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Good Jokes are Re-Written

This past Thursday, Dec. 17th, I delivered the speech #5 of my Advanced Humorously Speaking Manually.  I completed this fun manual in a short 8 weeks span.  Ever since I entered and lost the humorous speech contest in Fall of 2008, I began to take interest in enhancing the humor in my speeches, and slowly becoming more analytical with process of making people laugh.  But it is during these 8 weeks of writing hundreds of punch lines and failing in half of them, that I have begun to grasp some of the basics of developing humor.  In this article, I will elaborate on one of my key reflections.

Lesson #1:  A good joke is not written.  It is re-written again and again.  The first of my humorous speeches is titled ‘Role Model’.  I was fortunate to have delivered it first at the Beijing Advanced Toastmasters club.  It was a small crowd of 10.  And if a joke could make a small crowd in a big empty room (seats 80) laugh, I knew it was a keeper.  Amazingly, I had a 50% success ratio on my punch lines.  Normally, after I finish a speech, that was the end.  Unless it was a contest speech, I would never go back and make it better.  Lesson learned, applied for the next new speech. 


However, a few days later, I had the chance to re-deliver it in front of CCTMC.  Perhaps I can re-write it in a way, so that I can garner a even bigger laugh from the audience.  The first thing I did when I looked at the speech was quickly deleting out the jokes that did not work very well, and then evaluated how much of the speech flow was affected.  If a particular discarded joke was critical to the speech’s logic and flow, then I would need to keep it, but not until I could improve it.  I had to analyze why the joke didn’t work.  Not enough surprise?  Too much surprise?  The punch line was out of place?  Not enough or too much exaggeration?  It was possible that the joke could be fixed by fixing up on the setup; build the suspense, and using the ‘triples’.   If the joke had no hope of revival, then I would replace it with a different but equally meaningful joke, this time basing on what I already know wouldn’t work.   This is what Darren Lecroix calls “valuable negative information”   


For the parts that worked, and worked really well, I analyzed whether the humor would be diminished or enhanced, if I made it more succinct.  If it was real laugher, then I try to create a topper:  a joke that follows immediately after it.    This was a definite keeper.  So I put in more effort to add the body language and vocal variety to polish up the delivery.    For the speech, the highlight joke was “If I can take a dump in front of everyone, then I won’t ever be afraid……of public speaking.”   In the first version, there was a dialogue with the dad which led the boy who was taking a dump in public to deliver this line.  But the joke would have been funny without the lead-in conversation with the dad.  In the final version, I asked the boy, and the boy answered to me directly.  I condensed it.  Then I added a topper after the joke:  “Ladies and gentlemen:  Obviously none of us have done enough to be a good…. public speaker.”    In a future version, I think I’ll try to put in a 3rd topper.  Also, I made sure that the delivery was perfect, including the pause right after the ‘won’t ever be afraid’—so that the audience is fully convinced that I am done with the sentence; the expression of the boy when he was saying those words, and the tone he would use—all of which builds the emotion and to trick the audience of the setup.   Maximize the suspense, maximize the surprise, and maximize the laughter. 


I will actually use this speech for my future Humor 101, 102, trainings, to help the audience analyze the structure of the humor.  So, it gives me a chance to re-write the jokes further, and re-tool the delivery to make the punch lines even more effective with each successive try.  I hope when you have the chance to attend the future trainings, you will be able to make a positive comparison with my first delivery.   This is probably my last post in the CC Chatter.  You can find more of my writing at CHIC website, where I will focus many of my ‘chatter’ on Creativity, Humor and Imagination.   www.bechic.org.

 Signing off,  Hubert



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