Borrowing Humor

June 12th, 2016

Patricia Fripp had a fall earlier this year, landing on her face. Ouch. She split her lip and went to the emergency room for stitches. In typical Fripp The-Show-Must-Go-On style, she preseted a webinar a few days later. When there is a program on the calendar, the Pro shows up ready to perform.

If I had a mishap and it was still obvious that I had an accident (crutches, a sling, stitches) here’s an opening line that I might be tempted to use:

“To paraphrase Phyllis Diller…I have a public service announcement. In the book, 50 Shades of Gray, there is a typo on page 137…but it was worth it.”

Here are some thoughts on using an opening line from another source:
– The joke is borrowed from Phyllis Diller, via Gene Perret, multiple Emmy-Award-winning comedy writer.
– My edited joke gives Diller credit.
– The punch line is implied.
– It is adapted, Diller had a broken arm.
– It’s updated, forty-some years ago the joke referred to the book, The Joy of Sex.
– And it includes a topper.

– When would “borrowing” a joke be acceptable, and when might it get you in trouble? Sometimes we might be tempted to substitute “steal” for the word “borrow.” But for now we will just use the word BORROW.

– If someone were to borrow humor that you had written, how would you like for them to handle it? Then drop yourself into the process of borrowing someone else’s creative work.

– Using someone else’s creativity as inspiration for your presentation is a short-cut to humor. But the pro is more likely to write his or her own jokes.

– Updating or adapting a joke may seem to make the joke yours and to give you permission, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes that green light is an illusion.

– Repeating a joke to friends in a social situation is not likely to be a problem.

– Where you may get into trouble is when you put a borrowed joke into a platform presentation. Giving credit for a joke might be sufficient, especially for one-time use, relating the joke to something fresh that just happened. But it becomes questionable if it becomes a regular part of a professional talk. Making money from someone else’s intellectual property may be crossing the line.

– If you’ve adapted a joke, changed it to bring it up to date, it is still a good idea to give credit to the original source. The act of rewriting a joke doesn’t automatically make it YOUR joke.

– When using humor for gain, as a professional who is paid to speak, is when you start dancing on thin ice. Whether a joke is adapted, adopted, or source-cited, giving credit is likely the right thing to do. The safe thing to do. Maybe even the legal thing to do.

– If you stray into the gray areas, err on the side of caution.

– As with “fair use” considerations in the copyright world, the amount of humor you borrow affects the acceptability of your use of someone else’s material. Using a two-page humorous story comes close to borrowing a signature story, and credited or not most likely falls in the unacceptable category of use. On the other hand, a two or three line joke, with proper credit given, is likely to fall in the range of acceptable behavior.

– What if other people are borrowing YOUR humor? Allowing your
humor to be used by others, unchallenged by you, may place your
material into a free-for-all category. Humor which is freely and
frequently used by many people can become part of the common domain and available for all to use.

– If someone is using YOUR humor, resolve it first with the offending party. In most cases, the offending party will do what is right. A couple of examples from my experience. About twenty years ago, a professional humorist borrowed a humorous story from my newsletter and published it in his newsletter with no credit. It was about a half-page, word-for-word lifting of my writing. I decided to write him a letter commenting on another part of his newsletter, just to let him know that I was reading his material. The problem never appeared again. Another example, an entire article, word-for-word, was published on someone’s web site, specifically naming someone else as the author. I contacted the editor of the website. It turned out to be an honest mistake and he changed the credit line immediately. People usually want to and will do the right thing.

– If you need to or want to use someone else’s material, sometimes it’s as simple as asking permission. Permission may come free, just ask. Sometimes it comes with a small fee.

– It’s not likely you’ll run into a lawsuit for misuse of material. But if
you are on the offending side of the behavior, the issue could land on the desk of an ethics committee. It could give you bad word-of-mouth. It could affect your reputation. And if you’re on the receiving end of a lawsuit, it’s probably from someone who has deeper pockets than you. Not good.

