059 You Can be Funny: Award Winning Comedian Ron Tite Shares Secrets of the Comedy Masters

059 You Can be Funny: Award Winning Comedian Ron Tite Shares Secrets of the Comedy Masters

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Want to know what makes someone funny, and how you can be funnier? Listen in as Award Winning Comedian Ron Tite shares secrets of the comedy masters on humor and public speaking.

Ron Tite has been an award winning advertising writer and creative director for some of the world’s most respected brands, including Air France, Evian, Fidelity, Hershey, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Intel, Microsoft, Volvo, and many others. He is founder and CEO of The Tite Group, executive producer and host of the Canadian award-winning show Monkey Toast. Ron is also a featured marketing expert on the new Mark Burnett produced business reality show, Dream Funded.

Ron’s upcoming book, “Everyone’s An Artist (Or At Least They Should Be),” will be published by HarperCollins in the spring of 2016.

Ron will be leading a special session on “How Everyone’s a Comedian (or at least they should be)” at the upcoming Heroic Public Speaking Live 2016.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • How to balance preparation and improvisation when you try to bring humor to some performance. (4:18)
  • How famous comedians find their “funny.” (8:02)
  • How to use “contrast” and humor to keep your audience engaged. (10:34)
  • Humor techniques of famous comedians, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Dennis Miller. (13:19)
  • How rehearsals can actually add authenticity to your speech. (16:43)
  • Why humor matters in a performance, even if you plan to deliver serious content. (21:45)
  • How to use appropriate humor for your audience. (26:00)
  • The importance of timing when delivering punchlines in a speech. (36:09)
  • How to find the balance between being funny and being relevant in your speech. (51:25)

Find out more about Ron Tite and the Content Marketing Agency.

You can also connect with Ron on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

00:00 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port, this is Michael. Today’s guest is Ron Tite. He’s been an actor, a comedian, an award winning advertising writer, and Creative Director, for some of the worlds most respected brands including: Air France, Avian, Hershey, Johnson and Johnson, Kraft, Intel, Microsoft, Volvo, and many others. He was trained at the legendary Second City, and named one of the top 10 creative comedians by Marketing Magazine. His work has been recognized by The London International Advertising Awards, The New York Festivals of Advertising, The Crystals, The Extras, The Canadian Marketing Association, and The Marketing Awards, just to name about a hundred. Ron is also the executive producer and the host of the Canadian comedy award winning show “Monkey Toast,” and is a featured marketing expert, on the new Mark Burnett business reality show, “Dream Funded.”

01:03 Michael Port: He’s written for a number of other television series, penned a children’s book, and wrote, performed, and produced the play, “The Canadian Baby Bonus.” That is a very strange name, The Canadian Baby Bonus. Maybe there’s some financial bonus that Canada gives you if you have a bunch of babies, we’ll ask him about that. Currently he is the CEO of the Tite Group, a content marketing agency based in Toronto. His upcoming book, “Everyone’s An Artist, Or At Least They Should Be” will be published by Harper Collins, in the Spring of 2016. I’ve asked him here, because he’s gonna be at Heroic Public Speaking, live in 2016 in February, and he’s gonna lead a session called, “Everyone’s a Comedian, Or At Least They Should Be.” And today, we’re gonna get into what makes someone funny, and how you can be funnier. Hi Ron. A very big question to start off with, why did the chicken cross the road?

02:06 Ron Tite: Well, it wasn’t to get to the other side. It was so that he could get a part time job as a Google Car that’s going around and mapping the world, one crossing at a time.

02:18 Michael Port: Oh my God, brilliant. And he was, of course, that was not a setup, that was the most ridiculous question I’ve ever started a Podcast with. So how much more difficult is it, to be funny when people expect you to be funny?

02:33 Ron Tite: That’s a great question. It is… It can be… On one hand, it’s a little more difficult, because just the bar is so much higher, right? They… It’s unlike going into a conference, where they don’t expect anybody to be funny, and it’s so refreshing when somebody is. Where if you go into a comedy club, people are like, “You know what, I got a sitter. I paid for parking.” They sit there with their arms crossed kinda going, “Make Me Laugh.” At the same time, that’s the difficult side. On the positive side, they’re going there for a particular reason, they’re going there to laugh, their guard is down, they’re drinking, it’s social. And so, the environment is just so much more conducive, because they’re there with one goal in mind, and that is to see a show. And the room is set up in a way for them to see a show, and there’s a host who’s is a professional, so all those other variables, which can lead to great humor, are completely in place. So on one hand, its really difficult, on the other hand its much easier.

03:33 Michael Port: Have you ever been introduced as a funny guy?

03:37 Ron Tite: Yeah. I’ve been introduced… I did a TV show up here called “Off The Record,” which is like a sports panel show, and I got introduced as, “The Funniest Man In Canada.”

03:47 Michael Port: Oy vey.

03:48 Ron Tite: It’s the worst introduction anybody could ever give a comedian because now, the bar is through the roof, and people are expecting you to be absolutely brilliant. And what’s really difficult about that is, I think it’s not always appropriate for somebody to be funny in that environment. Its a TV show talking about sports, I’m not gonna be throwing out punchlines. I wanna get to the meat of the conversation. And I’m not always gonna be funny, or I’m not gonna really add any value there. So, its a horrible, horrible way to introduce somebody.

04:18 Michael Port: Yeah, its something that people who don’t spend much time in performance, or certainly in comedy, sometimes do when they find you funny, because they’re excited that you’re there, and you’re gonna make other people laugh, and they’re excited that they’ve brought you to those folks. So, they’re incredibly well intentioned, but its a dangerous setup for somebody who does make people laugh. So, there are people who seem to be naturally funny, they see humor, they’ve got great timing, and comedy in a presentation format, you know, Stand Up or Key Note, it often also requires preparation, so can you speak to both of those concepts? How improvisation, and seeing the moment, and finding the humor in that moment, is just opposed against or connected to the preparation that you do, when you are trying to bring humor to some performance?

