Archive for October, 2009

Humor Resources

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Creativity and The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest
Visit Keith Sawyer’s blog for a great article on humor and creativity.  He’s a creativity expert and interviewed winners of the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.

Contagious Laughter
Here’s something fun from Brad Montgomery.  He created a new app for the iPhone.  It’s a modern day Laugh Box.  Check out The Contagious Laughter iPhone app.

The Power of Observational Humor
The November 2009 issue of the Toastmaster magazine features an article, The Power of Observational Humor, by John Kinde.  The three-page article shows you the power of fresh humor and how to create it.

Humor Boot Camp in Las Vegas

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

In just a little over three weeks, Darren LaCroix is offering his two-day Humor Boot Camp in Las Vegas.  This is an opportunity you shouldn’t miss.  Stage time, personal coaching and insights from a humor expert.  I highly recommend everything Darren offers.  He’s the Toastmasters 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking.  Visit Darren’s web site for details about the event, November 21-22, 2009.  You’ll find lots of testimonials from people just like you who attended past Boot Camps.  Don’t miss it!

Halloween Cartoon Caption Contest Results

Monday, October 26th, 2009

As we approach Halloween, it’s time for the results of our October Cartoon Caption Contest.  We feature the art of Dan Rosandich.

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

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

Here are the top lines from our Halloween Cartoon Caption Contest. 

Two of the three top lines come from international readers:


Larry, is that Princess lipstick on your collar?
     Matt Davies, Sydney, NSW, Australia


Do I look like someone who fixes warts?
     Adam Wern, Stockholm, Sweden


Mr Gingrich, I hope we can do this the easy way.  Give me your eye.
     Eric Johnson, Gastonia, North Carolina, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – Your water-boarding potion is complete Mr Cheney.
  – Pluck it out already!  The recipe clearly calls for one eye of newt.
  – I asked for “Frog for the Soup,” not “Frog in a Suit.”
  – The last time I gave someone this potion, they croaked.
  – I thought I was making you a Hot Toddy, but the recipe actually said Hot Toady.
  – I have been thinking about starting my own restaurant!
  – Just wipe that “malpractice suit” look off your froggy face right now!
  – Don’t complain, or I’ll turn you back into John Kinde!
  – Okay, okay, I’m getting closer…you wanted a leisure suit, right?
  – Which part of “no refunds” didn’t you understand?
  – Take your suit off, I got just the right temperature ready for you!
  – Look at the bright side; now you can win all the Olympic medals in the high jump and long jump categories.
  – Perhaps you misunderstood when I said, “I’ll have you for lunch!”
  – Let’s get this Mother in Law thing understood right now…when I say jump you say how high!
  – Look at it from the bright side, now you’re an endangered species and not even the IRS can mess with you now.
  – What do you think your chances of finding a princess are?  Because I’m starting to crave frog legs.
  – Basically, the job you’re interviewing for is a water temperature tester.   Get in and when it gets too hot, get out. Simple as that.  Now let’s see how you do.
  – That’s the Kermit Extreme Makeover.  For 100 bucks more you can upgrade to Brad Pitt.
  – If I could work magic spells, do you think I’d look like THIS?
  – Sorry, I thought you said you wanted something from London Frog!
  – On the plus side, the green vest matches your face.
  – Let me guess.  You want a refund on the Halloween beauty potion.
  – There’s nothing more I can do here…I’d suggest you see a plastic surgeon.
  – Relax! I’m looking for companionship, not ingredients
  – Yes, Rembrandt did a nice job on my Facebook picture.
  – Stop sweating into the brew, I already added seasoning.
  – What part of “External use only” did you not understand?
  – It’s probably just temporary, but you should see a doctor for incantations lasting more than four hours.
  – This Grimm Business is just not my thing!
  – Are you kidding?  We use frozen.  Fresh eye of newt is $19 a pound.
  – I can’t help you I’m an out of network provider.
  – Wrong house.  The princess lives next door.

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

Energy Zappers

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

When it comes to humor delivery and getting good laughs, it’s important to avoid the energy zappers that could suck the energy right out of the room.

1.  Your attitude.  A negative or pessimistic attitude can sabotage your laughter.  Sometimes it’s easy to slip into a “negative expectation” mode.  If your first line or two of humor bombs, a speaker may start to interpret the inner motivations of the audience.  Negative thoughts attract negative results.  Solution:  Always assume the audience is enjoying your program even if they aren’t showing it.  Perform now. Critique later.

