The Art of Using Humor
in Public Speaking
by Anthony L. Audrieth
|2. Psychology of Humor|
Anthony L. Audrieth, 2706 Natalie Dr., Champaign, IL 61822
Copyright 1998 A.L.A., all rights reserved.
Part 1. Introduction to the Art of Using Humor
in Public Speaking
The Art of Using Humor in Public Speaking is just that. It is an art, not to be taken lightly, but to be applied with great care. Your audience will judge your presentation, regardless of your use of humor. If you can entertain while teaching, then all the better. If you use humor poorly however, you can do irreparable damage to your cause. In other words, poorly handled humor in a presentation can damage or destroy your credibility.
Using humor in public speaking can be very beneficial, both for the audience and the presenter. Heaven knows how deeply rooted cynicism is today in our culture. We are bombarded by negatives at every turn. A speaker who can effectively use humor to engage and entertain their audience possesses a valuable gift. You will be appreciated for providing heartfelt laughter; laughter that has therapeutic effects on listeners. And you will be remembered, talked about; your reputation as a truly great speaker will be enhanced and spread about.
This article is dedicated to Dr. Charles Jarvis, a man who spent a good part of his life entertaining people with good clean quality humor; humor with a message. Dr. Jarvis is retired now. Over his lifetime as a humorist he studied humor and its nuances. If you have not heard of Dr. Jarvis, then you have missed much when it comes to using humor to educate and entertain. After a successful career as dentist, he left the dental office behind and headed for the podium in 1965 as a professional humorous speaker, entertaining audiences for over 30 years.
Never one to do anything half-way, he studied humor intently and applied his skills nationwide. This dedication to making people laugh brought him membership in the International Speaker's Hall of Fame, Toastmasters International's Golden Gavel Award and the prestigious International Platform Association's Mark Twain Award for Humor. The Silver Bowl presented for the Mark Twain Award for Humor is engraved as follows, "To Charles W. Jarvis, Mark Twain's Successor As America's Most Delightful Depictor of the Virtues and Weaknesses of Humanity with Humor's Paintbrush". His colleagues in the speaking profession include Dr. Kenneth McFarland, Bill Gove and Cavett Robert; they recognize his skills and excellence in the field. I'll refer to Dr. Jarvis' ideas regularly; any serious student of humor should own his entire collection of speeches and workshops cassettes.
One other important point about Dr. Jarvis and his skills. Dr. Jarvis
is a humorist, a humorous speaker. not a comedian. The information
here is aimed at speakers who want to use humor in public speaking. The
skills that Dr. Jarvis demonstrates on his tapes and the information presented
in his workshops, while aimed at those interested in being a humorous speaker
on the circuit, are still applicable to public speaking. While the purposes
are different, the skills apply equally to both types of speaking.
Who is THE ART OF USING HUMOR IN PUBLIC SPEAKING for?
For any person who must speak in public or private, to business or pleasure groups, humor is an invaluable indispensable tool for getting your message across. Why Use Humor? There are several reasons. As already mentioned, people will enjoy what you have to say if it is presented with humor. But more importantly, if you are in a situation where important and perhaps controversial ideas must be presented to less than open minds, humor allows those ideas to be presented in a non-threatening manner. Abraham Lincoln was famous for his ability to relate humorous stories to make a point. Humor used carefully throughout a presentation will keep listener's interest high.
This short monograph is not meant to be a primer for budding stand-up
comedians whose goal is 100% entertainment. While they may find valuable
information and insights here, stand-up comedy is only one way humor can
be used. I would like to see individuals learn to use humor to bolster
arguments, support interesting presentations and most of all, entertain
in a positive and uplifting way.
|The use of off-color, risque or blue humor, humor which derives its "effectiveness" from shock value, sexual content, or relation to bodily functions has no place in the repertoire of the professional speaker.|
While popular culture may well embrace questionable humor, it has no
place in presentations that are designed to educate and uplift audiences.
If your goal is to become a professional stand-up comedian, then you may
well be able to use some of the reference materials presented here to expand
your skills and sources of humor. To that end I welcome your participation
in this study of humor. Hopefully, you will come to appreciate the exceptional
difficulty of entertaining an audience with good clean humor.
What exactly is humor?
