Archive for August, 2010

Analysis of Jokes

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Contest Observations — The Perfect Pet

What one person finds funny is not the same as the next person.  My favorite line was not picked as a top-three line by the judges.  That doesn’t mean anyone is right or wrong.  That’s just the way it is.  Humor is subjective.

There is more than one angle to a joke.  Just as there are a variety of ways to approach creating a joke…there are just as many ways to receive and “get” a joke.  Not everyone does it the same way.

Let’s look at some of the connections and triggers that helped people write lines for The Perfect Pet.

Key Words:  Words associated with a group or profession.
Stand-up comedian:  Hamster (key word HAM)
Comic:  Mockingbird (key word MOCK)
Bowler:  Alley Cat (key word Bowling ALLEY)
Weight lifter:  Mussels (key word MUSCLES)

Fork (sub-category)
A musician:  A doe, a deer, a female deer (sub-category of DEER–Doe)
Bill Gates:  70 billion male Deer (sub-category of DEER–Buck)

Non-Animals (insects and fish)
Tall fathers:  Daddy long legs (Spider)
Wig fitter:  Heron (Fish)

Non-Animals (but sounds like animal)
Chiropractor:  Charlie Horse
Candy maker:  Chocolate Moose

Similar Sounds
Shakespearian actor:  Two bees (TO BE)
Impatient Uncle:  Antelope (AUNT ELOPE)
Wig fitter:  Heron (HAIR ON)
Master of no trades:  Jackal (JACK OF ALL)

Adding a topper
Shakespearian actor:  Two bees, or not
Noah:  Aardvark, in pairs

Shakespearian actor:  Two bees (To be or not to be)
Circus ringmaster:  Dog and Pony (Dog and pony show)
Someone standing on the other side of the road:  A chicken (uses chicken joke cliche)

Implied punchline
Sitcom Producer:  Hyena in a trash can (Canned Laughter–a little work is required on the part of the listener)
Pear farmer:  Partridge (the connector word TREE is not mentioned)
Lingerie designer:  Zebra (Z is an implied cup size)

Song Lyrics
A musician:  A doe, a deer, a female deer (Do Re Mi)
Pear farmer:  Partridge (12 Days of Christmas)

Word with double meaning
Dermatologist:  Mole
CIA Agent:  Mole

Action verb
Boxer:  Slug

Physical object
A baseball player:  A bat
Construction worker:  Crane

Dyslexic God:  Dog

Contest Results — The Perfect Pet

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Here are the results from our August contest — The Perfect Pet.  The top three entries were selected by a panel of six judges (speakers and improv players).

New Joke Contests are announced on the first of the month (alternating months).

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of the month (alternating months).  The next caption contest is September 1, 2010.

Watch for an analysis of this contest’s entries to be posted on August 24, 2010.

Here are this month’s top lines:


Stand-up comedian:  Hamster
     Dr. Jayita Deodhar, Mumbai, India


Bowler:  Alley Cat
     Sandy Kampner, Evergreen Park, Illinois, USA

** THIRD PLACE (Tie) **

Shakespearian actor:  Two bees
     Tom Nee, Oak Lawn, Illinois, USA

Chiropractor:  Charlie Horse
     Sol Morrison, Santa Barbara, California, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

