Is this photo funny? Or not? There’s no direct answer to whether something is ‘funny’ or not. It’s processed inside your brain, so the real question is, “Is that funny to me?” Then, perhaps, will it be funny to an audience? It depends.
It depends on audience members. What’s their frame of reference?…their background? An audience of sales people laughs at different jokes than a group of senior citizens. A group of intellectuals would be more apt to laugh at clever ‘word play’ jokes than a group with a less extensive vocabulary.
As 81 Toastmasters prepare for ‘their moment in time’ at the semifinals of the World Champion of Public Speaking, many are concerned with humor. They want to be sure to get laughs, a valid concern for any speaker. We all want to get laughs because it feels good. When it doesn’t work, the problem is often that the speaker hasn’t taken into consideration the audience’s ‘frame of reference.’
Take a look at this picture. Is that funny to you? Maybe you laughed, but more likely, you didn’t. It probably doesn’t make sense without a frame of reference. More likely, you’re a little confused and don’t ‘get it.’
When my car was in the body shop, my friend Linda let me borrow her car. Her license plate is: ‘Mom of 8.’ I like to tease her and her husband about their eight children, so I saw her license plate as a ‘set up.’ Being the goofball that I am — and knowing Linda’s sense of humor — before she came to pick up her car I changed her license plate to read, ‘Dad of 8, still looking for my mate.’ I used a little rhyme and it tied into the fact that I’m single and still looking. Linda laughed out loud!
It was custom humor, just for Linda. You still may or may not see the humor, but at least within the frame of reference, you now understand it. Make sense? When people compete in the World Championship, there’s a good chance that they’re coming with a speech that got some laughs in their country. But when they give the speech in the contest, people in the audience may not understand their local frame of reference.
Ever hear someone say, after telling story they thought was hilarious, “I guess you had to be there.” When this is said, the problem actually lies with the teller of the story because they left out an important ‘frame of reference.’ The teller actually didn’t take the listener there — some aspect of the story was missing to take the listener on that journey.
Traveling internationally last year, I stepped out of a car in the parking garage and saw a chalk line on the floor. I saw the chalk line as a ‘set up.’ Again, being a goofball, I ran over, laid down on it, and had my assistant take a picture. It just struck me. I’m sure to other people ‘out of context,’ it wasn’t that funny.
At one of my Humor Boot Camps many years ago, a woman came up to me on break and said, “I know what you are saying about personal stories, but nothing funny happens to me.” My first thought was, she was wrong. Funny things happen to everyone. The more I study humor, however, the more I came to learn she was absolutely right. Nothing funny happens to her because she doesn’t see it as funny.
“Humor is in the mind of the beholder.”
I thank God for the fact that I could train my brain to see things funny. The more I learn from mentors — especially Judy Carter — the more humor I see and the more joy I have in my life. I’m still not really a ‘class clown’ type of person, but in my element, like on stage, with close friends, or teaching workshops, I have my moments.
When you speak to diverse audiences, consider their frame of reference. Will they get it? Do they have the frame of reference they need to understand your humor? Poll some people if you need to. A few minutes of research and common sense can help you avoid ‘tried and true’ humor that falls flat with a different audience.
Your stories — are they funny or not? It depends.
Please share your thoughts below!
Humour is something that I’ve had a mental block about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the thought that I’m not funny. So that belief had to change first and of course I got an opportunity to do that.
I won my TM club’s speech contest this spring with a speech that got one (sort of) laugh that day. I’d previously tried different things to insert humour in giving the speech several times. I watched funny speeches on TED and Youtube and tried to figure out why speakers got laughs.
Each time I thought I had added something funny it didn’t get a laugh. So in the end, I just let go of it and gave the speech – even though I knew that without some humour, the speech was somewhat intense.
However on the day of the contest, I noticed something odd that started to change my thinking. While the judges were doing their thing, all the contestants were interviewed. During my interview I got several laughs from my off the cuff answers to questions.
So I realized I can be funny. In paying attention since then, I notice I get laughs in spontaneous situations like that one or while I’m doing a role in a meeting, etc.
But ‘planned’ humour seems to me to be a whole different game. So I have two questions.
Would it be helpful to let go of the expectation that I will get laughs?
And how can I bring the spontaneity of those off the cuff moments into speeches?
Any thoughts on that?
Funny you should ask! I recently began listening to your program with Fripp, “Write Your Keynote in One Week”. You suggest starting to write our ‘stories’. At that point, I stopped the tape, created a binder with about 10 different sections, and decided I would write my keynote in MANY weeks, because the stories keep flooding in. In the process of just WRITING DOWN MY STORIES, I AM uncovering humour left, right and centre and I didn’t think my life was funny! Not true. I’ll pick up your program again but for now, the very first CD about writing stories has been a rich exercise in itself! The ability to see humour in our lives is beyond priceless!
I love humour and funny things are often around me…. Not my fault right? When our kids were young and their friends came over, my husband would joke with them.. at first they thought he was serious, but soon they came to our place more often.. because of the humour in our home.
Learning to see the humour in everyday or even tragedies is an helpful life skill, which keeps us positive… Thank you for reminding me about this.
Oh yes, researching about the audience is one tough task especially when you’re talking to an international audience. How do you create punchlines with a universal impact?
I was thinking maybe watching foreign sitcoms would help, but what can you advice Darren especially with your experience in speaking internationally? ^_^
P.S. My friend deleted my one and only picture with you and Dr. Chandra during the D75 convention. What could be worse than that? huhuhuhu….
Thank you for teaching us that we can train our brains to look for the funny. A few days ago i saw an advertisement on television for a company that does bathroom remodels. The gentleman on in the ad asked ” Did you know that 70% of accidents in the home occur in the bathroom?”
My first thought was “Well at least they made it that far.”
I believe I constantly look for the funny in things now and your teaching has has a great deal to do with that>
Thanks again for being real!