Nothing is funnier than life itself
Last week, I coached a young man who was competing in a Toastmasters International Humorous Speech Contest. Here are some lines from his performance in front of a live audience:
I went up to the ticket counter and the agent said to me: ‘I hate you.’ – No laughs.
I wanted to fly to Berlin, but the agent would only give me a ticket for Cologne. – No laughs.
When I sat down in the back of the plane, I met the pilot who was having his tenth whisky. – Really no laughs.
The flight attendants had put me in a self-restraining jacket because I was a bit rowdy. So I was quite a mess when I vomited all over myself during the bumpy ride. – No laughs.
Why didn’t the audience laugh?
The audience didn’t laugh because they could not relate to his experiences. No one in the audience had ever experienced a ticket agent greeting you with “I hate you“.
Therefore we can’t connect to an experience we didn’t have ourselves and as a result, we don’t laugh. All of us have experienced unfriendly service people. Had the young comedian described a scene where the agent wasn’t hateful, but rather unfriendly, he would have gotten more laughs.
We find humor in the ordinary details that highlight life’s absurdity.
Look at this example from comedian Louis CK. He is describing a scene on an airplane where two babies are crying. He asks himself: “why do babies cry all the time during an air flight?” Who hasn’t ask themselves this question unconsciously. His talent is in making us conscious that we ask this question too and we don’t say it aloud because it’s not very “polite” to question baby behaviour.
But even before he gets to his main question, he already has the audience laughing hysterically because he gives them time to conjure up the absurd image of two babies on a plane.
Louis CK: I was in a plane once, there’re two babies on a plane (pause) … and other people. -Audience laughs.
It wasn’t just me and two babies. -Audience continues to laugh.
Pause. He gives the audience time to imagine this absurd scene.
That would be weird. – Audience continues to laugh.
You got on a plane and there’s just two babies. – Audience continues to laugh.
Pause (He blicks wide-eyed like a baby and says nothing.) – Audience begins to laugh hysterically.
(In a baby voice) Come on we’re leaving soon. – Audience continues to laugh hysterically.
He’s the pilot baby. – (He points next to himself.)
I’m the other baby. (in a baby voice)
(in his regular voice) No, it’s all right I’m not gonna ….. you babies have a good flight. I’m going to find another way to get there. Yeah, I don’t like the way this was starting.
Something as ordinary as two babies on a plane, told with the right pauses and body language can make people laugh hysterically. If you don’t believe me check out this YouTube video below.
If you want to connect to people emotionally and comedy is included here, take material from your everyday experience.
Make it a labor of love to routinely write down your keen observations. And when you have these keen observations, imagine the absurd moments before you even get to your main point. Don’t rush to get to the obvious funny moment because if you slow down and look deeply, you will already find absurd images and observations along the way “there” – where ever “there” may be.
Louis CK’s end point was that he looked up “why babies cry on flights?” and he found out:
it’s because gay people want to get married.
This unexpected answer wakes us out of our usual standby brain mode and makes us laugh.
If you want to get people’s attention, give them something unexpected. Here are two examples:
Whenever I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until it goes away. ― Paul Terry
A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. ― Steve Martin
Wanna be funny?
If you want to connect to people in a humorous way:
- Bring our attention to the absurdity in our everyday lives.
- Give us something unexpected.
It’s not necessary to fictionalize a scene to be funny. Just open your eyes and look right in front of you.
There’s nothing funnier than life itself.
Dyane Neiman is a speaker coach & trainer at Moving Speaker. She coaches people to communicate effectively by sharing common human experiences. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: How to be funny, public speaking skills, humorous speech tips, comedy tips, THE BEAR, Dyane Neiman, Moving Speaker