Humor is defined as "the mental faculty of discovering, expressing or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous". Ludicrous is an adjective meaning amusing or laughable through obvious absurdity, incongruity, exaggeration or eccentricity. What is incongruous? It is something lacking congruity, inconsistent within itself. Well, now that you know what humor is, let's just say simply that humor is a form of expression intended to arouse amusement. Wit is defined as, "the power to evoke laughter by remarks showing verbal felicity or ingenuity and swift perception, especially of the incongruous". Synonymous with wit are, humor, irony, sarcasm, satire and repartee, which are all modes of expression intended to arouse amusement. But there is another element to wit which Dr. Jarvis explains by saying, "Wit punctures, humor pictures." A person with wit delivers witticisms which are defined as cleverly witty and often biting or ironic remarks with the ability to relate seemingly disparate things so as to illuminate or amuse.
Who should use humor?
Anyone whose job it is to communicate to groups of individuals, to share
information or to motivate, could use humor to invigorate their message
and improve the reception of their audience. But on an individual basis,
who should use humor? That depends on several things. Does the situation
lend itself to a humorous approach? Would humor detract from your credibility
with the audience? Perhaps most importantly, can you use humor effectively?
I am sure you have met people who could not tell a joke if their lives
depended on it. The person who will do well with humor will most likely
be a person who sees things in a humorous light. Some people may use props
to get a laugh, but the ability to see the humor in life is one of the
most important assets you may have as a professional speaker. It takes
great skill and not a little natural talent to really apply humor effectively.
While you can learn to use humor and do a fairly good job at it, the use
of humor is not for everyone.
|If deep, deep down, you know that you are a klutz when it comes to delivering the punch line, if you can't seem to get jokes right, then consider carefully your decision to use humor.|
I believe that everyone can use humor effectively, once they find the type of humor which fits their speaking style. Remember, we are not necessarily looking for future stand-up comedians here, but for individuals who are willing to study and learn to apply humor in their public speaking. Great damage can be done if you try to use humor in an important situation and fail. Again, your credibility as an expert in whatever field you may be in, may be questioned if you deliver a really dumb joke to an intelligent audience. They may not suffer fools gladly. So, take this material seriously. Practice religiously, overlearn your material and be absolutely sure that your humor is relevant to your subject and appropriate for your audience.
In the following pages I am going to introduce you to the basics. You
may get a few laughs out of it, but that is not the purpose. Humor is too
serious to be taken lightly, that is why I have put together this primer.
You will learn about the psychology of humor, the types of humor, how to
apply them and where to find materials. Throughout I will give you the
names of different books and different humorists so that you can expand
your study to encompass the knowledge of true scholars and experts in the
field. I'll cover a lot of ground fairly quickly, leaving you with the
basics and enough reference information to give you years of future work
to do as you become an outstanding humorous speaker.
Part 2. Psychology of Humor
Because humor is such a powerful emotion, it is a good idea to understand (if that is possible), the psychological basis of humor. More specifically, what makes laughter and the humorous situation "work". Your assignment, from now on, is, when you hear people laugh, to ask yourself, "Why did they laugh"? This attention will sharpen your skills at recognizing possible material for your own use and help you get a feeling for what makes humor work.
The response of laughter is based on two general situations. Humor either plays a trick on the mind or it paints a picture which is ludicrous or incongruous. Jokes are the 1st type; they play a pleasant trick on your mind. When something is ludicrous, you visualize a situation in which the elements are in some way incongruous. A word of warning here. The minute you try to dissect a joke, or explain it, it ceases to be funny. You can study humor down to the most tenuous theories, reading what scientists have discovered about it through the years to the point where it may ruin your enjoyment of laughter. I recommend that you do read several books on the subject. The 1st should be "The Enjoyment of Laughter" by Max Eastman. He spends a fair amount of time on the psychology of humor, but leaves it up to the reader to delve further into the subject.....at their own risk. "The Enjoyment of Laughter" is a practical book as well as a serious study of humor and serves well as a starting point for your studies; a definite must for your new library. While it is out of print, you can find copies at used bookstores or on the Internet for around $30.00.
Dr. Jarvis shares two definitions of humor with us. The 1st is "a painful thing told playfully". The second is "tragedy separated by time and space". Note that both definitions treat humor as a serious thought viewed in a light manner. Ever heard someone say, "I laughed so hard I nearly cried"? Humor deals with serious subjects and is close to pathos: an emotion of sympathetic pity. Think about the old gag of someone slipping on a banana peel. Such an accident usually elicits a laugh. We might giggle or snicker when someone else takes a flyer. Perhaps though not when we ourselves are the victim. The laugh would be stopped mid-snort though if the person was hurt in the fall. Why? Because the playful element has been lost. Buster Keaton does a pratfall. Down he goes, but he must get up. Eastman talks about this at length, referring to the absolute necessity for the participants to be "in fun". Charlie talks at length about the feeling of being "in fun" so I've included Eastman's four laws of humor at this point. Understanding this concept and being able to perceive if an audience is "in fun" has a direct bearing on your use of humor.
