Imagine you are living in small town in Ireland where the most exhilarating event for the year is a duck chase. Picture freckled Irish people with prison white skin looking at freezing cold water, getting ready to chase after a mangy-looking, stressed out duck.
At 7 years old, I was a contestant in this event where they got a wild duck, clipped its feathers so it could not fly, and let it go in the sea. The swimmer who caught it got to keep it. Can you feel the utter excitement in my writing?
The town official holding the wriggling bird shouted, “Duck!” and threw it towards the water. The chase was on. My body hit the freezing cold water, and since I had an IQ slightly better than a duck, I swam underwater. I swam submerged until I had bubbles coming out my ears. All those years of my brothers holding my head underwater in the toilet bowl and flushing (apparently helping me practice deep sea diving) was finally paying off. When my head broke the surface, I grabbed the duck and shouted, “I have won, I have won, I have a pet duck!”
I arrived home just as my dad was leaving the house, I shouted out, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, I won a duck, I won a duck!” My father being a practical, rather cruel man, said, “You brought it home, you prepare it.” “Define prepare,” I stated. “Kill it, remove its feathers and guts and have it ready to cook when I get home.” He got in his car and drove away, leaving me with my 7 year old mouth wide open.
I went into the kitchen and considered how I was going to do this nasty deed. I plucked one feather and the duck protested loudly. I then had a brilliant idea. I got some of my mother’s leg hair removal wax and a whole pile of cotton strips. I read the instructions and it said it was virtually painless. It was just what I was looking for. I spread the wax over the duck and applied one of the cotton strips then I ripped it off…and pressed…as it said in the instructions. I am not sure if this was ‘virtually painless’, as the duck’s eyes became as big as baseballs!
When he was featherless, I noticed he was shivering so I went and got him my little brother’s tee-shirt. It was then I noticed that there was one of those spy movies on the TV. They were at the part where they had the spy tied to a pole, blindfolded and were giving him his last cigarette. “Brilliant!” I thought. I then made him a little blindfold out of a cotton strip and gave him one of my mother’s cigarettes that were lying on the counter. He gripped it tightly in his mouth and I lit it. Have you ever heard a duck cough?
I then took a sharp carving knife and in one fowl swoop, the duck’s head was lying on the counter still smoking the cigarette. Those things must be addictive! It was then that the body of the headless duck got up and ran away, spurting blood. I ran after it shouting, “Stop, stop!”, which was kind of silly since a) ducks don’t speak English b) ducks don’t follow instructions, and c) his ears and head were back in the kitchen.
The duck collapsed on the carpet and then the door burst open. It was the village “DEA” (duck enforcement agency). They pushed me out of the way, took the cigarette out of the duck’s mouth, and put the severed head back on with tape, then performed CPR. They brought that duck back to life.
Not only does my village have a reputation for the best duck chase in the world, it is also known as the town that invented that life saving medical equipment that is used to re-attach severed limbs. To this day it is known as…duck tape.
Using the duck story to understand humor development and delivery:
In 1997 I was starting to get comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. My dedication to speech development and delivery was starting to pay off, and I discovered that I loved telling stories. It was at this time something happened that would catapult my energy levels and help me gain a whole new passion for public speaking and get noticed. What happened during my speech had never happened before- a bond seemed to form with the audience, and then the rolling laughter started to flow. The story above is an abridged version of a tall-tale speech I delivered at a local competition.
Over 10 years later, I am now coaching people and writing articles on presentation skills. One of the most challenging things for me is to find a way to write and share my strategies regarding humor development and delivery. While coaching people face-to-face on storytelling, embellishment, and humor, it is easy for me to demonstrate by example using the combination of techniques that maximize the effectiveness (such as writing for visual effect, gestures, facial expressions, purposeful pauses and movement, intonation, eye contact, impact words etc.). When reviewing a written speech, I find it easy to analyze the sentences and find areas to develop and deliver humor. The question is: How do I share my thoughts through written articles?
I have pondered this for nearly a year and have come to the conclusion that a combination of writing and video clip demonstrations is the best forum for me to share my techniques.
