Tom Antion: Easy Humor Techniques Transcript
Hi, this is Brad Montgomery, and welcome to Humor College. You’ve made it. This is your fast track to laughs. If you’re a presenter of any type, a trainer, a speaker, a sales presenter, a sometime presenter, a professional presenter, an entertainer, or whatever, you are in the right place, especially if you want to find a way to make your programs less dense, more personable, and more humorous. You’re in Humor College, and we’re so glad you’re here.
In today’s Humor College, we’ve got Tom Antion
. He’s going to run us through a whirlwind of killer ideas that we can implement right away. There are a couple of things I really want you to listen for: first, notice how much time he takes to really prep for his audience. He knows more about the audience than most of us do, and he’s able to use that knowledge to create humor. Second, I want you to notice how great Tom is at using resources that the rest of us often ignore. He goes to the Internet or books to find funny quotes, funny definitions, funny jokes, limericks, poems, songs and song parodies. Then, he uses the knowledge he’s gained from his pre-engagement work to twist the end of that stuff that he found out there in public domain land. A lot of these ideas are just so simple, they’re really clever and I can’t wait for you to hear them.
So get your notebook and pens out of your backpack, get out all of the highlighters you are going to need, and get ready to take some notes, it’s Humor College!
BRAD: Hi, this is Brad Montgomery. Welcome to Humor College. You are in the right place if you are looking to be funny. We are lucky enough to have Wake ‘em Up Presentations. We’ve got the teacher, the man, the public speaking go-to guy in Tom Antion on the line. Tom Antion, how are you?
TOM: Hey, what’s going on, Brad? I’m into it.
BRAD: I’m really psyched that you’re here. One of the things that you and I talked about today, when we were planning exactly what to include in Humor College, was to provide lots of ideas to make sure that people are just absolutely taking notes at a frantic pace.
TOM: Yeah, Brad. There’s no excuse to say, “No, I can’t be funny.” I’m going to give you so many ways to funny today, the hardest part will be which one to pick.
BRAD: Great. Great. I want to ask you one question: is humor teachable? Because I was just fielding that from someone the other day, and he’s convinced that humor is not teachable. I think he’s wrong. What do you…
TOM: Yeah, definitely. I’ve done this with hundreds and hundreds of students over the years, since around ’93 when I started teaching this. It doesn’t mean you’re going to reach the highest professional level, and make millions of dollars as a stand-up comedian or get your own sitcom, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to improve your presentations using humor, and if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be standing up there in the first place. Sometimes, all you do is just read something that’s relevant to the people, and you’ll get a big laugh, or even a small laugh, whatever you’re shooting for or whatever the circumstances demand. So absolutely you can learn. I’ve done it for people. I took a prince from Africa one time that could barely speak English, and got him a standing ovation on his introduction, his first opening comment. So yeah, you can do this.
BRAD: Yeah. I think you said the exact right thing. You said, “We’re here to make you funnier.” That means funnier than your last presentation, funnier than you were before. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to turn you into Carol Burnett or Bill Cosby or Seinfeld, but we can make you better. So let’s start! Jump into it. I think you teased me with 30-some different ways to do it.
TOM: The first thing I want to say before we get started with them is that many of these ideas are based on what I’m a real stickler on, which is pre-program research about the group. If you do your homework about the group, all of these techniques are a piece of cake. You can almost just fill in the blanks with stuff from the group, but if you get lazy and don’t know about the group, then you’re hit and miss. You’re flipping a coin every time you use a piece of humor, unless it’s just a real general piece that you know is going to work for anybody, but that’s not what high-level speakers do. They research so that the things fit the group. A lot of these are going to use that. Let’s get started here. First one…
BRAD: Let me back up.
BRAD: When you say pre-program research, tell us how to do that. How do you do it?
TOM: Well, I do phone interviews. This is the number one way that ensures that I hit a grand slam home run every single time I speak, because there’s a lot of money on the line when I go places. People could get fired if I bomb, so this is serious stuff. I do phone interviews with a minimum of 15 people in every group, if I’m getting paid to go. If it’s a public seminar, it’s a different story, but if I’m getting paid to go, minimum of 15 of a cross-section of all the types of people that are in the group. If they’re managers and executives, I’m going to make sure I talk to some managers and some executives.
Whatever the job descriptions are, I talk to somebody. I ask them, “What are the three biggest challenges with regard to whatever my topic is?” and I just let them talk. Then I say, “What funny has happened, either to you or to your competition, or anything?” and I just let them talk. Then I say, “Who are the real fun characters in your group?” and I let them talk. When you do this 15 times, you get a pretty good idea of what the heck is going on in that organization, and who the fun people are. Of course, you need to verify because you never want to just go on one person’s say-so, because they might be trying to set you up to embarrass somebody.
TOM: I want to verify across the board that a person is a fun person. A lot of times I’ll seek them out at the event and talk to them, joke around with them and so forth. So that’s how I do my pre-program research, because there’s just too much on the line, and it just makes the creation of custom humor so easy if you have all of this information.
BRAD: That’s a lot of time investment. I’m impressed.
TOM: A lot of money involved, like I said, but if you want to get a lot of money involved for people to pay you, you act like a pro and do what pros do. I know more about the groups that I go to than they do, because that’s my job. That’s a lot of money, and it’s a one-shot deal and there are no re-dos. You don’t come back next week and do the presentation over. You’re it, and it’s got to be right, so act like a professional… if that’s why you’re on here. If this is just a hobby for you, then good, experiment and have fun. But when there’s money on the line, it’s a different ballgame.
BRAD: Alright, I’m with you.
TOM: Another thing is, it’s not that funny to learn humor. Your payoff is when people are laughing, rolling in the aisles, and the meeting planner’s patting you on the back, and the president of the company is hugging you and thanking you, and they’re giving you extra money and giving you Lear jets… Well, okay, that was a little too far, but the payoff is when you get the laughter and get your job done. Sometimes it’s not funny, it’s hard, and you’ll spend some time, but there’s nothing like those laughs, and you’ve been getting them for years and years, longer than me, probably. So let’s get into it.