Max Eastman presents four laws of humor, all related to the concept of being "in fun". My observations are in italics.
1. The first law is that things can be funny only when we are "in fun".
There may be a serious thought or motive lurking underneath our humor.
We may be only "half in fun" and still perceive things as funny. Ask
yourself, "Is this audience "in fun"; do I dare use humor; can they be
moved into "in fun""?
|When an audience is "in fun", they will take your humor and words in a playful way and enjoy them as well. When however, they are "dead earnest" it is humor that is dead. Faced with an audience in such a mood, humor may require an extremely delicate and practiced application. Better to not try to get a laugh than have one flop in such a situation. You must be able to read your audience accurately.|
2. The second law is that when we are "in fun", a peculiar shift of values takes place. Pleasant things are still pleasant, but disagreeable things, so long as they are not disagreeable enough to "spoil the fun", tend to acquire a pleasant emotional flavor and provoke a laugh. Someone who can think funny has the natural ability to see the humor in the painful lessons of life.
3. The third law is that being "in fun" is a condition most natural to childhood, and that children at play reveal the humorous laugh in its simplest and most omnivorous form. To them every untoward, unprepared for, unmanageable, inauspicious, ugly, disgusting, puzzling, startling, deceiving, shaking, blinding, jolting, deafening, banging, bumping, or otherwise shocking and disturbing thing, unless it be calamitous enough to force them out of the mood of play, is enjoyable as funny. Can something be said carelessly by a speaker that can move an audience out of "in fun"? A speaker must be aware of the mood of the audience at all times.
4. The fourth law is that grown-up people retain in varying degrees this aptitude for being in fun and thus enjoying unpleasant things as funny. But those not richly endowed with humor manage to feel a very comic feeling only when within, or behind or beyond, or suggested by, the playfully unpleasant thing, there is a pleasant one. Only then do they laugh uproariously like playing children. And they call this complicated thing or combination of things at which they laugh, a joke. Audiences made up of individuals who have retained in varying degrees the aptitude for being "in fun" provide the humorous speaker with a great challenge; that of reaching all present. Like Charlie says, some members of the audience are thinking, "OK Buster, lets see if you can make me laugh....... "
In regards to being "in fun", never were more illuminating words spoken about humor than those spoken by the hero of the Virginian. He said, "Smile when you say that!" In that case the difference between being "in fun" and not being "in fun" might have been a well-placed bullet. Eastman relates the feeling to the experience of wrestling around with a dog. You are rough-housing, wrestling, playing and all the while the dog's tail is wagging wildly; you know the dog is "in fun". Compare that to the demeanor of a strange dog guarding a strangers yard. That dog is not "in fun".
But, back to the psychology of humor. Considering that humor is a painful thing told playfully, we see that discomfort is a key element in the makeup of a joke. Often the discomfort of others. We may feel superior due to a momentary instance where others are placed in an embarrassing situation. For the speaker, that simple fact has important ramifications. You certainly do not want to make your audience or any particular member of the group feel inferior.
In breaking the ice and becoming a welcome speaker, there is no better
way than to make yourself the butt of the joke. Self-effacing humor is
always safe in that you appear human to your audience and you do not risk
offending them in any way. So an excellent rule of thumb to follow is:
Part 3. Types of Humor, A-Z
The type of humor you will use depends on your speaking style and the
situation. What is your style? Are you more comfortable with a quiet understated
type of humor , subtle wit or are you more likely to deliver jokes for
belly-laughs or long humorous stories to entertain? Depending on how you
plan to use humor, occasionally to illustrate messages in a presentation
or as the foundation for a humorous motivational talk similar to Charlie's
type of presentation, certain forms will be better than others depending
on what you want to accomplish.
|Remember, this article is aimed at using humor in public speaking,
not delivering humor as a humorist or comedian.
Or are you not sure what type of humor would best fit your personal
style? Knowing your style is important because there are many different
types of humor that you can use. Because of that we will start with the
TYPES OF HUMOR.
Take a look at this list of types of humor.
