The Importance of Being Funny

tongueface My mom hates photos like this one. I make it sometimes at conferences because everyone else makes a really nice, staged smile. What goes through my head as I do it is “sometimes, the whole pictures in tribes thing is absurd.” And I don’t mean absurd to equal bad. I mean that it’s sometimes funny in the abstract. And that’s what I want to talk about today: funny. And specifically, I want to talk about how it impacts storytelling.

Funny Connects Us

At Gnomedex2008, Eve Maler started her presentation on online relationships by starting with some of the nicknames people have given her. One was “Hermione Granger,” because people say she’s detail oriented and bossy. Think about this as an open. She’s given us something that at once makes us smirk because it helps us relate.

Another presentation used Japanese Manga art around the creation of Cup o’ Noodles soup (sorry, I don’t have the details on the person who gave it, but he was really well done) and how it relates to startup culture. Funny. All the way through, we laughed *and* learned. It helped us relate.

Funny is a Storytelling Technique

Many people learn best from stories. If I share a fact, the fact is just a data point. If I tell you a story around it, you’ll remember the story and that will help you remember the fact.

I once had a business teacher, Ken Hadge. Ken walked slowly into the classroom (as if he had a back injury), looked us all over, and sat slowly behind the desk. He put his feet up, on the desk, took in a deep breath, slowly, and then let it out. Slowly. Ken was in his fifties, wore a really old fashioned suit, and had an old, beaten down brown briefcase. His first words to me (and the classroom):

“Out in that parking lot, next to your beat down old Toyotas and Chevettes is a brand new Lincoln Contintental. I bought it last week. I buy a new car every few months. I know more about business than you, and I make a lot of money doing it. I’ll tell you some of what I know, because that’s why I bother coming here. It’s your job to learn.”

I remember every word he taught, because he gave us ways to remember it that came off as funny. Here’s an example. Project management. He said, “You might go on to learn some really complex things about project management. That’s all well and good, but here’s the real basics: plenty of delicious Canadian Club.”


Planning. Organizing. Directing. Coordinating. Controlling. (PODCC = Plenty Of Delicious Canadian Club).

Ken didn’t tell us jokes. He was funny by the very nature of all that he did. He was a perfect Wes Anderson character from a movie not yet produced. But because he was funny, and because he used that as his educational storytelling, I learned. And I retained. And I related. And I remembered.

By the way, will YOU remember my story about Ken Hadge?

Takeaway Points

In presenting information to people, which includes blogging, speeches, meetings, and the like, humor is a great tool to build a relationship bridge. Not all of us are funny. Not all causes are funny, but boy, you sure can try. For instance, Can thyroid cancer be funny?

Funny can make things memorable. Memory is an important glue to our ability to recall, and then reprocess, and resynthesize information that we don’t need all the time.

And funny his human. We like humans. If you’ve not yet noticed a secret hidden underlying theme, one is that rediscovering the business importance of being human is vital to success in the coming years.

Do you agree? Am I way off on a limb here? And if a limb falls and I’m on it, will I be in the forest?

Photo credit, Randy Stewart of Stewtopia

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