– If you are the offended party, when you raised the issue with the
offending party, what did they say? That’s the first step. Don’t start
with a letter from your attorney, file a law suit, or make a complaint with an ethics committee. When you talk with the offending party, most of the time they will make it right.

– All things considered, if I had a recent mishap which was obvious to the audience, I would be comfortable using the adapted joke giving Phyllis Diller credit. But my first choice is not to have an accident.

– When appropriate, see an attorney. The opinions expressed in this article are based on my experience and are not a substitute for qualified legal advice.

Memorizing a Speech

March 24th, 2016

I’m memorizing the flow of my current contest speech. I’m giving it tonight, and may use notes because of the major rewrite I just completed.  I mainly want to test the new material. I spent about five hours working on the speech last night and today. My technique is to set the whole speech in visual memory. That’s visually story-boarding the whole speech with a picture or image, opening each segment of the speech. The image shoud link to the previous image and also the next image.

For example, there is a section where I use a plumber as a methaphor for a doctor’s visit. So I when I get to that part of the speech I jog my memory with a visualization of a toilet. The next part of the speech refers to the year 1817. So I visualize the toilet again, this time I picture the year 1817 coming out of the toilet. Yes, it’s an odd picture. But for memorization, crazy is good. When I practice a speech, sometimes I just run thru the visual pictures. It’s quick to do and locks the flow of the speech together.

This is similar to a technique of using parts of your home as a
memorization jog. You first set up the flow of the house.
1. Living rom
2. Kitchen
3. Dining room
4. Hallway
5. Bathroom
6. Bedroom
7. Garage
Then you create a picture for each part of your speech. If the first part of your speech is about your father, you create the image of your father and put that image in the living room.

Your next story might be about a magic show. Link your picture of a magic show to the Dining Room. Then when you’re giving the speech, to get started you know you need to visit the Living Room to begin your talk: “Living room–oh, yes I was going to start by introducing my Dad.” After you tell the Dad story, you know you next must visit the Dining Room:”Oh yeah, my next part of the speech is about my Dad’s magic show.” You have just visited the Dining Room where your Dad was performing a magic show.

I’ve been working on my flow by creating linkable pictures to keep my sequence of stories on track. I’m not linking them to the geography of a house. I link one picture to the next, to the next, to the next. That works well for me, and when I’ve done it right, I can drop myself into a speech and know exactly where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

Manuscripting a speech word for word, is normally a bad technique. You force yourself to remember the sequence of words. You become a slave to the words. When you miss a word or a line, it can throw you totally off track.

Normally when I’m reaching the end of one of my speech segments or the end of one of my stories, I can see the picture coming into view leading me into the next part of the speech. The pictures keep pulling my speech forward by dropping one visual image after another into my mind.

Sometimes I create an idea outline, listing the order of my stories. I
don’t normally intend for this to be a memorization tool, but sometimes it turns out that I can see a mental picture of this idea outline. And it becomes a memorization tool without the intent. Sometimes your memorization technique just falls into place without design.

So that was my chore for today, to shapen my pictures, and nail down the structure of my talk.

New Joke Contest — Book and Movie Titles

March 1st, 2016

New Joke Contest — Book and Movie Titles

Your challenge for this contest is to link a book or movie title to a business or product.  Your challenge is to create you own titles to submit.  If you find a source of jokes along this theme, you can use it for inspiration.  But directly lifting the lines from somewhere on the internet will not make you a better humor writer.

A good creative technique is to look for a list of book or movie titles and work backward from that list.  Or you could start with a business or product category, and work forward to finding a book or movie title to go with it.

And remember that good humor writing is a numbers game.  The more lines you write, the better your chance of uncovering a gem.  Do you think you can write ten lines?  Then do it.  After you write ten line, I’ll bet you can do 30.  And then 50.  One of our readers submitted over 200 entries one month.  His best lines were really good.