05:30 Ron Tite: Yeah, maybe I’ll start with the second one first, the second part first. In terms of preparation, you have to do your homework. The number one rule of comedy is know your audience. And the reason for that is, if you go into a specific comedy club, it’s really difficult, because you’ve got every walk of life there, every socio-economic group, you’ve got people from different parts of the country, you’ve got tourists in town, so there’s very little that those people have in common, which is why a lot of comedy clubs feature comedy that is, what I call lowest common denominator. What do we all have in common? “Oh, we have the differences between men and women. What’s the deal with wives saying, “Does this make me look fat?” That’s why we kind of go down the road of using that content or airplane humor, whatever.

06:15 Ron Tite: When you have an audience who all have a shared experience, so if they all work at a specific organization, you can do your homework and a 100% of the room is gonna get the reference. So while the comedy, the insight, may not be as hilarious as the bit that you’ve worked on for five years, if you deliver that in a comedy club, maybe only get 50% approval rating because people understand the reference. If you go into an organization and you use a reference or an insight from that organization, a 100% of the room gets it. So even though it’s not as funny, the response is greater because more people are getting your insight. So you really… The preparation just leads to much a better material that everybody understands in the room.

07:02 Ron Tite: Now, how do you translate that into being funny? Well, there’s the… Gladwell talked about the 10,000 hours, you get up on stage and you do it. And you do it over, and over, and over again. And over time, you get to see where your timing works, you get to see what the beats are in the bet, you get to see what the crowd is responding to and what they’re not responding to. And there’s still some things that I’ll going into a keynote, and deliver something that I don’t think is funny. And lo and behold, they love it, and they think it’s really funny. So I’m just become accustomed being able to adapt the material on the fly and then to learn from it and use it the next time. So are some people naturally funny? Yeah, I think so, but I think far too many people give up in their search for funny because they assume they’re not.

07:57 Michael Port: So how do you search for funny?

08:02 Ron Tite: Well, there’s tactics you can use to search for funny. I think the biggest thing, though, is just be committed to it. I think some people think, “Oh comedians sit down and just the material just flows from their fingers, and they’re just brilliantly writing comedy, or they get on stage, and it just all happens so beautifully and naturally.” No. Yes, it’s work. It’s hard work to sit down and go, “What’s funny about this?” And you look at it from this angle, and you look at it from that angle, and then another angle. There’s some tactics where you can… Something I like to use is called Third Choice, where you look at a situation and… An example would be, “There once was a boy and his name was… ” Well, the first response you think of is John. It’s what everybody is thinking. It’s what’s on the top of everybody’s mind. And you write it down. You go, “That’s my first choice. What’s my second choice?” And you force yourself to come up with something new. And you go, “Ugh. Second choice. There once was a boy, his name was… Frank!” Okay, that’s a little more unique, that’s a little more interesting. Let’s go third choice. “There once was a boy and his name was Barbara.”

[laughter]

09:09 Michael Port: Oh, right. Now we’re getting somewhere. And when you compare that with the preparation that can inform those choices, and you match the reference that they get or some insight from an organization with this third choice, now you’re kind of digging for the funny. I’ve got this… When I work with young comedians, I’ll tell them, “You pen for silver, you work for gold.” So the gold material, it doesn’t come out the first time. But if you pen for silver, if you pen for something that’s interesting, if you pen for something that’s, “Ah! There’s something there.” And you work it, and you work it, and you work it, and you work it, you’re eventually gonna make that silver into gold.

09:52 Michael Port: Your mic is getting a little bit hot, a little poppy, so maybe just get a little bit more distance from it. Let’s go back to Barbara, the young boy named Barbara. So what you just demonstrated is that often comedy is produced because our expectation is not met. So we deliver something that the audience does not expect and that’s surprising, like… I don’t remember whose joke it was but, “She was pretty, she was shapely, she was a man.” And I don’t remember whose that was, but it speaks to New York, Tokyo, Paris, Fargo. You don’t expect Fargo to come after Tokyo and Paris.

10:34 Michael Port: And as a performer, I’m always looking for the contrast, not just in humor, but in all of my work to keep people on the edge of their seats, so they don’t know what’s coming next because what we know is that sameness lulls people into sleep, or it lulls them into just this sort of lackadaisical, disconnected approach where they’re sitting back and not really connected and they don’t have to work for their lunch as an audience member. So can you speak to this idea a little bit more about how you use contrast in your work to keep people awake, to keep them connected, and ultimately probably to find a lot of humor?

11:19 Ron Tite: One of the first things I do is, I’ll sometimes work with a group and I use this exercise called ‘Things in the Kitchen’, where I say, “Okay, everybody, just name things in the kitchen.” And of course, the top three responses of all time are: Fork, knife, and can you guess the third one?

11:41 Michael Port: Well, you would think spoon.

11:42 Ron Tite: No. It’s butter.

[laughter]

11:45 Ron Tite: Right. For whatever reason.

11:47 Michael Port: So that was surprising.

11:48 Ron Tite: Yeah. But never in the history, ’cause at the end of the exercise, I’ll say, “What was the most memorable item that somebody shared in the room?” Fork, knife, butter? Those are never, never the choices. So, they’re the most common choices, but they’re never the most memorable. But if you say to somebody, “My dog” or in real sales oriented… Male-dominated sales groups they go, “My wife.”

[laughter]

12:16 Ron Tite: They get slapped from the women in the audience.

12:18 Michael Port: As they should. As they should.

