Hi, this is Brad Montgomery and welcome to “Got Mirth? Milking Your Program for all the Humor it’s Worth!”
The plan in this audio is to teach you some humor and comedy techniques that you can incorporate in your programs starting instantly. The approach is two-fold: I am going to give you some theory and some ideas that you can work on in the long term. These are some ways to think about humor and comedy and some ways to think about your attitude as you approach these things from the platform that should be helpful to you over time.
However, I am also going to give you some techniques that are easy, that you can cut and paste and put in your program instantly. So I’m going to give you a mix: a combination of more in-depth ideas to work on over the long haul, and some quick and dirty techniques you can implement tomorrow.
So, let’s get started. The first thing I want to do is to define what I mean by humor. Humor, of course, means different things for different people, but for the purposes of this recording my definition of humor may not be what some of you would instantly think of. Here is what humor is not for my purposes today: humor does not have to be a punch line; humor is not always going to be a joke like, “Hey two nuns and a priest are walking down the street and ….”
For the purposes of speakers, entertainers, trainers, or comedians, people who are presenting from the platform in many different formats, with many diverse topics, humor is simply a way to connect to the audience. Underline that: Humor is a way to connect to the audience. Humor creates a bond between the audience and the speaker. A bond that simply cannot be created as quickly or as strongly in any other way. For example, think of presenters with very high content programs. Speakers presenting those types of programs need humor even more so than those presenting lighter types of programs so they can forge that connection with their audiences.
Another service humor performs for an audience is as a pause, a resting place. Pretend that you are doing a very complicated magic trick, or a very high content training about computer skills or life skills or who knows what. That kind of stuff is too dense for an audience to sit through without giving them some sort of break. The way I like to think of it is to consider your program as words on a page -- it’s a lot of black ink on white paper. I think what humor can be and what humor should be is a way to puff up that page with air (making sounds), so we get a little bit more white. By the way, that noise you heard was the sound effect for air. Okay, if you could see me you’d know I am smiling and I hope you are too.
Anyway what we are going to do is try to puff up that program with little bit more white space to make it less dense for our listeners. If they just wanted the content, if they just wanted that information, they could get it from a book. But they didn’t get a book; instead they got you. Part of what they want from you and from sitting through your program is a connection between them and you, a live person. Humor gives them that connection.
I want you to use some of this humor as a way to put in some fresh air, to add a little sunlight into your program, to make it less dense, so that the audience has a chance to meet you, to get to know you, not just your material. Understanding this concept is really important for comedians. Audiences don’t want to hear just punch lines; they need to feel like they have met us. This is really important for magicians, too, because after all it’s not just about magic; it’s about personality. This is also important for trainers and speakers because, again, it’s not just about the content, it’s about our connection with the audience. The greater the connection, the greater the audience satisfaction, no matter what information was presented.
Humor does not have to be punch lines. Humor can be, and I think should be, a way to connect. Defining humor’s purpose in this broad way, I hope, makes this talk today more relevant for those of you who perhaps do not see yourselves as comedians. If you are not the kind of speaker who would describe yourself as having a great store of jokes, or if people don’t tend to laugh at your jokes, well, the good news is that this becomes a way to use humor that is easily obtainable for you. Simply being able to create a bond between you and your audience means that you will have succeeded in using the type of humor I am describing, thus, using this type of humor is going to work for you. I promise!
Before you can add humor to your program, you have to get over the fear of using it. When I talk to live audiences, as I am doing in this program, the single greatest problem for people in trying to add humor to their programs is that it just scares them silly. And, of course, that’s really reasonable. Nothing feels worse than telling a joke where you are expecting some sort of laugh or chuckle or you want them to fall out of their chairs with hilarity, and they just look at you with blank faces. That’s when we get that sinking feeling that, “Oh no, they know I am an idiot.” That just feels bad, so there is no way we are going to be able to add any type of humor at all until we get over that fear of using humor and having it go flat.
So, let’s talk a little bit about how we can get over that fear and then after that I will teach you how to start adding some humor to your programs. One of the fears people have is that humor is unprofessional, right? If you are a speaker on financial issues and you are talking to your financial clients, you’re thinking that the last thing in the world that you want to do is mock yourself and mock this business because that just doesn’t help. Well, I think you are wrong. People tend to love people with whom they laugh. If you are able to make people laugh, it makes people feel like, “Wow this person is really self-confident, they are really at ease with themselves.” What is conveyed is a very strong and likable personality. Again, people connect with those kinds of personalities. And if you don’t feel like you have a humorous personality, don’t despair. You can fake it.
If you are a very serious business speaker, you are instantly able to follow up a humorous comment with a phrase like – “but you know I made that joke for a reason, I wanted to make a point, which is that when we are talking about bonds, we need to talk about growth, blah, blah, blah.” Another technique I use is to say, “but seriously I made that point for a reason, which is to tell you that although this information is very serious, we need to remember to take ourselves lightly when we are working in finance, and that’s going to be important in long run because….” The point is that while the subject is serious, it still can be presented with some lighthearted moments for the purpose of connection.
Anybody who thinks that humor is unprofessional really needs to take a closer look at that assumption. Look at the people who are most successful in business, and I think you will find these are the people that are able to take themselves lightly and demonstrate that lightness to their clients and co-workers, while also demonstrating a sense of self-confidence. Using humor successfully grows out of self-confidence, and self-confidence leads to success.
