The Skill of Humor | Andrew Tarvin | TEDxTAMU

Translator: Cihan Ekmekçi
Reviewer: Leonardo Silva Six years ago, I was sitting out
with some friends in New York City when I got a notification on my phone, and I was surprised to find that I had
a text message from my grandmother. I was surprised because my grandmother
at the time was 78 years old, and she had never sent a text before. And I will tell you
the first text was adorable.

It read, "Dear Andrew,
trying out texting. Love, your grandma." I was like "Aw, she thinks it's a letter!" So I sent her a message back, "Hey grandma, it's a text.
You don't have to include all that." Her response was "Dear Andrew, Okay. Love, your grandma." My favorite part is it's always
"Love, your grandma," like if it was "Love, grandma"
I'd be confused. If it was like, "Dear Andrew,
have a good time in Texas. Love, grandma," I'd be like "Grandma? Who's grandma?" (Laughter) But my grandmother's still
figuring some things out. A couple of years ago,
I went to Switzerland for work, came back, sent a message to grandmother: ''Hey grandma, just got back
from Switzerland.'' Her response was, ''Dear Andrew,
Switzerland? WTF.'' (Laughter) All right, so I called my grandmother up, ''Grandma, what do you think WTF means?'' And she's like, ''Oh well, someone at Bridge told me
it means 'Wow That's Fun.'' (Laughter) I was like, ''That is exactly
what it means.'' I'm not going to explain that
to my grandmother.

But over time, I've come to realize that I think the world
would be a happier place if more people thought WTF – if more people were like my grandmother
and thought, "Wow, that's fun." Because in 2012, I left my corporate job
at Procter and Gamble to teach people about the value of humor. I've worked with more than 35,000 people
at more than 250 organizations on how to be more productive,
less stressed and happier, using humor. But when people hear what it is that I do,
they are a little bit skeptical, (Laughter) because no one thinks
of humor as a bad thing. Is there anyone here
that doesn't like to laugh? Anyone that's like
"No, I hate feeling joy in my body?" (Laughter) No.

People think of humor
as a nice-to-have. Oh, if I enjoyed my work more,
if I had some fun, it would be great, but if not, oh well. The reality is that humor is a must-have. In today's overworked, underappreciated,
stress-filled, sleep-deprived culture, humor is a necessity. Because humor gets people to listen, it increases long-term memory retention, it improves understanding,
aids in learning and helps communicate messages. It also improves group cohesiveness, reduces status differentials,
diffuses conflict, builds trust and brings people closer together. It does these things (Laughter) and this stuff and on and on and on … And it's all backed by research
case studies and real-world examples. (Laughter) And these are some
impressive benefits, right? Humor can help you to look better,
live longer and make it rain, right? (Laughter) Because people who use humor
are paid more. And anyone can learn these benefits. Because when I talk to people
about humor or comedy, sometimes they're intimidated. That event that I went to
in Switzerland a couple years ago that made my grandmother say WTF, it was to speak at a conference. And one of the other speakers
at that conference was this gentleman.

His name is Kevin Richardson. He's also known as the lion whisperer. If you've ever seen that YouTube video
of a lion hugging a dude, that's this guy. He lives in South Africa, he raises lions from
when they're really young, and they treat him as one of the pride. He's basically the human version
of Rafiki from The Lion King. But Kevin and I were talking
before the event. He found out that I did stand-up comedy, and he was like ''Huh, I could
never do that, it's too scary.'' (Laughter) I was like ''But you live with lions!'' (Laughter) As if telling a joke is somehow
scarier than living with lions.

(Laughter) But so many people have this perception as if the ability to make people laugh
is somehow encoded in our DNA. (Laughter) But the reality is that humor is a skill, and if it's a skill,
that means we can learn it. Because I am someone
who has had to learn how to use humor. Because I've done over a thousand shows as a stand-up comedian, improviser,
storyteller, spoken word artist. I've spoken and performed in all 50 states
in 18 countries and on one planet. (Laughter) I have fans in more than 150 countries, based on people who have
accidentally come to my website. I've been called hilarious and smart,
at least that's what my mom says. (Laughter) And I've been seen on The Daily Show
with John Stewart, in the audience.

