I had the good fortune last week to attend the largest humor-writing workshop in the country, the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.
There was a lot said about how the business end of selling your humor writing, but – as far as I know – nothing was said about how and why to put humor in your business.
As least, not directly.
Top-drawer speakers includedGail Collins, New York Times op-ed columnist, former editorial page editor and author; Bill Scheft, a lead writer for David Letterman and author of three novels;Bruce Cameron, best-selling author of 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter; Loretta LaRoche, an international stress management and humor consultant, columnist and author of seven books; Steve Doocy, Fox Channel co-anchor for top-rated morning show “Fox & Friends” and author of two nonfiction humor books.
What all of these writers and humorists talked about – along with all the other presenters – was storytelling. Often, they talked about how to make them funny. Or they simply were funny, sometime hilarious.
Several themes repeatedly came from the conference about the nature of humor.
- It is honest. Collins noted that Erma Bombeck resonated with women in the ‘60s and ‘70s because she was the first woman to write about housework – humorously – “the way it really is … the family doesn’t applaud when we serve the chicken and nobody gets giddy sniffing the (clean) sheets.”
- It states the obvious. Cameron said he got the idea for his first book, 8 Simple Rules, from the obvious fact that fathers worry about who their daughters date. The idea for his second book, How to Remodel a Man, came from the obvious fact that men and women are different.
- It has heart. After bringing the house down with his one-liners, Scheft talked about family and his struggle to become a stand-up comedian and, ultimately, the writer he always strived to become. He showed heart, and he was rewarded with a standing ovation.
- It allows you to say potentially unpopular things without being perceived as pushy. Betsy Bombeck, Erma’s daughter, speaking at a program with her brothers Andy and Matt about their mother and their childhood said Erma “tried to be funny, but was quite subversive. She wasn’t afraid to be honest and make fun of things.” I was surprised to learn that Erma was a fierce supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.
- It draws people to you and breaks down barriers. I have to admit, I’m not a fan of Fox Network. But Steve Doocy had me chortling at his story about going with his daughters to get a “mani-pedi” in his effort to have quality time with them. The result? I found myself liking him, in spite of my biases.
- It creates laughter and fun! Perhaps that’s obvious, but see #2. As LaRoche said in her half monologue, half pep talk, “become the fun you’re seeking.”
Can you see why humor might work in a business arena? Are there ever times you need to rev up the troops? Say something hard without it being a downer? Inspire people? Make people laugh? Get a customer to like you?
See connections to internal and external branding and marketing?
How do you lighten up at work? Let’s discuss! Please share your ideas in the comments below!
Photo: Erma Bombeck