12:20 Ron Tite: As they should. As they should. But there’s… There’s… When somebody brings up the something that’s a little more unique, and the three ways that you can make that exercise work and be memorable is, one is you can say something that nobody else has thought of. There’s something really… A really, really unique choice. And like, my dog or dirty dishes or something. The second thing that you can do is you can say it in a way that adds a lot of color to your choice. So, if you stand up on your chair and from the top of your voice in an operatic voice go, “Fork.” Of course, somebody is gonna remember that, right? And the third thing you can do is you can say things with such specific detail that people internalize that and they think of it of the thing that’s most relevant to their own lives.

13:19 Ron Tite: So, I remember somebody… One of the first times I did that exercise, somebody said, “A thing in the kitchen. You know those little miniature corn on the cob things that you stick into the end of corn on the cob so your finger… Like those.” Right? And I immediately thought of the ones my mom had. She had those. Right? And so, I’m internalizing this thing, and it means so much more to me because the person has talked to me. When you look at comedy, the interesting choice, that’s Jerry Seinfeld. Jerry Seinfeld is a horrible performer. He is a horrible actor. He doesn’t do animation. He is not animated. He doesn’t do voices, none of that stuff. But his choices are so unique that it’s memorable. And the second one…

14:00 Michael Port: As an example… Your hunch is right. He was not an actor so he hired the most extraordinary actors he could to surround himself with on his show. Then, I remember one of the choices that became something that people still imitate all the time was, “No, no, no.”

14:17 Ron Tite: Yeah. Yeah.

14:18 Michael Port: And it was probably because he couldn’t have a real response to that particular thing that was happening. So, he comes up with something that he knows is gonna be funny.

14:28 Ron Tite: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And the second one of selling it, Robin Williams, may he rest in peace, was brilliant at this. I think the best person at this. That if you were to read Robin Williams’ material when he was in his prime it wouldn’t read funny, but he sold it funny, and he became those characters. Eddie Murphy is like a one-man sketch show kind of thing. They did that. And then on the personal side, Dennis Miller used to do it from a political perspective where he’d bring in such very specific references that people would internalize that. So, those are the three types of comedians, and I think those are the three types of making something funny. Say it in a real… Make a really unique choice or say that choice in a really unique way or add detail and references that people internalize it and make it their own.

15:18 Michael Port: I had Scott McKain, who is a friend of yours, on the show recently. He is also gonna be in Florida with us at Heroic Public Speaking Live.

15:28 Ron Tite: He’s amazing, awesome.

15:29 Michael Port: He is unbelievable. His voice is like… I said… I told him it was like velvet swathed in butter. It’s just extraordinary. And we were talking about preparation and I was asking him why people are often anxious about preparing. Why do they push back so much on rehearsal? We, as performers, know how important rehearsal is. People who haven’t had that kind of background often think it makes them stiff etcetera. And one of the things that he brought up was he mentioned Robin Williams. He says, “People think that Robin Williams is completely off the cuff. He just makes it up as he goes and he has never said it before because he’s so improvisational. In fact, Robin Williams was one of the most prepared comedians in the world, and he had worked those bits over and over and over, those characters over and over and over, those accents over and over and over, and he would just deliver them in different order at different times based on what was going on in the moment and what he thought that audience needed.” So, I mentioned that specifically to bring up this point about how important rehearsal is. And I’d love you to speak a little bit more to that.

16:43 Ron Tite: Yeah. You’re bang on with that. I mean, Robin Williams… You can’t do a six camera HBO comedy special and make it up on the fly. You just can’t. And Robin was famous for… The joke was like, “His pants were so tight, you could tell what religion he was.” That’s the Robin Williams joke that was delivered time and time and time again. And the power of rehearsal isn’t to get perfect. The power of rehearsal is to get it so that it sounds… It sounds like it’s the first time you’re doing it. If it sounds like it’s the thousandth time you’re doing it, people will go, “Ah, this speaker, how many times has he done this speech.” But when you get really good, your rehearsal allows you to pick up those bits that make the talk feel really authentic and make it feel like you’re delivering that talk for the very first time. And that messing with the order is something that Louis CK does, which I picked up on for my speaking, where Louis CK will take the best bit from the end and move it to the beginning to mess with himself. And I do that all the time where I change the order of a keynote or I’ll bring in a new bit, a new section, for five minutes. And what it does, is it creates some imperfection for me. And it makes me… It ensures that I don’t lull into that scripted delivering and like I’ve delivered it a million times.

18:12 Michael Port: Hmm, that’s very interesting. Additionally we also… I think there’s a demonstration of how much you care about the audience in your willingness to forget everything that you know when you walk on stage and then allow everything that you know to come to you organically in that moment. There is inherent risk in that, that’s what the great performers do so it seems so spontaneous but they know it so well, it’s engrained in them, their work. And if they’re trying something new, it forces them to keep on their toes in a really very dramatic way for an audience. But it’s also because we care. So if we don’t care that much about our audience or the material that we’re speaking to, or we’re just not in the moment, we’re still back in the argument we had with somebody two hours ago, then it’s gonna seem pat. But if we are driving forward, if we’re doing everything in our power to serve that audience because we care about them then it will seem like it is the first time we’ve ever done this for them, even though they know there’s no way this was the first time we’ve ever done this. Because if you’re a professional they know you do this work all the time.

19:26 Ron Tite: Yeah, yeah. There has been times, there’s one example where I remember, there’s a passage about a hotel experience in one of the speeches I do. I said something like, “At two o’ clock in the afternoon, I was working in the hotel room and there was a knock at the door and there was a woman there.” And then I realise, oh that sounds weird. And I kinda caught myself and I said, “I mean, she was from the hotel.” Oh, you know. It was this mistake, that the way I said it but it was really funny because the audience knew that I messed up and didn’t say what I intended to say and corrected myself and it was a little humorous moment. Well you know what? I duplicated that little mistake, time and time again, because it’s a great moment of laughter, and it makes you real, and just because maybe you didn’t consciously screw it up that time, it has happened. And those imperfections make you seem real and authentic, and there in the moment with that crowd. You’re not calling it in, they’re the only thing in your world at that precise moment.