Remember, you are looking for
humor with which you will feel comfortable, humor that fits your presentational
style and can be used effectively in your talk. Many
types relate and overlap; it is your job to become familiar with them and
to choose those which best suit your needs.
I would like to recommend another
book for your library. One of the best books to explain the types and techniques
of humor is "The Humor of Humor" by Evan Esar, copyright 1952. Evan
Esar wrote and published several books on humor including Esar's Comic
Dictionary and The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations which he
edited. A great source for these and other books on humor are used book
sales put on by libraries. Watch for such sales and check out the humor
sections in used book stores. Here is a short list of the types of humor found in "The Humor of Humor".
The Catch Tale
The Little Willie
The Practical Joke
The Typographical Error
Part 4. Delivery
One question that comes up most often when discussing humor is delivery.
Delivery could be defined as the ability of the speaker to present the
humorous material in the most effective way. How many times have you heard
a person tell a long, labored, complicated joke, only to swallow the ending
and leave everyone frustrated? You may have heard that anyone can tell
a joke. Well, perhaps. But a joke is only the raw material; it must be
crafted to fit smoothly into your talk, without telegraphing to your audience
that a zinger is on the way. You are not there to tell jokes.
They use humor to effectively illustrate their message.
You are likely there to educate and/or entertain. If you are there to educate, a judicious use of humor in your talk will keep the audience with you, always waiting for the next gem. Their attention will be to you and your message. If you are there strictly to entertain, then a string of jokes will not be the way to go either.
How many jokes can you stand at one sitting? If you listen to Dr. Jarvis, you will hear how he smoothly intertwines humorous stories, jokes and other material seamlessly and effortlessly. He is a humorist. His approach to presenting humor however, can provide excellent training for speakers who wish to incorporate humor to make a point during a relatively serious presentation.
A look at the definition of a joke will have direct bearing on your ability to "deliver" humor. Consider the definition: A joke is a brief oral narrative with a climactic humorous twist. Within that simple definition lies two critical points you must know to use humor successfully. First of all, it is BRIEF. Second, it has a climactic twist. For humor to work, it must spring upon the mind in an unexpected way, without a long drawn out set-up. When you incorporate humor into your talk, it should slide in naturally. The setup must be direct and to the point, without too much embellishment. If you throw in all of the bells and whistles, going to extremes to paint the picture, you may telegraph the existence of the humor, thereby reducing its effectiveness. As for the climactic twist, make every effort to put it at the very end of the story.
The closer the twist is to the very end, the more effective the surprise. What you are delivering is the setup of the humor followed by the climactic humorous twist. In today's quick paced environment, people don't like to hear jokes that are too "built up". They like things to be brief, concise and neat. And the same goes for the climactic humorous twist. It must be neat, absolutely clear and sudden. An excellent discussion of the elements of successful delivery is presented in Eastmans, Enjoyment of Laughter. He presents in detail his Ten Commandments of the Comic Arts; all relate to delivery and the type of humor used.
You can improve your delivery through regular practice. One thing you can control is the length of the pause before delivering the punchline. Jack Benny was famous for his ability to use the pause to heighten the impact of the punchline. One of the most common questions asked about humor relates to timing and delivery. Timing can make the difference between a joke that is extremely effective and one that flops. Usually, timing relates to the delivery of the punchline. Jack Benny was a master at timing when he delivered his punchlines. Timing is concerned with the amount of time delay between the end of the setup of the joke and the delivery of a punchline. Too short a time and the impact is lessened by the abrupt end of the joke. It is your task to listen to the delivery of punchlines by professionals and to see how they wait until just the right amount of time has passed before they deliver the punchline. In your practice, notice how you can vary the delay to achieve the most effective results.
To use humor effectively, your materials need to be practiced and perfected. How do you do that? The answer is simple. Once you have found material that looks promising, work on it in your mind. Roll it over. Massage it. Look for ways to make it appear spontaneous. Connect it to the important points of your message, weaving it in as a seamless part of your patter. Make it yours. Earlier I mentioned that long jokes were not appreciated. To clarify, I should say that jokes with too much "hair" are not appreciated. Have you ever heard someone say, "He's carrying it to far"? What is being carried too far? Humorous stories are an exception and Charlie's "The Bird" story is one. He is famous in speaking circles for his delivery of this gem. Not only can you learn delivery by practicing this humorous story, but if done right, you will create gales of hearty laughter in the process. But, if you are going to tell it, be sure you have the time. You can hear it on his "Things are more like they are now than they ever were" cassette tape. This one story is a classic for learning delivery, timing and style.