TOM: First technique is called acronyms and abbreviations. Every group has some type of acronyms and abbreviations that they use on a regular basis, and they all know them, but we wouldn’t know them unless we did our homework and ask them in our pre-program research. You can change them to be funny for them. There are also regular ones that everybody knows, like IRA. That’s “individual retirement account”, but you could switch it to something else, like “individual rest in peace account”, if you were ragging a little bit on people just sitting around waiting for retirement. Or, IQ could be “idiot quotient”, things like that. So you change well-known ones.
I did one for a hotel company one time, where I found out that ADR meant “average daily rate.” I changed it to “all dated rooms”. Now, that means absolutely nothing to probably everybody on this line, but to those hotel people that meant, “Oh my god. We’d have to spend a fortune updating and modernizing our rooms,” so that was like, “Oh, no, no!” They started screaming, “No, no!” They’re yelling and screaming and having fun with you, just because you switcherooed a little bit of a thing that meant something to them.
My favorite of all time is ANA. This stands for All Nippon Airlines. But it’s a good thing they had a U.S. advisor before they actually rolled with ANA. Because their original, and this is a true story, was ANAL. How would you like to see that on a 747 coming at you?
BRAD: That’s a big… and this is exactly where your pre-program questioning comes in, because you’ve got all of that stuff.
TOM: Yeah, you’ve got so much stuff that you can just plug into some of these ideas that you get tonight, and it will be funny because it means something to them. It’s very easy to do. The next one is advertisements. You can write fake advertisements, which I did one time. I had this practical joke company. I don’t know how much background you gave them on me, but I owned a company called Prankmasters. We custom designed practical jokes. We did 4000 of them in and around Washington, DC, where every 20th person is a lawyer. You can swing a dead cat around and hit a lawyer in the head. I had a bunch of clients that would hire me and they’d want the most bizarre stuff, but they wouldn’t let me use their testimonial, because they had to play the game that, “We’re the big law firm,” but they’d always want bizarre stuff.
So I wrote a fake ad for them called The Prankmasters Pinch-Hit Legal Service, and it says, “We fill in when you’ve had too much gin.” It’s a whole thing about how we’re going to go to court for these attorneys. It says, “Call us anytime you can’t make it, from traffic court to Roe v. Wade, we’re an effective substitute for real representation.” It went on and on: “Lunch with your best friend’s wife? No problem. Tee off late? No problem. Hate your poor, uneducated client? No problem.” It went on and on like this, and they started faxing it around to all of their buddies at different law firms, and I got business pouring in the door from other law firms that had never heard of me, because I did this.
This same technique could be used in front of a crowd: Write a fake advertisement form. Put it in the handout. Read it from stage. Do anything with it, but it’s a funny way to connect with them using the personalized information. So that’s an advertisement. Jay Leno did it with those Headlines books he had out with Funny headlines from advertisements and blooper ads and things like that, so this is a very easy thing to do.
BRAD: Well, I could totally see that too, where you say, “I was thinking about you, and it seems like marketing is a big deal to you, so I wrote an ad, and let’s see what you think.”
TOM: Exactly, right from stage you could read it, or it could be used to help you get the job in the first place. If you were trying to attract meeting planners and there was competition, that would be a way to show, “Hey, I’m the funniest one of all, and I’ll go the extra mile for you.” Okay, next one is alliteration. This is a mild form of humor. I know some of the other folks have said that humor goes all the way from very mild where people don’t even laugh out loud, but it’s a lighthearted thing you say, all the way to knee-slapping comedy. This is one of the more lighthearted ones.
Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of words or in certain syllables. Like “monstrous metal-munching moon mice” is a funny thing to say, but it used alliteration. I wrote one time, “We bagged the Baldridge Award because our brainy, beautiful businesspeople are the best.” Not knee-slappingly funny at all, but it’s catchy and lighthearted. It also can be used to lighten up things, like, “The strike of one our suppliers put a crunch on our division. Even though we’re crunched, we’re still creative, we’re still credible, and we will conquer this problem.” Not really funny at all, but catchy, and also you saw a little example there of something that Darren mentioned the other night of the rule of three. This is totally pervasive in humor and speaking: creative, credible, and conquer, those are three things. The last one wasn’t funny in this case, but still, the rule of three kind of has a cadence like, “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” so it’s something you really need to pay attention to in speaking. So that’s alliteration, it’s very mild.
BRAD: I thought you said something really smart. Well, you said a lot of things…
TOM: Oh, good. I was hoping to get one thing in.
BRAD: One thing that was really cool is you said, “This isn’t necessarily going to get you a huge, roll-in-the-aisle laugh, but it’s still clever and fun and worth the time,” and I think that’s really important to remind people. A lot of people come into this saying, “I want to be funny,” and they’re expecting to get them rolling in the aisles, and sometimes you don’t even want that. Sometimes, it’s enough to get them to say, “Okay. This is a nice little break from this content.”
TOM: Yeah, you’re right, sometimes you don’t even want it, but sometimes you want to take people on a roller coaster ride. Sometimes, they need to be warmed up a little bit. Some of these more mild forms of humor, if it’s too early in the morning, I don’t know if anybody’s talked about time of day in humor. If it’s too early in the morning, people aren’t ready to laugh. So you might start out very mild until 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, when the coffee kicks in, and then they’re laughing at anything. You wouldn’t want to hit your best stuff very early in the morning, where they’re not ready to laugh. Those are all things that go along with these techniques, is knowing when to deliver them, and early in the morning usually isn’t the best time.
BRAD: Yeah, especially after the banquet. What’s after acronyms and abbreviations?
TOM: Let’s do anachronisms. An anachronism is a person, place, or event that’s placed in a time period in which it does not belong. For instance, Paul Revere riding a motorcycle would be an anachronism. George Washington sitting in front of a computer is an anachronism. You could mock up some visuals, or you could talk about things like that. I saw an ad for a fluorescent light bulb one time, and it had a picture of Thomas Edison working on the phonograph, and the caption read, “If Thomas Edison wouldn’t have wasted his time on the incandescent light bulb,” (remember this was an ad for fluorescent light bulbs) “his phonograph might have been a CD player.” It was just a little goofy thing with Thomas Edison working on something modern. I can’t remember exactly what it looked like, but it was in the wrong time period. You can make those happen on stage. So that’s an anachronism.
