Archive for December, 2015

Trying Too Hard

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

We recently reveived a good comment from Adam Floyd (
about one of the jokes in the Observational Humor — Case Study #142.  His Comment: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but ‘I’ve written eight books. No…I ate my first book. I was hungry,’ felt a little try hard. If I heard it, I would think it was random and forced.”

Good point Adam. You’re right. As a stand-alone joke it isn’t especially clever. But it passed the most important test. It got a good laugh. One clue is that I only publish monologue jokes that get a good response. Not necessarily rolling-in-the-aisles humor, but better than a titter, a chuckle, or a groan. Occasionally I’ll publish a less-than-desired humor response reaction to a joke for the purpose of examining a failed joke and using it to make learning points. I know that in this case the joke worked because I printed it, without mentioning that it was a failed joke.

A reason that an Observational Humor joke works well is that the joke is supported by common experience of the audience. They heard that the guest speaker had written eight books. That gave context to the joke, helping make sense of why I used it.

I feel that an Observational Humor joke, supported by the connection to what went before, adds two points to the effectiveness of the joke. A weak joke response, rated a six, would be bumped up to an eight, very good on my arbitrary scale, because it was relevant to something which had been said or which had happened earlier in the meeting.

Some other triggers supporting the joke, most likely made a simple joke a keeper. “I’ve written eight books. No…I ate my first book. I was hungry.” If a joke is supported by more than one trigger, if one trigger misses, another may connect with the audience.

– A call-back to the mention of the speaker having written eight books.  This connection answers the audience member’s question, “Why is he making this simple joke? Why is the comment relevant?”

– A sound-alike connection between the words eight and ate.

– An implied punch line. I ate my first book implies that I was not
successful and that as a starving artist I ate my work. I immediatelyfollowed that by stating what I had just implied, feeling a need to make that clear.

– Self-deprecation. Stating that I was not a multi-published author, but closer to being a starving-artist.

– Using several connections that require some work on the part of the audience, kicks in the superiority factor.

– Coming at a simple joke from several directions can turn a “trying
too hard joke” into one that actually works. And the old saying is
probably true, that for it to be funny…you probably had to be there.

– But that’s NOT to say that EVERYBODY thought the joke was funny. humor is very subjective. But I know that the joke registered with the majority of those in the audience because I didn’t delete it from the published monologue. Thanks for sharing a good point with us Adam.

The Other Miss Universe Winner

Monday, December 21st, 2015

A Recipe For Confusion

You may have heard that Steve Harvey announced the wrong person as winner of the Miss Universe contest last night.  He had been a great emcee, and then mis-read the results card, crowning the wrong contestant.  Harvey is a seasoned performer.  I’m a big fan.  If it happened to him, it could certainly happen to you or me.   As Cavett Robert told us, “Learn from Other People’s Experience (OPE).”

Here is what unfolded:

Harvey while setting the stage for announcing the winner:  “One of you is about to become our new Miss Universe.  If for any reason she is unable to perform her duties, the First Runner Up will take her place.  Good luck to both of you.” Referring to Miss Columbia and Miss Philippines.

“Miss Universe 2015 is … Columbia.”  (The winner was actually Philippines.)

Less than two minutes later Harvey walks back on stage, realizing that he has an error to correct.

“OK folks…ah…there’s… I have to apologize.”

The audience cheers and laughs as if they were expecting a joke.

“The 1st runner up is Columbia.”

“Miss Universe 2015 is … Philippines.”

“Miss Philippines, take your first walk as Miss Universe.”

“Listen folks, let me just take control of this.  This is exactly what’s on the card.  I will take responsibility for this.  It was my mistake.  It was on the card.  Horrible mistake.  But the right thing.  I can show it to you right here…the First Runner Up is Columbia.  It was my mistake.  Still a great night.  Please don’t hold it against the ladies.”

A Recipe For Confusion:

1. Announcing the wrong winner started the confusion snowball rolling downhill. Nobody was confused yet, with the exception of the head judge and ballot counter who knew that the wrong person was crowned the winner.

2. Harvey was probably informed of the mistake by a messenger bearing bad news.

3. Steve Harvey had been an excellent emcee for the event. But to err is human…and it could have just as easily been you or me getting that panicky feeling accompanied with the thought: “Now what am I going to do?” The cliché tells us there are two kinds of emcees.  Those who have made mistakes in the performing of their duties, and those who will make mistakes in the future.

4. It took almost two minutes for Harvey to walk back on stage with the mission to correct the mistaken winner announcement. He needed to fix the announcement of First Runner Up and of the Winner.  But if we think of those announcements as punch lines, they need set-ups to give them context to make them understandable.  The opening line of, “OK folks…ah…there’s…I have to apologize,” tells the audience that something is to follow, but does not make it clear that a serious correction is coming.  He was trying to say, “we made a mistake,” but he doesn’t get the words out.  Therefore, when the corrections were made without proper context (set-up), they were a bolt out of the blue, totally unexpected.  The reaction of the audience following the word apologize, was laughter and applause which seemed to indicate that they were expecting a joke.  The correct 1st Runner-Up and winner were announced, but didn’t immediately sink in with the audience or the contestants.

