Archive for July, 2010

Observational Humor — Case Study #58

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Here are some examples of Observational Humor presented at the end of a meeting.  Included are the set-up, the observational joke, and some comments about the structure of the joke.

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

1.  As the club President transitioned into the educational part of the meeting, she said:  “And now without further ado…”

2.  A speaker said that she hated to be called on for impromptu speeches, called Table Topics.  Her strategy was to volunteer each meeting for the role of Speech Evaluator.  Normally, if you have a significant role in the meeting, you are not called on for Table Topics.

3.  A speaker said that it would be easy to play the role of Scotty on Star Trek.  He then delivered the line:  “Captain, I can’t give it any more.  I’m giving it all I can.”  He struggled to deliver it in a Scotty-style accent.  He then made the observational remark, “Well maybe that’s harder than it looks!”  He was using self deprecation, poking fun at his poor impersonation.  Huge laugh.

4.  The emcee of the meeting was Pam Shinkle.  She announced the meeting theme of Star Trek and was wearing a Star Trek uniform.  Her partner’s name is Bryant Pergerson.

5.  Erin Pavlina, outgoing club President, presented a Roast of club members in the format of Carnacks (giving the answer first and then providing the question).

6.  Erin is a well-known intuitive psychic advisor.

7.  A speaker told of making a bad batch of cookies because she used baking soda instead of baking powder.

8.  We were told that our grammarian sleeps with a dictionary under his pillow.

THE MONOLOGUE

Ado Ado Ado…and now without further Ado.
(Poking fun at a cliche phrase sometimes used at meetings.)

I don’t like to be called on for Table Topics.  That’s why I always volunteer for the role of Observational Humor Master.
(A humorous explanation of why I normally lead the Observational Humor portion of the meeting.)

If one of the monologue jokes isn’t funny, just remember…this is harder than it looks.
(Self deprecation.  Implies that not all of my jokes will work.)

And welcome to the Enterprise, commanded by Captain Pam Shinkle…where no man has gone before.  With the possible exception of Bryant Pergerson.
(A joke and a topper.  Big laugh.)

I thought of presenting my observations in the format of Carnacks.  But good judgment tells me not to engage in Dualing Carnacks with a psychic.
(Good link between the Carnack format and the psychic profession.)

I figured out what was wrong with my first relationship…too much baking soda.
(An absurd statement which is funny.)

I’ve never slept with a dictionary.  Although I did have a one-night-stand with a thesaurus.  Actually I’ve had more than one…but I’ve learned to describe each one with different words.
(A joke and a topper.  I actually thought of the topper driving home from the meeting, and didn’t actually deliver it at the meeting.)

Cartoon Caption Contest Results — Blinders

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

It’s time for the top captions in our July Cartoon Caption Contest featuring the artwork of Dan Rosandich.

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced at the start of the month (alternating months).

New Joke Contests are announced at the start of the month (alternating months).  The next joke contest will be announced on August 1, 2010.

Here are this month’s cartoon and the results:

** FIRST PLACE **

And yes, taping pictures of women on the inside of your blinders was a definite step backward!

     Darin Thompson, Smithfield, Utah

** SECOND PLACE **

Mrs Snerdly, maybe if YOU got blinders, your husband’s behavior wouldn’t be so noticeable.

     Terry Wall, Washington Township, New Jersey

** THIRD PLACE **

I’m not sure about your marriage, but this will do wonders for Tom’s golf swing.
 
     Tom Nee, Oak Lawn, Illinois

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – Usually it’s the woman who enters a marriage with blinders on.
  – Of course you will have to remove the blinders if you want a kiss.
  – Always use the blinders when you take him shopping.
  – So m’am, why do you say your husband can be a bit myopic at times?
  – Marriage is an institution.  So commit me!
  – Have the blinders cured your wandering eyes, Mr Smith?
  – I wore one of those for awhile, trust me, it works.
  – Once you have him fully trained you can remove the blinders.
  – From now on you’ll always see eye-to-eye.
  – Welcome to Paranoia Problems Inc.
  – Alright alright I’ll sign!  Just don’t do the stare!
  – An inch lower and you would have lost both ears!
  – This lawsuit must have really blindsided you.
  – I guarantee that he’ll only have eyes for you.
  – You’ll never again have to say “Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
  – I see you’ve convinced him not to have a pre-nup.
  – Take them off when you leave work for the day.
  – For some reason Mr Jones, you are just not seeing the whole picture!
  – Just because all politicians are doing it,  doesn’t make it OK!
  – So you want to patent your “laser eyes”.  Have you run it through a focus group?
  – How is the reception on your dish network?
  – Mr Jones, please read the third line on the chart.
  – Your husband is the most forward-looking man I know.
  – Now if THAT doesn’t prevent your husband from ogling, nothing will.
  – I wrote the agreement in mirror images, so you can read it from either side.
  – I’ve never seen a home confinement ankle bracelet slip that far!
  – George, you really have to stop hiding from the facts.
  – Staying focused on your goals, Mr Smith, can be over-emphasized.
  – OK, Casanova, if this doesn’t cure your wandering eye we will hook up the battery next week.