20:31 Michael Port: It’s interesting ’cause sometimes people push back and they say, “Yeah but if you’re creating a moment that looks like it was a mistake, but you’re intentionally making it to seem more authentic, isn’t that inauthentic?” But that’s performance. Our job is not to stay rigidly fixed to some absolute truth, our job is to serve that audience, to deliver on our promise and to entertain them at the same time. And they want us to do whatever we can, to pull out every tool in our tool box in order to deliver on those promises. So lemme ask you a question that I probably should’ve asked first, I mean the very first thing is why should anybody care? Why does humor matter? Why should we try to improve on this part of our performance if we don’t think we’re really funny or if we’re not speaking on material that’s funny, or even maybe it’s heavy. Why should we try to do better in this way?

21:45 Ron Tite: Because it’s the respect you have for the more insightful content that follows the comedy. So if you’ve got a great point to make that, if you’re speaking on sales or you’re delivering a message and you wanna say, the elevator pitch is dead or whatever, it’s some bold statement. If you can proceed that with some interesting comedy which gets people’s guards down and makes them a little bit more relaxed and a little bit more open to hearing the message, ’cause that’s why you’re there. You’re not there to deliver the funny, you’re there to deliver the content. The comedy simply helps you deliver the really important stuff that you want people to walk away with. You could show graphs and data all you want, it’s not gonna work. And that’s what you’re there for, you’re there to really change people’s lives, to change the decisions they make on a daily basis. And you have to use all the tools in your arsenal and able to do that. So humor is one way to do it, story is another way to do it. Personal reflections or experience are another way to do it, there’s a whole bunch of different things and I’m not saying you need to have every single point proceeded by humor, I certainly don’t. But it should be a tool that you access to deliver the content you wanna deliver.

23:07 Michael Port: It’s so funny that you mentioned the elevator speech because in my “Book Yourself Solid Keynote”, one of the things that I address is killing the elevator speech. And I preface it with some humor and then I close it with some humor because I know that so many people in the industry teach the elevator speech, so I need to create some softness around it. It works very very well.

23:38 Ron Tite: Yeah ’cause I think, whether you’re going into an internal meeting and presenting the plan for Q4 or whether you’re a speaker on stage at a conference or an organisation, I think there’s people in the audience who have that ‘arms crossed’ like, “What’s this person gonna teach me?” And they’re initially skeptical and I don’t blame them for that. And you have to remove those barriers to get them to think just a little bit differently. And if you can get them to look at something they’ve looked at a million times from a humorous perspective, then they’ve made the leap where they’re seeing it from another angle. And if you want to then present another angle, which is a serious angle or a strategic angle, they’re already there.

24:27 Michael Port: Yeah, and it seems like self-deprecating humor works quite well when you are trying to broach a topic that may be a little bit confrontational to them. So for example, when I do the elevator speech thing, one of the things that I often open it with is… My legs will be really wide, and I’ll kind of squat down, and I’ll put my finger across my throat as if I’m slitting my throat. And I’ll say, “I’m on a mission to kill the elevator speech.”

24:54 Michael Port: And I look really scary ’cause I’m bald. So then, I pop right out of that and I make a bald joke. I say, “I have to smile a lot because if I don’t, then I look like a serial killer.” And it immediately gets them away from the killing of the elevator speech, to that. And then I can go smoothly into the opening of this more intellectual concept around why the elevator speech may not work in the way that they think. And then, I can close it up with some other bits that I do about being on the subway, and being fondled by people, and it’s a whole thing. So let’s talk a little bit about appropriateness because some humor is appropriate for some crowds, another is not appropriate for other crowds. So you have any advice for people on what they can do to make sure that their humor is appropriate for their audience?

25:47 Ron Tite: Yeah. It’s a tricky one. We in the comedy business would say, “Nobody gets offended anymore. They only get offended on behalf of other people.”

[laughter]

26:00 Michael Port: Yeah.

26:00 Ron Tite: You can make a joke about the finance division, and they’ll love it because you’re… They’re the star now. But it’s the people in marketing who go, “I can’t believe you said that about Frank. Geez.” So, you do have to keep that in mind that it’s usually not the people or the topic you’re addressing, that people are gonna find… It’s the people around that. So how do you decide where that is?

26:27 Ron Tite: One is preparation because if it’s a joke that everybody is gonna understand from an organization and the reference, then you have a less chance of offending those people. So preparation is absolutely key. And I guess it’s just, would you tell it to your mom? If your mom was in that room, would she find it funny? And I guess we all have different moms who have their own set of expectations and their own bars of what’s funny and what’s not funny. I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t a great answer. I think you just find that place over time. You find that place over time, and it should be consistent with your brand. So there are some things in a comedy club that Louis CK can get away with because of who he is, that I could never get away with.

27:18 Michael Port: Yeah, of course.

27:18 Ron Tite: I just can’t. And I don’t wanna get away with it because it’s not consistent with who I am, and not consistent with how I see the world. Is this gonna be… Because we’ve seen this in social media where people, they try and attempt humor over 140 characters and they realize, “Oh, that was not appropriate.”

[laughter]

27:39 Michael Port: Yeah.

27:40 Ron Tite: And it’s… But it’s really… I think it’s the most difficult skill in comedy because the closer you get to the line, the funnier the material is. Right? It’s a little bit dark, it’s a little bit edgy, and people love it. When you step over the line, there’s… It’s absolute failure.