(Laughter) I recently went to my
high school reunion though, and when people found out
that I did stand-up comedy, they said, ''But you're not funny.'' And in some ways they're right because I would tell you
that this is not the face of funny. (Laughter) There's a lot that's funny
about this picture; none of it is intentional.

(Laughter) And I have the blonde tips up top
like I wanted to be in a boy band. The theme was ''Into a Dream,''
I am no one's dream – (Laughter) in this picture. Because, growing up, I was never
the life of the party or the class clown. My senior year – my senior superlative,
I was voted teacher's pet. And this is going to surprise many of you,
but it's because I am a nerd. And if you're wondering
what type of nerd, the answer is yes;
computer, math, sci-fi, Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars,
Star Trek, Starbucks – all of them.

(Laughter) But most specifically, I'm an engineer. I went to the Ohio State University, got a degree in computer
science and engineering. And after I graduated, I started working at Procter & Gamble
as an IT project manager. And that's what people expected me to do, because based on my
personality assessment, that's what it suggests I should be
as a computer science engineer. But I've learned that we're not
a personality assessment. Because my assessment is I'm a Type-A, blue square, conscientious,
INTJ with the sign of Aquarius. That means I'm an ambitious,
stubborn introvert who likes long walks on the beach, but I've learned we're not
our personality assessments. They might give us insight
into our behavior or tell us what motivates us or tell us which Disney Princess
we would be – Pocahontas – (Laughter) but they don't define us;
instead, we are defined by our actions.

So I started doing comedy in college. My best friend there in the middle
wanted to start an improv comedy group. He needed people and forced me to join. And as you can probably tell
from this picture, we were not very good. At least to start out,
we had no idea what we were doing. We watched "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
and tried to repeat what we saw. And what I didn't have in comedy skill
I made up in comedy project management. "If we're going to do this for real; we'll practice three times a week, we'll have a business
meeting every Monday, and we're going to go back and watch
our shows as if it was game tape.'' And over the course
of two years, we got better. We went from performing
in the basements of residence halls to performing twice a week
at a theater on campus, never really learning
how to take a good picture. But that's how you learn
the skill of humor. It's through practice and repetition. And anyone can do these things. And you don't have to become
a professional comedian to use comedy, but we can learn from the professionals.

For example, from stand-up, we can learn
about how to share your point of view, because Louis C.K. has
a very specific way of seeing the world, which is different than Ellen DeGeneres, which is different than Tig Notaro,
Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock. Everyone has their own perspective. Some people tell me that I kind of look like the intersection
of Hugh Jackman and Conan O'Brien.

(Laughter) Other people are like, "Ah, I kind of see
David Tennant from Doctor Who." One woman told me, ''I think you look like Justin Timberlake
but from here to here.'' (Laughter) And we're going to ignore the guy
that told me I look like Clay Aiken. Right, just completely. Everyone has their own perspective. And we can use that perspective as a way
to connect with other people, right? We can use it to say, ''Oh, we're alike.''
How many people here like desert? People love desert. I love deserts.
I am obsessed with milkshake.

So it's the most efficient form of desert because of the deliciousness of ice cream
in an easy-to-consume form. But I don't understand mint chocolate. I don't know if we have
any mint chocolate fan. I've never been eating chocolate and been like, ''You know what would
go great with this? Toothpaste." (Laughter) We can share a perspective
as a way to connect.

pexels photo 4467857

We can also share a perspective
as a way to make a point. Because I will tell you that I have always understood computers
much more than I understand humans. Because when something goes wrong
with the computer, you get an error message. When something goes wrong with a human, you get feelings. (Laughter) Things would be so much easier
if humans came with error messages, wouldn't they? Say you're overworked, overwhelmed,
a little bit stressed out, it would just pop up:
"Warning! System overload." (Laughter) "Please restart by taking a nap." Because we all know
naps are the human version of, "Just turn it off
and then turn it back on again." Some error messages
you wouldn't even have to change. Say, you're out flirting with a waitress,
she's not really feeling it. It would just pop up: "Error.
Unable to establish connection to server." (Laughter) Things would be so much easier. But the reality is that humans
aren't computers, no matter how adorable they are
when they pretend to be.

