My youngest brother is an example of someone who has developed a strong, zany sense of wit. The understatement of the day is that he is personable and finds the funny and crazy side of day to day happenings.
One of the best examples of him in top form was when we were visiting the Guinness Brewery in Ireland several years ago. While in one of the main brewery buildings, we noticed a group of tourists with a guide who was telling them the historical details of when the brewery started producing Guinness in1759. Behind the guide was a huge copper vat, a piece of old brewing equipment that would have been used over 100 years ago. It was a large, bulbous vat tapering off at the top into a narrower section. On the upper part of the narrow section was an observation port that looked a bit like a ship’s porthole. This might have been something the brewer used to observe the brewing process or to add ingredients, such as hops.
Before you could blink an eye, my brother was standing in front of the crowd, blocking the view of the guide behind him, and he had taken over the historical talk. The crowd stood in fascination as he told them that the copper vessel was in fact the first Irish spaceship and the window at the top was where the astronaut sat on a deckchair drinking Guinness during takeoff. The crowds of tourists were frowning at first, wondering what had happened to the guide and who this stranger was. Then they realized that they were being taken for a ride by an Irishman with a wacky sense of humor. As he continued his Blarney (Irish slang for nonsense talk) he got them rolling in laughter and his historical depictions got wilder and wilder.
We then worked our way up to the drinking section of the brewery where there is a glass cube-type structure high above the city of Dublin; there were people from all over the world to chat to, and pretty smiling barmaids handing out free Guinness. They call this area the Gravity Bar. For any Irishman this was like dying and going to heaven, and my first words to the barmaid were, “Are you an angel?!” She smiled, chuckled, shook her head in fake annoyance, and started pouring nice creamy pints of Guinness. Life is good!
Finding Your Unique Sense of Humor and Nourishing It:
Making a decision to commit to learning the process of developing and delivering humor is a step you will never regret. It takes dedication and a lot of trial and error, and there will be times that you say to yourself, “That was funny, why did the audience not laugh at that?” and there will be times that they laugh at things that you consider innocuous and you think to yourself, “OK, now why did they find that funny?” The day you step in front of an audience to try out humorous material and you get them rolling with laughter, is a day you will never forget. Imagine you have just delivered a humorous story, the audience is laughing, and you consciously have to let them continue to laugh before you speak your next line. You are focusing on keeping a straight face and you feel the elation from success. As the laughter starts to dissipate you continue, and the audience erupts into an even bigger frenzy. The humor you develop can be honed and you will find that much of it can be used over and over again with different audiences, and can be used to illuminate different points.
One of the initial steps is to gain an understanding of what makes you laugh. If you are delivering material that you do not find particularly funny, why should you expect your audience to laugh?
The following are some of my day to day chuckles, humor, or motivational occurrences that I have been writing down anytime they come to mind. I have been writing them in Twitter (davehillspeaks) which forces me to catch the essence of the vignette in a 140 character online forum. It is important to understand that the “seed” for humor typically starts off at the chuckle level. It can then be turned into humor through careful wording choice and incorporating enhancements such as vivid visual descriptions.
The following exercise is to help you identify what kind of things you find amusing and why. Another thing to watch out for is what you find somewhat offensive. Only use humor that you are comfortable delivering, and what is appropriate for the audience and the occasion.
1) Circle the ones you find amusing and write down why.
For Example – “My dog had cancer surgery. My mother in law said that $840 was a lot to spend on an old dog. My mother in law is 80…and needs hip surgery!” The reason someone might like this is because they can relate to an elderly person making an off the cuff remark that can be viewed another way.
2) Circle the ones you find inappropriate or eyebrow raising and write down why.
For Example – “My Canadian-Hungarian wife has a Christmas tradition of baby Jesus bringing gifts. In Ireland it’s Santa Claus. Is Jesus-Claus a compromise?”
3) Start capturing your own daily chuckle observations.