2.  Eye contact.  Lack of good eye contact is an energy zapper.  Great eye contact gives you a presence and a connection with the audience that is critical to your success.  Great eye contact completes the conversation loop.  A speech is never a monologue.  It’s always a two-way conversation.  The feedback you receive from the audience works to energize you.

3.  Warm ups.  Failing to warm up your body and your voice can have negative consequences.  I remember watching Leo Cortez, one of our most experienced actors in my California improv troupe ten years ago.  Before a show he would always walk around back stage waving his arms, stretching, humming, singing, massaging his face.  He had a regular warm up routine that prepared him for the performance.

Often, before I take the stage for a keynote speech, I use some group warm-up exercises borrowed from improv theater.  I  do them alone when I can find a private spot.  Before you speak, take a brisk walk, or do some jumping jacks!   Warm up before you speak…or you’ll warm up in front of the audience as you begin your speech.

4.  The seating.  A bad seating arrangement can pull energy out of the room.  Tall centerpieces that block some audience members from seeing you is not good.  An aisle down the center of the room is not ideal.  A large gap between the first row of audience members and the platform on which you speak is not good.  Be proactive in setting up good seating for your listeners.

5.  The lighting.  Poor lighting results in dim laughter.  The audience needs to see you and your facial expression.  And the audience needs to see each other.  It’s a myth that comedy plays best in a darkened room.  I much prefer a lit room.  I’m not talking about a blinding light, but enough light so that a listener can easily see others in the audience…and so that the speaker can see the audience.  The contagious nature of laughter is magnified when the room is not dark.

6.  Distractions.  Anything that pulls attention away from your humor is a zapper.  If the wait staff is bussing dishes during your talk…not good.  If a band is playing on the other side of the sliding wall divider…not good.  You get the picture.  Take the responsibility to eliminate as many of these potential distractions as possible before you take the platform.

Eliminate the energy zappers and you’ll increase the odds that your humor will connect and laughter will fill the room!

The Power of the Story

Monday, October 19th, 2009

People love stories.  Throughout time, stories have been a powerful tool to communicate points and make them memorable.  This is illustrated time and again in almost everything we see on television.  We care more about a person when we know his or her story.

It will soon be time for the Winter Olympics.  The TV coverage of the games is so much more than just the contests and the results.  They work will work overtime to give us the back-story of the competitors.   They will take us behind the scenes.  They will take us to the competitor’s home town.  We will meet the competitor’s family.  

We’ll care more about the speed skating event if we know the story of at least one of the skaters. We’ll enjoy the skiing events more if we feel we know the skiers.  We might even watch curling, figure skating, or a luge event that we might otherwise skip, if we learn enough about a competitor to get excited about who will win. 

The same is true of most of the reality-based shows on TV.  On America’s Got Talent, it seems like we spend at least half our time getting to know the history and personalities of the competitors.  We get attached to them.   As a result we tune in, week after week.

Even classic game shows, like Jeopardy, use stories to hook you.  Notice where Jeopardy places the stories.  Not at the start of the show.  They want to grab you first with what you tuned in for.  At the opening, they jump right into the game.  It’s not until the second half of the “first board,” and after the commercial break, that they interview the contestants and introduce their stories.  It’s brief, but it’s definitely story time. As we learn more about the competitors, we like them more.  Maybe we pick a favorite to cheer for.  We keep watching.

So it is with any speech you might give.  The audience wants to know your story.  They want to identify with you.  They want to like you.  In addition, if you introduce other characters into your stories, the audience wants to hear their stories too. Characters are richer when the audience feels like they know them and cares about them.  And because of the magnetic power of stories, the points you make will have more impact and will be remembered longer.

That doesn’t mean you have to open with a story.  You could.  Or you might open with music, humor, a or a question that pulls the audience in.   There are many choices for opening a talk, it doesn’t have to be a story.  But eventually you should share your story to personalize and humanize your talk.

A story helps bring your talk to life.  It turns a lecture into a feature film.  It turns a book report into an experience.  It turns a speech into entertainment.  Are you breathing life into your talks with stories?  Do your stories make powerful points?  How could you enrich your stories?  Spend some time looking at every speech you give to see how you are enhancing your talk with story power.

Joke Contest — Alternative Dinosaurs

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

The theme for the October Joke Contest is Alternative Dinosaurs.  The idea comes from Jim Spero and Paul Lirette.

