Zero-Tolerance Humor

The magician was about half-way through his competition act at a major Magic Convention.  Without warning the curtain quickly closed.  “Ladies and Gentlemen, please excuse a brief delay in our program.  It will continue shortly.”  In about three minutes:  “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome our next performer, John Smith.”

The previous performer seemed to have vanished from the contest.  The truth is he had been disqualified for unacceptable humor.  He had included a sexual joke in his act and the contest director, acting as Judge, Jury and Executioner, had pulled the plug on his performance.

It’s rare to see such quick feedback when humor crosses the line of good taste.  Reaction to poor taste humor is not rare, it’s just normally not so clearly expressed.

If you use off-color humor or stories in a talk, it’s likely that nobody will say anything to you.  But they will talk to someone else.  “Don’t hire him/her unless you want a nightclub act.”  The curtain will figuratively drop on your speaking career. 

A distinguishing factor between the corporate speaking engagement paid $10,000 for a one-hour performance and the act confined to a smoky room speaking to drunk people for $300 an hour, is the quality of the humor.

Compare the successful corporate humor speakers with the normal comedy-club performer and the main difference is the clean-quality of the humor.  Even the most successful stand-up comics play cleaner than the average comic.  Bill Cosby is an obvious example. 

But when it comes time to put an act or a speech together, it’s so much easier to drop in some off-color material.  It’s easy.  It usually gets a laugh.  We fall prey to the illusion that “it got laughs so it’s OK.”  Been there…done that.   And then, behind the scenes, people talk, and we fail to get repeat engagements.  It’s zero-tolerance silently in action.

Always take challenge to create humor the hard way.  Make sure it’s funny for the right reasons.  Make it funny because of the characters.  Because of the structure.  Because of the connections.  Because of the timing.  Because of the delivery.  Because of your effort and hard work.  Don’t take the easy way out and let the curtain drop on your career.