This process will help your brain become alert to life’s humor that you might not otherwise notice. The importance of this should not be underestimated and it requires very little effort. You just need a system to capture the essence of your observations to start this process. I use tiny Post It Notes that are in my wallet, in my car, and on my kitchen table for immediate note taking. I then transcribe them into other filing systems, including Twitter.
Some reasons you might have a preference for specific vignettes might be:
1. Relating to the content through your own experiences – Example: On the airport rental-car bus & the idiot driver was peering at his computer & swerving. I asked him if I could change my rental car to a hearse.
2. Making fun of yourself – Example: I told the presentation skills class to avoid walking through the projector light. Tried to demonstrate, but I was too short to block the light!
3. Visual images are strong – Example: Canadian research shows that if you run at a bear, it will run away 9 out of 10 times. I wonder how much they pay the poor intern to find out.
4. Wordplay (the meaning of a word in used in a different context) – Example: My son & his friends make a human wall to block the soccer ball during a shot at their goal. He is 1 ft shorter & more of a curb than a wall!
5. Absurd – Example: A friend went into Wal-Mart at 5 am. She turned into an aisle & saw a man naked from the waist down, trying on camouflage trousers. Weird!
6. Ridiculous – Example: My dad asked my brother to plant the lettuce plants. He was furious when he found them in one hole with the elastic band still attached.
7. Healthy embarrassment – Example: Today I was given a gold star by my dentist for “most punctual patient”. I had arrived a day early. Turned 50 in Feb, every day is exciting!
8. Paradoxical – Example: Irish religious/positive thinking perspective on flights getting delayed and getting stuck at the airport…”God wants me to drink beer!”
9. Element of surprise – Example: Bali coffee plantation 2008 – drank coffee & saw caged Civet cat-size animals. Learnt my coffee came from excreted Civet coffee beans – Yuck.Discovering
Your Unique Sense of Humor – Which of These Make You Smile & Why?
1. My Canadian-Hungarian wife has a Christmas tradition of baby Jesus bringing gifts. In Ireland it’s Santa Claus. Is Jesus-Claus a compromise?
2. Sitting outside on my doorstep enjoying the sunny morning & watching my leaves blowing and rolling onto my neighbor’s lawn – go leaves go…!
3. Christmas season is here & wife impulse shopping drives me crazy. To stay out of trouble I apply the “don’t ask, don’t tell” shopping policy!
4. Bali coffee plantation 2008 – drank coffee & saw caged Civet cat-size animals. Learnt my coffee came from excreted Civet coffee beans – Yuck
5. The southern air hostess asked what I wanted to drink. I said water. She repeated 3 times not understanding. A nearby teen shouted waa-terr!
6. Cooked my 1st turkey for Thanksgiving & friends in 1994. Was carving 2nds & asked my wife “Did you stuff the turkey?” I had cut into a bag of giblets!
7. Cashier girl at the wine store asked me if I wanted sex. I was dumbfounded. I then noticed she was pointing to the paper bag wine “sacks!”
8. Sister in law was doing a Skype video call to her mum in China. In view of the webcam I mischievously modeled her bright red bra – trouble!!
9. Told the presentation skills class to avoid walking through the projector light. Tried to demonstrate but was too short to block the light!
10. At a 3 day cancer charity walk there was a competition for the most decorated tent. The winners had lots of colored bra’s hanging outside!!!
11. At the grocery store checkout I had a bladder as big as Canada. The little old lady in front of me searched in her giant purse for coupons!
12. 1990 trip to India – went on a guided open top jeep tour looking for Bengal Tigers. Noticed that our guide only had a stick as a “weapon”.
13. My big old Irish Setter dog gets confused. Walked past a car with open doors. She thought it was our car & tried to jump in to go for a ride.
14. Southwest Air steward gave gate #’s for connecting SWA flights as we landed. He chuckled, “If you are with another airline…we don’t care!”
15. My short son came home happy after his school team won at basketball. He exclaimed that he & his two tall friends the “twin towers” scored.
16. Employee was told to check/delete files from an old PC. Photo of a naked woman popped up. Was trying to delete it as her male boss walked in.