There’s a little formula for it that you could say, where you plug in a big name from the past:” Would [big name from the past] have [blank] if he had [blank]?” You can just make weird relationships there and throw in some of your pre-programmed research. “Would Ben Franklin have done something with that company if he had had something that the company made to make life easier?” You fill in the blank with your research. “Would George Washington have thrown his money away in the Potomac if he had ABC Investment Company?” Something like that.
TOM: Now the next one, if you use the next one carefully, they’re going to laugh and they’re going to think you’re a genius. For me, they only laugh. They never get to that point where they think I’m a genius, but it’s called an aside. In the theater, an aside is something said to the audience, that’s not supposed to be heard by the other actors.
TOM: If it was delivered on TV, or a sitcom, the actor would look right at the camera and talk to the viewers instead of talking to the other actors. What happens is, you have a main storyline going down. Then, maybe one word in the storyline kicks you off on an aside, where you tell a side story. Then you come back to the main storyline and keep telling it, and then another word kicks you off on another side story. It’s a spider web of many stories going through one. It’s really an advanced technique, but if you get good at this, people just go crazy.
The way that I get the laugh on this is because I’m usually playing a little bit of the buffoon, that I can’t run my computer right and I’m an Internet guy. I get confused and I get lost. I’m inviting the audience to yell out to me and help me. So I start the main storyline, and then I go off on my aside, and then I say, “What the heck was I talking about?” I pause, and look confused, and they start yelling out the main storyline to me. I say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, okay.” Then I go down a little bit longer, go off on a side tangent, then, “Darn! What was I talking about?” They start yelling it out again. This gets a lot of laughs for me, but if you don’t need the help of the audience, they really think you’re a genius, because you have multiple stories going on at one time, all understandable. That’s a little bit of an advanced technique, but works like a charm if you practice it.
BRAD: I think that the aside is a huge technique, and if I could interrupt for a minute, the two people that use that technique so famously are the talk show hosts, Letterman and Leno…
BRAD: Because Letterman will be talking to the celebrity or to the camera, and then he’ll turn and talk to Paul, and say something like, “I don’t think they’re buying into this,” or “Boy, this show is really going bad.”
TOM: Right. Exactly.
BRAD: So he’s talking about the process, he’s totally switching out of character. Then he goes – bam – right back to the camera or the celebrity.
TOM: That’s how it works.
BRAD: That’s a great example. The other reason that I think it’s such a great technique, Tom, it helps prove that you’re human. It helps prove that you’re there, you’re not just dialing in.
TOM: Right. You’re not just so polished. In fact, that’s one of the best compliments I got from the Chicken Soup guy, Mark Victor Hansen. Maybe it was not, maybe it was a backhanded compliment, I don’t know what it was, but he said, “Tom’s proof that an average person can be a great speaker.” Because I’m not the most polished. I’m not the guy whose suit is impeccable and tailored to the nth degree, and the hair is all perfect. I’m up there telling them, “If it wasn’t for George Foreman and all of the stretch waistbands he has, I wouldn’t be able to get dressed in the morning.” I play the regular guy that made it big. I think that’s worked very well for me, and it’s true. I came from a two-horse town. Literally 500 people, and we lived in the suburbs. We had the old 4-way stop sign, and two of the ways didn’t go anywhere. That kind of town.
BRAD: I think that what you’ve proven, though, with those kinds of compliments, you’re proving that the humor is helping you to connect, and they feel like they get you and they like you.
TOM: Yeah, absolutely, and it can mean enormous amounts of money. When I get into one of the sections, I’ll tell you what I’m heading for this weekend. But anyway, the next thing is audience gags. These are things, and I have loads of these, I’m just going to tell you one of them now to illustrate. Ahead of the presentation, especially when I’m using high humor, or high percentage of humor, I’m schmoozing with the audience, I’m out there joking around. I’m physically touching them, not in a bad way, but I might shake their hands. I’ll put my hand on their shoulder. Nothing in a way that would make people uncomfortable, and I’m smiling and talking and asking them if they’re having a good time, so that’s a big deal. But in this case…
BRAD: Is this before the program, or during?
TOM: This is before the program. I might do it in the middle of the program, I might touch people, but before, this is getting them ready, what we call “in fun”, ready to laugh. I’m physically close to them because in some of these places, they’ve got 3000 people out there, and it’s hard to get around too much. But, like this one I’m going to, 600 people, I’ll be there a couple of days. I’ll be shaking hands with people, “Hi, I’m going to be your speaker on Sunday morning,” and acting like not the prima donna. That really helps. People love that.
So anyway, in this case, I recruit about ten guys that look like they’re fun and I tell them, “When you see me read something from the stage, just get up and run out of the room.” They say, “Okay. We’ll go along with it.” Then I have the meeting planner hand me a piece of paper, and I might read something like this: “It appears that someone is in attendance today with another man’s wife. There’s a large, irate man on his way in here right now. If you want out, there’s a backstage door you can use to escape quickly.” And ten guys jump and run out of the room. Once the ladies catch on, usually if it’s a fun crowd, a bunch of them will get up and run out, too. It’s just hysterical, so…
BRAD: That’s a killer idea.
TOM: Yeah, it’s an audience gag. I’ve got loads of them in my professional speaking system, but they just work beautifully. Also, you should be out there schmoozing with people and that makes the laughter come so much easier.
BRAD: You don’t tell them what the gag is going to be…
TOM: No, because I’m the Wake ‘em Up guy, right?
TOM: If I tell you what’s coming, you could zone out on me. In fact, this is one of my teaching techniques on transitions. A lot of people say, “We’re going to tell you this now, and this is what we just told you.” Bullshit. Oops, you’ve got to edit that. I want them wondering, “What the heck is he going to say next?” because they cannot zone out on me. So I have their attention from the moment I hit that stage until they’re wondering, “My god, where did two hours just go?” So that’s one of the techniques, force their attention.