Because we, as humans, not only have
to manage time, we have to manage energy. Because it doesn't matter
how much time we have if we've never have the energy
to do anything with it. From improv, we can learn how we can
explore and heighten a point of view. Because the fundamental
mindset of improvisation is "Yes, and…" It's how improvisers at UCB, Second City
and ComedySportz make things up off the top of their head. And we can use that same thing, take what they do, accept and build,
explore and heighten and say, ''If this is true, what else is true?'' Because it took me going
to the state of Florida to realize that the rapper Flo Rida got his name
from his home state of Florida, and he put a space in it. That blew my mind! (Laughter) We could say, ''If this is true,
what else could be true?'' We could say, "I think there should be
a Hispanic factory in Dover that goes by De La Ware." (Laughter) Or like, "There could be a female
internet detective in Biloxi who goes by Misses IP, PI." (Laughter) And if this is true, what else is true? If we can use ''Yes, and''
to create humor, we can also use ''Yes, and'' as a way
to connect with other people.

We can think of that stereotypical
small talk conversation where people are like,
''Ah, how about this weather?'' You say, "Yes, and if you were not
at this event right now, how would you be out
enjoying the weather?" And we can turn an awkward conversation
into something more meaningful where you learn about the person. ''With beautiful weather, I go outside,
or I go hiking or swimming.'' If you're me, you stay inside,
because you're very pale.

I like to use SPF building;
its the best protection. We learn about people
through ''Yes, and.'' We can also use a yes-and mindset
to have more fun, because the reality is that the average
person works 90 thousand hours in their lifetime. Ninety thousand hours! That's the entire length,
the entire discography of Netflix. That is a lot of time. And we can say, ''Yes, I'm going
to work 90 thousand hours, and I might as well enjoy it.'' Between my junior
and senior year of high school, I worked in a factory, and I will tell you
what was not a very exciting job. And at the time, I thought
that I might, in the future, want to become an international
hip-hop superstar. So, to pass the time,
I would think of rhymes in my head, then I'd write them down
in a notebook a little bit later. And I recently found
one of those notebooks and discovered why I never became
a hip-hop superstar. Because one of the rhymes was, "Hydrogen plus hydrogen plus oxygen too,
bonded together with covalent glue. What do you get,
just a thing called water, yeah, it's teaming up
and it's only getting hotter." (Laughter) It's the reason why I never became
a hip-hop superstar.

But it still helped me to pass the time
to create humor, to create fun. And finally from sketch, we can learn about the importance
of commitment to performance. Because the characters
from Saturday Night Live, Key & Peele, Monty Python, they're so enjoyable, because the actors
are committed to the performance. And they're confident
in their presentation, because it's like dating, right? People tell you that they want
to date someone who is confident. A couple years ago,
I was with some friends at a bar, and I saw this beautiful girl at the bar. ''You should go talk to her.'' ''I can't do that.'' ''Why not?'' ''I don't have 'game.''' ''You don't need 'game,'
you just need confidence.'' But they don't tell you that they want
that confidence in certain areas. Because no woman wants a man
who's confident in math.

(Laughter) That's what I've got. (Laughter) So I was like, ''All right.
I'm going to try a math pickup line.'' So I went up to the girl
and I was like, ''Hey, girl." (Laughter) "Are you a vertical asymptote?
Because your beauty has no limits.'' (Laughter) She was like, ''What did you just say?'' (Laughter) So I tried again,
and I was like, ''Hey, girl. Are you opposite over hypotenuse?
Because you're making me want to sin.'' (Laughter) She was like, ''I think
you should probably leave.'' So I left, right? But then a few hours later, I was like,
"Oh, what I should've said was, 'Hey girl, you're way
above average, don't be mean.''' (Laughter) Has that ever happened to you, where you thought of something
like four hours after the event? That's actually a good thing,
it's called staircase wit.

