A new convict is sitting in his cell. Suddenly someone yells out, “419.” The whole block laughs loudly. Someone yells, “78.” More laughter. “641.” Hysteria! And this goes on every afternoon. A new prisoner can’t figure out what this is all about. He asks his cell mate. “There’s only one book in the prison library and it’s a joke book. All of us have read it so many times we memorized the jokes. Now, all we have to hear are the numbers!”
So, the new guy goes to the library, reads the whole book & memorizes the jokes. One afternoon the jokes session starts. Someone yells, “316.” Everyone is howling. “56.” Gales of laughter. The new guy yells “237.” Absolute silence! He’s wondering what happened, when he hears a voice, “Some people can’t tell a joke.”
It’s true…a lot of people can’t use humor effectively. I have been asked frequently how I manage it. A lot of it I owe to an author called Malcolm Kushner, whose books have inspired & taught me how to use humor effectively.
There are seven simple types of humor anyone can use. They can be easily delivered even if you don’t have any comic ability. They are: Quotes, Cartoons, Letters, Lists, Analogies, Definitions and Observations.
Quotes not only add spice to any conversation, but also provide one of the simplest ways to introduce humor. They are easy to find & use. Quotes should be analogized to the situation. Here’s an example of what I mean. My favorite quote for opening a statistical presentation comes from Yogi Berra. It is about Yogi walking into a pizza parlor and ordering a pizza. The waitress asked him if he wanted 4 or 8 slices in the pizza. To which Yogi replied, “Make it 4. I don’t think I can eat 8.” We have all heard variations of the same quote.
What we have done here is to buy a small amount of audience attention with a humorous quote. Remember statistics is considered boring world over :). When I teach MBA students, all my quotes are attributed to either Aristotle or Socrates and I begin by saying, “I believe it was Aristotle/Socrates who said…”
Like the quote, cartoon has in built insurance policy. It is not yours, somebody else has created it, you only selected it! Cartoons make ideal speech material because of their wide variety of style & topics. You can always find one that related to your message. No matter what kind of a day we have had, cartoons always bring in respite. Even if you can tell a joke, it never hurts to share a few cartoons. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a cartoon is worth two thousand!
This is one of the most overlooked form of humor. It is a simple device that can become the highlight of any communication. There are a wealth of funny letters out there…you only need to google for the one to suit your presentation. One of my favorite ones is the one that appeared Huffpost Comedy.
Let’s focus on the geometry of humor. Two points make a line. Three or four make a trend. It allows you to build informational points right into a quip or anecdote. Here’s a simple example to illustrate:
“There are three ways to get things done. (1) do it yourself. (2) ask someone else to do it. (3) ask your kids not to do it.”
The first two points are serious & mundane. They set up expectations that the third will be the same. The third however, violated that expectation & catches us off guard. The technique isn’t limited to three items…it is just the starting point. Another of my favorites is from a graduation address at the business school I taught.
“Mr Dean, members of the faculty & board, distinguished guests, honored graduates, friends and finally dear parents whose tuition payments have ended!”
Analogy is a concise statemet that highlights the similarity between two objects. A simple analogy that is funny is also a rae jewel. I have listed some of the globally popular ones here:
- He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
- The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
- The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
- The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
Definitions provide a simple way of breaking up long chunks of dry material. Here’s how Bank of America President A.W Claussen defined inflation to liven up a discussion:
“Inflation is the process that enables you to live in a more expensive neighborhood without going to the the trouble of moving”
Definitions can also be combined with some of the other techniques that I have mentioned above. They can serve as raw material for analogies. This Ronald Reagan example is a classic:
“Government is like that old definition of a baby. It’s an alimentary canal with an appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”
Observations are short, clever lines that can be inserted anywhere in a presentation or communication. “Pearls of wisdom” is how I would describe them. The observation is phrased like the fortune in a Chinese fortune cookie & attributed to an ancient philosopher. Observations are basically colorful comments pertaining to an individual or situation. For example, “He carries around a hose pipe so he can always walk on water”.
Then there are observations of the absurd, silly and no comic ability is required. Anyone can produce humorous observations based on data, phone numbers, typos, politicians, paperwork etc. Just stop for a moment, lift your head above the fray and the view will be enlightening.
After all, that’s what we advocate in everyday life too…stop and smell the flowers! Have a humorous day :):):)