Comedy In Public Speaking
Be yourself ...
One of the jobs I've done is to write the 'funny' bits in otherwise quite serious speeches, which is a totally different game to writing comedy as just comedy. I've long held the view that whatever you are speaking about, it needs comedy, or a light touch at some point ...
I can script just about anything to give it humour
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Even if you're putting across the most serious of subjects it's required. That's not to say you need to be knocking out 10 gags per page like Ken Dodd or Tim Vine. Far from it. Some people can tell jokes and some can't and it's nigh on impossible to teach someone the timing of a punch line if they can't tell a joke.
"If someone can't tell a joke then a fun anecdote is far more effective."
Good public presentation really hinges on you, the speaker, being yourself. Even when I've written jokes for someone, I always get them to rewrite and rehearse it for themselves as phrases I may use, they won't and the one thing most people don't want is for it to be obvious that they've had a speech written for them.
I've found it quite tricky to write for business people who I don't know. I used to write for a very top businessman who never had the time to meet me and it was a nightmare. I used to write and rewrite sections not knowing if his humour would tie into mine.
Generally speaking I got it right, although I would occasionally get a fax back with a line crossed out in red and a little note at the side saying "I think not", so he understood the process. I carried on writing for him until he retired and even now we wouldn't know each other if we passed in the street.
The easiest way to write for people is to go out to lunch with them and talk about anything other than their business to get to grips with what they are really like. It's then far easier to slot in an amusing joke or story in the way that they are likely to come out with it.
It's the same with best man's speeches. I get to know the person and, equally importantly, what their audiences are going to be like. A best man's job isn't the easiest, as a tremendously funny story about the groom shinning down a brothel drainpipe in Amsterdam wearing only a thong may well have 50% of the audience in stitches and the other half storming out in disgust demanding their wedding gifts back. The problem is that I'm not there to judge what is acceptable and what isn't. Most outrageous events make me laugh, but do they make others?
"I can script just about anything to give it humour, but who is it for?"
Therein lies the best man's problem. Self censorship. But we chat it through and always get there. Err on the cautious side is my advice on those speeches, as it's such a responsibility at a wedding. Stories and gags don't have to be outrageous to be funny.
Politicians are different. I once gave (or sold I should say) the same outstanding topical gag to an agency who then went and sold it on to scriptwriters who put it into two Prospective Parliamentary Candidates speeches and it turned out they were standing in the same constituency. It rather gave away the fact that they didn't write their own speeches. Not my problem. I sold it once in good faith.
Most of them can't tell a gag to save their lives and why should they, you may ask, that's not their job. But it is part of their job to connect with the public and humour is a way in. I watch politicians and will travel to see them speak. Not for the content, you understand, but for the delivery.
Michael Foot could get his message across with good humour, as can William Hague. Ken Livingstone and Nigel Farage are clever at it as well. The late, and sadly missed, Charles Kennedy was superb - one of the best in my opinion - at speaking from the heart with some humour when required. Tony Benn and Enoch Powell were both brilliant orators, but mainly through their intellect and power of argument, not humour (but they were exceptions to the rule in MP's) and old Harold Wilson could deal with hecklers like no other Prime Minister.
While he was speaking at a public event a woman kept heckling him continually and in the end Harold said, "I can only give you the facts madam. I can not give you the brain with which to understand them". I think that's one of the best put downs ever.
"He was up there with Billy Connolly on the heckle stoppers."
I can't list all of those MP's who are useless at public speaking or we'd be here all day, but the point is in being yourself.
All those I've mentioned, love or hate them, are more or less themselves on the public stage and that's how it works. By all means get people like me to help you find the funny stuff, but it must be you speaking as you speak normally. Otherwise they'll rumble you.
Oh and I know it's an old bit of advice and very male orientated, but do check your flies are done up. There's nothing worse than getting a standing ovation only to realise it's due to your willy hanging out.
Until next time ...
David is the owner of David Pibworth Productions (DPP) which provide corporate entertainment and also actors for corporate training and development.
Having worked in the Light Entertainment field for many years and produced shows for Al Murray & Joe Pasquale amongst others, David is in a position to advise on well-known comedy and musical acts. DPP also represent Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's scripts which include Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.
He is the director of MK Theatre of Comedy who are very well known locally for their stage adaptations of classic comedy scripts such as Fawlty Towers, The Vicar of Dibley, Allo Allo and many others.
He is a long-standing member of Equity and the Directors Guild of Great Britain and has acted in, and directed, many productions over the years, mainly in Light Entertainment, but with occasional forays into Shakespeare etc. Every Christmas he is contracted as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella, currently with 'That's Entertainment' who also use him as a director.
He teaches eccentric magic for The Pauline Quirke Academy and MKTOC also run a youth drama school in Olney from the DPP offices.
David maintains his busy lifestyle is a surefire way to avoid being on any committees. He is married to Julie, and they have one daughter, Esther and live in Clifton Reynes, surrounded by dogs, cats and horses. They live so close to the church that David has instructed his daughter - when he dies and not before - to fire him over the wall from a circus cannon.