Okay, so we’ve talked about what is not appropriate and subjects to stay away from. So what’s left that you can talk about? Actually a lot of things are still fair game. I write 10 minutes or so about the group that I kick off all of my shows with. I started doing this because when I got into doing humor for corporations and associations, I was a little short of appropriate material. I figured I was a fast writer, so I would just find out about the group and write some jokes specifically for them. I hadn’t heard the terms “customization” or “personalization” before, I just wanted to write about the group. I did it and enjoyed it so much, that I still do it today. There are many benefits, even ones you may not realize, for customizing your program.
For crafting customized humor, I have a 3-page information sheet that I go over with the client. I call it an information sheet, not a questionnaire, because a questionnaire sounds like something you have to fill out and I don’t want them to fill it out. I get a lot more information on them in a 20 minute conversation, then if they had to fill something out – where I’m guessing I’d get like 2-word answers. I can also follow up on different paths during a conversation if they give me an idea for a different line of thinking and sometimes even the way they word something is funny. If they had to fill out a 3-page questionnaire, you can bet all I wouldn’t get this detailed, plus all the questions aren’t appropriate for each group, so the client may think I don’t understand their organization. Contact me and I’ll share my information sheet with you.
With that said, one of the biggest questions I ask the client when I’m looking for material to customize some jokes – you can use these same questions when you’re writing humor for your speech or written document – is . . .
What are their daily activities? This is good to do if you’re speaking a group, such as an association, in which most of the audience has similar job titles, or 2 or 3 different titles at the most. It’s harder to do this if there’s a huge mix of jobs like in a big company-wide event. What I do is have the client step me through a day. . what would someone do during their day (minus the computer games!) who has this job? As the client and/or member tells me what it’s like to be at their job, they’ll give me some great wording for jokes and lead me to other questions.
I did a show for probation officers once and their day is hilarious. . .from a comic’s point of view. They actually have one guy in charge of watching the parolee’s take a urine test! Weird! And by the way, I can use the word “urine” in their show and it’s not considered being dirty, because that’s a word they use frequently in their industry. Using it in front of a group that doesn’t talk about it,is not good, but if it’s part of their vocabulary, it’s okay. I did a show for obgyn people and just about every booth in their exhibit hall had the names of body parts plastered on their walls. I had lots of fun making the connection between George Carlin’s 7 words you can’t say on TV and the fact that all of those words, and then some, were on their walls.
But I digress. Ask the client to step you through their daily activities so that you get a good feel for what the group deals with on a daily basis. And don’t just stop at “we have a lot of paper work” or whatever. Make them really dig deep and tell you what it would be like to be in their shoes. It’ll be a goldmine of material!