STBS-SE82 music by Brother J.L.F. Mendelssohn sym 3 mov. 4
HUMOR and the
This Short Talk Bulletin has been adapted
from a paper given by Worshipful Brother T. G.
Paterson, P.M. at the Rhetoric Lodge of
Instruction in Melbourne, Australia. The
original title of the address was "Humour and
Humor is a mighty serious business. Professional comedians of stage, radio, television and
films are notoriously unhappy. Most of them
spend a considerable amount of time having
their own ulcers treated. But they get the laughs
from their audiences.
Humor almost defies definition. It is better
felt than read. The Oxford Universal English
Dictionary defines humor as "the faculty of
perceiving what is ludicrous or amusing." It is
one of those heaven-sent gifts which releases
strain and pent-up feelings; creates a sense of
ease and pleasantry; breaks down barriers and
establishes a "common denominator." How
important it is, then, that we should understand
and use this vital aid in public speaking, and
particularly in Masonic speaking.
Few aspects, if any, of public speaking pay
more handsome dividends than the judicious
use of humor. It will amply repay every
Masonic Speaker if he takes the time to acquire
the faculty by learning the principles and practicing the art, even although story-telling may
not seem "in character" with his personality.
Remember, eminently successful comedians,
professional or amateur, don't conform to any
standard pattern. Who knows? A Bob Hope
may repose in your breast (we hope!).
The great virtue of humor is that it humanizes a speech, helps to condense it (through the
device of using apt illustrations) and if well
done, leaves a favorable and lasting impression.
Recall any speech you have thoroughly enjoyed. Was it not one which had its full quota
of choice humor? Yet are not more speeches at
our Festive Board like Charlemagne's sword--
long and flat?
Let's be sure we see humor, as applied to
Public Speaking--especially Masonic speaking--in clear perspective. It is a means to an
end, not an end in itself.
Speakers should indelibly impress on their
minds the fact the prime purpose of introducing
humor is to give the audience a speedy appreciation of the point which they intend to develop.
The humor value of jokes and anecdotes is very
secondary. It is what follows that's important.
We are concerned primarily with Masonic
stories or, more correctly, stories suitable for
Masonic occasions. It is well to remember,
therefore, that in our ceremonies a quasireligious atmosphere obtains with prayers to
the Diety. For this to be followed with doubtful
stories would be to debase the whole affair and
render it to a hollow mockery. "Sexy" jokes
have no place in Freemasonry, nor do narratives which even border on the risque. Take as
your touchstone the rule of the conscientious
journalist, "When in doubt, leave it out."
The selection of a story will depend on--
The type of individual.
His ability to relate it to the occasion.
The material which the speaker has
The story selected should coincide with the
intellectual level, sympathy, experience and
interest of the audience. Equally important is
the need to have the material in keeping with
the spirit of the occasion.
Religious stories are dangerous unless
handled with considerable discretion. Men of
many religions meet on common ground in the
rich fellowship of Freemasonry. You may
unintentionally hurt the feelings of some
Brother of a different religious persuasion to
your own--particularly a member of a minority
group. But don't interpret this as a taboo on
good, clean thrust-and-parry between representatives of different denominations, which is
the very soul of the spirit of Freemasonry,
especially at the Festive Board.
Locating the story for the occasion is unquestionably the most difficult task of all. Only
the heaven-sent raconteur who has a life-time
of yarn-spinning behind him, and is blessed
with a high intellect, wide education, broad
experience and a prodigious memory, can dovetail the appropriate story into his speech spontaneously.
The apt joke or quotation has generally to
be manufactured. True, you may find the basic
elements, the germ of the idea or, to use
Masonic parlance, the rough ashlars. They will,
however, require to be smoothed, squared and
polished before they will be useful in your
speech "architecture," and even then they must
Ability to come to light with the correct
story at the right time will depend on four
Being constantly vigilant and ever on
the lookout for the material.
Carefully recording humorous matter
or situations immediately after they are
heard, read, viewed or experienced (a
blunt pencil is better than a sharp
memory). No matter how abbreviated
the note, jot it down without delay,
anywhere (even on the tablecloth or
your shirt sleeve). You can always get
another good tablecloth or shirt, but
possibly not a good new joke!
Reviewing these rough notes at regular
intervals, and classifying and crossindexing them.
Refreshing your memory by reviewing
your notebook regularly and endeavoring to "make a daily advancement."
As it is possible that you will be called upon
some time or another to make speeches in the
lodge or Masonic function, it is profitable to
prepare a stock of material for such occasions.
Never tell a story which does not strike you
as being extremely funny. Don't select your
anecdotes because they got a laugh for the other
fellow. Unless you enjoy a story--unless it
strikes you as worthwhile telling--you will not
"get it across" to the audience. The audience
will mirror your mood. Here are some hints:
Specialize in the kind of story you tell
best. Unless you are at home with a
dialect, give it a wide berth. Enlarge,
improve and switch to the class with
which you are most familiar (Hebrew,
Irish, Scotch, Dad and Dave, etc.)