The idea of ''this moment happens here,'' and then you think of this idea
in the staircase. That's a good sign, because that means
you have comedic instinct. And through practice and repetition, you can shorten the time
it takes to have that a-ha moment from being four hours later
to only three hours later, to only two to ten minutes
to, then, happening in the moment. Because a reflection on the past
leads to action in the future. And so we become more comfortable,
more confident using humor, the more that we actually do it. It's like Amy Cuddy says:
''Fake it until you become it.'' I know there's a couple of people that are like, ''All right,
Justin Timberlake eyes.'' (Laughter) ''What if I'm not funny?'' The truth is if you have ever
made someone laugh, even if it's because you tripped
up the steps while going up the steps, you would still use humor. But even if you're not ready
to try creating humor, you can still benefit from humor
by being a shepherd of humor. You can share quotations out,
you can share a TED talk that you enjoyed, or you can use images
in your presentations.

Because I did not take this picture. I did not go to Sri Lanka. I do not know this shepherd
or any of these goats. I found it on Flickr
under a Creative Commons license and shared it with all of you,
because I enjoyed it. But even if you're not
ready to create humor, and you don't think that you can find
something interesting on the Internet, you can still use humor
if you know how to smile. Because when we see someone else smile, we are primed to mirror that behavior
with mirror neurons in our brain.

And when we smile, they smile:
we create a human connection. Other people are like,
''But what if no one laughs? What if I try humor,
and there's an awkward silence?'' Well, it's really only awkward
if you spend time on it, if you dwell on it. And the reality is that no one has ever
been fired because of a bad joke. An inappropriate one, maybe,
but not a bad joke. Because a bad joke is something like, "I once had to miss class
because of hypothermia, I was too cool for school." (Laughter) That's a bad joke. (Laughter) An inappropriate joke is one
that has an inappropriate subject, has an inappropriate target
or comes at an inappropriate time. But as long as we are positive – (Laughter) and inclusive, we'll be okay. Because then if no one laughs at our joke, it's just now a positive
and inclusive statement.

Finally, people are like
''What if no one takes me seriously?'' ''What if people think of me
as a jester or a clown?'' If you're going to use humor at work, recognize that humor
doesn't replace the work. Humor is like the salt of a meal. You wouldn't eat an entire
meal of salt, would you? Because that would make you a horse. Do you want to be a horse? I say nay. (Laughter) But you can still use humor as long as you're making it
more productive. Managers actually want it, because they know you're going
to be more engaged and get better results. But let's say you work for an organization
that says no fun whatsoever. The reality is that no one
can control how you think. No one can prevent you
from listening to a comedy podcast on your way home from work so that you relieve stress
and show up more present for your family. No one can stop you from creating
a Twitter account to write puns.

No one can keep you from coming up
with chemistry raps while you're working. The reality is that job satisfaction,
your outlook, your way of managing stress is entirely your responsibility
and is the choice that you make. And this is a skill of humor. It starts by sharing your point of view, and then we explore
and heighten that point of view. And we yes-and both our work and our life, and finally we practice,
perform and repeat, because that's how we get better. And people can take an improv class,
or you can try stand-up comedy, but we can also just be more aware
of how we create humor every single day. And anyone can do these things. I'll tell you, the funniest person I know
is my grandmother, the one that texts me. And she's elevated her game
from texting to Facebook.

She's now on Facebook and she comments
on every single one of my status updates. And I can't tell if my grandmother is the nicest,
most sincere grandmother in the world, or if she is secretly trolling me. (Laughter) A couple of months ago, I posted, ''I'm trying to decide if I should
become an athlete or a criminal, so I made a list of pros and cons.'' My grandmother's response
was one word: ''Funny.'' (Laughter) I was like, "I don't know. Does she think it's funny,
or is she messing with me?" A couple weeks later, I posted, ''I think a cozy bar that serves figs
would make for a plum date spot.'' My grandmother's response was, ''Ha, ha.'' (Laughter) And I was like, "There's
something about the comma.'' (Laughter) And I'm like, "She's messing with me." Then a couple weeks ago, I posted, ''Converting the numbers 51, 6 and 500
to Roman numerals makes me LIVID.'' (Laughter) My grandmother's response was,
''Hey, this one is actually good.'' (Laughter) Trolled by my own grandmother.

(Laughter) It doesn't matter, your age,
your income, your perspective, your personality assessment,
your senior superlative or your celebrity doppelganger. Anyone can learn to be funnier. And it all starts with a choice, a choice to try to find ways to use humor, a choice to be like my grandmother, to look at the world around you
and think, "WTF – Wow, that's fun." Thank you. (Applause).

As found on YouTube

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