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

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

Here are some possibilities for the Alternative Dinosaur theme:

  – Dinosaur from a Shakespeare play:  Romeosaraus
  – Flight attendant dinosaur:  CoffeOrTea-Rex
  – Investigative reporter:  Geraldo Riveratops

See how many ideas you can come up with.  You have a couple of weeks to work on it.  Pick your best three lines for our Top Three judging.  You may submit additional lines for Honorable Mention consideration.  Send your lines to by October 30, 2009.  Have fun!

Observational Humor — Case Study #44

Monday, October 12th, 2009

 At last week’s PowerHouse Pros Toastmasters meeting we had 17 guests who had attended Steve Pavlina’s Conscious Growth Workshop.

One of those guests was Alex Wu from Ottawa, Canada.  Alex gave an impromptu speech about a Chinese restaurant.  In a meeting top-heavy with humor, his speech was the highlight of the evening.  Brilliant. 

In his speech, Alex used his sharp wit to bring the house down.  Part of his humor was hinged on his using a stereotypical Chinese accent.  For most speakers, playing with an accent could be dangerous.  But Alex, with a Chinese ethnic background, was able to skillfully do it.  He received huge laughs.  That, of course, set his speech up as a perfect target for Observational Humor.  I delivered two laugh lines which were part of a longer monologue.

First I’ll give you my lines: 
  – A set up.
  – A punchline. 
  – A topper. 
Then I’ll follow the lines with my analysis. 

Here are the lines:

“The speech on the Chinese restaurant was so funny.
I laughed so hard…when it was over…I wanted to stand up and crap.
I knew it was OK to do that line…since I’m half Chinese.”

And now for an analysis:

THE SET UP LINE:  “The speech on the Chinese restaurant was so funny.”  I expected a bit of a laugh from the set up line.  Not that it was funny, because it wasn’t funny and wasn’t intended to be.  It was solely intended to set up the two humor lines.  But I expected some laughter because it would be recalling the funny speech.  Usually, when something really funny happened earlier, just mentioning it gets some laughs.  But there was virtually no response. 

The lack of laughter could have been a warning signal that the following two lines were about to bomb.  That did cross my mind.  Or it could be just building tension, which could be either good or bad from a humor standpoint.  The bad could be that the audience wasn’t sure they wanted to give me permission to take a joke into that territory.  After all, I was clearly a tall, 6′ 3″ Scandinavian, and not Chinese. Or, on the other hand, it could mean that they were reserving judgment and waiting to see which direction I took the joke.  If that were the case, building tension is as good thing, as it will be relieved with laughter.  I didn’t know which way it would play out.  But I do remember being a bit surprised by a muted response to the set up line. 

Fortunately they loved the two lines which followed.

THE PUNCHLINE:  “I laughed so hard…when it was over…I wanted to stand up and crap.”  A huge laughter response from the

First, a danger zone.  I normally don’t use the word CRAP in a speech.   And in front of a typical corporate audience, such as in a keynote speech, I would almost never use it.  But I felt that two things, in this situation, set me up with the permission to use it and get big laughs.  First, Alex played with accent issues in his speech, including the switching of L’s for R’s.  This helped pave the way for me to do it, once, as a punchword at the end of a punchline.  Connecting it with the speaker experience of a standing ovation (stand up and CLAP), I did the switch, and it worked.  If it had not worked, it would have received nervous laughter and not the huge reaction that it received.   And it helped that Alex was laughing big time…which added permission.

Second, it helped to build permission because Alex was surrounded with friends who liked him.  Normally as a guest he would have been a stranger visiting a club for the first time.  An outsider.  But in this situation, he had brought his own circle of friends, sixteen other guests with whom he had just shared a very intimate, week-end workshop.  They knew him and loved him.  Also, his presentation at the meeting built a bond between Alex and the club members who were meeting him for the first time.  Those factors helped make it safe for me to enter the territory of a stereotypical accent, when it was not MY territory.

From a delivery standpoint I chose to deliver the line with no accent affectation at all.  I simply delivered the line switching the R for the L in the last word.  This delivery technique choice helped disguise the punchword, giving it more impact.