Visit cartoonist Dan Rosandich who has an extensive and in depth archive of categorized cartoons and cartoon pictures available for licensing at negotiable fees.

Getting Your Speech Off To a Good Start

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Las Vegas is a classroom for performance and presentation techniques.  One of the lessons I’ve learned after watching over 200 shows is the importance of The Show Before The Show.  Rarely does a Las Vegas show begin with the curtain rising on a dead stage before a lifeless audience. 

For example, Cirque Du Soleil shows usually warm up the audiences with characters in costume wandering about the theater and interacting with the early-arrivers.  It’s definitely the show-before-the-show.  People don’t want to be late because the pre-show IS part of the show!

Two years ago I saw Toxic Audio.  It’s an amazing program of five A Cappella singers.  Since their show features “the human voice,” their audience warm-up gets the audience making sounds with their voices.  Bark like a dog.  Quack like a duck.  In the theme of the show.  Effective.

Many shows have a pre-show consisting of Video Footage.  Carrot Top shows R-Rated funny videos.  Several performers show clips of past performances (Gerry McCambridge, Vinnie Favorito, The Society of Seven).  Some comedy performers use video footage of other comics and celebrities making jokes at the performers expense (The Scintas, Bobby Slaton).  Many acts use music to warm up the audience (Terry Fator, The Las Vegas Tenors, Barry Manilow).  The Blue Man Group used a video show with dialogue text connecting with the audience. 

The classic show-before-the-show is the Warm-up Act where an actual performer, usually a comic or a singer, opens for the headliner.  Steven Wright’s show was opened by another comic.  A singer often opens for a singer. 

Those are just a sample of what professional performers are doing to make sure the audience is energized before the curtain goes up.  How does this apply to speakers?

As a speaker, you want to avoid approaching the microphone with a stone-cold audience.  That’s one of the reasons contest speakers don’t want to draw speaking position number one in a competition.  They don’t want to be the show-before-the-show for the other speakers!  And that’s the reason the Emcee of the Contest usually tries to warm up the audience before the first contestant speaker hits the stage.

The next time you speak, what can you do to warm up your audience before you say your first word on the platform?

1.  Everything you do before you start your speech is part of your show-before-the-show.  Robert Orben said that the speech begins in the parking lot.  Others have said that the speech begins with you walk out your front door.  How do you behave at the airport ticket counter when your flight is delayed?  A member of your upcoming audience could be standing behind you while you are being nice or rude to the desk clerk.  When we were stuck in San Francisco traffic, Alan Weiss shared with me, “I never honk within ten miles of a client.”  Since he doesn’t know for certain where his clients are, he never honks!  Always be on your best behavior before a speech.  You never know who is watching.

2.  Patricia Fripp is a great example of someone who warms up the audience by mingling.  Do you mix, mingle and chat with the audience before your speech?  I have occasionally connected with my audiences before my talks by performing strolling magic.  If you mingle well, when you are introduced you already have friends in the audience.

3.  Many speakers use music as part of their show-before-the-show.  Anthony Robbins has loud music with a rock beat playing, not just before the talk, but before the audience enters the room.  While you’re waiting in the hall for the doors to open you can hear the pounding beat of the music coming from inside the meeting room.  It’s definitely an energy and anticipation builder.

4.  Speaker can use video or PowerPoint to warm up the audience.  Bill Gates, before he took the stage, used a video introduction to introduce himself in a humorous way at the 2007 CES Convention in Las Vegas.  Using PowerPoint you could share relevant quotes or a trivia quiz with your audience.  Keep their minds active while they’re waiting for the main event…you.

5.  Be aware that your written introduction, to be used by the person introducing you, is part of your warm-up act.  Make it interesting.  Include some humor.  Make sure it’s not a dreary bio which puts people to sleep.  You don’t want it to be the show-before-the-naptime.