BRAD: Can you give us another example of an audience gag?
TOM: An audience gag, let’s see. Stone the speaker, I call it. I might crumple up some paper and give it to about 10 or 15 people in the front row, and I say, “When I say a certain word,” I actually tell them the word. “When I say this word, I want you all to stand up and throw this paper at me.” So guess who’s riveted on me the entire time?
TOM: They’re watching for that word. They stand up and throw the stuff. Then, anybody who was even halfway zoning out wonders, “Whoa. What happened? Who?” Now, I have their attention, so I’ve got every single person’s attention in that room, and that’s when I deliver my most important point. That’s an audience gag, but it was strategically used to make sure I had every single person’s attention when I said my main point.
BRAD: Yeah, an audience gag with a total purpose.
TOM: Yes, exactly. Because unless you’re doing super high-percentage humor and you’re just there to entertain, I heard Doug talk about this, you have to make a point with what you’re doing, or you’re just a stand-up comic. You’re not tax-deductible either, if you’re a comic, by the way. That’s something you ought to keep in mind business-wise. If you’re a speaker and you’re funny, you’re tax-deductible, but if you’re entertainment, you’re only 50% deductible. I’m not entertainment anymore.
BRAD: I’ve never heard anyone articulate that. For the ticket buyer’s perspective?
TOM: No, from the company’s perspective. If they just hire an entertainer, entertainment is only 50% deductible. I’m not a CPA, but that’s the way it’s been in my business the whole time I’ve been in business.
TOM: Meals and entertainment only 50%. So don’t be an entertainer, because if the CFO is involved, they’ll say, “Oh, no. We can’t blow $8000 on just entertainment.” But if it’s a speaker, “Hey, no problem. It’s deductible.”
TOM: Okay, let’s roll. We’ve got a long way to go here. Bloopers. Bloopers are things that, again Jay Leno has these. But you can watch the news and read, there’s whole books of them, and all you have to do is read them. You don’t have to have any kind of comic timing whatsoever just to read them. Maybe you could pause a little bit before the funny part, if somebody’s going to teach you about pausing before punch lines, that would be a good deal. But here’s one: Mayor Daley of Chicago was being interviewed on TV following the riots during the Democratic Convention. The mayor stated, “The police in Chicago are not here to create disorder. They are here to preserve it.” It’s just ridiculous. Notice I’ve used a different voice inflection when I started talking as the mayor.
TOM: You might look a little different, a different angle on the stage, possibly to make it stand out. Then, you follow up with, “I hope I don’t create or preserve any disorder in my presentation today.” So that’s a way to work in a blooper. Keep your eye on it.
BRAD: I love that. Just absolutely read it, and then at the very end, tie it back in to…
TOM: Yeah, tie it back in to why you said it. You might just think it’s funny. That’s one thing that I do just to amuse myself. If I find something funny, I’ll find a way to tie it in. For instance, I found a thing off of PR Leads, which is a publicity service that somebody is actually looking for a lion tamer to do an article on getting children to behave. This is funny to me. This is just funny, so I’m going to find a way to read that from stage. I’m doing a thing on speaking here in Los Angeles this weekend. I’m going to say, “To be a great speaker, you’ve got to get publicity, and there’s a good service, blah, blah, blah, here’s the service,” so I’m giving them a good lead. Actually, PR Leads does a good service for you. “Here’s one of the leads I got.”
It’s just hysterically funny, but I work it in to get a real content around it so I’m just not wasting their time with humor. Because I’m there to teach Internet marketing for speakers, that’s my job. But I’m brought in because I’m really funny, and they have a blast while they’re learning.
Okay, next thing is caricature. Caricature is a special form of exaggeration, which we’ll get into a little later. It’s exaggerating features, so you could have a caricature made of yourself. I have one that’s on my speaker shop. You can see it, it’s antion.com/speakershop.htm, and it actually looks like me holding a microphone, a lot skinnier than me, but my head is gigantic on it and it’s just funny looking. So it’s a caricature, and you can also use it not of you, but let’s say you’re doing a program for a company, and you’ve done your pre-program work and you find out who their competition is. You can have a caricature of the company you’re working for as real big and strong and muscular, and then do a caricature of the company that is their competition as weak and puny, and put them together.
TOM: That would be a way to use a caricature, not about you, but about them. Now, if you’re going to work for the other company someday, you’ve got to watch it.
BRAD: Yeah. “Hey, I was just kidding. I didn’t mean it.” Where are you putting this? Is it going on handouts, or…
TOM: It can go on the cover of handout. This could go on as an opening slide when they walk into the room, which is another good technique to set the stage for lightheartedness, is to have the great big ten-foot screen with a funny thing when they walk into the room. I know I did one for another hotel company, and I found a quote. It was by Charles Ritz, the guy that founded Ritz. It says, “The customer is always right, even if we have to throw them out.” They love that. People walk in the room and start smiling and laughing before you’re even on. That’s what you want, trust me.
Okay, next thing is cartoons and comic strips. One thing I want to tell you is that visual humor is the most accepted humor across cultures. If you have a wide diversity in your audience, especially if you’re speaking out of the country, which I have spoken in 11 or 12 countries and some of them didn’t speak English: Mexico and Hong Kong, places like that. Comic strips and those kinds of visual things, they don’t have to interpret the words. The picture does the job for them. Somebody, some computer guy, was showing a picture of a gigantic mouse sitting in front of a computer holding a person, like he’s clicking on a little person.
TOM: No matter what language you speak, that’s instantly funny. Cartoons and comic strips, what you have to be careful of is copyright infringement. One way I get around that is I just tell people about cartoons I saw. Nobody can do a thing to you for that. If you’re good at what Doug teaches you about storytelling, you paint the picture in their mind, and it’s just as good as if it was printed. That’s if they speak your language. For instance, I always tell people this one about, I saw this cartoon where Superman was in bed with this girl and the girl is crying and all upset, and in the caption Superman says, “I can’t help that I’m faster than a speeding bullet.” I didn’t have to cut that out of wherever I saw it and infringe on the copyright just by telling it. That’s a good way to use cartoons and comic strips.