17. Wife did clean-up community service. She lifted up a big flat piece of wood & saw a huge curled up snake. Texas outdoors is too dangerous!
18. Friends sent a family-photo Christmas card in 2009. Ecstatic kids, euphoric parents, & male dog sitting, showing off his…… “excitement”.
19. On the airport rental-car bus & idiot driver was peering at his computer & swerving. I asked him if I could change my rental car to a hearse.
20. A friend went into Wal-Mart at 5 am. She turned into an aisle & saw a man naked from the waist down, trying on camouflage trousers. Weird!
21. Saw a 40+ year old man jogging in a really tight black leotard. He was running “weirdly” & I told my daughter he needs a bathroom really soon!
22. My daughter saw the paper-cut I got at the corporate office. I said, “I hope you realize the suffering I go through to pay for your college!”
23. Rescued a baby squirrel from the grasp of a cat. The squirrel bit me & my wife sent me to the doctor. Doctor laughed & sent me back home.
24. At my son’s soccer game the Texas parents were wrapped up in blankets, sleeping bags & duvets. Looked like a scene from hurricane Katrina!
25. My big old Irish Setter dog was snuggled up on the couch at 6am. I brought her dog treats (breakfast in bed). She considers me fully trained.
26. Nights are cool & I saw a Facebook discussion where women were exhilarated about wearing flannel pajamas. Turn up the heat & wear lingerie!
27. My son & his friends make a human wall to block the soccer ball during a shot at their goal. He is 1 ft shorter & more of a curb than a wall.
28. Canadian research shows that if you run at a bear it will run away 9 out of 10 times. I wonder how much they pay the poor intern to find out.
29. My great grandfather spent his life in a wheelchair & had 7 children. My funny mum joked, “He certainly got out for his exercise, didn’t he?”
30. My elderly mother has a chrome frame installed around her toilet to help steady herself. She jokes that it is “her special Olympics toilet”.
31. Built a sub-fence to keep my big dog from the muddy bits. 3 trips to the hardware store & $$$. My dog went outside & bounded over the fence!
32. Work trip to Brazil & found very smart engineers. I gave them the ok sign to show my appreciation. Was told to stop…it is a rude gesture!
33. Soccer son is with his team. I ask my cruel daughter to call him off so we can get her to ballet. She shouts “Eric..we need to go to ballet!”
34. Today I was given a gold star by my dentist for “most punctual patient”. I had arrived a day early. Turned 50 in Feb, every day is exciting!
35. Memory of being 11 Y.O. in the car with dad. Car was in first gear/high revs & noisy. He sheepishly asked, “Do you know the facts of life?”
36. Memory of my mum dozing in the rear seat of our car between our 3 Y.O. son & 5 Y.O. daughter. My son asked, “Why does Granny have a mustache?”
37. Did an exact parallel park with my car. “I should get a prize for that,” I said thinking my wife was near me. Random stranger smiled/red face.
38. My frugal Irish dad bought a hearing aid. It was annoying to see him put his hand to his ear & turn it on mid-conversation to save batteries.
39. My wife spent 20 years training me to replace the toilet roll when just the tube remains. They now produce tubeless TP. I need retraining!
40. Memory of Sunday drives as a kid with my chain smoking parents. My siblings would take bets on whether the dog or I would get carsick first.
41. Southwest Air flight & the pretty hostess found out it was an 80 Y.O. man’s birthday. She sang happy birthday “Marilyn Monroe to JFK” style!
42. Irish religious/positive thinking perspective on flights getting delayed and getting stuck at the airport…”God wants me to drink beer!”
43. Shopping with my wife & I saw a stand of wigs. I put one on to surprise her & give her a laugh. Checkout girls saw me & laughed (red face)!
44. In 1971 my brother won a Raleigh Chopper bicycle in a competition. He slid on cow dung, went over the handlebars & had $5,000 in dentist bills!
45. After our wedding in Canada we saw a picture of a gay parade in the newspaper with two gay men wearing the same dresses as our bridesmaids!
46. Lake dock 2001 – our four year old son had Cheerios in one hand & fish food in the other. He inadvertently ate the fish food & threw Cheerios to the fish.