Here are three examples of lines that would work:

A mono-chromatic paint store — 50 Shades of Grey

A children’s pizza arcade in a mobile RV — Who Moved My Chuck E Cheese

A designer $100 fastener for pants. The longer you wear it the newer it looks:  Benjamin Buttons.

Submit by March 15, 2016, by sending your entries to

You may submit as many lines as you wish, but the  first three entries on your list will be considered for first, second, and third place.  This is an important part of the creative process…Being able to judge and rank the quality of your own writing.  The best writers are able to write not just what is funny to them, but what is funny to someone else.  Your entries will have to be funny to a panel of real people, and your challenge is to figure out what will be funny to them.

Happy writing.  I look forward to the laughs.

Observational Humor — Case Study #144

February 18th, 2016

Here is another monologue presented at the end of a meeting. The jokes were the result of paying attention to what was happening during the meeting and then looking for connections which were humorous and not expected by the audience.

THE SET-UP (What happened and what was said during the meeting before the monologue was delivered.)

1. A speaker quoted a bible verse.

2. A speaker was wearing a shirt with a slogan on it: Why not today?

3. The meeting was held in a church which had the slogan: “Church for people who don’t like church.

4. A speaker said to the audience, “You’re the best audience I’ve had in a long time…and I don’t say that to every audience. Well, maybe I do.”

5. I have joked in the past that the only celebrity I look like is Mr

6. A speaker said that his alarm wakes him up every morning at 5:00 am.

7. I was using a walker.

8. One of the members attending the meeting looked like Hillary

9. A speaker said, “If you don’t market yourself you become invisible.”

10. A speaker said, “Get a coach. A good coach isn’t cheap, but is a
good investment.”


The bible refers to the quick and the dead. I am neither.
(Self deprecation. I often joke about being slow.)

I speak on procrastination. I have a book titled “Why Not Tomorrow?”
(A call back with a twist. It was set up nicely during the self
introductions when the man wearing the Why-not-today shirt
commented on his shirt.)

I do humor for people who don’t like laughter.
(Twisting the theme of the church to relate it to what I do, in a joking way. It could be received as an absurd statement or it could be implying that people don’t laugh at my jokes, self-deprecation.)

As a group you have the best sense of humor. And I don’t say that to every group.
(A call back.)

I’m now working nights at Madam Tsuaad’s Wax Museum. I’m performing as a sculpture of Mr Rogers. Tourists say I’m almost life like.
(Self-deprecation about my low-energy style.)

Every day my alarm goes off at 5…pm…after my afternoon nap.
(Switching am for pm.)

Women like men who are funny. Women like men who are tall. Women like men who use walkers. I made that up.
(Making fun of my walker, something obvious.)

We have a special guest today. Would you please stand, Hillary Clinton.
(I like to recognize people in the audience without coordinating with
them. In this case, I was taken by surprise when the look-alike had left the meeting early.)

To wrap things up: Two tips to help you understand the speaking business:
(Bringing closure to the monologue.)

Not being funny is being invisible.
(Twisting an earlier phrase to tie it into my humor theme.)

Know that funny speeches aren’t cheap…and cheap speeches aren’t funny.
(Another example of twisting words to fit my theme.)

Observational Humor — Case Study #143

February 5th, 2016

Here is another Observational Humor monologue which was presented at the end of a meeting. I observed what was said and what happened during the meeting, and at the end of the meeting I presented humorous observations. We will look at the set-ups, the jokes, and what made the jokes work.

THE SET-UPS (What happened and what was said during the meeting.)

1. In a speech about writing a winning Tall Tale speech, we were told to open with a catchy statement and also to know our closing perfectly.

2. Our Toastmaster was introduced as a District contest winner and an expert in vocal variety.

3. A speaker told us that vocal variety will bring your characters to life.

4. The word of the day was Iota.

5. Bill, a former club member, arrived a half hour late.

6. A speaker talked about four personality styles represented on a
matrix by four symbols.

7. She said that the circle represented water.

8. A speaker told us to increase credibility by citing our sources.

9. She suggested that it was not good to cite Wikipedia as a source.

10. She said that her husband was “a hard circle” in the matrix.

11. She used a repetitive phrase in her speech, “Are you sure?”

12. A speaker’s speech title was: “What in the World Was I Thinking?”

13. A speaker talked about sky diving while “strapped to a guy.”

14. I was wearing a sweater embroidered with the logo of The National Speakers Association.


“And that’s how I jumped over the moon!”

