Stop Telling Jokes and Start Being Funny

Mitt Romney at one of his presidential campaig...
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In the book I give some tips for using humor in a business situation — speeches, videos, emails. I talk about the fact that comedy is derived from truth. It should happen naturally and organically — just like it does over the dinner table when you’re out with friends.

The #1 Rule for using humor? Don’t tell jokes. Seriously, the most frightening phrase in the English language may be, “Hey, you wanna hear a joke?” It almost never works. It’s artificial, contrived and it sets expectations that can never possibly be met by anyone but true comedians.

That said, here is Mitt Romney visiting a diner the other day on the campaign trail:

I saw the young man over there with eggs Benedict, with hollandaise sauce. And I was going to suggest to you that you serve your eggs with hollandaise sauce in hubcaps. Because there’s no plates like chrome for the hollandaise.

Strained laugh and suppressed eyeroll ensue. As one commentator put it, Romney is Henny Youngman in a Stephen Colbert age.

Humor is a powerful tool for breaking through an audience’s defenses and really connecting with them. But you have to know what you’re doing. The first step? Don’t try so hard!