Sunday, April 26, 2009

How comedy can change your life ...... episode 3

I ended the last blogpost by mentioning that I provide the participants in the workshop with a series of questions and get them to present the answers so I can find out more about them and observe how they assemble and communicate their ideas. I typically ask about 8 questions which are taken from a wide selection that I am always adding to. The questions are not of a skill testing nature; there are no wrong answers and there is little preparation required.


 Some of the questions ask for direct information about the person:


 “What nicknames have you had and what is the story behind them”


Some of the questions are more abstracted:


“What inanimate object would you most like to be”


Some of the questions are designed to elicit attitudes and opinions:


“What’s the most frustrating thing about the modern world”



The answers are to be presented rather than simply read out. While no-one is expected to turn the presentation into a full-blown comedy extravaganza there should be a little verve put into it, all depending, of course, on the personality of the person who is answering the questions. In some cases the raw information given with each answer is of value, and sometimes the method of construction and/or the style of delivery is more important. While there is too much involved this process to give a complete summary of it here, I will use the three cited questions to help give you some idea of what can be involved.


“What nicknames have you had and what is the story behind them”


The answers given to this question sometimes relate only to simple rhyming words but more frequently they will give information about the person’s personality and/or interests, how other people perceive them, and their reactions to that perception. Nicknames can sometimes be indicative of another side of someone’s personality and background, and having a group share nicknames, not only brings them greater understanding and familiarity, but it often has an amusing side as well.


“What inanimate object would you most like to be”


This is a much more psychologically driven question. Some of the most typical answer categories are:

1 - the kinaesthetic: a bean-bag chair, a pillow


2 - the logical: a satellite, a television (“so people want to see me and I can be entertaining and different all the time”)

3 – the sexual: a bra, Mel Gibsons saddle

4 – the poetic: a rock, a tree


This is a very short list of possible types of responses and the answers to this question are unavoidably revealing of a person’s character and the nature of their value systems. This is directly relevant to the way they construct ideas and speech. Someone who is very logical will relate very differently to a subject than someone who is very poetic and/or kinaesthetic etc. etc..


“What’s the most frustrating thing about the modern world”


This is a question that revolves around emotion and it gives people a chance to show how they express emotion. Some people are frustrated about ideological things, others are frustrated by very specific things. Some people will relate to actual events, some will be very impassioned and others very logical and, ironically, almost devoid of what one would call “frustration”. Emotional content can be a defining and powerful aspect in communication skills and comedy in particular. Attitude and emotion can create comedy with very little script and knowing how people deliver emotional content gives a clearer picture of what type of comedy someone may be suited to writing and presenting.




There are many other questions which intended to shine a light in many directions. After seeing the answers to a series of questions delivered I can determine what type of constructions and deliveries people are most inclined towards. Some should write construct things logically – idea based comedy full of observations and examples. Some should relate things through experiences and characters. Some should use emotion, some should use abstraction and often people will have a blend of many things.


Aside from what is gleaned from the content, there is also the more basic analysis of the way each person moves, uses facial expressions, how they use their voice, noticing if they relate to things through story and/or character, how they make and use eye contact and much more. The factors that make up each persons communication style and technique are numerous, but they can be isolated and identified which helps to show people the tools and traits they are working with. Reading and assessing these characteristics and potentials is, quite honestly, one of the great joys I have in my work. Students can be aware of some of the things that are pointed out but there are always things that are new and surprising to them and seeing people light up from recognizing and understanding these aspects of themselves is both fun and rewarding for myself and the other students.


Once this analysis is completed I can guide students as to how to write and present comedy in a way that will suit them and, thus, be more real and effective in front of a crowd. It is fairly self evident how the process I have been outlining translates into better communication/public speaking skills and in some ways the main question that may remain in the mind of the reader is “where’s the funny part?”. The reason that you haven’t been reading a lot of funny examples in this blogpost is because the funny is different for each personality and for each group. The focus is on comedy and it comes out consistently as all the other learning takes place but I can’t relate exactly what it is to you because it is different every time. Humour is the most human of activities and this workshop is intended to examine and enhance this human element which for the benefit the individuals as well as the group.


Any questions?

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