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!