A Non-Sequitur Bombed

A non-sequitur can be used as a humor trigger because of the relationship, or non-relationship, it creates.  A non-sequitur is a statement in which the final part is totally unrelated to the first part.  Or it’s an argument in which its conclusion does not follow from its premises.

An example of a non-sequitur:  I am Norwegian and I am Scandinavian.  Bob is not Norwegian therefore Bob is not Scandinavian.  There is a dis-connect in the logic and the conclusion does not ring true.

Another example:  The news stand was out of Sports Illustrated…I should have worn clean underwear.  Second part does not flow logically from the first part of the statement.

About a month ago, the Word Of The Day at our Toastmasters meeting was non-sequitur.  A week later I decided to try a non-sequitur joke in my Observational Humor monologue. 

The set-up for the joke was a Television commercial which I had recently seen on a couple of the local TV stations.  It was a bunion commercial.  It featured segments of ordinary people going about their daily activities:  “I love jogging…hate the bunions.”  “I love my job…hate the bunions.”  “I love shopping…hate the bunions.”

The commercial stood out to me because I had seen it at least a dozen times.  So I decided to close my Observational Humor monologue with a non-sequitur joke.  Here it is:

“I love humor…hate the bunions.”

I thought that was funny…since there is no logical connection between humor and the bunions.  The audience sat there and just looked at me.  Not a smile.  After about five seconds I received a sympathetic titter.  The joke didn’t work.  I normally close with a joke that I feel is a sure winner.  So the lack of response was a total surprise to me.

Back to the drawing board.  Time to learn a lesson:

1.  Ask questions.  I talked to some audience members after the meeting.  Most people had not seen the bunion commercials.  Oops.  An incorrect assumption on my part.  I felt that at least half of the people there would have seen the commercials.  I was way off base.

2.  Just like me.  Part of the problem may have been the assumption that people were similar to me.  The bunion commercial was advertising for a local foot-care center.  Most of the commercials aired in the early morning hours when the rates were cheaper.  I often get up between midnight and 4:00 am for a drink of water, and before I go back to sleep I turn on the TV and watch for five minutes.  That’s when I see the commercial.  On reflection afterward, people who attend Toastmasters meetings are probably watching less TV than your average person.  And even fewer are watching in the wee hours of the morning.  So I was using a set-up that probably no one could relate to.  They weren’t just like me, putting themselves in the place to see the commercial.

3.  A clear set-up.  The fact that I used a non-sequitur, which made no logical sense, magnified the need for a clear set-up.  A vague set-up based on an incorrect assumption just didn’t do the trick.  In hind-sight, when using a non-sequitur, a crystal-clear set-up is very important.  Forget playing with the superiority theory and letting the audience do most of the work to get the joke.  I should have referred to the previous week’s word of the day, perhaps defined it, and used a non-sequitur in my comments…before I did my closing joke.

4.  Speak clearly.  The feedback also told me that several people didn’t catch the word BUNION.  I may have been sloppy in my projection or my enunciation.  Or the problem could have been that bunion is not a commonly used word.  I don’t think I’ve used the word bunion in the last 20 years, in conversation.  That’s probably the same for other people too.  Combine the fact that it’s an un-common word with the fact that the train of logic is a total disconnect and you have a sentence which is greeted not with laughs but with “Huh? What did he just say?” Just as I should have mentioned the process of doing a joke with a non-sequitur, I also should have made a comment about bunions before I needed to use it as a punchline to a joke.  And I needed to speak the word BUNION clearly.

5.  Go to school.  You learn more when you bomb than when you get a huge laugh from a joke.  Always go to school when you have a joke that falls flat.  On the flip side, also go to school when you get a laugh where you were not expecting one.  It’s understanding the unexpected which prepares us for stronger performances in the future.