Humor for Speakers

New Material - Adapted to You!

by John Cantu ©

As I wrote in Your Best Source of New Material - But Beware!, I have a funny talk on my cancer diagnoses and operation - "Living and Laughing With Cancer."

After a talk at Mt. Zion hospital, here's what an audience member said to me, "A friend of mine's husband was scheduled for chemo treatments and she had her hair cut off and head shaved in moral support of him and none of his hair fell out."

Now, following my suggestions in Your Best Source of New Material - But Beware! for evaluating usability of material given to you by audience members, here's what I did.

I wrote "First use common sense and intuition. Does it sound fresh or do you have a nagging bit of doubt that it is not entirely new and/or original? When in doubt, throw it out."

Well, for me this was a little bit difficult. Yes, on the one hand, it did sound fresh, but on the other hand I have only been doing my cancer speech for a couple of years. It was literally written during a conversation I had with Patricia Fripp and David Garfinkel.

About a month and a half after my operation, we got together for a chat. I was simply telling them about my experiences and they started laughing. Fripp got out her tape recorder to record what I was saying and to this day 80% of the humor in my cancer speech is from that chat.

I wrote, "Secondly, ask four or five of your well-read friends if they have ever heard it before. Especially the people you know who always have a lot of funny stories at hand. Or the person who's read ten or twenty humor books and seems to have a story for every occasion. If they haven't heard it, while I wouldn't say it's 100% safe, still your odds have been increased a lot."

Well, in my group I'm the guy who's read literally dozens and dozens and dozens of joke books. So, it seemed fresh to me.

I wrote, "Write it in such a way that you can't be hammered if others do recognize it."

I decided to use the material and this is my version:

The last time I gave this talk (I say this line every time I speak, it is called personalizing the talk and also making it seem more recent and fresh) afterwards a woman came up to me and told me about her best friend whose husband was starting chemo. In a show of moral support, she had all her hair cut off. (I was surprised to discover about a third of the time that gets a big laugh - - - I never saw the laugh coming the first time, but now I wait about 3/4 beat in case it happens.)

They celebrated the first month's completion of chemo treatments by going to their favorite restaurant. (Now I probably could use the technique of specifying, by naming a specific restaurant, but I chose not to.) (PAUSE 1 2 3)

There she sat in with the flowing locks of her wig. (PAUSE 1-2-3) There he sat with the flowing locks (PAUSE 1-2-3) of his hair that never fell out. (BIG LAUGH).

Woody Allen once said a good joke is a verbal cartoon. I think the way I have it constructed gives a stronger cartoon picture at end. And did you notice one very, very important line: afterwards a woman came up to me and told me about her best friend whose husband was starting chemo.

I could just as easily have written that line this way: "Let me tell you about . . ." or " I know a woman who . . ." etc. But I deliberately use it that way. Why? Because with my version, I am in a subtle manner, telling the audience members, "Hey guys, I am open to and looking for audience created material."

Your audiences can often write your best material, why not encourage them to do so? Oh yeah, I do this only in my speeches. In a standup act, I wouldn't do that because audiences want to believe comedians write all their own material.

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