Impatient Uncle:  Antelope
Circus ringmaster:  Dog and Pony
Bill Gates:  70 billion male Deer
Sitcom Producer:  Hyena in a trash can
Lingerie designer:  Zebra
Someone standing on the other side of the road:  A chicken
Comic:  Mockingbird
Dog park attendant:  Scoopy doo doo
Weight lifter:  Mussels 
Pear farmer:  Partridge
Dyslexic God:  Dog
Computer programmer:  Bugs and a mouse
Overly aggressive lawyer:  Badger
Abigail Van Buren:  Deer
Pharmacist:  Pill bug
Optometrist:  Gazelle
Dermatologist:  Mole
Writer:  Penguin
Construction worker:  Roadrunner
Auctioneer:  Parrot
Candy maker:  Chocolate lab
Middle aged model:  Cougar
Landscaper:  Hedge hog
Afghanistan Freedom Fighter:  Afghan hound
Carpenter:  Dormouse
Carpenter:  Woodpecker
Plagiarist:  Cheetah
CIA Agent:  Mole
Retired Auctioneer:  Horse
Rubbish pole jumper:  Tadpole
Personal Assistant:  Gopher
Phlebotomist:  Bloodhound
Candy maker:  Chocolate moose
Person who contradicts himself:  A pair of ducks
Prisoner:  Flea
Quack:  A duck
Umpire:  Any kind of fowl
Angry nursing home resident: Old yeller
Wright Brothers:  Mayfly
Priest:  Praying mantis
Noah:  Aardvark
Right-wing news reader:  Fox 
Boxer:  Slug 
Construction worker:  Crane
Soap maker:  Crocodile
Wig fitter:  Heron
Master of no trades:   Jackal
Comedians named Monty:  Python
Bozo:  Clownfish 
Tall fathers:  Daddy long legs
Electrician’s dog:  Wire haired terrier
A gambler’s favorite pet:  Fat Kitty
Opie’s favorite pets:  Ant, Bee
Mechanic:  Horse (If he can’t fix your car, he can lend you his horse.)Blackjack dealer:  Pit bull
Al-Qaeda foot soldier:  Terrierist

Canned Laughter

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Here’s an interesting article on Canned Laughter by Ben Glenn II, Television Historian.  It was published in the Paris Review Daily and brought to my attention by Loren Ekroth, Dr Conversation.

Humor Is Contagious

Friday, August 13th, 2010

If you’re going to a theater to see a funny movie…would you rather have the theater to yourself…or would you prefer to watch it with lots of other people?

Most people would rather share the movie with a good-sized audience.  Why?  Because laughter is contagious.  And if the movie is really funny, the enjoyment and laughter will be magnified by the crowd’s response to the film. 

When a room full of people are laughing, most people join in.  Laughter is contagious.

The key factor in the contagious nature of laughter is HEARING other people laugh.  But SEEING other people laugh is also important.

Because laughter is contagious, many television comedy shows have employed laughter-enhancement strategies.  Some have performed their shows live.  The best thing to energize the response to comedy is a live audience.  Another strategy has been to sweeten the laughter with a laugh track…canned laughter edited into the sound track. 

Although when producing a comedy TV show, a laugh track is not always chosen.  Adding canned laughter is a difficult art.  When done less than perfectly, the artificial nature of canned laughter can be irritating and work against the contagious element of laughter. 

Some of the current shows are played with no laugh track.  They rely on the strength of the writing and respect that the home audience will find it funny and do their own laughing.  Hopefully you’re watching it at home with friends.

Of course, the laughter response to a speech is not influenced by just a single factor.  There is the quality of the writing.  There is the reputation of the speaker.  There is the relationship between a speaker and the audience.  There is quality of the room, the sound, the lighting, the arrangement of the seating.  The size of the audience is a big factor.

Let’s look at some of these elements that may be factors in contagious laughter.

The contagious nature of laughter is a factor every time you use humor from the platform.  That’s why, when presenting humor, you’ll find that a large audience almost always beats a small audience if you care about the laughter.  An audience of 50 is better than an audience of 10.  In my opinion the best sized audience is between 50 and 400 with the ideal size being 200.  In my opinion, when you have more than 400 people you start to lose the conversational connection with your audience, and although you may get more contagious laughter, what is lost in connection isn’t worth the extra laughter you gain.

A club-level speech contest is often one of the most difficult contests.   The higher level contests have bigger audiences and hence more  contagious laughter.

When speaking at a conference, you might notice that the audience response is better with round tables than with straight theater seating.   Round tables make it easier for audience members to see each other.   Contagious laughter is enhanced.  If you have theater-style seating, try to arrange a chevron pattern where the left and right rows of chairs are slightly slanted toward the center of the speaking platform. It helps the audience member see others who are laughing.

An indoor speaking room almost always trumps an outdoor venue.   Likewise a room with a low ceiling traps the laughter better than a high ceiling, and thus magnifies the laughter.