These are just a few thoughts on the subject of warming up your audience.  We could probably add another 100 to the list.  What can you do the next time your speak to ensure that your audience is awake and eager to hear your message.  The energized audience doesn’t happen by accident.

Recycling Humor

Friday, July 9th, 2010

If you’re mainly looking for a bunch of jokes, skip this post.  However, if you’re interested in a deeper look at the principles and psychology of creating humor, read on. 

What’s the difference between Observational Humor and Customized Humor? 

Observational Humor, by my definition, is humor that springs from or is inspired by something that you’ve just seen or heard.  True Observational Humor lines are not jokes that you prepare in advance and bring to the event with the intention of using them. 

Customized humor may be funny lines that are written or adapted to fit a certain speech, event and audience.  For example, you might take a favorite golf joke and be prepared to tell it about the CEO of a company.  That’s a type of customized humor.  It’s not observational humor.  Sometimes I’ll round-out or fill-in an Observational Humor monologue with some of the lines I usually use in the opening of my keynote speech.  Those lines are not Observational Humor, they’re just an attempt to put a garnish on a monologue that might need some help.  Customized, pre-planned humor can have it’s place in a monologue, although I prefer to use it very sparingly.

My definition of Observational Humor does not exclude recycling previously used Observational Humor lines.  Nor does it mean you can’t use old jokes that are adapted to the present moment.  What makes Observational Humor special that it is inspired in the moment, not pre-meditated…although some pre-planned humor can certainly create the illusion of spontaneity.  Our goal is to become more skilled at in-the-moment humor and not solely relying on prepared lines.  Although a good monologue may contain some of both elements.

The focus of this article is about reusing old lines in a way that meets the intent and freshness of Observational Humor. 
What makes these “old” lines fresh is that you had no intent of using them until something at the event stimulated your recall of those lines.  Maybe five-percent of the time the lines I create for a monologue are lines I’ve used before or heard before, but I don’t bring them to the event with the intent of using them.  Here are some thoughts on the process of recycling lines in a fresh way.

I have, on many occasions, heard Patricia Fripp speak and have presented Observational Humor monologues on about eight of those occasions.  I attended a Lady and The Champs workshop in Las Vegas, presented by World Champion Speakers.  Most of he audience was hearing Fripp speak for the first time.  And the audience was mostly not familiar with my past Fripp-event monologues.

When I recycle an Observational Humor line (which happens most frequently at Toastmasters meetings), I often try to present the line with a different twist.  When you’re recycling a previous Observational Humor line, there are at least two reasons to change it.  First, you’re making an attempt to improve it.  Second, you’re challenging yourself to find a different angle for the joke.  That stretches your creative skills and helps you become a better creator of humor.  Sometimes the second time you tell the joke is not as strong as the first and that gives you the opportunity to analyze the process, to learn and to grow.

RECYCLE EXAMPLE NUMBER ONE

Here’s an abbreviated segment from a Fripp story which provided me a seed for Observational Humor:   She told about being in a Ladies Room and being approached by a woman who asked, “Are you British.”  And then added, “Aren’t you Patricia Fripp?”  The stranger had been in one of Fripp’s audiences in the past.

The first time I heard this story, here’s the monologue line I created.

I was in the Men’s Room during the lunch hour combing my hair.  A stranger came up behind me and said: “Are you British?”  I said, “No I’m not.”  And he replied, “For a second there I thought you were Patricia Fripp.”

This line was based on a reversal, placing me as the receiver in the men’s room, and got a very good laugh.  The second line was a topper.  And the absurdity of being mistaken for Fripp activated the joke.  I’m not British.  I’m not a woman.  I’m about a foot taller than Fripp.

About a year later, I was at another Fripp presentation and heard the same story.  I asked myself, “What can I do with this that would be different than the line I created the first time I heard the story?”

Here’s the approach I took:  During the lunch break, Fripp was in the restroom when a voice from behind asked, “Are you British?”  And then I realized I was in the Ladies Room.

In this joke, instead of reversing it to have me receiving the “are you British” line in the men’s room, I changed it to having it be ME as the person who said the line while accidentally in the ladies room.  The line received a strong response equal to the first line.

RECYCLE EXAMPLE NUMBER TWO

Here’s an example of a recycled joke where I didn’t change anything and which received a much weaker response the second time I used it, much to my surprise.  It’s also from a Patricia Fripp program:   Fripp is a successful speaker coach and often does her one-on-one coaching in a hotel room.  Some of the students had jokingly referred to meeting Fripp in their hotel room.  It became a running gag which came up at least three times during the day of the program. 

