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Become a Better and Funnier Speaker

Lesson 10 of 15

Advanced Comedy Writing Techniques

David Nihill

Become a Better and Funnier Speaker

David Nihill

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Lesson Info

10. Advanced Comedy Writing Techniques


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 How To Watch This Class Duration:01:25
2 Class Introduction Duration:08:53
5 How To Replicate Top Talks Duration:13:41
7 How To Get Funny Fast Duration:19:40
9 Storytelling Tips Duration:18:04
11 Live Storytelling Critique Duration:27:12
12 Avoid Going Blank on Stage Duration:21:46
14 Managing Stage Fright Duration:11:08

Lesson Info

Advanced Comedy Writing Techniques

So, we have those three, we want to add to it and get a little bit fancier. Act out is huge, so Sarah touched on this, especially American audiences, they give you a lot of credit for doing any form of accent that's not your accent. So, if I do a heavier Irish accent, they laugh more, at that for a character, right. If I do my mother's accent, my dad's accent, anything to bring a bit of life to what you're saying, to kind of, you're like, creating a little, mini theater scene for them, that's live in front of their eyes. You do that just by putting on any voice. You don't have to be good at accents. You remember my Eastern-European stroke Russian accent that didn't go very well earlier? Same sort of thing. It doesn't matter. Even if you're not good at it, you say "that was terrible" but imagine you're impersonating your mother, your father nobody knows what they sound like anyway, right? So you have a chance when you tell a story, to become different characters and sometimes all you ha...

