Humor Content Versus Delivery

When you present a humor line, the trigger which activates your funny line normally involves something your SAY, or something you DO, or a combination of both.

Although it varies from person to person, it’s most often what the speaker says, more than what he or she does, that triggers the joke.  Most jokes depend on the content, the words, to establish the humorous connection that results in laughter.  But occasionally, it’s the physical action or delivery that makes the joke funny.

At a recent club meeting, we presented our regular Observational Humor segment at the end of the meeting.  Every member is given the opportunity to share their humorous observations.

Here are some things that happened during the meeting which set-up some of the funny lines:

1.  Ryan evaluated a speech and suggested that the speaker, when pointing at someone, not use his finger but rather point with his entire hand, palm up.  He suggested that pointing with the index finger might be interpreted as rude.

2.  At the end of the meeting, we opened the floor to Observational Humor comments.  Ryan, one of our consistently funny members, presented several excellent Observational Humor Lines. 

When it came time for my monologue, I opened with:  “Ryan…Great Observational Humor!”  And I pointed at him with my index finger.  It got a very small reaction.  Not counting the possibility that the joke just wasn’t funny…what happened?

1.  Was the audience so focused on what I was SAYING that they were not paying any attention to what I was DOING?  It’s normal for an audience to focus on the meaning of the words and to make interpretations and connections.  In the process of doing that, it’s not surprising that they might miss a nuance in the physical presentation.

2.  Was the audience confused because it looked like I was singling out Ryan for excellent Observational Humor and not others who also presented good lines?  Confusion is normally not a good trigger for humor.  It draws people away from what was supposed to trigger the laughs.

3.  Was the audience wondering why I was recognizing Ryan for excellent Observational Humor lines, when that’s what he consistently does anyway?  Again, the confusion factor comes into play.

I made the immediate judgment that the pointing was a good humor trigger and that the audience just didn’t notice the gesture. 

So after a beat or two with little laughter, without saying a word, I pointed again in a very exaggerated gesture.  Big laugh.  I had faith in the joke and gave it a second chance.  I gave it the time needed to be recognized and processed by the audience.  And it worked.

Keep in mind, the success of a humor line may sometimes depend on your physical delivery moreso than the content or the words.

1.  This might require that you stop talking to allow the audience to focus on the physical.  It might be pointing.  It could be a flirty glance at someone.  Or it could be a nervous smile.  The physical element could be one of a thousand things.  The presentation might demand a pause in the talking for the visual to register.  By repeating the gesture without talking, I gave it that chance. 

And the audience realized, “Oh, I get it.  He’s pointing.”  They were then able to make the connection with, “Ryan said not to point.”

2.  The more physical and high-energy the speaker is, the more the elements of physical delivery take center stage.  The style of the speaker affects the need to focus on the content versus the physical.  My humor is largely content dependent and I sometimes have to take special effort to draw attention to the physical.  It’s an opposite consideration for a very physical-style speaker.  Are you a content or a physical speaker?  Your strength takes care of itself.  Your weakness needs the attention.

3.  The physical element of the joke can be accentuated by enlarging the delivery, making it bigger.  Or you could draw attention to it by isolation, delivering the gesture in a window of silence.

Through experience, you’ll develop an awareness of all aspects of presentation and automatically develop the proper balance in your presentation to make your humor work.