BRAD: There are also, on the Internet, sources for small royalty-based cartoons where you can pay a fee and it’s not that much.
TOM: Yeah, you could go directly to the cartoonist, unless there’s some big syndicated one who all their work is tied up somewhere. You could go directly to the cartoonist, or you can hire a cartoonist to write your idea up, which is what I did for the cover of Wake ‘em Up, which I came up with the idea of an alarm clock person as the speaker. Everybody in the audience is in mattresses, but they’re all awake, because of the guy speaking on stage. I just thought that up in my mind and had a cartoonist draw it and paid him for it. If you can think these up well you can have them made and then you own it. That’s the good part.
Okay, next thing is comic verse. This is basically poetry or rhyming stuff that’s funny. Again, you should always make a point. I’m going to give you one and show you a little switcheroo here, too. Here’s one that the point is, everybody starts at the bottom, and that won’t keep you from being great. The original one was, “Do not worry if your job is small, and your rewards are few. Just remember that the mighty oak was once a nut like you.” That’s the original, and I thought, “Well, I really don’t want to call them ‘nuts’,” so I switched it, and I rewrote it a little bit. It says, “Do not worry if your job is small, with rewards you cannot see. Just remember that the mighty oak was once a nut like me.” I turned it back on myself and was able to use that without poking at them. So that’s comic verse.
Here’s one: “When the tides of life turn against you, and the current upsets your boat, don’t waste those tears on what might have been, just lay on your back and float.” Again, not knee-slapping, but when you see who wrote that, that was Ed Norton from The Honeymooners. Those of you that are old enough would remember that Ed Norton worked in the sewer. I would use that for an older crowd that would know that.
BRAD: Tom, how would you set that up, though? So you write it out, or you’ve got it from Ed Norton. How would you introduce that in front of your audience?
TOM: I might say something like, for instance, that one was right out of the tough stuff in life. Let’s say the company is going through something really tough. I’d say, “Listen folks, I know there’s been some tough stuff. We had some cutbacks in the company and that one major contract, that sucked when you lost that. But I’ve got an old friend from Hollywood who sent you a special message, and…” I’m just winging this right now, I’ve never actually said this, but, “…let me read this to you.”
So I’d read it to them and I’d say, “Ed Norton from The Honeymooners,” and I’d say, “Hey, hang in there. Things are going to get better.” That’s all there is to it. Nothing fancy, but I kind of have a formula. I make a point, illustrate it with something, and the illustration could be a visual, a cartoon, a poem, a song, a one-liner. Then I restate the point. This formula, if you ever analyze one of my talks I just bam-bam-bam probably a hundred times I do that in a speech. The illustration is different every time, so you never know what hit you, because I’m filling in the middle part with different things, so nothing is redundant.
BRAD: One of the things I love about that technique, Tom, is that it’s easy.
TOM: Very easy.
BRAD: You’re just taking it from someone else and switching a word or two, or even not.
TOM: Yeah. People always say, “One of Mark Twain’s… That’s not right to switch a word in Mark Twain’s quote.” Well, what’s he going to do about it? They say, “Mark Twain would turn over in his grave if he heard you say that.” I say, “Let him spin, man.”
BRAD: I’m pretty sure he can’t hear me.
TOM: Yeah. Limericks are another one. Limericks are kind of a comic verse. Here’s a point: quit fighting. Let’s say somebody is having in-fighting in their organization. “There once were two cats in Kilkenny. Each cat thought there was one too many. So they scratched and they fit, and they tore and they bit, till instead of two there weren’t any.” It makes the exact point: you can’t fight, or nobody’s going to win.
BRAD: Are you going to set that up? I’m trying to make sure that I can picture this. If someone’s presenting, they’re a nurse talking to other nurses, how do they introduce a limerick without feeling like a goofball?
TOM: Get used to feeling like a goofball, if you want to be funny. Get used to it, especially when you get the big paychecks, you start thinking, “Hey, being a goofball’s not too bad.” The thing is, you walk over and you pick up a piece of paper, so you don’t even have to memorize this. Some people memorize these; I don’t even memorize them. I pick up a piece of paper and read it to them. That way I don’t have to worry about messing it up. You have to get over that feeling that they’ll think you’re crazy.
The problem is, some people do these when it’s not appropriate. I taught a whole group of speakers how to do a singing introduction. The guy ignored all of my advice on when to use this, so he went and used this. I cannot believe it to this day, because he e-mailed me and said, “That didn’t work at all.” I’m thinking, “You moron. No wonder it didn’t work.” He did it in front of an all-male group of CPAs and attorneys vying for a really big piece of business. He did a singing introduction.
BRAD: Might as well put a fork in your eye. Back up, what do you mean? What is a singing introduction?
TOM: I got somebody on stage with me, and I wrote a little parody song to “Roll Out the Barrel” or something…
TOM: I showed them the words and said, “Sing it to the tune of ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ with me.” I don’t even remember what the words are right now, but we sang it together. When I did this in front of a group of nurses, they’re swinging from the chandeliers. This is a wonderful group of people, that are nurturing people, that are a little bit wild. On their one day off where they get some extra training and attention, they’re ready to, like I said, swing from the chandeliers. You don’t do it at the wrong time. That’s one thing you have to seriously look at, who is the audience, before you do some of these things.
Okay, let’s move forward. Costumes. This is the one where, this weekend, I’m going to Los Angeles, speaking in front of 600 people, and this is the part that I really want people to think about. If I don’t come home with $150,000, this is going to be a bust of a weekend. This is not bragging, this is not anything. This is the reality of high-level speaking, where you can make the people fall in love with you while you’re giving them good content, and you have something to sell. The last time I did this, it was $245,000 I came home with.
BRAD: I’ve got that much in my wallet right now.
TOM: I know you do, because you’re hot. But this is really serious stuff.