28:00 Michael Port: Yeah. It’s interesting, this… I ask a lot of questions of the organizers going in, specifically to make sure that I’m appropriate because I’ve been surprised over, and over, and over again about what certain folks in a certain organization find appropriate that I would never… Or find inappropriate that I would have never imagined they would. So I ask a lot of questions, I gave a speech for Trends America. No… Yeah, it was… No, no, I did give a speech for Trends America. But this one was for Anytime Fitness, you know, the big fitness franchise company?

28:40 Ron Tite: Yeah, sure.

28:42 Michael Port: And they have a CEO and a president, and one of them is bald, and one of them has phenomenal hair, just great hair. And when I was watching some videos in my preparation of these guys talking about their company, etcetera, I noticed the guy, he would touch his hair a lot, he made a comment about his hair. Oh man, he loves his hair. I gotta do something here because often when you mess with the boss a little bit at the beginning, the people in the audience go, “Oh, he’s on my side.”

29:10 Ron Tite: Yeah, totally.

29:10 Michael Port: But of course the boss is paying you, so you got to be careful. And so what I did is, I brought a shirt that said on the front, “With this body, who needs hair?” So what I did is, I talked to the camera guys first because there was all the big screens. And I said, “Look, I’m gonna roll out this shirt. I want you to hit it, so everybody in the audience can see it at this specific moment.” So when I opened, I made some comments about the CEO. “I wish I had hair like that. It’s just extraordinary. It’s gorgeous, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be you.”

29:44 Michael Port: And then I asked his partner, the president to come up on stage. And I said, “Listen, we got to stick together, so I brought you a little present.” And then I dropped it open, and it worked for the audience. It worked really well. But I had to ask a lot of questions because, even though it seems like it’s just his hair, what’s the big deal? He could really be sensitive about it because maybe people do make comments about the fact that he is obsessed with how he looks.

30:09 Ron Tite: You’re right. Right.

30:11 Michael Port: And he’s sensitive, but in fact what they said is, “No, he loves it!” He loves when we make fun of him about his hair. I said, “Great. Then we’re on.” But it takes a lot of… A lot of questions.

30:20 Ron Tite: Yup. You can also… Like in a traditional comedy environment, the host establishes what we call the groan line. Like where is the line of the room? And a good host will establish that.

30:33 Michael Port: So do they go out there in their opening specifically to push that line to see, see how far they can go in service of the other comedians who’ve got sets coming up?

30:44 Ron Tite: Yes. A good one, a professional host will do that. Sometimes you get hosts who are just trying to break up a headlining set into formatted increments.

30:54 Michael Port: Sure.

30:54 Ron Tite: But a really good host will establish the groan line by sacrificing themselves. My good friend Steve Patterson is a wonderful comedian and a great host. And I won’t tell the joke because it’s inappropriate for this audience. But, he has this specific joke that he uses that… Things like, “Okay, so they’re either on this side of that joke or of that line, or on the other side of that line.” And you can look in around the green room and kind of go, “Okay.” This is a… They… It’s beyond the groan line, everybody else adjust your material accordingly.

31:26 Michael Port: Yes.

31:27 Ron Tite: But you can do that as a speaker by going in and seeing some of the other speakers to see how the crowd is reacting. You’ll also see whether somebody’s reusing your material ’cause there’s… Or using the same jokes. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve got a great joke to kick off with and somebody else used that two speeches ago.

31:44 Michael Port: Yes. Yeah. No, I’ve seen that in the comedy clubs when somebody comes in late, and they didn’t see the earlier sets. And they’re using material that is on a similar theme.

31:53 Ron Tite: Yup.

31:54 Michael Port: And it often, even if it’s very good because it comes after, it falls flat.

32:00 Ron Tite: Yup. And Jim Gaffigan has a great technique for dealing with that, and speakers can learn a lot from that. Jim Gaffigan’s a very funny comedian, and he has this thing where he, he talks almost as… He takes the voice of the audience. So he’ll say, “Oh, this is the same joke as the last guy.” And then he’ll switch to this voice that goes, “I can’t believe he’s using that joke. Didn’t he come in and see that the other guy used that joke? This guy’s not prepared.” And there he’s literally using the voice that they’re thinking. And it’s a great, great technique of… ‘Cause there’s this rule in comedy, you never ignore the reality.

32:40 Michael Port: Oh! You know something so interesting? I was in California and I brought… We were doing one of our events, and I rented out part of the Laugh Factory for the show and brought all those students there. And Chris Rock’s brother was performing. And interestingly enough none of us knew he was Chris Rock’s brother. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t know if he uses a different name or something, but he was phenomenal. And he did that exact thing with two of the women from our group who were the really loud, cackly voices. He started playing them, and talking about doing like, “Oh can you believe he just said that? What?” And it allowed him to get dirtier and go farther, and it really worked very well.

33:27 Ron Tite: Yeah. It’s never ignoring the reality, ’cause in a…

33:29 Michael Port: Wow, that’s interesting.

33:31 Ron Tite: Yeah. If somebody in a comedy club says, “You suck!” Everybody heard it.

33:38 Michael Port: Yeah.

33:38 Ron Tite: Right? And you’ve got to address it. You’ve got the microphone, it’s your show, you have to address that. And in speaking, no one’s gonna stand up and say, “You suck!” or even be judgemental or critical out loud or rarely. But, you look for something in the room that you can’t ignore. And so if… If the power goes out. You can’t ignore that reality. That’s such a great opportunity for humor. And a lot of times it’s the easiest humor. George Carlin said, “My job as a comedian is to just remind you of the things you forgot to laugh at the first time.”

[laughter]

34:12 Ron Tite: And you’re not creating anything new, you’re just feeding the stuff that they’re thinking right back to them. And so if the power goes out and then it comes back on, you think like, “Hey… ” the first thing I would think of is like, “Where else did you guys scrimp on budget? Is this stage gonna collapse? Or is my microphone gonna cut out?” They’re all thinking it, you have to address it and…

34:35 Michael Port: It’s so interesting do you know? It’s so… I’m seeing so much about humor in the way that your describing it because sometimes you might use certain techniques but you don’t even know you’re doing it?