Tall table center pieces can be a culprit in sabotaging laughter.  Primarily they keep people from seeing the speaker.  And secondly, they keep people in the audience from seeing each other.  If you don’t see others laughing, you’re not as likely to laugh yourself.

In my opinion, a common comedy myth is that humor plays best in a dark room.  I definitely feel that you’ll get more laughs if the room is lit.  People need to see each other to maximize the laughter.  We’re not talking about blinding light, but rather some light on the audience is better than no light.  We are conditioned to hearing comedy in a dark room.  In a comedy club, lights out and a spotlight on the stage says “Showtime!”  And in a theater, it’s always lights out.  But when it comes to giving a speech, you’ll almost always get a better audience response with some light in the room.  That’s always my first choice.

The contagious nature of laughter requires that you master the pause.   An audience response will never be instantaneous.  You’ll need to be patient for the contagious element of your audience response to kick in.  In fact, with a really large audience, you may notice the wave-effect as laughter rolls over the audience. 

Make sure that your audience’s laughter can be heard and seen.  Understanding and anticipating the contagious nature of laughter will help you maximize your laughs.

Observational Humor — Case Study #59

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I presented a Humor Workshop at a Las Vegas Toastmasters club.  The format of the meeting was a regular TM meeting (business session, impromptu speeches, prepared speeches, and evaluations).  Following the normal meeting, I presented an Observational Humor monologue and then a Humor Workshop.

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

1.  The meeting was advertised as a Humor Workshop.

2.  During the business meeting, there was an extended discussion about the purchase of a portable lectern for the club.

3.  Club meetings often begin with the Pledge of Allegiance.

4.  Diane Hunter was dressed with Red-White-and-Blue accents.

5.  A speaker said that the greatest fear was speaking in public.

6.  Someone mentioned the cliche of people “laughing their pants off.”

7.  A quote from Darren LaCroix:  If we improved our speaking skills one percent every day, after seventy days we’d be twice as good a speaker as we are today.

8.  I was presenting a humor workshop for the Lunatics Toastmasters club.

9.  S Frank Stringham is one of the club members.  He is a bigger-than-life, comedic entertainer.

10.  S Frank Stringham, presented some humor thoughts while sharing some printed comic strips with the audience.


Welcome to the Portable Lectern Workshop.
(Implied that the main purpose of the meeting was to talk about Portable Lecterns, not to present a humor workshop.)

If we’re ever missing an American flag…we can pledge allegiance to Dianne Hunter.
(I asked Dianne to stand before I delivered the line.  Her standing was part of the setup to the joke, making sure people knew how she was dressed.)

Speaking in public is said to be one of life’s greatest fears.  That’s not true.  The greatest fear is actually trying to be funny and having people just stare at you.  Or trying to be serious and having people laugh at you.
(A simple observational twist.)

My greatest fear is when I present my humor, that people will laugh their pants off.  Please don’t!
(This is a topper, riding on the coat tails of the previous joke.)

If you become one percent funnier each day for 70 days, you’ll become twice as funny.  Of course if you aren’t funny at all…you still won’t be funny.
(Stating a not-so-obvious truth.)

Many people, when they come to a Toastmasters meeting for the first time, expect to see us presenting toasts.  When people come to Lunatics for the first time, they expect to get mooned.  When I found out that S Frank was a member, I was expecting a full moon.  That would be like watching a comic strip!
(I set up the joke series by stating a common misconception about Toastmasters clubs, that we do toasts.  I then used the root from Lunatics, Lunar, Moon to set up the first joke.  The first topper linked S Frank to the Lunatics club name.  The second topper played with the double meaning of “comic strip.”)

New Joke Contest — The Perfect Pet

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

The theme for this month’s Joke Contest is The Perfect Pet.  Your challenge is to come up with the ideal pet for a specific profession or person.  In the creative process you can start with a pet and look for the profession which would be the perfect match.  Or you can start with the profession and look for the ideal pet.

Here are three examples:

A baseball player:  A bat.
A dull talk-show host:  A yak and a boar.
A musician:  A doe, a deer, a female deer.

Tune your humor radar and get to work!  Submit your best three entries for review by the judges.  Additional entries may be submitted for Honorable Mention consideration.  Send your entries to by August 15, 2010.