Trying Too Hard

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.