It has been said that anyone can tell a joke. Mark Twain said, "The humorous story is strictly a work of art -- high and delicate art -- and only and artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and witty story; anybody can do it". Perhaps, but even telling jokes takes some skill. I have heard however, "The Bird" story ruined by several well-meaning speakers. Learn it word for word and practice it so that each separate part generates its own laughter. Pace, intonation, pauses all are critical elements that can be used to make this bird story fly or flop. It is a long humorous story with many details. Don't try it out until you can do it well. Then, tell it as often as possible, practicing your delivery. If you need to illustrate the importance of being detail oriented in customer service, you may find that you can use this in a public speaking situation. But for now, practice this on friends, once you have it down well.
When you present this humorous story, have fun doing it, but be diligent in your observations of the responses of listeners. Every time you present your material, look for ways to improve it. Here is the story, verbatim as spoken by Dr. Jarvis.
(A few notes about the below transcription. When humorous story is told, the phrases such as "he said", "he replied", etc., nearly fade from the verbal presentation. Use of voice and gestures often assists in the presentation, not all of the "he said" and "he replied" items are actually spoken or heard. Dr. Jarvis pointed this out to me recently and suggested we find a better way to indicate who is speaking. Although not perfect, I have tried to differentiate by using ALL CAPS for the buyer and ITALICIZED ALL CAPS for the salesman. Read it through several times to get the feel for the two parts. In addition, each BOLDED line is a point at which Dr. Jarvis increases the humorous impact through vocal emphasis/intonation. The below transcription is verbatim, so everything printed below is spoken...)
The Bird Story
|A man just wants to buy a bird. That's all. Goes into a bird store.
Hundreds of Birds. Little yellow birds. He's trying to make a wise choice.
They all look the same. They are all $4.95. You can tell because there
is a little yellow tag hanging from their legs. He's going round. He's
going around, trying to make a wise choice, reading all of these tags.
Goes over in the corner. $136.50 He goes back up to the proprietor.
YOU TRYING TO PULL A FAST ONE ON ME? TRYING TO MAKE A WISE CHOICE HERE, SELECT A BIRD, THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME. EXCEPT, YOU'VE GOT ONE KINDA HIDDEN BACK OVER THERE IN THE CORNER, MUST BE DIFFERENT BECAUSE HE'S $136.50, NOT $4.95.
The proprietor says,
"YOU'RE PRETTY SHARP AREN'T YOU? YOU DEVIL YOU, I'LL BET IT DIDN'T TAKE YOU 5 MINUTES TO FIND HIM. THAT BIRD IS DIFFERENT. HE NOT ONLY SINGS, HE TALKS."
WELL THAT'S THE ONE I WANT, WRAP HIM UP.
So he takes him home. The next day he brings him back.
HE DIDN'T SING, HE DIDN'T TALK EITHER.
HMMMMM, WELL HE DID DOWN HERE.
HE DIDN'T AT MY HOUSE.
He says, WELL, DID HE PECK ON HIS LITTLE BELL?
He said, BELL?
OH WELL, YOU DIDN'T BUY A BELL, YOU NEED A BELL. THEY NEED MUSIC YOU'VE GOT MUSIC, STEREO, TELEVISION, EVERYTHING ELSE. THEY NEED A BELL, HAPPY BIRD, PECKS ON THE BELL, STARTS SINGING, TALKING.
WELL HOW MUCH IS A BELL?
WELL, THAT MAKES SENSE, I BELIEVE I'LL TAKE A BELL.
He goes home, he comes back the next day, he doesn't bring the bird this time, but he says
THE BIRD DIDN'T SING. HE DIDN'T TALK, HE DID PECK ON HIS BELL.
He said, DID HE CLIMB HIS LITTLE LADDER?
I GUESS I SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT A LADDER.
He said, DON'T BLAME YOURSELF. THAT'S MY BUSINESS. I'M THE SALEPERSON DOWN HERE. I'M SUPPOSED TO OFFER THESE THINGS THAT BENEFIT YOU. OF COURSE THE BIRD NEEDS A LADDER. UP AND DOWN THE LADDER. YOU JOG, YOU GET YOUR EXCERCISE, THE BIRD NEEDS EXERCISE. HEALTHY BIRD, SING, TALK, HAPPY, PECK ON THE BELL.