THE TOPPER:  “I knew it was OK to do that line…since I’m half Chinese.”  This line was totally unexpected and absurd.  Being a tall Norwegian helped make the line play strongly.  I had decided that I could use this line as a “saver.”  It would be a good line to use if the stand-up-and-crap line didn’t work.  If the first line had bombed, I would have delivered the line as:  “I was hoping that line would be OK…since I’m half Chinese.”  By using it as a saver, I would be acknowledging that the first line flopped, and getting a laugh by pointing out the obvious, that I was not Chinese.  Fortunately the line was not needed as a saver and I delivered it as an expression of confidence, that I knew that the line would work.

Thanks Alex for the great humor presented at our meeting and providing me with a terrific target for Observational Humor.

Occupational Illness — Joke Contest Results

Friday, October 9th, 2009

The Occupational Illness contest was popular.  It’s time for the results.

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of each month.  Here are this month’s top lines:


Vanna White:  Irritable Vowel Syndrome
     Marty Bernstein, Oak Park, Illinois, USA


McDonald’s restaurant manager:  Fallen Arches
     Carrie Paige, Dallas, Texas, USA


A big game hunter:  Rhinoplasty
     Tom Nee, Oak Lawn, Illinois, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – Carpenter:  Hang Nail
  – Fisherman:  Hookworm
  – Air conditioner repairman: The Chills
  – Joke writer:  The Yucks
  – Computer technician:  Susceptible to Viruses
  – Electrician:  In Shock
  – Fortune teller:  Vision Loss
  – Tightrope walker for an audience of ducks:  Fear of Down
  – Banker:  Apathy (loss of interest)
  – Tuba player:  G-cleft Palate
  – Politician:  Foot-in-mouth Disease
  – Gingerbread Man:  Gingervitis
  – River tour guide:  Cataracts
  – Golfer:  Stroke
  – Farmer:  Chicken Pox
  – Writer:  Appendicitis
  – Teacher:  Fixed Pupils
  – Soldier:  GI Infection
  – Beer brewer:  Migraine
  – Ditch digger:  Tunnel Vision
  – Calvinist:  Presbyopia
  – A runner:  Athlete’s Foot
  – Successful Politician:  Influenca
  – Salesman:  Salemonella
  – Citrus farmer:  Lime Disease
  – Model T mechanic:  Cranker sores
  – Furniture maker:  Chest pain
  – Over-Worked Tug Boat Captain:  Sore Toe
  – Textile worker:  Dying
  – Mailman:  Urticaria
  – Studio applause director:  The Clap
  – Runner:  Runny Nose
  – Indicted politician:  Lockjaw
  – Police officer:  Cardiac Arrest
  – Congressmen who vote for tax increases:  Wasting Disease, Nearsightedness, and Bloating.
  – Farmer:  Planter Warts and Corns.
  – Cowboy:  Heel Spurs.
  – Jockey:  Hoarse Throat
  – Carpenter:  Hammer Toe
  – Homeland Security Agent:  Borderline Personality
  – Funeral director:  Graves Disease
  – Medieval torturer:  Whiplash
  – Baker:  Bunions
  – Mason:  Kidney Stones
  – Food packer: Tin-nitus
  – Mailman:  Post-traumatic Stress
  – Candy-maker:  Gum Infection
  – Miner:  Carpal Tunnel
  – Pro ball players:  Choking
  – Gang member:  Lead poisoning
  – Lazy worker who spends all day in bed:  Prostrate Disease
  – Photographer:  Hot Flashes
  – Politician who thinks too much of himself:  Impotence
  – Daytime talk show host:  Whoopie Cough
  – Musician:  Deep Vein Trombonsis
  – River Dancer:  Restless Leg Syndrome
  – Sewer Worker:  Tunnel Vision
  – Golf Pro:  Club Foot
  – Buidling Implosion Specialist:  Collapsed Lung
  – Teacher:  Low Grade Fever
  – Plumber:  Joint Pain
  – Fireman:  Heartburn
  – Highway engineer:  Quadruple Bypass
  – Mail carrier:  Post Parcel Depression
  – Comedian:  Broken Funny Bone
  – Danny DeVito:  Short Sightedness
  – Service station owner:  Excess Gas
  – Playground monitor who puts band aids on minor scrapes:  Kid Knee Disease
  – Chimney Sweep:  The Flue
  – President of a medical school (with grown children):  M D nest Syndrome
  – Policeman:  Cardiac Arrest
  – Hat maker:  Barrett Syndrome
  – Airline pilot:  Altitude Sickness
  – Rodeo rider:  Bronc-itis
  – Tin container manufacturer:  Cancer
  – Toilet paper manufacturer:  Scott syndrome
  – Crater geologist:  Depression
  – Nervy people:  Gallstones
  – Teachers with curved spines:  Schooliosis
  – Sleeping DEA officer:  Narcolepsy
  – Carhop:  Parkingson’s Disease
  – Red Buttons and Red Skelton:  Scarlet Fever
  – Professional travel writer:  Tourette’s Syndrome
  – Plumber:  Wrenched Back
  – Muffler installer:  Exhaustion
  – Accountant having trouble trouble concentrating:  ADD
  – A king being crowned:  Coronation Artery Disease
  – Mexican fast-food chef:  Taco Bell’s Palsy
  – Tourist in France’s capital:  Parisites
  – Rubber tree plant farmer:  Gum Disease
  – Cantaloupe farmer:  Melonoma
  – Person missing the front of his foot:  Lack-toes Intolerance
  – Repo man:  Seizures
  – Interior decorator:  Room-atism
  – Stripper:  Boobonic Plague
  – Metallurgist:  Tinnitus
  – Train dispatcher:  Terminal Illness
  – Mall Santa:  Claustrophobia
  – Artist:  Stroke
  – Acrobat:  The Bends
  – Zookeeper:  Elephantiasis
  – Wheat farmer:  Migraine
  – Watch maker:  Tick fever