TOM: I’ve been to this group four times, so I can’t do the same bits over again. I went to a party store, which is a great place to get ideas, and I just looked. Of course, it’s near Halloween, so there’s all kinds of stuff out there. I’m about helping them make money. I found a big dollar sign that will sit on my table. I found this jacket that’s made out of cloth that looks like money with gold lapels. Now I’m thinking, “A-ha. I’m going to get somebody on stage and tell them, ‘Hey, if you were really rich, this is how you’d look. Come up on stage, and then I’ll get a bunch of helpers and we’re going to dress them up like a pimp daddy.’” I’ve got gold glasses and bling rings, and a big clock to hang around him like Flavor Flav, and it’s just going to be hysterical. The house is going to come down. The video guys are going to go crazy, with good shots that are going to be in next year’s promo, I guarantee you.
I do this kind of stuff every year, but it’s based on costumes. In this case, it’s not me dressing up. Sometimes speakers dress up in costume, and we’ve got Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Dolly Madison, Teddy Roosevelt, and Marco Polino. Marco Polino was a female Marco Polo. A friend of mine made loads of money doing those things, but I’m sick of doing costumes. I did them for six years in my business. So I dress the audience people up, or I’ve dressed up the big shots of the organization. If you want to see the house come down, oh my god. I had one thing where this big pizza franchise, the president, we dressed him up in a big pillow with a target on it wrapped around his waist, and if you got an answer right, you were one of the mid-level managers. If you got some kind of customer service answer right, you got to come up and kick the president in the butt. It was just ridiculous.
TOM: But the president going through with that, they just loved him. Then in the same thing, we had two people come in. One in a really gorgeous, starched white lab coat, and another one come in with fake blood and real dirty, filthy lab coat. We said to the people, “Which one would you want operating on you?” That was how they slob around with their crappy pizza clothes, so it was the idea that you must look sharp when you’re serving the people.
TOM: So costumes can be done. When enormous, big money is on the line, you can still use costumes.
BRAD: Great idea.
TOM: Okay, keep moving. Definitions. I know Darren talked a little bit about this, but I was going to give you a few extra ways that you can use definitions. Let me give you the definition first. “Banker: A fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain.” This has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Robert Frost. Nobody really knows for sure who did that one. If you were speaking to bankers, you certainly would not use this, because it’s negative about bankers.
TOM: But let’s say you were a banker, and you were talking to non-bankers. You would switch the thing around, and here’s how you would do it. You’d say, “Some people say…” That’s all I added. “Some people say that a banker is a person who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, and wants it back the minute it begins to rain.” Now, I’m the banker who’s going one step further to tease myself. I say, “That’s not true. I would lend you my umbrella anytime, at 12% interest above prime and two points.” So that’s what I want to do, show you how to switch humor around to make it fit your purpose.
Then, let’s talk about extender lines. An extender line is if you’ve got people rolling, it’s easier to keep them laughing than to get them laughing in the first place. It’s kind of like a bell curve; once the laughter starts to die down, you hit them again with another punch line. In this case, the banker could say, “If you want to borrow money, that’s a different story,” because they were talking about rain and umbrellas. That’s a definition, and how to switch a piece of humor around to use it when it doesn’t even apply to you, probably.
BRAD: Let me see if we can’t break down that process. If I’m working for, in this case, bankers, the first step is I’m going to look in quote books, and on the Internet for definitions.
TOM: Yeah, there’s funny quote books and funny quote sites on the Internet. I hardly look at books anymore. I have an enormous library, but it’s so easy just to type it in, like, “Banker quotes,” something like that, or “Financial quotes.”
BRAD: Then all you have to do is say, “Some people say this, but I say that,” and you change it.
TOM: Right. Switch it around. You’re claiming that you’re not saying this. Some people say it, but I’m going to refute that and say what I’m going to say. You’re able to use the quote, even though it didn’t apply in the beginning.
BRAD: There’s nobody listening to this who can’t do that.
TOM: No, anybody can do it. Anybody can do any of these. The aside is the only one that’s halfway tough. Albert Hubbert said, “Death is to stop sinning suddenly.” Sinning, not sunning.
Let’s go to exaggeration. Exaggerating is expanding or diminishing proportions to create humor. I did a talk for Secretaries’ Day at some big insurance company, and I was making the point about how hectic it was for the secretaries. I’m there for them that day. It went something like, “You’re answering the telephone, and the fax machine’s going. You’re making copies and filing every policy back to 1910.” They just howled at that, because they can relate to every item that I’ve mentioned. Certainly they did a lot of filing, but not back to 1910. If I’d have said, let’s say it was 1995, and I said, “Filing all the way back to 1994.” Well, that wouldn’t be funny, because it’s very likely an insurance company is working on policies more than a year. That’s normal. Exaggerating back to 1910 made it funny.
Khalil Gibran said, “An exaggeration is a truth that lost its temper.” So anyway, you can exaggerate things, but make sure people know they’re exaggerated. That’s the whole thing, just make it really outrageous so it’s an obvious exaggeration. I don’t know if I have the right to be telling your folks anything about humor, because I spent two terms in the third grade. I don’t know if you knew that or not. It was Truman’s and Eisenhower’s.
TOM: Bada-bing, right? Okay. Next one, fake facts and statistics. Again, this is kind of exaggeration where you’re just sending them so far out of whack that people know, but you can set it up and really zap them at the end. You’d want to use real official-sounding sources for your information for your fake facts and statistics. Like, “A study done for the Alaskan Pipeline Workers Union indicated that 97.2% of Alaskan pipeline workers wear No-Nonsense pantyhose.” So you’re zapping them right at the end with something ridiculous, although I’ve checked recently and found that that’s actually 98.8%.
BRAD: I was thinking that sounded a little low. Now, I love this idea, because it’s again easy to do. So we can set up the fake source, and set up the fake statistic, and then the punch line is going to come right at the end.
TOM: That’s right. And it could just be bizarre.
BRAD: Right. Specifically, how are we going to use this? For example, how can we figure that out? You said you were going to speak to speakers this coming weekend in LA, how might we figure that out for them?