Well he said, I'VE GOT TO ADMIT, THERE'S A LOT OF LOGIC THERE. HOW MUCH IS A LADDER?
Well he said, ALRIGHT I'M GOING TO TAKE THE LADDER.
He comes back the next day.
HE DIDN'T SING, HE DIDN'T TALK, HE DID PECK ON HIS LITTLE BELL AND HE CLIMBED HIS LITTLE LADDER.
DID HE LOOK IN HIS LITTLE MIRROR?
He said, NOW YOU ARE GOING TO TELL ME I NEED A MIRROR.
NO I'M NOT, YOU'VE GOT A MIRROR. THE BIRD NEEDS A MIRROR. YOU'VE GOT A MIRROR, YOU PREEN IN YOUR MIRROR. THE BIRD WANTS TO PREEN. THE BIRD GETS TO LOOKING IN THAT MIRROR THINKS THERE'S ANOTHER BIRD AND TRIES TO CARRY ON A CONVERSATION, STARTS TALKING.
Well he said, HOW MUCH IS A MIRROR?
He says, OK BUSTER, I TELL YA, I'M GOING TO SEE THIS THING THROUGH, RIGHT TO THE BITTER END. I'M TAKING A MIRROR.
He comes back the next day. He said, HE DID NOT SING, HE DID NOT TALK, HE DID LOOK IN HIS LITTLE MIRROR, HE CLIMBED HIS LITTLE LADDER AND HE PECKED HIS LITTLE BELL. AND I KNOW BECAUSE I DRAGGED A CHAIR UP THERE, I DIDN'T EVEN GO TO WORK AND I WATCHED HIM ALL DAY.
He said, DID HE SWING ON HIS LITTLE SWING?
He said, GIMME A SWING.
He came back the next day, he said, THE BIRDS DEAD!
THE BIRDS DEAD?
That's what I said, THE BIRDS DEAD, I CAN TELL A LITTLE DEAD BIRD CAN'T I? FEET UP.
WELL, DID HE EVER SING?
NO, BUT YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN PROUD OF THAT BIRD. THIS MORNING WHEN I TOOK HIS COVER OFF
HE LOOKED HAPPY AND HEALTHY. HE LOOKED DIRECTLY AT ME AND THEN HE WENT OVER THERE AND
PECKED ON THAT LITTLE BELL, HOPPED OVER TO THE LADDER AND WENT ABOUT HALF WAY UP, AND
I PUT THE MIRROR ABOUT HALF WAY UP AND I'M NOT SAYING A BIRD CAN SMILE,
BUT HE LOOKED LIKE HE DID. WENT ON UP TO THE TOP OF THE LADDER, JUMPED
OVER TO THE SWING, HE'S SWINGING, SWINGING, RIGHT BEFORE HE TOPPLED OFF,
HE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID, THEY DIDN'T SELL BIRD SEED?.
Now. Think about that humorous story. Look at all of the different humorous
points. Write it out word for word. Notice that it is a conversation between
two people. It is written to sound like conversation that is spoken, not
written. It builds. Each trip back to the store increases the humorous
tension building for the punchline, yet each trip has its own opportunities
for humor. Make this joke your own. Polish it to perfection; it is a gem
that you do not want to squander. Work it through carefully and give it
Part 5. Know Your Audience
If you are going to use humor in your speaking, it is critical to know your audience. Find out all you can about their demographics, their interests, their political leanings, their favorite sports teams, everything. This will prevent you from putting your foot in your mouth by accident. It will also give you a good base from which to draw your materials. Service clubs will have histories that should be studied. They will have famous members that all members will know. They will have procedures, rituals and idiosyncrasies that can be fertile ground for humor. Are they hostile or friendly towards your position? Is your presentation to be given on an occasion special to the group. The more you know about your audience, the better you will serve their needs and be able to relate to their strongly held feelings. As a humorous speaker, you must be acutely aware of subject matter and the psychology of the audience. If you inject a bit of humor that the audience definitely does not receive "in fun", you are asking for trouble. A sensitivity to their background, interests, political leanings, mores and beliefs is vital if you are to entertain with humor without insulting your audience. As we proceed through this introduction to humor, I will provide you with a several rules; guidelines that are essential and must be followed.
An inappropriate reference can take them out of "in fun" instantly! The study of humor is complex and its components tightly intertwined, so we may well return to these key rules again and again, in different contexts and situations throughout this tape.
