In this lesson, you’ll learn to:
- Develop humor using the Contrary Point of View
- Explore an additional process for uncovering humor in unfunny content
The technique covered in this lesson is another very effective way of methodically uncovering humor in your speech content or stories. The process includes:
- Identify your specific topic
- Write out normalization’s relating to your specific topic
- Brainstorm with contrary point of view guiding statements
- Identify the quirky contrary point of view
The fundamental reasons this technique works:
- We are working with topics that the audience can relate to
- The topic scenarios we describe are normal to the audience
- The humor comes from identifying a contrary point of view that is very different or absurdly different from the audience normal perspective
Here are the steps to this process:
Step 1 – Identify your topic (top of the table) – This could be broad such as “leadership,” or could be something a bit more specific such as “The top three leadership traits that lead to failure.”
Using the template table (left hand column), identify typical unfunny statements (generally accepted norms) that come to mind. In the left-hand column, summarize the generally accepted norm statements which are based on personal experience, observations, emotion, a premise etc. We identify generally accepted norm statements because we want the audience to be able to relate to our content.
Step 2 – Analyze each norm statement using the Contrary Point of View Questions (center column) to determine if there is the potential for a quirky example, personal experience, premise etc.
Step 3 – Develop the Set-Up in the right-hand column. Describe:
- Your specific personal experience, observation, or premise.
- Your set-up with detailed visual images. The set-up is typically not funny…the humorous reveal happens in the punchline.
- Your setup will be more effective if you use an emotion word (it’s crazy that…I hate that…etc.).
Revise, revise, and revise some more to make it concise and specific (notice that I did not use generic “engineers” in my set-up…I described my engineer coworker Nigel).
Note 1: The set-up can be more effective when it is conveyed in the form of a question to help the audience relate (e.g. “don’t you hate it when you are on a first date and the conversation is labored?”).
Note 2: The set-up should be as brief as possible, should include an emotion word (hate, crazy, etc.), and should not include humor. (Humor is revealed in the punch-line).
Develop the Punchline – Incorporate:
- Your quirky point of view
- Subtle embellishment, ridiculousness, irony, funny etc.
- The Humor Rule-of-Three technique if possible
- Act-out the scenario to maximize the humor
- Evaluate if you can build on the humor by including a series of relatable additional punchlines.
- Revise, revise, and revise some more to make it concise, visually descriptive, and end with a punch-word to trigger laughter.
Note: Keep your example, personal experience, and premise somewhat believable. Do not “force the funny” or it will diminish the potential for audience laughter.
Before we go any further, make sure you have a clear understanding of the process to populate each of the three columns in the template.
Let’s analyze an example of this process:
[Topic]: Divorce Challenges
[Initial Norm Topic]: “Divorce comes with a heated custody battle.”
[Set-Up – Identify a Norm Statement]: “The thing that scares me most about divorce…is the custody battle.”
[Punch-Line – Contrary Point of View Humor]: “What if I end up with the kids?”
Let’s now explore the full process of exploring a specific topic to identify Contrary Point of View Humor. It is important to understand that you fill in as much as you can in the table…but you are not finished. It may take hours, days, weeks, months, or even years to keep it evolving and identify more and more humor potential items. This is the fun part for me. I love to continue:
- Populating the table with initial thoughts.
- Printing it out and keeping it “in my back pocket” to review any time I have a creativity urge.
- Staring at the brainstorming table and letting my mind wander to see what additional norm scenarios I can identify.
- Brainstorming with family, friends, or a humor buddy to see what collective minds can create.
- Working with sentence structure and word selection to craft the humor to make it as effective as possible.
The following are a few example worksheets that I spent time populating in short time slots for several days (you can download the PDF’s from the link below them). They still need a lot of work, but I can see the Contrary Point of View humor starting to appear.
Note: My creative time of the day is the morning, when I have excessive amounts of caffeine flowing through my blood, with music playing quietly in the background. This is the period where I enjoy brainstorming and go through the process of developing humor.
Ready to try it out on your own? Let’s get started! The following two exercises are in editable PDF’s that you can download, edit, and save.