All right. That’s one fear. You think using humor is unprofessional, get over it. Second, and I already touched on this a little bit: our greatest fear is that our attempt at humor is going to bomb and we are going to stand there and look stupid. Well, let’s talk about that. First of all, when you are up there on the platform bombing, there is a terrific chance that you are not bombing. There is a terrific chance that you think you are bombing and you are wrong. Let me explain. We all have friends that tell jokes that aren’t very funny, right? We all have friends that tell really stupid jokes, and my question to you is, do you hate those friends, do you think less of those friends who tell the stupid jokes? No, they are kind of playful and likable. I have lot friends that tell dumb jokes and I admire them and love them for telling the dumb jokes. I admire them and love them for taking the time to insert those jokes into their life and to share them with me.
What I am telling you is that people, or audiences, will forgive us for bad jokes. Again, write that down: They will forgive us for bad jokes. They don’t want us to bomb, but they will be okay with us if we tell an occasional bad joke. Bad jokes are okay, public failure is not okay, but the most important thing is bad jokes do not equal failure. Let me say that again. If you tell a joke and it’s not that funny, that does not equal failure. And the way I want you to remember that is just think of weird Uncle Charlie you have over every Thanksgiving who tells you a goofy joke and it is not that funny. Well, he is lovable and weird Uncle Charlie, isn’t he? Right. He is not a whack job, he is somebody you like, and you can learn from that. Even if the joke is not funny, you still are not bombing. Don’t forget that every time you take a risk and use humor you are connecting. Even if the humor fails, the audience realizes you are taking a risk, and believe it or not, some kind of connection is made.
So, to repeat, you might not be bombing.
Let me give you another way to think about that. My friend and pal, Bill Stainton helped me figure this out. Let’s say you have got a 10 minute piece on some topic and in that piece you have planned six moments where you are expecting the audience to laugh. So these might be six punch lines or six anecdotes or whatever, and you are expecting the audience to laugh. And then when you get on stage you realize that out of the six times the audience only laughs at three.
So, what’s going on in your head? You are telling yourself, “Oh no, I am having a 50% failure rate, I am bombing, I am going down in flames,” and you start getting tense and you start getting that flop sweat and you start getting all weird. Well, guess what? The audience is not thinking that, the audience is thinking something very different. They are thinking, “Wow, three really funny jokes.” That’s a really important distinction. You are focused on the jokes they didn’t laugh at, and the audience almost assuredly is concentrating on the jokes they did laugh at. They are loving you for taking the time to put in three funny jokes; they are not focused on the jokes that aren’t funny.
Another tip Bill gave me is something I call the ‘Frasier Rule.’ Frasier Crane is one of my favorite TV guys. Or was one of them. Frasier was that TV show about the psychologist and his brother and father. I just thought that show was hilarious. I would go out of my way to see it. I loved it. However, I never laughed out loud at Frasier. When I sat in front of that TV show, I wasn’t laughing. But I was totally amused, and really into it. Not laughing, yet still into it. I literally scheduled my day around Frasier, but I am not laughing out loud. Your audience might be doing this with you.
Let’s talk about those three jokes that they didn’t laugh at. These might be the kind of jokes that Frasier has. These are the kind of jokes that are funny, the people in your audience are interested, they are amused, they are sitting on the edge of their seats, they are digging it, but they are not laughing out loud. You were not failing. Write it down: you were not failing.
The most important thing I want you to understand is when you think you are bombing there is an outstanding chance that you are not bombing. There is an outstanding chance that you are that lovable Uncle Charlie type that’s telling jokes that aren’t that funny, but they like you anyway simply because you took the risk, or simply because you are a likeable person.
There is a really terrific chance that, like Frasier Crane, you are doing a very fun program that people like and are into, but may not be laughing out loud at. There is a terrific chance that some of the jokes you tell will fail, but your audience is going to focus on the jokes that are successful. Good, you got it? If you think you are bombing, you are not bombing. Think about some of your favorite comedians. One of my favorite comedians was Johnny Carson. Well he was pretty much famous for telling horrible, horrible jokes in his monologue, but the guy was fine, wasn’t he? He had a national TV show. He was one of the legends of television and comedy. I am pretty sure he was funny even though he told a lot of really dumb jokes.
So, separate trying humor and failing, from failure. Trying to use humor and not quite getting it is not failure.
Here is what we don’t want to do. Picture yourself watching somebody on stage, who has failed. What is that makes us so uncomfortable? It’s that you can see them get uncomfortable, you can see the performer gets sweaty, you can see them start to talk faster and push harder and try harder to get it to work, and we can see the nerves coming out on them, and we can see the failure just happening, and it feels like you are watching a train wreck. That is what you want to avoid. Remember, if you tell a joke that’s not funny, or if you tell a joke that no one laughs at, that does not equal that type of bombing, flop sweat failure, unless you let it.
This is crucial. Messing up a joke, or telling a bad joke does not equal failing. Even though you think you are bombing, you are probably not. Make sure that you separate in your mind the difference between an attempted piece of humor that didn’t work and failure. I can’t tell you how many jokes I have told every single day of my career that haven’t been that funny. I mean I am telling you that I’ve told an astronomical amount of jokes that haven’t been funny. Ask my audiences. That’s not the problem. The audience will forgive me for that. What they won’t forgive me for is if I start taking that personally and I start to bomb. All right. First thing, get over that fear of failure.