ve to do is a little movement, or move your head to a different direction to become that character, makes a big, big difference. Watch this again with John Akoff, another, lovely, little funny bit, very (mumbles), very funny, very loving, very nice to watch, a little bit of act out, big difference. But we can't get a cat because my wife, Jenny, is allergic and so McCray, our youngest daughter, scrunched up her face and thought and then said "we can get a cat when Mom is dead." (audience laughter) Again, very short, he's crushing it but it's just that moment of folding the hands and putting the hand out. He becomes the daughter in that moment in your eyes as the person listening. So, it's kind of creating a little live performance. Now, you can get sneaking to that so add act out whenever you could, you like it? I love it, you never know with these clips, I'd stay at home and watch that all day, sadly. Even if it was playing on a Friday, but he's just really inspirational to watch, really cool and it's a level that you're just thinking, that would be cool to be able to reproduce but I'm pretty sure you guys can, like we all have those little stories, it's just how do you put the word economy together and how do you deliver it in a way that looks that slick? You'll notice he's very slow and calculated with the words, he knows exactly where to drag it out and build a little bit of anticipation. "We can get a cat when Mom... is dead." It's just that moment of slowing it down, that tells people that they're meant to laugh. So it's very similar, remember we said you put the key word at the end? Say you're pitching a product or you're pitching a service or you're pitching a growth rate that you have in a company and you go into a meeting, you go into a presentation and you say hey, listen guys we need to give money to this because we've been getting 80% year on year growth rate, that's huge. You've presented an information, that doesn't really give them a way to latch onto it. What's the key thing that I said in that sentence, if you had to pick out one bit of information? 80% 80%. 80%. 100%. Right? Should be 100%, oh 100 that sounds terrible, 80% is the key number in there, right, 100% of the time people will agree that that is the key metric in there. So, if I want people to pay attention to that, the same thing a comedian would do, I'm gonna move it to the end of the sentence. So year on year, we've had growth rate of 80 percent. Slow down, pause, deliver it, end of sentence. What do they do? They write it down. Modern days, they tweet it. When you drop a bit of information, that you're very concise about delivering, you put it and then you pause, like oh I like that. So, when you're giving the key information, they're sitting there taking notes at your meeting. Like Sarah was doing, you're gonna get a head nodding strategy and someone's gonna write down 80%. So just change it to put the key word at the end. That's very visibly what he's doing there. A nice little tip on this, as well, just while I'm thinking about it, is put your stories in the present tense. Jeff knows this cos he's a great story teller and a lot of them just kind of learn it by trial and error. As you're telling a story to someone, no matter when it happened, put it in the present tense. So remember, we don't want to sound like we're talking about something that happened in the sequential fashion, I walked, I talked, she said, I saw. I'm standing there and this tiger's staring at me. You're just like oh a tiger, what's going on, you feel like all of a sudden you become part of the scene and all they have to do to create that scene is put the words in the present tense. So it sounds, it feels really weird the first time you do it and sometimes you're telling a story and you're like yeah, I walked over and then you're like oh, I need to change, okay. And you can go in and out of it, no problem, but the more you can do it, just try and talk in the present tense. So it feels weird the first time you do it cos you're like this happened when I was growing up as a kid. It's ages ago. Try it, you'll see a big difference to it. Exaggerate. So you remember President Obama's one? You remember his little joke on, so President Obama, we had him with the skeleton as the third image and I still can't say three as you will remember or third apparently, exaggerate it. So John Akoff there, we had the dysentery, will they get dysentery, they had to walk all the way there, it's like the Oregon trail. You just wanna take it to a level where it doesn't make sense any more and it's always a nice, easy laugh that comes with that. Local reference is huge. You will have seen this in political speeches all the time. Where President Obama's in town and this is, you can look up any President that's ever given a speech and you will find a local reference joke in there and it's normally like, well the economy hasn't been doing too well at the moment, just like the Oakland Raiders and you're in a place like this and they're like hahaha and then I go over to Oakland and give a speech like the economy's not doing well at the moment, just like the Forty-Niners over there and everyone in the audience goes ahahaha because they're fans of that particular thing. But it just shows them that you know a bit about what's going on in their particular place. So, when you're traveling, you can change elements of the story to reflect, a lot of people always ask when is humor appropriate? I'm in a multi-national company, I travel around the world all the time, I don't want to offend anyone. If you're telling a story, you never really offend anyone. But the only thing you have to do, is change the elements of that story so it makes sense. So if I'm telling a story in Ireland about a Chevrolet something-or-other car, they're gonna be like, I have no idea what you're talking about. I called the guy on my cell phone, like cell phone, what are you talking about? Like, I don't get it. I put it in the trunk. Trunk, boot, what's he talking about? He's gone way too American, we're not letting him back into Ireland. I have to change those words, I have to make those local to the audience so they know what I am talking about. So this, try and put that in, the local references make a big, big difference. Often, a very, very, very easy source of laughter. I'm gonna show you an example of Sarah as a call back. A call back is very much like the circle back but in comedy if somebody laughs at something once, they're gonna laugh at it again, most of the time. Or if you've, has anyone in here ever had where a speaker goes on before you or a story-teller or a performer in your case and you're sitting there watching them and you're like oh no, I have to go next, they're really good and you're like oh no, no, don't wanna go next, don't wanna go next, happened? I see head noddings, happened? I'm not gonna say anything (laughs) Me and Jeff were on the same show once and he had to go on after me and it was about two weeks ago and he's like damn you and off he went. But it's never much fun when you see someone doing really well because there's a part of you like oh I'll keep the positivity going and there's a part of you going oh no, they seem to be doing exceptionally well with this crowd. What you can do is reference all their jokes. So a call back. As long as you're listening and I'm gonna teach you a way to make sure they're listening but by doing that you're tying the whole night together for the audience and you're showing them that they're part of the experience. You're part of the experience, you're listening to the last guy, you enjoyed him too, or girl and you build their jokes into what you're gonna talk about and all of a sudden, the audience gives you quite a lot of credit because they're like well, you couldn't have prepared that, you must've made it up on the spot and you've been listening, you're one of us, you were watching this same performance and now we're all good again. Now, I'm gonna show you a perfect example. This is from my conference and this is Sarah speaking, who you just saw. So that's a cool example and it's a joke she just told you live. So, but watch the, the guy asking the question here and moderating with the Q and A, he's a partner with a venture capital company and a fund but he's also a trained comedian on the side so he's looking for call backs, any time anyone says anything potentially funny he's writing it down and he's just looking for the call back and we have him, I ask him to do that at every event because I know, as a comedian, he's gonna be looking for the call back moment and it ties it all together for the audience. So, just a quick example of that, call back's kinda hard to explain but when you see it you're like okay. And I started to notice the other things that people would do, that didn't necessarily mean that they were intelligent, it just made them look really good. Translate percentages into fractions. Someone said oh 25% of people clicked on this button and someone else said oh about 1 in and made a note of this. (audience laughter) Wow (laughs) I was blown away by that and everyone is very impressed with quick maths skills, I think. How many of the jokes in your book are directly making fun of your husband? No (laughs) Google engineer, right? Yeah, an engineer, engineers, yeah lots of them. I would say, 20%. Okay, good, so about one in five. That's right. Thank you That's right. (audience applause) Straight away, he is watching for it. And you'll see in her, did you notice the difference between, it's difficult if you're coming up to try and be funny in front of a live audience, it's like did you make it funny and then you watch the examples and then someone comes up so for Sarah, it would have been a very different experience to speak to you guys here as an audience that's kinda already primed in a location to laugh at her stuff but you'll notice of how long she paused to kind of facilitate the laughter there, when they were going at it and the way she acts it out, like wow I thought that was amazing and then the laughter actually builds when she pauses there but Matt the guy doing the Q and A is watching for call backs. Call backs is one of the easiest ways you're ever gonna get laughter. It's right up there with images and using other people's funny stuff. Somebody else said something funny, build it into your talk, on the fly, just reference it. Don't ignore little things like that. So comedians are always looking for obvious stuff. If someone falls off a chair, if one of the camera breaks, if there's a delay, a pause, an awkward moment acknowledge it, build it in, talk about it, never ignore it. The audience knows something's going wrong, you should acknowledge that you know it's going wrong too, then it becomes funny. I do a silly accent and you're like that was a silly accent. If I say, that was a bad accent, you're all like, yeah it was, yeah yeah, as long as you know about it, it's all cool, we laugh and move on. So acknowledge the obvious things and the call back ties into that. Did you feel the anticipation from the audience in that one? You could nearly hear them waiting for their joke, they're like is he gonna make the joke and he made it and they're like ah what a man.

