Archive for December, 2010

Humor Book Reviews

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

I recently read two great books on humor, and I recommend them both to you.  Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin; and Growing Up Laughing, by Marlo Thomas.

Both books are inspirational, funny and touching.  And they are both a reminder of how “overnight success” is usually preceded by twenty years of hard work.

Born Standing Up gives us a look into the mind of a humor master. 

One of the insights he shares:  “I believed it was important to be funny now, while the audience was watching, but it was also important to be funny later, when the audience was home and thinking about it.  I didn’t worry a bit if I got no response, as long as I believed it had enough strangeness to linger.”

Jerry Seinfeld described Born Standing Up as “one of the best books about comedy and being a comedian ever written.”

Growing Up Laughing shares not only the wisdom of Marlo Thomas, but also is filled with interviews of top people in the comedy business:  Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Alan Alda, Joan Rivers, Robin Williams, and many more.

Marlo shares:  “Stand up comedy doesn’t require value judgments… it’s all about the score.  You get laughs or you don’t.”  Unlike giving a motivational speech, where you can believe people are being motivated, when you’re presenting humor, either you’re funny or you’re not.  The feedback is black and white.

Both the books are engaging, fun to read, and filled with insights that will help you understand the art and science of humor.

These links will take you to Amazon.  Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin.  Growing Up Laughing, by Marlo Thomas.

Joke Contest Results — Being a Comedian

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

It’s time to look at the top entries for the December Joke Contest:  Being a Comedian.  It’s a Pun Fest.

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 January 1, 2011.

Here are the top lines selected by our panel of six judges (speakers and improv players).


A DEA agent could be a comedian.  He’d be great with narc-narc jokes.
     Sandy Kampner, Oak Lawn, Illinois


A telescope could be a comedian, if it has good observational powers.
     Gerald Fleishmann, Fountain Valley, California


I would suggest that Rodney Dangerfield could be a good comedian, but I must disrespectfully decline.
     Marty Bernstein, Oak Park, Illinois

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – A dominatrix could be a comedian…she has lots of gags.
  – Sasquatch could do a great bit on “You know what they say about the size of a man’s foot…”
  – A fumigator would be a great comedian, he just kills.
  – My mail box could be a comedian because I laugh every time I open it up and have yet another offer for mortgage protection.
  – A cigar could be a comedian. They hang around Humor doors.
  – A duck could be a comedian. They quack me up.
  – A rubber ball could be a comedian. It always bounces back when a joke bombs.
  – Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer could be a comedian because he knows how to sleigh an audience.
  – A person who came out of the closet could be a comedian since he no longer wanted to be a straight man.
  – My crocheting grandma could be a comedian because she is such a knit-wit.
  – A bad chef could be a comedian because everything he makes tastes funny.
  – The reluctant terrorist could be a comedian if he wants only his jokes to bomb.
  – The demolition expert could be a comedian provided his jokes are a blast.
  – The fishermen could be a comedian since he’s handy with one-liners.
  – A Pot-Bellied Pig would be a good comedian because it’s funny looking and it could really ham it up.
  – John Kinde could be a comedian…if only he was funny.
  – A fitness trainer could be a comedian…especially one who makes you laugh so hard that your abs hurt.
  – A lipstick could be a comedian.  All it has to do is change its first name to “slap.”
  – A shirt could be a comedian, if its material isn’t too thin.
  – A mail order tux shop could be a comedian.  It knows how to deliver a topper.
  – An eyeball could be a comedian, though most of its jokes are in a vitreous humor.
  – The Three Musketeers could be comedians.  They always follow the rule of three.
  – A summer camp lifeguard could be a comedian.  He always uses the buddy system.
  – A stockbroker could be a comedian…he’s full of bull and you have to bear it.
  – A window frame could be a comedian, because it’s silly.
  – The Pony Express coach driver could be a comedian.  He’s always on the stage.
  – An aerobics instructor could be a comedian…she’d have the audience rolling in the aisles.
  – An astronomer could be a comedian…doing impressions of all the big stars.
  – A postman could be a comedian.  He would have a great delivery.
  – A musician could be a comedian.  The jokes would be sharp and not fall flat.
  – A chicken could be a comedian…unless she lays an egg.
  – A hyena could be a comedian because it laughs at its own jokes.
  – Stephen King could be a comedian.  Every joke would be a killer.
  – An old automobile could be a comedian, telling self-depreciating jokes.
  – Joe Pechi could be a comedian. You’d laugh like your life depended on it.
  – A surgeon could be a comedian.  The audience would be in stitches.
  – A phone could be a comedian if it could get rid of its hang-ups.
  – A can opener could be a comedian.  It’s on the cutting edge.
  – Freddie Kruger: His core cutting humor on stage would always kill the audience.
  – Fighter planes could be comedians because they can really bomb.
  – Parents of teenagers could be comedians because they’re used to being heckled.
  – Grave diggers would be great comedians because they have the dirt on everybody.
  – Arm bones could be great comedians because they are humerus.
  – Any politician would be a good comedian.  There’s something funny about all of them.
  – Tony the Tiger is a good comedian.  Everything he says is GREAT!
  – Dalmatians are good comedians.  You will always spot the punchline.
  – US Mint employees are good comedians…their jokes make cents.
  – Meteorologists are good comedians.  They predict the future.  Ha ha ha.
  – Poker players could be good comedians because of their straight lines.  If they bet wrong, they would get flushed, and don’t even get me started on three of a Kinde.
  – A tariff maker’s humor could be tariffic.
  – BARBers  make good insult comics.
  – Carpenters are good joke tellers.  They nail it.
  – Chiropractors crack you up.
  – Fish and game wardens could tell great stories about their wild life
  – Bowlers could be comedians.  Their humor is striking.
  – A lawyer could be a comedian.  He knows how to twist the truth.
  – A stripper could be a comedian.  She knows how to conceal, then reveal a surprise.
  – Santa Claus could be a comedian, but he laughs at his own jokes.  Ho ho ho.
  – A pole vaulter could be a comedian, but he might be a bit over the top.
  – An accountant could be a comedian…if she focused on the bottom punchline.

