You Can’t Use Humor Until You Get Over the Fear of Failure

Written by Fripp friend and guest funny man Brad Montgomery, CSP

When I teach my programs on humor skills to other presenters I ask about their greatest obstacles to using (or even experimenting) with humor.

The answer is always the same: The fear of failure.

Nobody wants to feel like an idiot, and standing there after you’ve told a failed joke is the easiest path to idiocy, right? Wrong. Let me explain.

Failed jokes (or any other attempt at humor) are forgivable. In fact, sometimes failed humor is even lovable. We all have that crazy and fun person in our lives that is famous for the bad or corny jokes. And we love them, right? And we all know that even the top comedians tell jokes that fail. What’s up with that?

Look at Jay Leno and David Letterman. During any one of their monologues you’ll see them trot out 7 minutes of new material, and at least 50 percent of it fails. (Or is at least mediocre.) And they are still famous, still have their own show, and still earn a gajillion dollars. (How many zeroes are there in a “gajillion?”)

What’s my point? My point is that trying some humor that fails is OK. Our audiences will forgive us. Heck, they’ll love us for trying. They’ll love that we are taking chances to try to make our presentations more interesting and less dense.

Our audiences know the difference between a couple of failed jokes and a a failed presentation. And that’s a crucial distinction that we often fail to see ourselves. A couple failed attempts at being light, playful or funny doesn’t result in a failed performance.

Yet entry level humorists and want-to-be-humorists often miss that distinction. They fear that if they plan some piece that includes humor and that piece fails the result will be a TOTAL failure of their presentation. Not so. So a joke went by without any laugh? Big Deal; Leno and Letterman deal with that several times every week night. Smile, shrug your shoulders, and move on.

Sure, if you try humor you might not earn a laugh. But as long as your attitude is healthy, failing to earn a laugh doesn’t mean you’ve failed with your presentation. In fact, your audience will appreciate you all the more for trying to make it fun.

So go ahead, give it a try! Add some levity and joy to your presentation. Attempt to make them laugh…or even smile. You have nothing to lose.

Instead of fearing failed humor attempts, we should instead fear failing to attempt humor.