47. My son came home from school late & angry. He was getting ready to cycle home & found that a not so smart kid had locked both bikes together.
48. Low caffeine morning. Dropped an apple into my mug of coffee. It fit perfectly! Paperwork & my favorite shirt were hit by a caffeine tsunami.
49. Fire school panic – with SCBA air tank whistle alarms blowing, we dragged the dummy out of the burning building with a rope around its neck!
50. With the kids’ ice-cream in the car I had to do my annual shirt shopping since my $20 coupon was expiring. 10 mins +12 shirts = man shopping!
51. Built a homemade roof-rack for 3 kayaks out of PVC & metal piping. If you see a Honda CRV with 3 kayaks on top, move out of the way quickly!
52. Playing hockey & saw feathers on the ground. Showed them to another player & told her the heat is causing my feather underwear to fall apart.
53. Elderly woman friend was leaving her store at night & could not find her car keys. She went outside & found her car had been idling all day.
54. I heard one stewardess say to the other, “I will work for Southwest Airways for 2 years & then I should have enough money for rodeo school.”
55. Proud of the fact I can pack in 5 minutes for a week long trip. I got dressed on my last day to discover a pair of my son’s tiny underwear.
56. I took off my $400 eye glasses so I would not scratch them while helping my son catch a lizard in the shrub. I stepped back & stood on them!
57. Memory of my son sneezing with a mouth full of spaghetti. Visualize a long piece of spaghetti simultaneously hanging out his mouth & nose!
58. The light was on in the kitchen window & the moths were landing on the screen. The lizards were chasing & eating them. No need for a TV!
59. I heard the dental hygienist asking a 16 Y.O. girl about boyfriends. Parents could pay extra to find out what their teen daughter is up to!
60. While in Ireland I convinced my 13 Y.O. son to hand feed grass to a cow. As he nervously held out his hand I screamed, “Look out, its a bull!”
61. My wife has over 100 Tai Chi self defense moves. It’s hilarious to see my 13 year old son “disabling her”, tickling her with a single finger!
62. As my wife shopped for shoes I wandered off. I found some blond wigs & tried one on to give her a chuckle. The cashier saw me & she laughed!
63. At work I let a group of women get on the elevator first. I lost focus & the doors closed without me. I heard them laughing all the way up!
64. Our car gets mud and grass from our soccer kids. My brother flew in to see us, opened the car door & said, “Do you carry sheep in this car?”
65. My son was seven & I was angry with him because he would not eat his corn on the cob. He sobbed & said, “But daddy, I have no front teeth!”
66. At our Catholic wedding we each lit a candle symbolizing eternal marriage. Church candle was blown out by priest & extinguished our candles!
67. Low caffeine moment driving to the auto shop to get the muffler fixed on my wife’s car. Three miles from home I noticed I was driving my car!
68. My dad asked my brother to plant the lettuce plants. He was furious when he found them in one hole with the elastic band still attached.
69. A dove was sleeping on the sidewalk in the morning sunlight. It flipped open one eye to see my Irish Setter dog’s smiling face 1 inch away.
70. A local kid was asked to attach a watering hose one dark evening. He grabbed the black hose & it wriggled. It was a large, black rat snake!
71. Had a full bladder driving back from a restaurant. Made the error of telling my teenagers. They shook 1/2 full water bottles to torment me!
72. Came out of the nurse’s office after having a flu shot. I mischievously scowled & limped. The woman waiting outside looked at me in a panic.
73. My Hungarian mother in law speaks broken English. Dinner went on the table and she stated, “If you don’t like it… you can leave!
74. I cut my scalp playing hockey. Doctor stitched me & said, “Come back on Sun. before 3 pm, because that’s when the mower mishaps arrive!”
75. The teacher was telling the class about burning coal. He asked, “what else do we burn?” My funny teen daughter shouted out, “We burn witches!”
76. My dog had cancer surgery. My mother in law said that $840 was a lot to spend on an old dog. My mother in law is 80…and needs hip surgery!