Here’s the line I created as a result of that seed:  I met Fripp 24 years ago when I joined NSA.  But I feel cheated.  Back then she wasn’t meeting men in their hotel room.

The line received a very strong response.

At a later program, another Fripp coaching client mentioned to the group that he had received coaching in his hotel room. It was a very specific reference, mentioning the hotel and room number.  I recycled the same line that I had used previously, since it had been such a strong line the first time.  It received a very weak response, just a titter. 

Here are some reasons for that luke-warm response to a line that previously received such a huge laugh.

Reason One:  It reminds me of the Curse-Of-Knowledge principle discussed in Made To Stick by Dan and Chip Heath.  (A highly recommended book.)  The principle refers to how we forget what it’s like not to know something.  Our knowledge blinds us. In this case, I was armed with the knowledge that “this joke is funny.”  The truth is that it was funny for the FIRST audience.  The second audience was a totally different event.  And surprise!  It wasn’t funny.  Every time you present a tested piece of humor, you still need to examine the circumstances, the set-up and the audience to evaluate whether the joke is structured right for THIS audience.  Don’t be fooled into KNOWING that a joke, which was funny once, will be funny again.

Reason Two:  The set-up seed at the second event had not become a running gag and had not been repeated three times during the day, as it was at the first event.  The group only heard the “met me in my hotel room” one time. 

Reason Three:  The relationship of Fripp to the two audiences was considerably different.  At the first event, it was HER speaker school.  She was on the platform the whole day, building a rapport with the audience and, in fact, was herself joking about meeting students in their hotel room.  She was the sole star of the day.  At the second event, she shared the platform with three other star presenters (Darren LeCroix, Ed Tate and Craig Valentine).  Many of the attendees had not heard her speak before and hence the relationship between Fripp and the audience was different from the first event.

Reason Four:  The audience perception of my relationship to Fripp was different from the first event to the second.  At the first event, I coordinated the registration desk for Fripp.  It was obvious we were friends.  At the second event, my connection to Fripp was not as obvious. 

When you combine Reason Three and Four, you have the issue of “permission” come into play.  Without the stronger relationship established between Fripp and the audience, and between Fripp and me (comparing the first event to the second), when the audience heard the line about Fripp “meeting men in their hotel room” they weren’t sure if they should laugh.  What’s Kinde implying here?  Will Fripp think it’s funny?  The laugh gets censored in the mind of the audience.  I hadn’t created the permission necessary for me to do the joke.

Here’s what I might have done differently. 

First, I needed to repeat the set-up since it had not been as strongly set-up during the day.  Since it had not been the subject of a running gag during the day, and only mentioned once, I could have opened the joke with, “Unlike the first speaker, I may not have met Fripp at the Suncoast Hotel, room 437.  But I did meet her 24 years ago…which was really a bummer, because back then she hadn’t started meeting men in their hotel rooms.”  This structure emphasizes the set-up necessary to give the joke a chance. 

Second, a set-up to establish that Fripp was in on the joke, an giving some clue that I’ve previously known her, would have been helpful.  Perhaps something like this:  “I’ve known Fripp for a long time.  I may not have met her at the Suncoast Hotel, room 437.  But I did meet her 24 years ago…which was really a bummer, because back then she hadn’t started meeting men in their hotel rooms.”  It makes the joke longer and a bit wordy (I like to say clunky), but sometimes a joke needs a more extensive set-up to work.  At the second event, the shorter version of the joke just didn’t work.

LESSONS LEARNED

Recycling previously used humor lines is a reasonable, and in fact a good thing to do.  I normally recommend trying to change the approach you use for the line to either improve it or at least give you the challenge just to do something different and make it a learning experience.  If you think a tested line is really strong, think twice and examine it within the context of THIS audience on THIS day.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because something was funny before, that it will be funny again.  Probability theory tells us that each repeat of a joke is a separate and independent event!

New Cartoon Caption Contest

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

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

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced at the start of the month (alternating months).

New Joke Contests are announced at the start of the month (alternating months).  The next Joke Contest is August 1, 2010.

Here is the cartoon:

Write as many captions as you can.  Then select your best three captions 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 will be judged by our panel of judges for first, second and third place.  Submit your entries to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by July 15, 2010.

Visit cartoonist Dan Rosandich who has an extensive and in-depth archive of categorized cartoons and cartoon pictures available for licensing at negotiable fees.