TOM: Well, I might say something like, “According to ICANN, the organization that registers websites, the average cost of a website for the small business owner is 12.8 million. Oh, that’s not in actual money, it’s frustration with your web designer.” Something like that. Just as simple as that, and it fits perfectly with my topic, and it’s not necessarily a knee-slapper, but certainly was a surprise, and then a lot of people will relate to the fact that, “Oh my god, was I frustrated when I tried to get my website up.” So they’re thinking, “Yeah, he’s right.” That’s a simple way to use that.
BRAD: “According to ICANN’s latest 2007 statistics, it says here that 98.7% of web users are paying way too flipping much for their web designer.”
TOM: Yeah, except that’s not funny.
BRAD: Right, because it’s not exaggerated enough?
TOM: Yeah, “paying way too much” is not like “12 million” for a website.
TOM: You’ve got to exaggerate it to the nth degree to make it funny. The real funny came was the part when I said, “Not in money, but in frustration.”
TOM: So that made it really funny. The amount was obviously exaggerated, but how much price could you put on your frustration? That’s what really made it funny, was that last little zinger, which I just made up on the spot.
Okay, the next thing is juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is the placing side by side of two ideas or items, usually for the purpose of comparison or contrast. This is one thing we did in the practical joke company. We had this Japanese guy coming into the United States. Some company hired us to do this. It was his first time in the United States, and you know how they have the limo drivers at the airport that have your name on the sign?
TOM: You know that, because you always get limos, Brad.
BRAD: Every time.
TOM: Yeah. We had this guy that’s 450 pounds standing there, and we had a dwarf or midget, a guy that used to work in Vaudeville, standing next to the 450-pound guy. They both had signs with this guy’s name on it. Now, to take it one step further, the 450-pound guy had a little, tiny business card-size sign, and the midget guy had the side of a refrigerator box with this guy’s name on it, and he’s standing behind it, with his hands up kind of like where’s Elmo or something.
TOM: This was a comic juxtaposition. How would you use that in a speech? Let’s say you’re a really tall presenter. You’d find a really short person to come up on stage with you for whatever other bit you’re going to do, and say something like, “Well, I don’t want you to think I’m talking down to you.” Something like that. Or, if you’re really short, bring the tallest person you can find up and say, “Hey, don’t talk down to me, buddy.” Something like that. It’s just a comic appearance because of the size difference. You still might be doing your same bit or whatever else you’re doing, but that makes it even funnier if there’s an extreme size difference. That’s a juxtaposition.
BRAD: Yeah. I admit to using that one a lot, because I’m small and I’m short. When I get people out of the audience, I love to get really huge guys up there, not only tall guys but big guys, and you don’t even have to say anything.
TOM: Yeah, you could just look up and it would be funny.
BRAD: Right, you look up at them, you look at the audience, then shrug your shoulders and the audience will laugh.
TOM: Right, exactly, so that’s a juxtaposition. You could also do it with visuals. I mentioned this earlier with the caricature, where you make your company logo really big, and then a bunch of little competitor logos, really small, like you’re the mother duck and they’re all following you. Again, that’s juxtaposition.
The next one is oxymoron, and that is using terms that don’t make sense together, really. Like jumbo shrimp.
TOM: Old news. Extensive briefing. Things like that. There’s a funny one: an advanced state of decline is another good one. Expecting a surprise is an oxymoron. You could say something like, “So and so company claims that its market share is increasing, but their sales are down, while everyone else’s are up. It’s like jumbo shrimp, it just doesn’t make sense.” Not only did I use an oxymoron, I used a simile, which is something later, where I’m comparing two things with “it’s like”. So that’s an oxymoron. Then, a pleonasm, that’s one you never hear of.
BRAD: A pleonasm, that’s…
TOM: You’ve heard of that?
BRAD: That sounds like an SAT word that I never got.
TOM: Yeah, right. It’s the bringing together of two concepts or words that are redundant. A pleonasm is the bringing together of two concepts or words that are redundant. I just did it.
BRAD: Like what?
TOM: Well, how many times do I have to tell you? I just did it twice. No, it’s like frozen ice, sharp point, killed dead, sandy beach, and those kind of things. Those are pleonasms. All of these are kind of juxtapositions in putting things together and noticing them. I told you the different examples, you can use these with either people of different sizes. I wouldn’t go for colors too much, that wouldn’t be real politically correct, but sizes are usually not too much trouble, unless the person is uncomfortable because they’re so tall or short or something.
Okay, we’d better roll here. Let’s get to the next one: letters. This is one where you can fake a phony business letter, or bogus telegram, or a note or something. This is one I just made up. I changed all of the names here for you, but this is something that I would read from the stage as a fake testimonial. “To: Bob Parsons. From: Harry McDonald, administrator, Pikoming Valley Health Care System. Dear Bob, We would like to thank you for the quick thinking your manager displayed during our recent surprise inspection. Had our employee, Donna Kauffman been caught out of uniform, we surely would have been cited by the Health Department. Hiding her behind the pastry cart in the walk-in freezer was a stroke of genius. She would have come through with just a few sniffles had the inspection not taken so long. We did have a little explaining to do over in the emergency room, but at least we didn’t get cited. Again, many thanks and keep up the good work, Harry McDonald.” If you read something like that in front of a company that it makes sense to, they’ll be talking about you for months, passing and faxing it around all over the place. That’s just a fake testimonial letter, or like I said, you can do fake telegrams. Let’s say they’re on vacation and you fake up a telegram from Harry, who’s on vacation in Hawaii, and how he’s thinking about us all, wishing he were back at work.
You can do fake surveys like, “In response to the question, ‘What did you think of the food at today’s luncheon?’ 4% people said they thought the main entrée was too spicy, 7% said the shrimp were overcooked, and the rest of you, 89% to be exact, just belched.” It’s the rule of three again, the third one is the funny train wreck.
TOM: Alright, so that’s fake letters, notes, and surveys.
BRAD: I love the fake survey idea.
TOM: Yeah, you just make it all up and use the last one as the kicker, you know?
BRAD: You could literally be writing that on the way to the job and it would be fine.