34:47 Ron Tite: Exactly.

34:48 Michael Port: And then when you have it articulated, do you go, “Oh that’s why it works!”

34:53 Ron Tite: Yup, yup.

34:54 Michael Port: I get it. So for example, I rarely will do this but every once in a while I might have people close their eyes. And I’ll say, “Don’t worry I won’t let anybody touch you.”

[laughter]

35:06 Michael Port: And I realist it’s because I’m thinking what they’re thinking.

35:08 Ron Tite: Yeah, yeah.

35:09 Michael Port: “Oh I don’t… Am I safe? What if this guy next to me, he looked a little creepy.” And then it tends to let their guard but I never really thought about it from that perspective of, “Oh, it’s… I’m being their voice for a second.”

35:22 Ron Tite: Yeah, yeah.

35:23 Michael Port: Huh!

35:23 Ron Tite: Yeah. And when you can… You can either just say it the way you said it or you literally take on their voice. So if… And we all have in business there’s this… The stock characters, right? So if you’re talking about an accountant then you go high nasally voice like, “I can’t believe we’re doing that.”

[laughter]

35:46 Ron Tite: Or if it’s the marketing person then you take on like a “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” kind of like, “Hey man, no, this is gonna be awesome!” And they… Those characters are built in to their corporate culture, into the culture of business. And so, you can add on that layer, becoming the character that you’re mimicking or that you’re presenting.

36:09 Michael Port: One of the reason that “The Office” worked so well, because we’ve seen all those characters, and we relate to that and then, ah it’s so fantastic. So, let’s talk about timing, ’cause timing is everything to a comedian and timing is not just relevant to comedy, timing is the performers trusted ally. Without a real true sense of timing, you’re gonna have hard time delivering punchlines, delivering really important pieces of information, whether it’s something technical or a really important resolution to a story. And, the person who controls the timing owns the room. When I was in grad school. I was in a classroom with six of my friends and there was one guy there who had a really big personality, at that moment he owned the room, he just took it up, and then he sucked all the air out of it, and we were all listening to him, and just at that moment Alec Baldwin walked in the room.

37:17 Michael Port: He happened to be there for a meeting, and I think he had few minutes to spare. So he comes in and he say, “Hey guys, what are you doing?” The whole room… To Alec Baldwin. Now, of course he went, “Hey guys, what are you doing?” In the voice. But then started to talking to us, and he had the timing and the guy who just had the room with the big personality, he tried to get in there with some jokes, they didn’t work, because he didn’t realize, “Oh, It’s not my floor anymore.” So talk to me little about how to understand timing, how to leverage it, what it means…

37:57 Ron Tite: Well, I’ll start just ’cause you mentioned the punchline or the delivery of the punchline. And, on the speaking side, the punchline may not be the punchline of a joke. But the timing is just as important on the delivery of something that’s serious as the timing to deliver something funny. And, you may have a punchline in the keynote, might be, what we may call a tweetable moment, right, it’s a line that’s summarizes your thinking up to that point. So, in one of my talks, I have a line that is “People used to vote with their wallets, now they vote with their time”, and that is the summary of all the discussion that I’ve had leading up to that point. And why I deliver that in that way and it’s a copy written kind of line and it’s on screen, because I know the way punchlines work. Nobody remembers the bit, they only remember the punchline, but what the punchline does…

39:03 Ron Tite: When we hear a punchline, when we see a comedy piece for the very first time, the punchline is the emotional delivery, it creates the emotion in us in how we feel. And when we revisit the punchline, what we do is we recreate the emotions we felt when we heard that for the very first time. So, Eddie Murphy “Delirious” when delivered in 1983 or whenever it came out, you could go around my high school and people would go “Goonie-Goo-Goo”. Right, and you’d know and you’d be taken back to that emotional moment of when you heard that and everything that led up to the delivery of “Goonie-Goo-Goo”, but all you needed to hear was “Goonie-Goo-Goo”, and you were transported back to that time. So, it’s the exact same thing with key strategic insights, where, “Hey when somebody hears ‘people don’t vote with their wallets, they vote with their time’, they go back to that emotional moment of everything that led up to that point. So anyhow, I think the delivery of a punchline or strategic insight, the timing is just important for both of those.

40:08 Michael Port: I was at that concert in…

40:10 Ron Tite: No.

40:11 Michael Port: Yeah. At the Meadowlands in New Jersey. I was at that concert in 1983. I was about 13, which is a little crazy.

40:20 Ron Tite: Okay. If we were in the same room right now, I’d say, “Shut up” and push you out of the room.

[laughter]

40:27 Michael Port: Yeah, yeah. And it was pretty eye opening for such a young adolescent.

40:34 Ron Tite: Yeah. But the delivery… So the timing it means that you… Normally with timing, it’s the beat, and the beat is the pause, and the pause allows the audience to get to the punchline before you do. So, if you say, “You’ve gotta setup to a joke”, and then you give a beat, half the room will already understand the line. They know what’s coming, and they’re laughing on the inside. And when you deliver it, it’s almost twice the joy. So, you’re allowing them to get there and then you’re meeting them there. And, it’s a performance skill of like when do you deliver the punchline, and it usually revolves around the beats of silences, there in between the setup and the punchline. And people…

41:41 Michael Port: It takes a lot of… I’m sorry. It takes a lot of confidence.

41:44 Ron Tite: It takes a lot of confidence, because people aren’t comfortable with silence. And so, what I do to myself, if I feel like, I don’t know if the room is here yet. Internally I will say to myself, “Wait for it, wait for it”, and then deliver the punchline. And so it’s a trick to internalize how you work in the beats into your material. And those, again 10,000 hours, when you deliver a certain bit in a key note speech over and over again, you begin to realize, I mean you get the beats down so precise.