Class Description

Let’s just be real for a minute: most public speakers are boring. And aside from making your day a little less fun, dull presentations are bad for business.

Audiences have become conditioned to receiving information with a dose of entertainment, and that makes humor a critical tool for any professional communicator. We want our data with a punchline these days-- witness the success of The Daily Show or the stickiness of many of President Obama’s speeches for example.

It’s not just about getting some laughs to make yourself feel good; it’s about using humor to grab and hold your audience’s interest, making your message stickier and ultimately more persuasive. In a world full of bland, dull speakers, if you stand out, you win!

The good news is that humor is a skill, which means that it can be learned by anyone. The notion that we’re “born funny” couldn’t be more false: “being funny” is just a set of easily-replicated techniques (for example, the setup followed by the punchline) that anyone can pick up with a little practice.

Whether you are preparing for a business presentation, giving a wedding toast, defending your thesis, raising money from investors, this class will take you from nervous and sweaty to stage-ready.

Bestselling author, storyteller, occasional comedian, and Irishman, David Nihill will teach you:  

  • How top business speakers are using humor
  • One Sure Fire Way to Add Funny to any content
  • How To Replicate Top TED Talks
  • Basic Comedy Writing Techniques
  • Quick ways to get funny fast
  • How To Make Boring Things Funny (with guest Sarah Cooper)
  • Storytelling Tips that everyone can use
  • Advanced Comedy Writing Techniques
  • How to critique your own stories
  • Never go blank on stage with the memory palace technique
  • Content delivery tips for all levels
  • Manage stage fright  

As an added bonus, Sarah Cooper, a writer, comedian, and creator of the satirical blog, will be joining David to teach you how to make boring subjects more entertaining.

Learn more about David Nihill from his appearance on the “Profit, Power, Pursuit Podcast”!  



I always wondered why my favorite TED talks look so effortlessly off-the-cuff while commanding my undivided attention: Laughter. David's class taught me how "The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening." Applying stand-up comedy techniques to the art of storytelling makes information much easier to retain, and hence, easier to share with others. David handily makes the case for why the comedic structure is necessary and applicable in a variety of cases, ranging from business presentations to blog posts. After learning about the joke structure and funnel, I now hear/see them in action throughout my day. He also shares specific tips on how to "memorize" talking points while remaining totally flexible to last-minute time changes (e.g. "Your 20-minute talk just got chopped to 5 minutes. Go!") David covers specifically how to start your talk, end your talk, and where precisely to position your Q&A sessions to maximize audience reaction to the speaker. He supercharges this talk with so many actionable tricks and tips. Sarah Cooper makes a guest appearance sharing 4 tips that I found especially helpful for creating funny visuals. David's heartfelt honesty about the guts it takes to "get up on stage" - the vulnerability of it - really shines through. And now, I carry my "Funny File" with me at all times. This is a truly phenomenal class, both in content and delivery. Thank you for making me laugh, David and Sarah!

Kashif Rashid

Pretty brilliant. David is hilarious so he is definitely using his techniques. Its also easier to follow the class and want more when they are funny. I think most of the presenters on Creative live should be taking this class too . Make it funny so that learning becomes "fun"-ner

Philipp @PhotoAmmon Ammon

Brilliant lecture. David managed to keep me hooked, and I am pretty sure I will do so much better on whatever public speaking I have to do next As a photographer, I know this will help improve the way I look at talking about my work, and I think these kind of skills are vital to any artist. One little thing I didn't like about this was more of a technical issue. He uses videos as examples to the content he is teaching, but none of the CL links to the videos worked. I know its probably a copyright issue, but I would rather watch bad footage of the TV in the studio than nothing at all. Especially since I can't pause the talk and find the videos. Regardless, brilliant talk. Definitely watch it!