(Good response. Strong laugh.)

I have the last line memorized.

(Good laugh. Nice topper.)

Our General Evaluator is a two-time District winner in Evaluation.
He is a two-time District winner in Tall Tales.
He is a four-time District winner in Humorous Speaking.
But he has never won the International Speaking Contest at the District level.
We apologize for not bringing you a winner.
(Funny because of the truth. Often we tend to remember the negative
things in life.)

I am an expert in Vocal Variety.
I bring my characters to life.
(Self-deprecation. I am not known for my vocal variety.)

I was in a college fraternity, Iota Delta Kapa
(Playing with the word IOTA.)

I’d like to welcome the late Bill Lusk.
(A recycled line which I had used before. Always gets a good laugh.)

Tonight, we’ll talk about the four styles of humor.
The wiggly line represents those who crash and burn.
The triangle represents those who use the rule of three.
The circle represents water, those who wet their pants.
And the square represents those who pun.
(The call back of symbols got good laughs.)
My source for that information is Wickipedia.
What in the World Was I Thinking.

Melanie you said that your husband Jim was a hard circle.
Are you sure?
(The call back of the HARD CIRCLE comment would only work with a follow-on punchline. “Are you sure?” A good laugh.)

After my speech tonight, I thought that Iota have practiced more.
(Playing with the word of the day and sound-alikes (I oughta). Looking for something that almost sounds like the word of the day is usually good for a laugh.)

Next time I give a contest speech I’m going to be strapped to a guy
(Absurdity. Paints a silly picture.)

I was wearing this sweater while playing Black Jack this week. A guy at the other end of the table commented: “You’re wearing a National Speakers Association sweater  but you never speak.” My simple reply: “I only speak when I’m paid.”

(Something that really happened. A funny observation.)

Risk and Reward in Performance

January 13th, 2016

Memorable moments are often a result of preparation, confidence, and taking a risk. In this video clip, Johnny Carson takes a chance by bringing audience member David Tolley on stage to play the piano. Having had a cancellation of a scheduled pianist, The Tonight Show decided to bring up an audience volunteer who said he played the piano. And play he did. Carson introduced him saying, “You know this is not set up, because obviously David would not dress this way if he knew he was going to be on a big television show in front of a national audience.” David was wearing a Nike t-shirt, blue jeans with holes, and sandals. He was a hit. The audience enjoys and appreciates taking a risk, especially when it is successful. David was later scheduled for a repeat engagement on the show.  Prepare for opportunity, have confidence, take a risk.

Post Holiday Season

January 2nd, 2016

Now That The Holiday Season is Behind Us…

We reflect and realize that with each passing year more of our favorite music is played in elevators.

We celebrated the season by hanging our holiday decorations early. No sense waiting until the last minute. That’s why we put up our tree 13 years ago. It puts us in a festive mood early.

We honored the holidays by serving foods which we don’t enjoy enough to have all year long. We fill the refrigerator with fruit cake, egg nog and mincemeat pie. We know that we’ll appreciate these treats even more by having them only once a year.

The challenge of the season is buying things for friends and family who already have everything they need. And they’ll do the same for you. It might be more fun to gift strangers who actually need something.

We spend December going to parties with people we don’t socialize with all year. Do you think we could double our enjoyment by going to parties with people we’ve never even met?

We are reminded that the holiday season is the time to keep your sense of humor, drop in on special people to say hi, and phone those who that don’t live nearby. Be thankful for home, food, and friends. Life is a gift and every day deserves celebration.

And may your next elevator ride remind you that you did it your way.

Trying Too Hard

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

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

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.