A 5 minute video clip example of me delivering the duck tall tale competition speech in 1997 can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/user/davehillspeaks#p/c/8A9F5AAAA59C60E6/1/gGyb2_4z4Dk
Notice the sections that get the audience laughing and the strongest humor parts. Included in the video are some scrolling text that summarizes the humor techniques I use. Here are the descriptions of the scrolling descriptions in the order that they appear:
1. Exaggeration (the excitement of the duck chase in my village in Ireland)
The reason exaggeration works is that the audience easily detects that you are either inflating or deflating the truth
2. Fun of myself (Making fun of myself by indicating I have a similar IQ to a duck)
Making fun of yourself gives the audience a reason to laugh with no risk. When you are poking fun at yourself, you are highlighting your weaknesses and building your likability. This is a great starting point for anyone wanting to get an audience chuckling.
3. Visual image (holding my breath underwater to the extent that bubbles are coming out)
The power of visual images is that you are providing detailed descriptions to the extent that the audiences see the details in the scenes you are describing. They also feel that the story is unfolding right there in front of them.
4. Relate to the audience (cruel brother)
The most powerful stories are where the audience have had similar experiences or can relate in some other way to what you are describing. When this is coupled with visual descriptions this can be highly effective
5. K-Sound (cruel dad)
This may sound weird, but audiences laugh at the “Kuh” sound of a word when put in certain context. When you are developing humor, you can change a word to get a more effective effect. An example would be if I had a humorous sentence relating to tomato sauce, I would use ketchup instead.
6. Dialogue (define prepare)
Dialogue brings stories into the present tense and is one of the most effective means of making the audience feel that they are right there witnessing the event.
7. Take on the character (duck)
Taking on the character gives you the benefit of being able to take on different accents and physical character attributes that illuminate your story.
8. Relate to the audience (private drawer)
The most powerful stories are where the audience have had similar experiences or can relate in some other way to what you are describing. When this is coupled with visual descriptions, this can be highly effective
9. Visual image (honey wax hair remover)
The power of visual images is that you are providing detailed descriptions to the extent that the audiences see the details in the scenes you are describing as they unfold. Notice that it is mainly the women in the audience laughing at this.
10. Opposite (hair removal using wax is painless)
The reason the opposite of reality works is that it is an exaggeration to a level that the audience clearly understands that you are either inflating or deflating the truth
11. Visual image (wax strips)
The power of visual images is that you are providing detailed descriptions to the extent that the audiences see the details in the scenes you are describing. In this scene women are laughing when they relate to my description of pulling off the wax strips and immediately “pressing” to control the pain.
12. Visual image (baseball eyes)
The power of visual images is that you are providing detailed descriptions to the extent that the audiences see the details in the scenes you are describing. Everyone can relate to a cartoon character that is in a high pain situation and they emphasize this by making the eyes grow big and sometimes even project from the eye-sockets.
13. Crazy (putting a T-Shirt on the naked duck)
The reason the relatively crazy exaggeration works is that the audience picks up that you are either inflating or deflating the truth and they can also visualize what is going on.
14. Exaggerate (using a chainsaw to kill the duck)
The reason the relatively crazy exaggeration works is that the audience picks up that you are either inflating or deflating the truth. Using a chainsaw to kill a duck is easily identified as being embellished.
15. Visual image (duck head lying on the counter still smoking the cigarette) The power of visual images is that you are providing detailed descriptions to the extent that the audiences see the details in the scenes you are describing. Can you visualize the head of the duck lying horizontally on the counter smoking the cigarette and puffing out clouds of smoke?
16. Crazy drama (blood spurting from the neck of the running headless duck) The reason the relatively crazy exaggeration works is that the audience have probably heard that birds with their heads cut off can still run away. You are now providing the visual and audible details to bring this to life. The audience also clearly realizes that you are either inflating or deflating the truth.
17. Rule of 3 (head-ears)
This is an extremely easy and powerful way of developing humor. The reason it is effective is because you are fooling the audiences brains. The format is set-up, set-up, twist. With the set-up you are leading them in a certain direction and then the twist takes them by surprise. For more detailed information on the humor rule of 3, see my previous article at http://davehillspeaks.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/1108/
18. Crazy (the arrival of the DEA – the Duck Enforcement Agency)
The reason the relatively crazy exaggeration works is that the audience picks up that you are either inflating or deflating the truth. I have also taken a relatively common acronym “DEA” and twisted it around for my purposes. If audience members were not familiar with the acronym the effect would have been lost.
19. Twist (the medical saving device invented by my village in Ireland is now called…duck tape)
You trick the audiences mind with something unexpected. This is the same reason that you get laughter from the humor rule-of-three. What makes this even more effective is that the humor punch word is at the end (this triggers laughter).