TOM: Yeah, absolutely. You could just make it all up, and sometimes one thing I do is try to get the program and I try to get the menu if it’s a banquet or luncheon, and I get to the room and I look around to see if there’s anything that’s obvious that everybody knows about that I could joke about. One time I was doing this talk with a bunch of little old ladies. I have no idea why I was there, but it’s a luncheon and the menu was “Tuna Temptation.” All of these little are ladies are talking about, “Oh, the Tuna Temptation. Oh, it’s so wonderful. Did you like the Tuna Temptation?” “Oh, yes, it was wonderful.” That’s the whole thing. Everybody is buzzing about this. I get up on stage, and I’m a young guy up there in front of all of these little old ladies, and I say, “Well, I generally don’t like seafood, but that Catfish Convulsion was really good.” It took them a little while, and then it hit them, and then they laughed. But surveys, and all that stuff that you can do right on the spot that you couldn’t have made up ahead of time, is really, really great.
Okay, next section: malapropos and usage blenders. I had a roommate that was just a nutcase. He was a high-school dropout, ex-Marine, and he would just say things that were so close to being right, it was just hysterical, but they were wrong. He would say, “If a company wanted to promote its business, they need a good slogo,” which is a slogan and a logo. He would say, “You’ve got to stay cool, calm, and collective.” One time, he was complaining about the price of beer, and he said he had to buy a 12-pack to forget about the cost of a 6-pack. But there are some famous ones out there. Casey Stengel was known for usage blenders. He said, “I want you to all line up in alphabetical order according to your size.” Samuel Goldwyn, the old movie mogul, said, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” There’s just loads of these out there. A lot of times you would use them if something going on in the organization didn’t make sense.
TOM: You could just pick any one of these and get a laugh, and it would still make the point that neither did any of these things make sense. That’s how I would use those.
BRAD: With these malapropos, that means you’re, again, going to the Internet or to a funny quote book and just pulling these out and reading…
TOM: Yeah, and a lot of people would advise you against using joke book humor. But if you pick the one little line that makes sense to say in front of the right people, it could be 3000 years old and it will get an enormous laugh. There’s one I got out of a joke book years ago, and I say, “Do you know what boss spells backwards? Double SOB. That’s what they’re going to think of you if you lord yourself over them.” It gets massive laughter every time I say it, at the right time to the right people. But it was just a joke book joke. It’s okay to use that stuff, but you still have to do your homework and use it at the right time. My favorite one, some guy was in a meeting that had this real stuffy lady who was a total you-know-what, and would never crack a smile. She was leading a meeting that was getting out of hand, and she said the following quote: “I fear our discussions are tan-genital to the issues.” The guy told me he’s trying to choke himself to keep from laughing, because everybody’s ready to die. Tan-genital.
BRAD: Love that.
TOM: Just repeating those kind of things is hysterical. Even though it’s, in that case, not specific to a group, it’s still really funny. Next thing is… go ahead.
BRAD: I’m going to warn you, we’ve got about five minutes left, Tom.
TOM: Okay. So we’ll run through them here. We’ve got one-liners. They’re easy to find in joke books. Again, you’ve got to find the right time to use them. One of my favorites is, “Behind every successful person stands a bunch of amazed co-workers.” My all-time favorite is, “We’ve got to give 110% percent. 10% on Monday, 15% on Tuesday…” That kind of stuff.
BRAD: Yeah. Perfect.
TOM: Okay. Parody, that’s where I change the words to a recognizable tune. I’m not giving you legal advice here, because I’m not sure of the legal position on using parody, but I’ve gotten away with it quite a few times. Just change the words to a recognizable tune. Use your pre-program research, and if you can halfway carry a tune, you can use it.
BRAD: I’d like to say, you don’t even have to be… halfway is about right. If you can carry a tune halfway, they still love the fact that you’re doing it and they get the joke, and who cares?
TOM: And you can get them all to sing along with you just by putting the words up on the screen, like Mitch Miller used to do. The next thing is, I could go for a whole day on talking about props, so yes, you can use funny props. I don’t even know what to say about that. Props are just awesome. You’ve got oversized props, you’ve got small props, you’ve got funny props, you’ve got serious props. A good source for props is Morris Costume in Charlotte, NC. You’ll pay about 20 bucks for their catalog, which you get back when you order, but they’ve just got enormous numbers of props, magic tricks, and funny stuff like crazy. That’s a good resource.
BRAD: Give us an example of a way you use a prop, in front of…
TOM: I might have three hats. I might have a top hat like Abe Lincoln. I might have one of those baseball caps that has long-hair, like I’m a hippie or something. Then maybe a safari hat. Even hidden inside the hats are reminders of what I’m supposed to say about each hat. I could say, “When our business was new, we were wild and crazy,” and I put the ball cap on with the long hair. “Then as our business matured,” and I put the top hat on, or I’d put it on somebody in the audience if that was okay with them. “Our business matured, blah, blah, blah, but now we have to search for new business,” so I put the safari hat on. So three props that were the three major parts of my speech, and had notes inside of them, so I didn’t even have to remember anything.
BRAD: I love that. Tom Antion, we’re out of time, my friend.
TOM: Bummer. I didn’t even get them all done.
BRAD: All it proves to us is that we all need more of you
TOM: Okay, awesome.
BRAD: We’re listening to Tom Antion. He’s got, I don’t even know, dozens of speaker products. Marketing to speakers, Wake ‘em Up presentation skills for speakers, speaker videos, there are all kinds of links on your resource pages. You’ve got to click through and learn more about Tom Antion, because clearly, Tom, we need more time.
TOM: Awesome. Well, let me know when I can help you again, man.
BRAD: Great. Once again, this is Humor College, my name is Brad Montgomery, and you’ve been listening to Tom Antion. Thanks, Tom.
TOM: Okay, man.
This is Brad Montgomery. You’ve done it; you’ve made your way through the first session of Humor College with Tom Antion
. If you need more information about the Humor College, go to humorjumpstart.com /humorcollege
. You can find information about Doug Stevenson and his special brand of storytelling humor here
. And finally, if you want to learn more about me, Brad Montgomery, you can learn about my offerings at bradmontgomery.com.
Thanks for being here. We’ll see you next time.