Developing Original Humor for Your Talk
Most humor in the real-world setting is unplanned. It just happens.
Most humor in the business setting is unplanned. It just happens.
Spontaneous events with clients and co-workers create the surprises and
uncomfortable situations which call for humor as a coping tool.
We all have differing abilities to recognize, appreciate and create
humor. How's your HQ (humor quotient)? Do you work with people who are full of wit?
Regardless of where you are now, you can increase your humor skills.
When you study humor, it's obvious there's more to it than just spontaneous
laughs. There are times when you may want to deliberately use humor, maybe
even plan it in advance. Perhaps you want to spice up a training session or
a planning meeting. Maybe you want to lighten up a sales presentation. You
can learn ways to administer a dose of laughter to help you connect and
There are three elements which can help you understand and structure
your humor: surprise, tension and relationships.
First, humor is based on the element of surprise. Humor often comes
from something as simple as someone saying the unexpected. The surprise
twist creates the humor.
Because of the element of surprise, when we are deliberately structuring
a piece of humor (perhaps for a speech) we don't want to telegraph the joke.
A line like, "a funny thing happened to me on the way over here," signals
your listeners that a joke is coming. This will lessen the element of
To enhance the surprise, it's best to place the punch line at the end of
the joke. And within the punch line, the punch word is usually given last.
The punch word is the word that makes the humor work. It's the trigger that
releases the surprise.
If your humor falls flat, do what professional humorists do. Pretend
you are serious. Since the listeners didn't realize you were making a joke,
you never need to apologize or explain it. Turn your surprise into a secret.
It's no surprise to people who work in pressure-packed work environments
that humor is also based on this second principle: release of tension.
Laughter is a pressure valve which releases muscle tension. Uncomfortable
situations, fear and pain are all tension builders that cry out for humor.
We find ourselves laughing at risqué humor and embarrassing situations
because they make us uncomfortable. We release the tension they create with
People who intentionally and frequently use humor know tension can be
used deliberately to heighten the impact of the humor. A pause placed just before the punch line or the punch word builds a sense of anticipation, a form of tension, which makes the joke stronger.
In most jobs, daily challenges give you the opportunity to purposely use
tension in setting up your humor. Simply by sharing a real life humorous
situation, you can recreate the spontaneous circumstances which generated the
laughter in the first place. Although there's nothing like "being there,"
you can improve on the actual event by embellishing to create a little more
tension in the set up. You can structure the punch line for maximum effect
by putting the punch word last. And you can pause to add impact.
As we plan our humor, we also notice that the third principle of humor
is relationships. Most humor is based on how things are related and not
related. We can create humorous twists when we play with relationships.
Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons are well known for twisting
relationships. One of his frequent tools is giving animals human
characteristics. For example, the cartoon shows a car driving down the road.
Driving the car is a bull. Sitting next to the bull is a cow. And in the
back seat is a calf. They're driving past a field with humans standing in
the pasture. The picture, by itself, creates a funny picture by twisting the
normally expected relationships. The calf sticks his head out of the car
window and says "Yakity, Yakity, Yak!"
Understanding the principle of relationships, you are able to create
your own, original humor. You can create "shopping lists" from which you
search for humorous connections.
Let's say you had an idea for building some humor. We'll call this idea
a seed from which the humor can grow. Perhaps, on a difficult shift at a
hospital, someone made a comment that working in a hospital was like working
in a war zone. This is the starting point for developing some humor.
You'll begin by creating two "shopping lists." On one list you'll put
"hospital things." And on the other, you'll list "military things." It will
work better if you choose "military" rather than "war zone" because it's a
broader category which will give you more options when looking for
Your first step is to brainstorm by making the lists as long a possible.
The more items you have on each list, the more likely you'll be able to make
some humorous connections.
As you make your lists, you'll look for opportunities to branch out and
create sublists to multiply your chances of finding humor. For example, if
the idea "basic training" comes to mind, your sublist should contain
everything you can think of relating to basic training: drill sergeants,
The next step is to search for connections between your two lists which
might lead you to humor. Play with it. Then set it aside and come back to
it later. Once you find something with humorous possibilities, you'll
massage it to maximize the humor impact.
To see what this exercise might produce, check out "Why a Hospital is
Like the Military," in the sidebar at the end of the article.
Whether you're creating a list or a slogan to go on a poster, looking
for a monologue to open a speech or training session, or just searching for
one joke to make a point, you can use these lists to create your humor. It
These three principles of humor are illustrated by the classic slip on
the banana peel. The slapstick spill illustrates surprise because we weren't
expecting someone to fall. We also experience tension. When we see someone
get hurt we get startled, and react with tension. It also twists
relationships. Seeing a distinguished person sitting on the sidewalk is
something our of the ordinary. Surprise, tension, relationships...we laugh!
Natural, spontaneous humor is one of your greatest tools for coping with
stress as you work. By understanding what makes the humor tick, you can
become better at planning and deliberately using this powerful adjunct to
your success arsenal.
|Ten Ways a Hospital is Like The Military
- In the military, soldiers take orders from people with silver and gold
on their shoulders. In a hospital,
nurses take orders from people with silver and gold in their wallets.
- When discharged from the hospital after a Lower GI Series, you get the
- To fill the graveyard shift, hospitals sometimes resort to the draft.
- Nurses, like soldiers, see a lot of privates.
- A pediatric nurse's shoes may lack the shine, but they have the spit.
- When filling out a hospital shift report, you sometimes resort to the
policy of "Don't ask, don't tell."
- Bill Clinton once shouted "Down with the draft." During his hospital
stay for knee surgery, he
shouted about the "Gown with the draft."
- Nurse training is like boot camp. Never before had you seen so many
bald body parts.
- In the military, a fatigue is what you wear. In nursing, it's what
wears on you.
- Soldiers get combat pay. Nurses don't...but should
Copyright 2006 by John Kinde
You may republish this article with the following credit line:
"Copyright by John Kinde, who is a humor specialist in the training and speaking business for over 30 years specializing in teambuilding, customer service and stress management. Free Special Reports: Show Me The Funny -- Tips for Adding Humor to Your Presentations and When They Don't Laugh -- What To Do When the Laughter Doesn't Come. Humor Power Tips newsletter, articles and blog are available at www.humorpower.com."