A Motivational Speakers Take on Using Humor to Lighten Up a Tough Subject…

As a motivational speaker and comedy expert, one of the questions I get asked the most when speaking about humor, is how people can use humor to lighten up a tough subject. There are many places and situations where we are called upon to talk about difficult subjects. While there are some places where joking around is completely inappropriate, there are other cases where humor is an essential ingredient to delivering a sensitive message. I would think that most people know when it’s not the right time for humor – but I would also think that people would know not to wear a Speedo into a hotel lobby. So let’s talk for a moment about where humor should NOT be used.

When NOT to use humor

Do not use humor with someone who has just lost a loved one. Even if they are making jokes.

Do not use humor when firing someone or reprimanding them. If you seem to take it lightly -  then they will too.

Do not use humor if something upsetting has just happened in your audience. For example, if someone just had a stroke in your audience, this is NOT the time to make a joke. Talk to other speakers about how they handle  situations like this.

Where you are makes a difference in how you can use humor. If you are speaking at a funeral you are following a different set of rules than if you are speaking in a corporate setting.

Still, Humor is GREAT to relieve stressful situations

Even though it is safer to avoid humor entirely in a sensitive situation, it’s still a necessary ingredient. The
audience still needs a break from the heavy material. Just remember my one golden rule:  You are NOT making the subject funny.

If you are talking about rape to college students, you will never ever make rape funny. Or rape victims, or rapists. But you can start your speech about how stupid you used to be in college and the dumb things you did (if you’re like me, you had plenty) and there’s always humor there. Nothing wrong with that. Making jokes about yourself is not the same as making jokes about rape victims.

So when writing your humor, be sure that you are not making the subject funny. You are couching the subject in funny material. The audience knows the difference. And when in doubt, leave it out.


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