Delivering Humor — Let There Be Light

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Does humor play best with the lights up…or with the lights down?  I’ve written on this topic before.  Let me add some additional thoughts.

You have two areas of concern for lighting.  First, the lighting for the stage or the performance area.  And second, the lighting for the audience area.

We also need to recognize that sometimes you can control the lighting, sometimes you can’t.  For example, if you’re performing in a comedy club, it’s unlikely you’ll have much control over the lights.  They normally like to have the audience in the dark with bright spots on the stage.  If you want something different, you can ask, but be prepared to be happy with whatever they give you.


Although there are different lighting considerations depending on whether you’re doing a stand-up comedy routine or giving a humorous speech with a message…you will almost always want the stage well lit.

We are creatures of habit.  We are used to watching stand-up comedy in a dark room with bright spotlights on the stage.  When the show starts, we’ve been conditioned to “get ready to laugh” when the house lights go down and the stage lights go up.

The stage or speaking platform should always be well lit, even for a speech.  I’d never suggest a totally dim-lit room, which would include the stage.  The speaker or performer must always be clearly seen.  And optimal lighting makes the stage brighter than the audience area in most all cases.  That directs focus to the stage and ensures that the audience can pick up subtle expressions.


Laughter is contagious.  People are inclined to laugh if they HEAR others laughing and also if they SEE others laughing.  When it comes to generating good laughs, the hearing is more important than the seeing…but together they have a synergistic effect to maximize the humor when something funny is presented.  Hearing and seeing other people laughing creates a sense of community.  That’s good for increasing the laughter.  And that’s more likely to happen if the audience is somewhat lit, rather than sitting in the dark.

However, in a comedy club, just as we are trained to expect the spotlights on the stage, we are also expecting to have the house lights dimmed.  The audience is often sitting in the dark.  If the house lights were on, it would seem strange.  It wouldn’t feel right.  We would probably laugh less.  We’re pre-programmed to laugh in a comedy club’s dark room.  Almost any Las Vegas show is performed with the audience un-lit.

Another reason for playing stand-up comedy in the dark is that stand-up comedy frequently includes borderline subject material:  Sex, bodily functions, body parts, and non-PC subject matter.  A dark room gives us the “privacy” to laugh at something with less concern about being watched and judged.  So in that context, a dark room plays best for comedy-club humor.

