Humour exists not just for its own sake.
It can be thought of as the brahmastra that helps in making any speech powerful. The genius of the device is such that it can be used to convey any feeling, be it love, hate, anger, grief, jealousy, disgust, cynicism, and so on, and ironically, it can also be used in bringing down the impact of those very feelings, when deployed in a different way.
All the same when used well, it can work wonders by effectively communicating any subject. Case in point: Comedian John Oliver’s weekly show “The Last Week Tonight”. While Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert established the style and foundation for satire and sarcasm laced examination of “serious” subjects, it was John Oliver, in this author’s opinion, who popularized it so much that his show is considered a serious contender in the category of mainstream journalism despite the anchor’s vehement insistence that it’s just a comedy show. Oliver’s brand of humour takes the form of sarcasm, slapstick, innuendo and self-deprecation, many a time. But it also succeeds in telling the story of the day. It manages to CONVEY. That’s a near perfect demonstration of what humour can do to any kind of messaging.
What makes humour work? For the sake of brevity, let’s examine the most important components in a speech that gets humour working.
- Conflict For any story to work, it has to stay within the boundaries of logic, even if its basic premise is as unearthly as possible. Conflict, a.k.a the second act, gets the audience’s’ interest and keeps them guessing until resolution, i.e. the climax. A humorous speech or story works along the similar lines. Even if the idea is to make the audiences laugh, a humorist should also get them to care. Once the laughter dies out, they should still be interested in knowing what happens to the story.
- Characterisation A corollary to the previous point, great characters help in making a story interesting. Great characterizations make humour a lot more situational. Those situations can be made more relatable with the use of localisms, and cultural references easily identifiable to the audience. It’s here that a humorist strikes the chord.
While writing this piece, I was wondering if I should make it humorous for the reader, just as a way of presenting the purpose of the article in a subtextual manner. And that’s when I remembered another cardinal rule No humour is better than bad humour. Bad humour, short of getting a few laughs, can create controversies. Nothing leaves a worse aftertaste than forced or misplaced humour.
Unless an individual is very skilled, including humour in speeches takes serious thought and preparation. When it’s done right, it’s an excellent tool to have in one’s communication arsenal.
This article was first published on the Deccan Chronicle VIT’s blog section.