Another consideration is topical humor related to the group that you are speaking to. Find out all you can about the group. Investigate well known individuals, customs, history and special observances of the group. This falls into the "know your audience" category. Talk to the program chair, look over the organizations publications, talk to long-time members. In my home town, a long time member of Kiwanis was well known for his humorous quips that appeared in their newsletter. They were collected and published as a fund raiser. What made the collection so interesting was that many quips used the names of well known local business leaders and Kiwanis members.
As with any presentation, it must be said again, that humor must be
used with good taste. As a professional you can not afford to make any
blunders or use questionable humor. You'll need a general message that
can be a substantial framework in which your humor can reside. The humor
you use will be drawn from jokes (raw material adapted to your situation)
and situational humor that presents a humorous picture. Dr. Jarvis is a
master at this, using his incredible repertoire of humorous stories to
support a strong message of hope, happiness and the need for responsibility.
If he does tell a joke, he tells you he is going to do so. Your use of
humor will depend in large part on the occasion. How you will use humor
will be based on the nature of the event. An awards ceremony for example,
with a serious purpose to recognize those who have accomplish great things,
might not be well served by a humorous presentation of awards. A technical
paper presentation might not seem a place for humor, but considering the
potential for inducing sleep in the audience, might well be a place to
inject some humor, as long as it fits in well and does not seem to be tagged
on. In such a situation it may be difficult to find appropriate materials.
One place to look is in the trade magazines and technical journals in your
field. And don't just look in current issues. Go back several years to
find "fresh" humor. Changing times may cause some items to lose their edge,
but may also share a unique perspective as to the changing knowledge of
Part 6. Sources of Material
By now you may be wondering where you can find good, clean humor that you can use in your talks. The answer is everywhere. To start, listen in on conversations when you are in public. Sitting in a restaurant, a bar, going to a store, wherever you are, listen to people around you. You would be amazed at how much humorous material surrounds you every day. Listen for comments that make people laugh. Again, ask yourself why. Take the germ of what was said, study the meaning and the punchline, look for applications in your own field of interest. Watch for humorous situations; simply be aware of material. The humor that is the most effective is humor that you have experienced yourself. Personal situations that no one else knows about or can copy. Look for personal stories that have an element of self-effacing humor. Remember the definition of humor? A painful thing told playfully. Once you are attuned to the search for new material, you'll find it everywhere. Don't all talks that use humor rely on jokes? If they did, how would you know if your audience had already been exposed to humor you were planning to use? The answer is simple, you wouldn't. And here is another important point. As long as you rely on jokes as the raw material for humor in your talk, you are at a disadvantage. You may have heard that there is nothing new under the sun, well that applies equally to jokes. If you draw your materials from current sources, you may end up presenting jokes that are known and consequently, not funny for those who have heard them already. There are two things you can do to alleviate this problem. First, look for material in places that are dated several years prior. You may well find an appropriate gem that can be polished and presented that is likely "new" to your audience. Second, you can use situational humor.
Printed sources. One of the best is the Readers Digest. Not the new issues, but old issues that have had time to be forgotten. The material is excellent, clean and likely can be adapted to your needs.
Joke books. You have to skim the cream. You may read 100 jokes and only find one that really fits your style or subject. Write that one down. Then there are publications like Orben's Current Comedy Corner that offer new humor on current events. You'll often hear his work presented by the likes of Paul Harvey.
Internet. Today, perhaps the best source of material, organized by subject matter is the world wide web. Search for humor and you will find thousands of possible sites and sources. They are often organized by subject matter. This can be a great way to find humor for your own unique field of application.
So, once you have found the materials, what then? Well, look at the following example and consider how the humor was revised. Bennett Cerf was a collector of humor. Dr. Jarvis was a humorous speaker who spent a lot of time really looking for good materials. When he found humor in Bennett Cerf's books, he had to adapt it to his own style. The first below is directly from Bennett Cerf's Bumper Crop, the second as presented by Dr. Jarvis:
A group of tourists stood spellbound looking into the depths of the Grand Canyon. "And this wonder is all the more impressive," the guide droned on, "when you realize that it took millions and millions of years to carve out this great abyss." "Well, well!" exclaimed a plain citizen, "I'd never have suspected that this was a government project."
Man's looking at the Grand Canyon. Park ranger saw him, thought he looked interested. Went over to him and said, "Yes, Sir, you know it took a million years to make this place." He said, "Government job?"
Notice that the second flows smoothly with out any excess words or descriptions.
