes to avoid stealing lines from a Johnny Carson routine. Your own lines will be fresher, more customized and funnier.

Joke Contest Results — Unlikely Quotes

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Let’s look at the top lines for our current humor writing contest, Unlikely Quotes.

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:


“Would you like flies with that?”  An Entomologist working at a fast-food restaurant.

     Greg Gazin, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


“Close enough!”  A horseshoe champion performing brain surgery.

     Nancy Lininger, Camarillo, California, USA


“It was a dark and stormy night.”  A fiction writer working as a weather forecaster.

     Marty Bernstein, Oak Park, Illinois, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – “I’m always breaking out!” A juvenile delinquent parole violator, 
talking with his dermatologist.
  – “Lets put it on the rack and see what it looks like.”  An auto mechanic working at Victoria’s Secret.
  – “A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Minister walk into a bar.”  John Kinde working at open mic night at the local Komedy Klub.
  – “Let’s give the wheel another spin.”  Pat Sajak working as a steering tester at the GM assembly plant.
  – “You’re thinking, did I draw a six or only a five.  You gotta ask yourself a question:  Do I feel lucky?”  Harry Callahan working as a blackjack dealer.
  – “It was the best of rhymes, it was the worst of rhymes.”  Charles Dickens working as a poetry contest judge.
  – “Talk to me Goose.”  Tom Cruise (Maverick) working at a Children’s Zoo.
  – “You deserve to break something today.”  Ronald McDonald working as a karate instructor.
  – “I’ll just sleep on it a while.”  A narcoleptic working as a night watchman at a mattress factory.
   – “I’m not as dumb as I think I am.”  Yogi Berra working as a Mensa spokesman.
  – “Would you like to Super-Size that?”  Jenny Craig working at a fast-food restaurant.
  – “Safe!”  An umpire providing results from a pregnancy test.
  – “Duck.”  Former VP Dick Cheney announcing his specialty as a head chef.
  – “Presto chango.”  A magician working as a babysitter.
  – “Open sesame!”  Ali Baba, working at McDonalds and attempting to open a package of hamburger buns
  – “Get along little doggie!”   A cowboy foreman, telling his crew to buy a Dachshund.
  – “Give me liberty or give me meth!”  Patrick  Henry working in an illegal drug lab.
  – “Dance, pardner!”  An old west gunslinger working at an Arthur Murray dance studio.
  – “To your left is the Empire State Building.”  Chesley Sullenberger working as a tour guide on a Hudson River boat cruise.
  – “Th, th, th , th, th, that’s All, folks!”  Porky Pig selling laundry detergent.
  – “Mush!”  A dog sled driver working as a waiter and telling diners what breakfast is today.
  – “Good Morning Glass!”  A teacher in a China shop.
  – “Pass me the salt.”  The gourmand in the operating theatre.

Observational Humor — Case Study #40

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Here is another Observational Humor monologue with an analysis of what makes the humor tick.

THE-SETUP (What was said and what happened during the meeting before the monologue was delivered.)

1.  We had three first-time visitors at the meeting.

2.  A speaker talked about drug abuse and told us that opium gave a feeling of joy.  She also said that withdrawal from the drug made you feel like you had the flu.

3.  The weather was hot, about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, for several days.

4.  The theme of the meeting was, “It’s too hot to have a theme.”

5.  Our new club President, Erin Pavlina, was absent, on vacation.

6.  JD, a dynamic speaker and actor, said that he had been in 14 movies.  In one of the films he played a corpse.  He also complained that as he gets older he gains weight in spite of the fact that he eats less.

7.  JD’s brother, Lemuel, was attending the meeting for the first time.

8.  A speaker gave a talk on the history of aviation.  He shared photographs of many famous aviators.  And he commented on how they looked invigorated.  Invigorate was the word of the day.  He received a laugh each time he used the word.

9.  An evaluator referred to a repetitive, two-handed, karate-chop gesture, as the Mussolini Gesture.


If this is your first time attending our meeting…you’ll notice that we start Observational Humor by passing out opium.  This explains why you’ll feel joy by the end of the meeting.  And tomorrow morning you’ll feel like you have the flu.
(A good opener.)

And if this is your first meeting…I’m sorry you’ll miss seeing our new President, Erin Pavlina…whose theme for the year is “It’s too hot to go to Toastmasters.”
(Linked our hot weather with Erin’s vacation absence.)

JD always impresses me with his terrific dramatic skills.  I see what he can do and sometimes think, “I could never be an actor.”  Before the meeting he told me that he has been in 14 movies.  In one of them he played a corpse.  I could do that!
(When I started the monologue, I intended to say “I could do that” in full voice.  In the moment, as I started to deliver the line, I made the choice to lightly whisper the words.  That technique employed the superiority technique.  I was letting the audience fill in the words by reading my lips.  A huge laugh. It’s also a self-deprecation joke, as I tend to have a dead-pan style and to be less physically-expressive than most speakers.)

JD also was complaining that as he gets older, he gains weight in spite of the fact that he’s eating less.  That’s why I was surprised to see Lemuel coming down the hall with JD on his back.  Lemuel told me, “He’s not heavy…he’s my brother.”
(Linking JD’s weight with his brother and using the song lyrics as the vehicle.)

Alex is a math genius.  She said that 7 years ago she was 19, and that she is now 25.  That means when she is 65 she’ll be 60.
(A joke based on extrapolation.)

It was exactly 40 years ago today that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon (holding up stick-figure drawing of Neil Armstrong).  You can see from the photo that he was invigorated.
(The stick-figure drawing received a huge laugh.  Before I showed the drawing I paused for a beat.  Then I showed it without any comment.  The pause accentuated the tension to heighten the laughter.  And showing the drawing with no spoken words magnified the impact of the visual by not smothering it with unnecessary word clutter.  After the laugh died out, I delivered the topper.)

And tonight’s speaking tip.  If you’re going to use this gesture (doing the Musolini gesture)…For variety, blend it with this gesture (doing the Hitler salute).
(Linking the physical behavior of two WWII axis leaders.  I didn’t repeat either person’s name.  I just did the gestures.  It worked.  I’m thinking that I might try to close all my monologues with a speaking tip.  That would magnify the humor by the repetitive structure technique.)