Learning To Read the Audience

Monday, October 5th, 2009

As a magician, I learned many years ago that the best magic to perform was the magic that the audience loves.  That seems obvious.  But sometimes, those popular magic tricks were not the same ones that were MY favorites.  In fact, what became one of the hit items of my walk-around, close-up magic act was a trick that I never liked.  The first time I saw it performed at a magic convention, it was obvious to me how it was done.  But I was a magician…and I needed a lay person’s point of view.  In time, I learned to like the trick, because my audience loved it.  The true test is the audience response.

The same situation exists when delivering humor from the platform.  You want to use humor which grabs the audience.  If you’re doing humor YOU love…but which the audience doesn’t…you lose.  If you do humor that doesn’t turn you on…but which knocks your audience out of their seats with laughter…you win.

The trick is not to be able to know what YOU think is funny.  The skill you need is the ability to predict, in advance, what YOUR AUDIENCE will think is funny. 

I’ve sometimes heard that comedy is a numbers game.

Yes and no.  It’s a numbers game in the creation process…but not in the delivery.

When brainstorming, you want to create as many funny lines, as many choices, as you can.  From a multitude of choices you distill the list to the funniest line or word.  It’s definitely a numbers game.

Some people treat the delivery process as a numbers game too.  They throw a lot of lines against the wall to see what sticks.  And while that process does tell you which lines are funny…which lines the audience laughs at…it doesn’t train you to be able to PREDICT which lines are going to be the best. 

You become a better judge of what the audience thinks is funny by trying to predict which lines are strongest BEFORE you deliver them.  Rather just delivering a quantity of lines to find out which ones are funny…you instead are delivering lines to verify the accuracy of your predictions of which lines are the funniest.  Because in real speaking situations, you normally have the time and space to use only your best single line.  You need to train yourself to know how to pick it.  And that skill comes from understanding that humor creation is a numbers game…humor delivery is not.

That explains the change in our monthly humor contest submission process.  Most of our readers submit more than one line.  Many submit more than 10 lines for every contest.  That’s great.  We’re hoping to improve our contestants’ humor skills by requiring them to pick what they feel are their best three lines before they submit them.  When someone does that, they learn to be a better judge of what’s funny to someone else.  And that’s a key skill for using humor from the platform.

Cartoon Caption Contest — Halloween

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

It’s time for the October Cartoon Caption Contest.  We feature the art of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced at the start of the month.

New Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

Enter your best three lines.

Here is this month’s cartoon:

Write several captions.  Write as many captions as you can.  Then edit your initial work.  We have a new rule starting this month for submission of your lines.

Pick your best three lines and submit them.  Deciding which lines are your best lines is a great discipline for discovering if what you think is funny is also found to be funny to others.  You can submit more than three lines, the extra lines will be eligible for honorable mention.  Only your first three lines (or the lines you identify as your three top lines) will be judged by our panel of judges for first, second and third place.

Submit your best three lines to by October 15, 2009.

Visit the web site of Dan Rosandich for information on how he can design custom cartoons for your next special project, book, newsletter, brochure, holiday card, T-shirt and more.