Making Dreams Come True for Comics and Speakers since 1984
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Making Sure You Get a Laugh

How many of you speakers or comics have ever been certain that a story or joke was funny, only to have it thud onstage? If you are honest, you've all had that moment when, something you thought was a guaranteed laugh, was met with an embarrassing icy silence with you saying, "Well... I guess you had to be there."

Most people will blame the failed story or joke for, "not being funny enough." But, the real reason might be your setup.

When people work on comedy material, they usually focus on the wrong part of the joke -- the funny part. My experience is that it's easy FINDING funny stories, but the hard part is GETTING the laugh. If the story is not set up properly then don't expect a payoff. That's why the set-up is of ultimate importance. The set-up has to draw the audience in so when you get to the funny part, they'll still be laughing, rather than using that time to check their Tweets.

Here are some tips on how to successfully set-up your story or joke:

1. IT'S ABOUT THEM. Start a joke or a speech (or even a blog) with a rhetorical question that has these words in it: "you," "us," or "anyone."
"I have a cat who coughed up a hairball," is not as good as "Anyone have a cat that coughed up a hairball?"
Using inclusive terminology engages the audience to think about what they care about most -- themselves. Using "I" or "me" assumes that the audience cares about you -- they don't.

2. USE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS. We are all conditioned from years of schooling, nervous that a teacher will call on us putting us on the spot. Use that "Humiliation Avoidance Conditioning" to keep an audience engaged by using rhetorical questions. Sometimes you can get a laugh just off your question: "How many of you find yourself drunk, getting on a bus with your bunny slippers? Oh, so I am I the only one who's gone to law school?" So the formula is "INSERT OUTRAGEOUS QUESTION" and then say, "Oh, so I'm the only one?" This technique is a great audience wake up call.

3. MAKE YOUR INTRODUCTION POP. And the best set-up of all-time is what is said about you BEFORE you even start your act or speech.  It's a good idea to have an introduction that genuinely gets the audience hyped to listen to you. Introductions should be short with impressive credits right up front, as well as something personally revealing about you. To make your credits pop, mention a DOWNTIME in your journey to success. Show that your accomplishments didn't come easily. So if you've done "Conan," it's even more impressive admitting that you spent the first twelve years of your life with a speech impediment. Reality TV has given us an insatiable appetite for personal details. You don't have to reveal about your nasty reoccurring STD, if your in a comedy club customers are eating nachos. Without being graphic, share with the audience something personal about yourself so your intro doesn't sound like one, long, egotistical brag.  

Set-up your speech or joke with something interesting about YOU and then start your act with something about THEM.

20 comments:

BarryF said...

Great post, Judy! Thanks.

Ron Rigby said...

I recently met a girl on "Match .com"....She burned my house down!

There must be more than one "match.com" out there!

Unknown said...

So true Judy, thanks!

Laughter is an emotional response, so if you can get the audience emotionally invested right up front by including them, thats the best "set up" off all!

Janet Pfeiffer said...

In my next life, I'm going to be a stand up comic using all of your brilliant suggestions! For now, I'll incorporate them in my inspirational lectures. As an anger management specialist, I often recommend using humor to diffuse a tense situation. I've always incorporated humor in my talks. Now I can also show others how to use it in their lives.
I love getting your newsletter! Thank you so much, Judy!
Janet Pfeiffer, The Secret Side of Anger

Anonymous said...

Thanks Judy ... That was BIG help to me! PaulaG

Fred Moore said...

Kind of like "don't forget to ask for the sale" or "it's just a cold sore".
(ok maybe not that last one!)

Wordsmiff said...

Thanks Judy. Your book and posts have been a big help to me. This one is quite timely as I have just been warned that a venue I'm performing at before long is a tough crowd. Gonna have to hook them right at the outset or I'm screwed - and not in the good way. :-)

Gideon F. For-mukwai said...

Hi Judy,
Greetings from Singapore!

Hope all is well out there. I did not receive your usual Thursday nourishment for almost two weeks. Were you busy or did someone take me down from the list?
Either way, I am very nervous!

I have come to appreciate it so much. So, am hoping you just got busy or traveling.

Sincerely yours,

Gideon F. Mukwai

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