Become an authority and learn the
lingo of the type selected. Familiarize
yourself with their expressions, their
habits, their reactions, then when you
tell the story it will be truly authentic.
Your audience will be quick to sense
(and applaud) those touches of realism.
Never tell a story of which you do not
approve. One that makes you feel uncomfortable or undignified. The story
may have been a "wow" when told by
a less sensitive narrator; but it will fall
flat for you unless you give it your
In specializing in one or two dialects you are
not so limited as might at first appear. Many
good stories may be switched from one dialect
to another without loss of point.
Jokes run in cycles. There are few basically
new ones. The danger of building your speech
around a joke is that jokes travel with astounding rapidity. The woods are full of amateur
speakers waiting with ghoulish glee to pounce
upon a good story immediately it shows its head
above the white linen of the festive table. The
inevitable happens--the speaker who precedes
you tells your joke. Therefore, as a general
practice you will find it wise to avoid jokes and
A joke is a direct exchange of words between two individuals.
An anecdote is a short narrative of an
entertaining character; a terse pithy
account of some happening (usually
personal or biographical).
Jokes are in their correct setting on a stage
in the capable hands of two experienced actors.
There is rarely enough "body" in them to make
the effort worthwhile. Jokes are "patter" between two individuals. "A", known in theatrical circles as the "Feeder", and "B", the "gagster" who responds with wise-cracking answers.
Practically all jokes read better than they
relate. They are too "quick" for platform use.
There is no opportunity to build up the element
of suspense, which is one of the most successful
factors in story telling.
If you must use jokes, then a little trick
which will materially help you is to turn your
head on one side when speaking the words
attributed to one character. When it is time for
another character to speak, turn your head in
the opposite direction. The audience soon "catches on"; begins to associate the eastward
glance with the one character and the westward
with the other. This is a stunt well-known and
practiced by ventriloquists.
Anecdotes, unlike jokes, do not conform to
any fixed pattern. They may be "woven" in
many ways according to the speaker's style--
generally he is fortified by personal experience
of the incident.
Personal faux pas, incidents heard on
planes, sayings of children, "howlers" heard
on the radio, all of these everyday experiences
make suitable anecdotes.
One of the most common mistakes is that of
lifting a story bodily from the printed page and
speaking it word for word. As indicated previously, a story should always be revised and
made more appropriate for the occasion. Work
in local names and identities. Impersonate the
characters, judiciously intersperse with familiar
phraseology (e.g., from the Lodge Ritual).
An audience loves the speaker who "tells
one on himself." Never, however, under any
circumstances, tell an anecdote in which you
are the hero.
Speakers should indelibly impress on their
minds the fact that the prime purpose of introducing a joke or anecdote is to give the audience
a speedy appreciation of the point which he intends to develop. In other words, jokes and
anecdotes are a means to an end. Their entertainment or humor value is very secondary. It is
what follows that's important. Adopt the technique of the boxer and always follow up an
opening speedily and effectively.
The matter of "timing" is one of the things
which distinguishes the professional from the
novice. Again and again the novice will "crowd
his laughs," that is, he will keep right on talking at a point when a laugh may logically be expected. This smothers the demonstration and
has a depressing effect on the audience. Laughter breeds laughter. The speaker pauses significantly at a likely spot. A few alert individuals
titter appreciatively, the group "catch the
point" and delighted with their ability to see
what it is all about, howl with glee. There is
born a rousing ovation where, in less skillful
hands, the demonstration might never have
risen to audible proportion.
Once your material is selected and you have
made the necessary transitions from the printed
form, the next step is to learn your story.
Rehearse the tale again and again until you are
very certain that you can relate it with the most
Know the precise point at which the story
will be introduced. Drift into your story quietly. Be well under way with your story before the
listeners realize you are relating an anecdote.
Avoid such hackneyed introductions as
"That reminds me. I must tell you a funny
yarn." (The audience may have different
ideas.) Glide gracefully into the tale.
Every Lodge organization, club, etc., has its
"Stars" and "Notorious" members. Generally, it is competent to use one of them as your
"Aunt Sally." They'll generally relish it--particularly if you have forewarned them of what
you propose to say, and have obtained their approval (or know them so intimately that you
know they can "take it").
Tell only those stories which strike you
as being really funny and will not
embarrass you or your audience.
Make your selection thoughtfully for
Master the story to every detail.
Know just how and where you are going
to tell it.
Tell your story without a hackneyed
Build up the element of suspense as
you go along, without making the story
involved and tedious.
Adhere to these rules, have plenty of
practice, and you will "lay them in the
aisles . "