Charlie is a master at turning dry written humor into crisp effective humor
that sounds more like conversation. You will need to revise the material
you find to be more easily delivered.
The best place to locate the hard-to-find books is at used books stores. Sometimes it is like finding a needle in a haystack, but well worth the effort. For a complete listing, including books In Print and available through Amazon.com, Out-of-Print and Direct from the Source, visit Resources. Books I consider classics are in bold print.
???????????. The Algonquin Wits. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press.
Allen, Steve. Funny People. New York: Stein and Day.
The Funny Men. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Arnold, Oren. Wild West Joke Book. New York: Frederick Fell, Inc., 1956
Bassindale, Bob. How Speakers Make People Laugh. West Nyack, NY; Parker Publishing Co. 1977
Blakely, James "Doc". Doc Blakely's Handbook of Wit and Pungent Humor. West Nyack, NY: Parker Publishing Co., Inc.
Braude, Jacob M. Handbook of Humor for all Occasions. Englewood Cliffs NJ,Prentice Hall 1958
Cousins, Norman. Anatomy of an Illness. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Day, J. Edward. Humor in Public Speaking. New York: Prentice Hall
Droke, Maxwell. The Speaker's Handbook of Humor. NY. Harper & Bros 1956
Eastman, Max. Enjoyment of Laughter. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1936
Esar, Evan.The Sense of Humor. New York, C. Scribner's Sons 1921
Esar, Evan. Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. New York: Horizon ress. 1949
Esar, Evan.Comic Dictionary. New York: Horizon Press. 1951
Esar, Evan. Humor of Humor. New York: Horizon Press. 1952
Friedman, Edward L. Speechmaker's Complete Handbook. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
Toastmasters Treasury. New York: Harper & Row. 1965
Gerler, William R., ed. Executive's Treasury of Humor for Every Occasion. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1965
Goldstein & McGhee. Psychology of Humor (Brigance Books?)
Harral, Stewart. When its Laughter your After. Univ. of OK Press, Norman OK.
Iapoce, Michael Using Humor in Public Speaking.
Johnson, Lyndon B. The Johnson Humor, ed. Bill Adler. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965
Leacock, Stephen. Humor, Its Theory and Technique. New York. Dodd, Mead and Co. 1935
McGhee. Humor, Its Origin and Development.
Moody, R. A., M.D. Laugh After Laugh. Jacksonville, FL: Headwaters Press.
Murdock, Clyde. A Treasury of Humor. (paperback) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Orben, Robert. The Joke-Tellers Handbook or 1,999 Belly Laughs. New York: Bell Publishing Co.
Orben, Robert. Comedy Technique. New York. Lewis Tannen, 1951
The Ad-Libber's Handbook, 2000 New Laughs for Speakers. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
The Encyclopedia of One-Liner Comedy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
Parish, James R. The Funsters. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers.
Perret, Gene. How to Hold Your Audience with Humor. Writers Digest 1981
Phillips, Bob. A Time To Laugh. (paperback) Irvine, CA: Harvest House Publishers.
Prochnow, Herbert V. The Successful Toastmaster. New York: Harper & Row, 1966
New Speaker's Treasury of Wit and Wisdom. New York, Harper & Row, 1958
Rapp, Albert. The Origins of Wit and Humor. New York, Dutton, 1951
Rosten, Leo. Giant Book of Laughter. New York, Crown Publishers, 1985
Schindler, John A. How to Live 365 Days a Year. Prentice Hall, Inc. NY
Tidwell, James A Treasury of American Folk Humor. New York, Crown Publishers.
True, Dr. Herb. Humor Power. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & co.
Webster, Gary. Laughter in the Bible. St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1960
Wells, Carolyn. An Outline of Humor. New York, G.P. Putnams Sons 1923
Whiting, Percy H. How to Speak and Write with Humor. New York, McGraw-Hill. 1959
Wilde, Larry. The Great Comedians. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press.
Wilde, Larry. How the Great Comedy Writers Create Laughter. Chicago, IL: Nelson Hall.
Part 8. In Conclusion
Again, this is only meant as a starting point. When I realized how incredibly complicated the study of humor was, I decided just to try and present a brief look at the subject. I hope this will get you started; please let me know if you see any errors, omissions, etc.. I'd like to correct or include them. If you have suggestions for ways to improve the ON HUMOR site (www.squaresail.com/onhumor.html), or would like to contribute to the discussion, perhaps we can find a way to include your observations and suggestions. Thank you.
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