We often have beliefs that lead us down the wrong path when deciding whether or not to use original humor.
1. We often want to be funny so badly that we think it’s a good choice to use every humor idea we can think of. The logic is that “it’s a numbers game” and the more times we swing at the ball, the more likely that one of the lines will connect and get laughs. A preferable approach is to become a better judge of what is very funny and what is only slightly funny. Then you become a better censor of what to use and what to throw out.
2. We sometimes think that bigger is better. Sometimes it is. More energy is often funnier. Bigger gestures are often funnier. More vocal techniques are often funnier. But it depends on your natural style. For you, maybe less-is-more. That’s the case for me. Yet even if over-the-top is generally your best choice, you will be served well by exploring minimization occasionally, for variety if nothing else.
3. We sometimes forget that most humor requires “permission” from the audience to use it. Without permission, your humor can work against the less-is-more principle. If you persist in using humor without permission, the audience may be thinking: “There he/she goes again. Begging for laughs!”
Let me share an example from a Toastmasters Contest awards presentation. I competed in 2008 at a Humorous Speech Contest and a Speech Evaluation Contest at the Division level. I was competing in both contests. During the contestant interviews, one of the other contestants poked fun at my low-energy style. She said: “When John Kinde is on the platform I’m amazed at how much he emotes. He really emotes!” Her style is the opposite of mine, very high energy. So the contrast was funny. And the humor trigger, Something-Funny, told me that this might be something I could use later for Observational Humor.
In my head, I wrote three humor lines based on her remarks about my style. I had written a fourth line contrasting her style and mine, but threw it out thinking it might appear to be attacking her style. The three lines I wanted to use were: A quick, one-word line (which I almost consider a throw-away line, not a serious joke). And a joke with a topper.
I felt comfortable using the quickie line in almost any situation, but felt that the two more substantial humor lines should be used only if I won the first-place trophy in at least one of the two contests. Without being the winner, I felt I wouldn’t have had “permission” to take the microphone during the awards ceremony and do two humor lines. Without being the winner, it could have looked like: “There goes Kinde again, forcing another humor line into the program.” On the other hand, it appears normal for the first-place recipient to make some remarks.
The Speech Evaluation Contest results were announced first. I was awarded Third Place. I chose to use my quickie line. I received the trophy, waited for the applause to die down, and stepped forward and said in a low-energy way, “Wow.” It received a big laugh since it was a callback to the other speaker’s remarks.
And then I waited for the results for the Humorous Speech Contest. I made the decision that I would only use the two prepared joke lines if I was the winner. The good news is that I did win first place. I received the trophy and said: “Right after the contest I’m going to Wal-Mart. They’re having a Two-For-One Sale on emotions. And I want to thank my Emoting Coach…Stephen Wright.”
Less-Is-More. Being selective adds power to your humor lines. Use only your best lines and remember to ensure that you have permission to use them.