42:21 Michael Port: And you start to milk it.

42:22 Ron Tite: To the millisecond.

42:24 Michael Port: Yeah, and you just drag… See how long can I drag it out today? How long can I wait before I’ve just gone just too far?

42:31 Ron Tite: Yep.

42:32 Michael Port: And it’s exciting, it’s fun, it feels good to do.

42:34 Ron Tite: Yep.

42:35 Michael Port: Let’s talk about timing in different types of environments, because when you’re on a program like this, we’re not in the same room so I can’t see what you’re doing and you can’t see what I’m doing and so the timing is a little different than if we were in the same space. So sometimes if you’re doing an interview and you pause because you’re trying to make a moment, the host thinks you’re done and then they pick up. You’re like, “Ah you just ruined what I was trying to say”, you know, they jump on it. And then when you’re at a dinner party, timing is different there based on the people who are there and everybody’s else’s rhythms and patterns and status, etcetera.

43:21 Michael Port: And then when you’re on a stage timing is different because you control that space, or you’re supposed to control that space, so can we talk a little bit about timing in different environments because I’d love you to maybe help me with this. It seems to me that some people have better timing in different types of environments. So, for example, on stage is where I have my best timing. I don’t know exactly why, but I can feel it, I always have been able to feel it and I’m funnier on stage than I am at a dinner party. I’m not the guy at the dinner party that’s gonna be the life of the party, have everybody rolling in their chairs. I don’t really get the ‘hanging out drinking’ humor. I’m not good at it. My timing’s good with my parents, my timing’s good with my wife, but in different situations it’s not as good. So can you speak to that? Why would you be better in one area naturally, from a timing perspective, and not as good in others?

44:22 Ron Tite: I think if you’re on stage and you’ve got great timing what it probably is, is it’s probably a combination of the intonation in your voice, it’s probably that combined with the body language of how you’re delivering that bit. I remember Jerry Seinfeld giving advice to Louis CK about doing soft seaters, you know, like theatres not bars and what do you do when they applaud. And Jerry told Louis stay in the bit. Like stay, your body language, everything, the expression on your face, stay in the bit and the audience will know, oh you’re still in the bit, you’re not done yet. So we might be laughing or we might be waiting but you’re clearly indicating that there’s more as opposed to dropping the mic and walking in a different direction where it’s like, oh that’s a segue from one bit to another bit. So some people, they’ve mastered the art of the body language, how the body language supports the verbal humor that’s coming out.

45:27 Michael Port: That makes sense, I’m a very physical performer.

45:30 Ron Tite: Yeah, and then the other side is that when you’re, you know… Bill Clinton was a guest on a show that was hosted by Elvis Costello. And Elvis… And they were talking about Clinton as a jazz musician, and Costello said to him, “Is there anything that you learned from your jazz career that really helped you in politics?” And Clinton said, and it’s such a brilliant Clinton line. He said, “Yeah, what I learned was when you’re playing to a million you play like you’re playing to one. And when you play to one you play like you’re playing to a million.”

46:09 Ron Tite: And there’s that… We sometimes think that our persona in front of 500 people is the same in front of two people and vice versa, and some of us are better at more intimate humor where it’s a very close, you know, the beats are more subtle and maybe it’s just a lean in that more is coming. That wouldn’t translate well on stage. And so some people are great, you know, DJ humorists. You know, the radio DJs, there’s a whole type of humor there, that I’m not good at, because I just don’t like going over the top that you kind of have to do that theater of their mind in radio. So, I think you just find the place where you’re really, really good and I’d say focus on that and try and bring the persona to whatever medium you’ve got and master what you’re really, really good at.

47:12 Michael Port: Yeah, it’s so interesting, you know, when you’re on the stage, you don’t have to worry about other people’s timing.

47:21 Ron Tite: No, exactly.

47:22 Michael Port: But that’s why you see… Sometimes you see a brilliant comedian who’ll do a sitcom and they have a hard time with it because their humor doesn’t work as well when there are other people performing in the same space.

47:36 Ron Tite: Other people who are looking for attention.

47:40 Michael Port: Yes.

47:40 Ron Tite: Yeah, they’re trying to win the room just as much as you are.

47:43 Michael Port: I would love to be a fly on the wall when you have 10 comedians sitting around with each other and what that must be like. It must be really…

47:51 Ron Tite: It’s the most depressing night of your life to get 10 comedians in the same room because everybody is a tortured soul, right? And…

48:00 Michael Port: Yeah.

48:02 Ron Tite: You just… It’s just horrible ’cause people just get so bitter, and you just fall into this trap of trying to be more bitter than the other person. And I’ve always said, I’ve had two… Always had two lives. On one side, I was in advertising, creative director. On the other side, I was a comedian. And I never really liked to hang out exclusively with either group, because people just navel gaze and think that what they do is far more important. They try and justify their role in that important industry to all the other people who are there. “I’m so good because I did this” and “I’m gonna be more bitter than you to show that I’m a cooler comic.”

48:42 Michael Port: Yeah.

48:42 Ron Tite: Or “My commercial is better than your commercial.” I kinda like hanging out with regular people. [laughter]

48:51 Michael Port: One of the things that you do so well is balance humor and really important material, information and new ways of seeing things for your audience. And I’d love you to speak to the balance because if my son’s in a Math class and the teacher’s hysterically funny, loves this teacher, everybody loves this teacher, but they don’t learn Math, the teacher is not a great Math teacher. They’re not playing the right role in that situation.

49:34 Ron Tite: Yeah.

49:34 Michael Port: If the public speaker, the professional speaker is hysterical, everybody laughs. They’re just so funny. But they were there to teach say, social media, and they didn’t learn a lot of social media, not a great public speaker because they’re not delivering on the promise to that audience. They’re not playing the right role in that situation. So can you talk about identifying your role as a public speaker, and then making sure that you’re not pushing to try to make it funny and making the focus on that, and understanding what your job is when you’re on that stage?

