Surprising people forces a reaction, and if it’s a silly surprise, that reaction is laughter. That’s why list-jokes or series-jokes are a staple of comedians everywhere.
In high school, I remember my friend Johnny Shanaan giving a speech to our English class for his public speaking assignment. He was talking about body language, and handshakes in particular. He said,
“There are different types of shakes. There’s
- The firm shake,
- The weak shake,
- The clammy shake,
- The power shake,
- And the milkshake.”
What’s nice about series jokes like that is that the first items in the list create an expectation. And when you know what people expect, it’s easy to throw in an oddball item that surprises them.
That’s also true of humor generally. If you can set up an expectation, it’s easy to find the unexpected.
A favourite line of mine when I want to loosen people up is that I shower regularly… first of every month. (Stolen from a Get Fuzzy comic strip, to be honest.)
So the next time you want to lighten your writing, your small-talk, whatever… look for what should follow from what you said, and say the opposite. Look at what people relate to, their social reference points (like showering daily) and step outside of them.
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