Sunday, October 3, 2010

Marlo Thomas dissects humor and how the pros use it

Humor, when done well, looks effortless but takes work. It helps if you grow up in a cauldron of comics, as Marlo Thomas did.  Now her new book, Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny, offers speakers a perspective on how humor works. It doesn't hurt that it'll make you laugh, as well.

What I like about it: Thomas, daughter of comedian Danny Thomas, exhibits and describes humor that includes formal jokes as well as clever lines or humorous storytelling.  You'll see the variety and range of humor you can incorporate into your presentations, even though this book isn't specifically geared to speakers.

I wish this were available in an audiobook (it's not, at this writing) but you can get a sense of this humor vocally by listening to this interview with NPR's Scott Simon about the book; in it, Thomas tells rapid-fire stories about the comedians she grew up with as well as those she interviewed for the book.  What comes across: humor is a craft, and humorists need not start from a place of anger to put good humor into their audiences.

Thomas also is a great storyteller, and the interview (and the book) share some gems, from Billy Crystal recalling how he used to move his kid's chair next to the television so he could pretend he was the next guest on a talk show, to Robin Williams's mother making rubber bands drop out of her nose to entertain her son and his friends. She doesn't spare herself, sharing a great story about a Catholic school prank she played, and how her father managed to keep her from getting expelled with a sly joke.

Related posts:  When self-deprecating humor doesn't work for you

The joke-teller's memory problem: Why you may not want to start with a joke

Learn how to be a dynamic speaker in my next two-day workshop, Good on Your Feet: A dynamic speaking skills workshop, November 3 and 4 in Washington, DC.

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