Image Credit: Andrew Eccles/ABC
She’s award winning, self-deprecating, witty, Gangnam dancing, and loved worldwide. She’s Ellen Degeneres. On March 2, she returns to host the Oscars for the second time. Is it any wonder that comedians are the favored choice for this annual event? Without comic relief, the award show would be a marathon of film recaps, fashion faux pas, and coma-inducing acceptance speeches.
Just like Ellen, you can captivate your audience by adding the right touch of humor to your communications. A little levity can engage, whether you’re delivering a presentation or crafting a letter to a long lost customer.
Have a look at Ellen’s 2007 Oscar monologue to observe her humor style. I found myself smiling throughout the clip although these lines are my favorites:
- “Most people dream of winning an Academy Award. I had a dream of actually hosting the Academy Awards. Let that be a lesson to you kids out there. Aim lower.”
- “A lot of British nominees. A lot. Would I say too many? Not here. No. At home in my pajamas with half a box of Chardonnay in me, who knows what I’d say.
- “Let’s be honest. It’s not that we don’t have time for long speeches. It’s that we don’t have time for boring speeches.”
- “But listen, don’t even stress about that…’cause maybe you won’t win.”
- “Abigail Breslin. How old are you? Eight, ten, nine? She’s a four-year-old girl and just filled with joy and hope and not worried about competition.”
We might not host the Oscars or win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, but we can take some pointers from one of today’s best humorists. Here’s how to use humor like Ellen:
- Be self deprecating
Poke fun at yourself. Being the brunt of your own joke is a safe way to include humor. Make sure the joke is done in a light-spirited way and not in a way that people perceive as negative. Starting your communication with a joke based on your own humility is a great icebreaker. (Joke #1 above)
- Joke about universal truths and stereotypes
The British are known to dominate the Oscar awards. Oscar winners are known for long-winded boring speeches. What are common traits, situations, stereotypes that belong to your audience? Look for the universal truth; then add a comic twist. (Joke #2 and #3)
- Make it relevant
Know your audience and tailor your humor to them. Consider the demographic you are writing for: age, nationality, industry, experience and knowledge of your topic. What are some of their problems and pain points you can use to create a joke to relieve some tension and release endorphins? (Joke #4)
- Use exaggeration (or understatement)
Exaggeration to a comedian is like a cup to a Starbucks barista. (It’s an essential tool—without it you wind up with coffee on your cross trainers.) When you exaggerate, make it extremely large (Venti) or extremely small (Short). Just make it extreme. (Joke #5)
- Keep it professional
Humor that works is light, clean, positive, kind, and professional. Never use humor that puts others down, complains, or is unprofessional—no insults, profanity, arrogance, or inappropriate references. That’s the Ellen way. (Joke #1-5)
Appropriate humor sprinkled through your communication can create ease, make the experience memorable, and leave your audience wanting a return performance. Engage your audience with a touch of humor and wait for them to ask you for more.
The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Gay Merrill, is an instructional designer and creative writer (with a technical writing past), who believes that adding humor to communications can change the world (see hyperbole). You can find her at Focus on Funny, a blog where she shares humor writing tips, stories, and everything she has learned about humor from Second City, the Internet, and work in the IT industry.