In my opinion, there is a difference in optimal audience lighting for stand-up comedy performances and public speaking situations.  My experience has taught me that speech humor plays best in a room where the audience is lit.  Not sunshine bright…but light enough for the audience members to easily see each other.  When I hit a punchline, I want people to hear and SEE others laughing.  It magnifies the laughs. 

And your subject material in a “speech” is usually (and should be) in good taste…so the self-consciousness issue is less of a factor when you are a public speaker with a message rather than a comic doing joke-joke-joke.

In making your lighting choices, you might consider the “performance” aspect of your program.  If you’re putting on a “show” and your primary goal is to entertain your audience, a darker room for the audience may be appropriate.  This helps match the ambiance with what is expected by the audience.  If you’re doing lots of comedy, and maybe some magic, the audience will be placed into the laughing mode quicker if they are in a darker room.  That’s what they’re used to when enjoying professional comedy.

On the other hand if you’re doing a motivational after-dinner talk…humor with a message…people will likely be relaxing, connecting, finishing their meal and coffee.  Some light on the audience is a good thing.  The light in the room helps establish a connection between the speaker and the audience.  A speech is never a monologue, it’s always a two-way conversation.  But the feedback from the audience is not normally spoken.  Eye contact in a lit room strengthens the delivery, drives home the humor, and helps the speaker.

There are pros and cons when it comes to speaking in a light or a dark room.  Be aware of the factors, make intelligent choices, and study the effect of your lighting environment on the reaction of your audience.  It will help you make smart choices the next time you speak.

Observational Humor — Case Study #63

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Here’s a look at Observational Humor presented after a presentation by Mike Rayburn, professional guitarist, comic, motivational speaker.

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

1.  Guest speaker Mike Rayburn is a professional speaker and entertainer.  He is a very funny guy.

2.  Ben Klink introduced Mike and made reference to something being Sizzling Red Hot, “Like my face.”  The line got a big laugh.

3.  Mike quoted Descartes:  I think…therefore I am.  Then he twisted the phrase for a big laugh.

4.  Mike joked that one of the fun things about having a career as a comic is that you occasionally get to speak to drunk people.

5.  Bobby was a guest from another club.  He is a very funny guy and often kids about stealing other people’s jokes.

6.  As one of his amazing guitar numbers, Mike did a musical parody of Dueling Banjos, where he played a duel between a guitar and a middle-eastern instrument, using only an accoustic guitar.

7.  Mike referred to a genetically modified tomato that even flies won’t eat.


Here’s the humor tip for the day.  If you want your humor to be a big hit…volunteer to follow a brilliant, professional comic.
(The joke suggests that the opposite will happen.  It’s saying that following a pro, by comparison, your humor will appear lame.  Self-deprecation.)

That will make your humor sizzling-red-hot…like Ben Klink’s face.
(Ben’s earlier comment received a big laugh.  That made the comment a good target for an Observational Humor joke.)

As I heard Mike speak, I realized:  I’m funny…therefore I am!
(Twisting a cliche to fit my theme of humor.)

I’ve got a great idea to improve our club meetings.  Let’s bring a Keg to each meeting.  And we can speak to drunk people.
(Silly suggestion.  Good laugh.)

Have you met our guest, Bobby?  He’s from another club.  This week he’ll be doing jokes with set-ups written in America and with punchlines written in Baghdad…which will result in jokes that flies won’t laugh at.
(A call back to the musical parody of dueling banjos.  Includes a topper, twisting the reference to what flies will and won’t do.  A huge laugh.)

Joke Contest — Being a Comedian

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

The theme for this month’s contest is Being a Comedian.

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

New Cartoon Caption Contests are announced at the start of the month (alternating months).  The next Cartoon Caption Contest will be announced January 1, 2011.

Your challenge this month is to name an object and then explain its qualifications to be a comedian.

Here are some examples:

An orange could be a comedian — But only the variety with a thick skin.

A boxer could be a comedian — The humor would have good punchlines.

The President could be a comedian — He’s always providing jokes to late-night talk-show hosts.

Create as many lines as you can.  Submit your best lines with your name, city, state, country.  Your first three lines will be considered for Top-Three recognition.  Lines submitted beyond your first three will be eligible for Honorable Mention.  Please submit your entries by December 15, 2010.  Send them to