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Articles About Storytelling

Humor: A Key to Story Success
By: Linda Gorham

Humor: A Key to Story Success©

Here is the good news. About 35% of you reading this have the ability to “think funny.” Congratulations! Of course, conversely the rest of you fall into the 65% of people who do not. Sorry. Nevertheless, do not fear, there is hope. It is possible to expand the “think funny” or humor quotient for those of you in the 35% category, and to open the humor horizons for the rest of you.

Think about the people who have good penmanship, beautiful gardens, or perfect hair. Their skills did not come by chance. They consciously worked on them. I believe it is the same with humor; we can learn to be humorous or more humorous – if we work at it.

I enjoy storytellers and presenters who are humorous. Simply put, humorous stories & presentations keep my attention. When I anticipate humorous interjections in a story,
I’m more alert because I don’t want to miss anything.

There’s more! I’m more attracted to humorous presenters. I want to talk to them after the presentation. I want to have lunch with them. I want to be their friend. I will travel farther to hear them. Now, are you ready for this last justification? I will pay more to hear them. Did I get your attention?

"People will pay more to be entertained than educated."
Steve Allen, comedian

My personal definition of humor is “seeing life sideways.” A more formal definition is that humor is the capacity to perceive, appreciate, or express what is funny, amusing, incongruous, and ludicrous. Humor:
Uncovers the absurd and the incongruous
Finds unusual associations and consequences
Arouses amusement and exposes the unexpected

Easy? Not necessarily. Truth is, even humor has rules. Rule number one: make sure your audience is ready for humor; they must be in a funny state of mind. If you have a set of your own, include your most humorous story after one that builds up or develops the humor quotient of your audience. If you are part of an olio, inform your emcee so he or she can use a segue that prepares your audience for a funny story.

Rule number two: don’t poke fun at anyone who may be considered vulnerable. Authority figures such as teachers, bosses, and government officials are safe. Also people your audience will feel are smarter, better looking, luckier or richer than they are. Be careful; to be truly safe, poke fun at yourself.

Rule number three: know your audience. You want your stories and your humor to be appropriate for the age, sex, demographics, interests, political leanings, and even the idiosyncrasies of your audience. People won’t laugh at issues that go over their heads or don’t relate to them.

“Laughter comes primarily from our emotions, not from our intellect. You can never get an unsophisticated audience to appreciate sophisticated quips, but many an intellectual audience has laughed uproariously at very unsophisticated material.”

Finally, rule number four: successful humor requires honesty and sincerity. Don’t try for a laugh, just deliver your lines and allow your audience to “take them or leave them.” I like to think of successful humor as a special gift delivered with love.

“ Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly
cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”
Langston Hughes, author

You can incorporate humor in your stories by using good word choice, appropriate emphasis, timing, silence, pauses, vocal variety, non-verbal reactions, and body gestures. In addition, it may seem obvious, but don’t forget to smile. Smiling sets a tone of joy. It also lets people know they can take what you just said lightly.

In addition to delivery techniques, you may also want to try the following humor techniques:
· Anachronisms or misdating – incorporate references into your story that don’t fit the time frame.
· Asides – add comments that appear casual as if you were just reminded of them. Most effective speaker humor is planned, even if it appears spontaneous.
· Banter – use dialogue to make communication more lively.
· Blendwords – coin your own words to fit the image you want to project.
· Callbacks – make a second or third reference to something funny you said earlier. The original comment must have gotten a laugh and must be able to stand on its own.
· Catch Phrases – insert a common phrase in an extraordinary manner.
· Catch Tales – mislead your listeners by implying a dreadful ending and then surprising them with a sudden trivial conclusion. This describes the classic jump tale.
· Comparisons – use similes and metaphors to describe something by likening it to something else. When planning your comparisons, aim for those that are outrageous and ludicrous.
· Double entendre – use phrases that have double meanings – at least to those with twisted minds.
· Fractured or Twisted Fairy Tales – everyone loves a creative twist on an old tale.
· Irony – use words to express something other than, and especially the opposite of, the literal meaning.
· Malapropisms – misuse a word in a most ludicrous way, especially by confusion with another one that has a similar sound.

· Puns – use a word or words that are formed alike or sound alike but have different meanings.
· Props – use selective props. If not overdone, they can add more than words can ever say.
· Rhyming – add creative rhymes. Rhyming is a high-level type of humor, but the audience can appreciate it in small doses.
· Rug Pulls – use a series of three to provide a surprise. Usually the first two items make sense; the third is completely incongruous.
· Twist Wits – mutilate quotations, quotes, famous sayings, and proverbs by adding fresh, creative extensions.

Finally, give your audience time to laugh. All of your humorous techniques and delivery will fall flat if you don’t allow your audience time to enjoy your humor. Consider the following:

It was Mark’s first night in jail.
After the lights were shut off, someone from another cell yelled “128.”
Everyone in the jail laughed hysterically.
Then another guy yelled “34.”
Once again, hysterical laughter.
Mark asked his cellmate John, “What’s going on? Why is everyone laughing?”
John said, “Everyone’s been here so long, we don’t bother to tell jokes anymore.”
“We just yell out the joke number.”
“Hey,” Mark replied, “I’d like to try it. Can you give me a number?”
“Okay, sure, try 62.”
Mark yelled “62.”
Nobody laughed.
He tried again louder “62!”
Once again, silence.
“Hey, what happened,” said Mark, “Why is nobody laughing?”
John’s answer was simple, “Some guys can tell ‘em; some guys can’t.”
“Timing is everything!”

Take your time, plan your humor, relax, and have fun!

(posted 6/2007)

Author Information:
Name: Linda Gorham
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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