5. When announcing corrections or changes, be clear how and to what they apply.

6. Part of the problem was that Harvey was not “on a script.”  The card he was reading simply had the names and place annotations for 2nd runner up, 1st runner up, and the 2015 Miss Universe winner.  He announced the Second Runner up, which was on the top of the card, Miss USA.  The card did not specify what to do next:

– Announce the 1st runner up, in which case the winner is implied and never heard over the cheers of the audience.

– Announce the winner and let the 1st runner up be implied.

– So it becomes an improvised choice on the part of the emcee.

7. The card also didn’t give instructions to say the words “in the event that she’s unable to perform her duties…” So Harvey was improvising, using standard pageant phraseology.  As important as the results of a contest are, avoiding improvisation, and working with a prepared script is a good idea.

8. If this was a recipe for confusion, who could have been confused:

– The emcee, in this case Steve Harvey, but it could have been you or me.

– The audience.  It took them a minute or two to understand what was happening.

– The winner, who was told to take her “first walk,” and who was standing next to the 1st Runner Up who was wearing the crown and sash of the winner.

– The 1st Runner Up.  Was she supposed to take the crown and sash and give them to the winner?

Lessons Learned for Future Emcees.

– Work from a complete script.  Improvisation does not have a place when the accuracy of results is important.

– Practice getting a completed results card from the Head Judge or Ballot Counter.  Read it out loud to ensue it’s clear and understandable.

– When announcing corrections or changes, be clear how and to what they apply.

– Ensure that the results card is printed or typed and a font size which is easy to read.

– When announcing corrections or changes, be clear how and to what they apply.

– If you are the emcee, bring your glasses if you need them.

– If you question what is on the results card, get clarification before you make the announcement.

The Cliche

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Avoid clichés like the plague.  So advises William Safire in Rules For Writers.  When a writer or speaker uses a cliché, it’s often with the intent of being descriptive or creative.  However, the effect of using a cliché is often the opposite of what is intended.

By its very nature, a cliché is a tired descriptive choice which lacks creativity.  Any phrase used by a bunch, loses its punch.  If you’re going to use a cliché…be the first.  If you use it first, you claim the fame.  Use it second, you’re blamed as lame.  In other words, create the fresh, catchy expression which other people will copy, and maybe making it a cliché. It’s like a multi-level-marketing opportunity.  The first to create the concept and the first to jump on the band wagon, are the ones who will profit he most.  Late comers to an MLM opportunity are like late adapters of a cliché.

This applies to all of your content.  Originality rules.  A well-worn joke can give your entire speech or routine the illusion of staleness.  Fast track your road to success with original content and humor.

A cliché may be a poor choice:

– When you are using it because you think it’s descriptive or creative.  The more over-used the expression is, the more poor the choice.

– When it’s the easy or lazy choice.  Don’t take a creative cop out.   Instead, make your target an original, creative, brilliant, catchy thought that’s destined to become a cliché.  Create a brilliant way of expressing something that has your fingerprints all over it.

A cliché may be a good choice:

– When used as a crystal clear set up for a joke.

– When it serves as a disguise to hide a punchline or to set a false expectation.  What may be considered as a hack choice of words, a cliché, may actually be hiding an unexpected punch line. Its familiarity may be just the short-cut you need set up the perfect joke.  Cliché camouflaging it a useful humor tool.

Break through the staleness factor of a cliché by increasing your cliché awareness. When you want to say that your fans are old, “What I’m saying is my fans don’t buy green bananas.”  A cliché.  An old joke which was funny the first time you heard it.  Look for a colorful and interesting way to say that you have older fans: “I’d have more fans here tonight if we had more charging stations for scooters.”

Set a goal to be the creator of clichés.  Be the first to write and deliver something so magnetic that it will attract other writers and speakers to copy it, and in time turning your expression into a cliché.

Stand-Up Comedy

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

The Power House Pros Second Annual Stand-Up Comedy Competition was held on November 30, 2015. Six brave and funny contestants took the challenge of being funny on stage. Congratulations to Elliott Chase, Andrea Grossen, Beverly Rideout, Joan Wang, JR Wilson, and Bill Parker.

In addition to the competitor presentations, we had comedy and tips delivered by five comedy coaches. Eric Culverson, George Gilbert, Al Jensen, Darren LaCroix, and Scott Pritchard.

And now, by the magic of video, you can drop in to the event and and enjoy the presentations.

Click here to view video

Special thanks to the contestants, the coaches, the Sgt at Arms JD Smith, the timer Jesse Oakley III, the Emcee Bill Brown, the Videographer/Editor Philip Dahlheimer, and the Facility Host Ryan Mulligan. And of course we thank the audience. Without you it would have just been a quiet rehearsal.

Humor Power Newsletter Changes

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Humor Power Tips Newsletter is celebrating its 20th Anniversary in February. That month also marks the 10th Anniversary of our Humor Power Blog.

We have published 245 issues of the newsletter.

We will be changing our Humor Power Tips Newsletter from Monthly to Quarterly. Our plan is to include a more substantial humor-skills article and fewer links in the newsletter to our Blog. Our next issue will be March 1, 2016.

In the 10 years since we started our Blog we have posted 783 times. We will continue to post to the Blog about once a week. For readers who like to hear from us more than four newsletters a year, please follow our Blog.

We may run an occasional contest, but our plan is to discontinue regular contests.

I look forward to a continued relationship through our Blog and quarterly newsletter. If you would like to comment on this format change, you can participate in a quick four-question survey.