Visualize a crowded, noisy, hole-in-the-wall restaurant in in Louisiana, USA. The pretty waitress comes over to the table and starts taking the drink orders. I order a local beer and she asks if I would like the small one or a large one. My friends look at me and smile with the knowledge that a large beer is going to be my obvious choice. I hummed and hawed with a smile on my face, and then said to the waitress, “If my shoe smells I will have a large one.” I simultaneously took off my shoe, pretended to sniff it, looked at the waitress and stated, “Looks like I will be having a large beer tonight!” The table erupted in laughter while the waitress shook her head with an “I can’t believe you just did that” expression on her face.
Fast forward six months and I am in a hotel bar with a group of project engineers. Prior to dinner, I was making small talk with the middle-aged African-American barmaid. I was telling her that I am a proud Irishman, but I have also acquired Canadian citizenship when I lived in Canada, and that I had recently become an American citizen. I told her that I consider myself a proud Irish-Amer-a-Canadian. She smiled and then I went on to state that I really want a fourth citizenship, that I really want to be African-Irish. The very dark skinned barmaid doubled over with laughter, stumbling away from the bar, laughing hysterically with tears rolling down her eyes. She then shouted playfully to my coworkers, “You guys can explain it to him!”
If there is one thing I love, it is making people laugh. It is a character trait that has evolved over a period of 30 years. People sometimes say that that they are not very funny. I assure them that developing the ability to make people laugh is a process, and the easiest starting point is to try safe humor by making fun of themselves or of situations. One of the easiest ways of finding humor is to use amusing anecdotes or stories to portray your physical characteristics or character traits. The following are my brainstorming examples with videos that demonstrate the techniques in action.
My Physical Appearance
- If I am trying out new trousers, I will ask my wife the obvious question: “Do these make my rear end look fat?”
- If I am in a car with the windows down, I will comment about the great gas mileage I get because of my aerodynamic hairline.
- View humorous video about trying on wigs:
- If I am standing behind a lectern I might say, “Can you see me now, can you see me now?”
- Grey hair
- The vignette at the beginning of this article demonstrates how I incorporate levity with my Irish-Amer-a-Canadian citizenships)
My Character Traits
- I tell people that in frugal Ireland we would sit around a candle in winter to keep warm. When it got very cold, my dad would light it!
- In my speech introduction I sometimes tell people that I am originally from an island off of Texas.
- If it is raining I joke that it is like a summer’s day in Ireland. I tell people that we would be on the beach on a light rain day like today.
- If someone asks me what it takes to become a storyteller I might state, “First become Irish” – view video of this in action and the audience response.
- Bad listener
- When I try and remember the short grocery list my wife gives me I sometimes forget by the time I reach the store, so I just buy a six pack of beer. I joke that if you are going to be in the doghouse, you may as well be in the doghouse with beer!
- While zip lining in Costa Rica my kids discovered I scream loudly, like a little girl!
- Bad memory
- When bringing my wife’s car to the muffler shop many years ago I got 3 miles from home and discovered I was driving my car. I do not do errands in a caffeine deficient state anymore!
- Beer drinker
- I make mistakes
- I pack for business trips at the last minute
- The family goal is to try and get my brother in law to eat a Brussels sprout, and we use disguise methods such as dipping them in chocolate.
- Terrible at buying gifts for my wife
Poking Fun at Yourself Using a Contrary Point of View
At the National Speakers Association of North Texas (NSA/NT) meeting in 2012 we were privileged to have Stand-Up Comedienne Judy Carter teach us some humor development techniques. She suggested that you identify the most embarrassing thing that people might be commenting about you behind your back, and to find humor by identifying the advantages of this defect. In stand-up comedy this technique is commonly known as the Contrary Point of View.
If I take my physical characteristic of being short I can brainstorm to find some levity that I could potentially put to use:
- Being short is great; when I stand up on most airplanes my head does not touch the overhead luggage rack. At last there is an advantage to being short.
- I like it when polite people use the cliché, “Good things come in small packages”. This misconception helps me get away with being evil at times!
- I love being short with small feet. At 50+ years old I still buy shoes in the “young men’s” section of the store.
- I love being short. When I see a sign that says “mind your head” I smile thinking that this is just another way the world punishes tall people!
- Being short is exciting. I feel a sense of adventure and achievement when I manage to retrieve crockery from the top shelf of a kitchen cupboard without injury.
- Being short is practical. When I go back to the family house in Ireland I still fit in the same bed that I had when I was 5 years old!
What are the forums that you can poke fun at yourself?
Before I use humor or witticisms, I ask myself the question, “Is this a suitable place and time to incorporate levity? Is it appropriate for the occasion and the audience?”
- Use any occasion to get a chuckle out of people: in the elevator, at the water cooler, while having lunch etc.
- Turning up at meetings and presentations early to build rapport with people as they arrive helps build likeability.
- During meetings and presentations, use humor to illuminate points and to try and deflect any negative comments or potential hostility.
- Incorporating levity to technical or other serious subjects can help keep people engaged.
To find some potentially humorous content, make a list of everything relating to your:
1) Physical appearance & character traits
2) Identify any anecdotes that relate to these characteristics
3) Use the contrary point of view to identify the advantages of your “defect”
4) Practice telling the anecdotes or witticisms and take note of the ones that are most effective
5) Use any appropriate opportunity to try these out (friends, family, meetings, presentations)