Worried Your Audience Won’t Think Your Funny is Smart?

Ron TiteRon Tite, award winning writer, creativity, and branding expert, and author of the insightful new book Everyone’s an Artist, took the stage at last year’s Heroic Public Speaking Live admitting he had no preconceived notions about what to expect when power couple Amy and Michael Port, the hosts of the event, had invited him. He followed up his frank admission with an apt joke about all of the mothers in the audience who’d told their families they’d be at a “conference for work” –said in a way that communicated all the bore and dread generally deserving of such events—and ended up dancing in the aisles and hooting and hollering at the prospect of taking the stage in a big way while their partners filled the void at home.

It was hilarious, true, and created instant connection. With one joke, he said to his audience, I see you and I like what I see. To take it even further, his joke said, this change—women leaving the kids home with their partners while they work, work on their personal development, and have a good time (something men have been doing for eons)–you’re part of it, and it’s good for us all. The joke was also an innovative way to show Amy and Michael gratitude for what they’d created without taking the stage and saying something like; I’d like to thank Amy and Michael for the fabulously fun community they’ve invited here.

It was the first of many funny moves Ron made that had me oscillating wildly between laughter and tears. By the end of Ron’s performance, the corners of my eyes were chafed where I’d wiped too often with too scratchy a tissue, a small discomfort to endure for such a huge takeaway: Humor is one of the most effective tools we have for teaching; I couldn’t agree more.

Because funny is one of the most effective tools we can use to teach, I was delighted to see Ron back this year in the role of teacher. Ron’s main point: “It’s not about being funny. It’s about being effective.” And he certainly is effective. He wants us to remember always that whatever’s funny is “funny cause it’s true.” And, more often than not, the truth begets an emotional response that leads to connection and, to take it a step further, love. How could I not love (not in a weird way) a man who walks on the stage and acknowledges me as a mother, a speaker, and a woman who likes to dance in his first few sentences?

Funny is genius. We know it at a subconscious level even if we haven’t thought about it in those terms before. It’s why lots of my script-writing clients ask me to make them funny. Which I can’t do: funny is as funny feels and thinks. Part of the trick of any good writing is to reveal how our hearts and minds work to our audience, to show ourselves as keen observers of a truth not everyone has the courage to speak, to zero in on the one thing that makes a person, a place, an event different and then to surprise our audiences by exploiting it.

Leveraging the truth takes guts. If you’ve got those guts, I can help you reveal them to the world but only if you’re willing to do the work, only if you’re willing to explore the darker recesses of your heart and mind in service to your audience. Which brings me to another of the major points I took away from Ron’s teachings: that being funny, like writing well, is hard work. Successful practitioners of these arts make it look easy. When I was a little girl, I loved to watch Dorothy Hamill skate. I didn’t see all the early morning hours she put in, her demanding coaches, her bruised tailbone or her frozen toes.

I was thirteen when I went ice-skating for the first time. I broke my shoulder.

Ron Tite is funny; it’s his job. He takes it seriously. He works at it. In Heroic Public Speaking circles, every time his name is mentioned someone says, “I love Ron Tite.” This reaction isn’t accidental; I imagine it’s Ron’s goal. In order to reach it, he scripts it himself. He practices. He imagines his audience. During his lesson this year, he was careful to reiterate, time and again, that his humor is the result of a thoughtful knowledge of his audiences, himself, and a commitment to the hard work of using humor to create connection between all of these naturally disparate parts. And, yet, he gets up there and performs so well, we think he’s a natural. We want to be funny like he is funny. If only I were born that funny…

Think about your body when you laugh–its defenselessness, its vulnerability—most of us require safety to go there. When we allow ourselves to feel that kind of euphoria, it’s because we feel, based on the jokes they’ve created, that the comedian has intimate knowledge of us; we feel they’re just like us; those feelings create a bond. At it’s most essential, the job of speakers and writers is to see and be seen. This year, Ron’s lesson drove home the point that humor is one of the most effective tools we have for getting that work accomplished and we’ve got to be willing to work at it.

I once dated a funny friend of my older brother’s. Danny could walk into a room and, within thirty seconds, have a room full of strangers in uproarious laughter. He used his humor to share his insights to connect with others, to show that he was more like them than they might have realized, and to create the emotional experience necessary to get the love he craved. He knew how to use humor to be charming and charismatic; it was his most effective tool for seeing and being seen and for attracting as many women as he could.

My reaction to Danny wasn’t unique; this concerned my brother. When he questioned me about it, my response was simple: “He makes me laugh.”

My brother raised an eyebrow and said, “He makes everyone laugh.”

Turns out, my brother was right: Danny’s brand of crowd-drawing funny was too magnanimous for me. I share this with you here because, unlike in my brief relationship with Danny, getting a whole bunch of people to fall in love with you is perfect for the stage where the one to many dynamic is set from the get go.

In a world full of informational content—lots of it good—leveraging our funny makes us entertaining speakers, communicates to our audiences that we’re more alike than different, and goes a long way toward creating community and selling our products or services. When we can draw a crowd, we leverage our time. When we get lots of people to “love” us because we made them laugh, and we can demonstrate our genius at the same time, all parties win.

So, if you’re funny and you’ve been hiding it because you think it’s unprofessional or that people won’t think you’re smart, stop that and start working at being really funny instead. People love funny and people buy what they love. And, I know I’m not alone in my belief that funny demonstrates intellectual prowess with a kind of magnetism that plain old smart can’t match.

Believe me, Danny had lots of smart women lined up to be in the presence of his charms. Go forward my fearless friends; do the work required to be charming, funny, and kind in the service of being more effective. Love on your audience with all of the genius and humor available to you and they’ll love you back, big time.