50:12 Ron Tite: Yeah. I got this insight. I made this leap when I was performing the play, “The Canadian Baby Bonus” at the Edmonton Fringe Festival. It’s the largest Fringe Festival in North America. And there was a line near the end of the play where I say “And so hey, be careful.” And there’s a beat in there, and it’s a callback to something earlier in the show. And it’s a very serious line, and very poignant moment in that play. And I was delivering this… I was performing this play, and I went “So hey… ” And the room was silent, and there was a woman in the front row who went “Uh!” And it was just that… A very subtle little intake of air, just that one little breath, and I thought “Wow, I’ve got her. I’ve got her, and I can take her to wherever I wanna take her to.” And that feeling I got on stage of this woman being moved emotionally to the point that she went “Uh!” was far more powerful than any standing ovation and uproarious laughter I’ve ever got for delivering the funniest line.

51:25 Ron Tite: So that to me… That really forced me to re-look at the material, and what I was getting out of it. And when I moved to the speaking, it was the understanding that one, my job is not to be funny. My job is to be relevant. And so that is not the job. And so if humor makes the material more relevant, then I will use humor. But the job isn’t to make people laugh, it’s to make them think. And the second thing was, and just ’cause you think you’re gonna get… It’s actually way more fun and way more valuable to me as a speaker to get silence in the room, than to get laughter. And I consciously remind myself that, that “You’re not here to be funny. Use the funny to set up the important stuff, and it’ll be way more fulfilling when they get the important stuff.”

52:17 Michael Port: Where can people find out more about you?

52:20 Ron Tite: They can go to rontite.com. They can go to thetitegroup.com for the content marketing agency. And one of the great things about having a seven-letter first name, last name is that Twitter is Ron Tite, Facebook is Ron Tite, LinkedIn is Ron Tite. So it’s just Ron Tite everywhere.

52:37 Michael Port: I think that… I hope everybody who is listening follows you, pays attention to you because I think you are one of the people to watch in this industry. I think folks will learn an enormous amount from you. I think you set the bar very high, and you continue I think to push that bar higher and higher. And that’s one of the things that I love about you. I think you’re just absolutely outstanding. And I am so thankful, so grateful that you’re gonna be joining us at Heroic Public Speaking Live in February. That is a gift to all of us, so thank you in advance for that.

53:14 Ron Tite: Well thanks for those kind words, Michael. I am so looking forward to… I know Scott Stratten, our mutual friend, has had nothing but glorious things to say about Heroic Public Speaking Live. And I cannot wait to be there and meet everybody, and myself to learn from everybody else who’s gonna be there.

53:33 Michael Port: And then the other thing I’d like to say about you, you’re a little bit more… I think… Sometimes I worry that people at the end of these kinds of things, they drop off once they feel like “Oh the content’s done, and now they’re congratulating each other.”

[chuckle]

53:48 Michael Port: But I want people to hear why I think that you are somebody to watch, because I think it teaches us about what a real performer is like and the kind of performers we should emulate and learn from. And the other thing that I think is really neat about you is you, as a comedian, you’ve got a great edge. But as a person, you’re a performer, not a critic. And I see you as somebody who embraces the different work around them, and doesn’t spend a lot of time putting people down. And I think that that’s admirable. It should be par for the course. I don’t think it is. And I think it’s very hard to be a performer if you’re a critic.

54:38 Ron Tite: It is incredibly hard, because you’re a one trick pony. It is a challenge, I’ll say, if we have time.

54:46 Michael Port: Yeah.

54:46 Ron Tite: It is a challenge, because… If I comment on advertising, my general rule of thumb is, if I really love the work, I will congratulate the agency and the client for doing it in the social space.

55:00 Michael Port: Yeah.

55:01 Ron Tite: If I don’t like the work, I kind of just say, “I don’t know that I like the work,” or, “I’ve seen better,” or whatever, right? And it’s that balance between professional courtesy, and not simply criticizing stuff… And being what, whether we like the term… A thought leader. And a thought leader has to have a perspective on stuff. And we do have to force ourselves to balance to go, “Hey, it’s okay to,” not criticize… But to comment, and to look, and to give feedback. But to do so, one, with an understanding that none of us hit 10 out of 10 every single time…

55:37 Michael Port: Yeah.

55:37 Ron Tite: And balance it with the congratulations, when people hit it out of the park, be the biggest cheerleader on the sidelines, saying, “Good for them. This is amazing. You gotta check this out.”

55:48 Michael Port: One of the things that I encourage folks to do is look back at their Facebook page for the last six months, or a year, and do an assessment. Mark down on… Do a column on the left side, and a column on the right side. On the left side, put “critical.” On the right side, put “positive.”

56:04 Ron Tite: Yeah.

56:05 Michael Port: And then, read their posts, their comments on other people’s posts… And just make a little check “Oh, that was critical, I put something down, or put somebody down. Oh, that was positive.” And see how those lists grow over months and years. And if that list of critical is much longer than the list of positive, there’s an opportunity to go in a different direction.

56:26 Ron Tite: Yeah. It’s like, [chuckle] that horrible realization when you realize you’re a negative Nancy.

56:30 Michael Port: Yeah, right. Like, what happened? ‘Cause it sneaks up on you over time.

56:34 Ron Tite: Yeah.

56:35 Michael Port: Yeah, cool. Hey, listen, man, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate you. And everybody, keep thinking big about who you are, and what you offer the world. Subscribe, rate, review, all the things that people ask you to do when you do podcasts. And if you haven’t yet checked out the Heroic Public Speaking Live event, it’s at heroicpublicspeaking.com/live. Until next time, this is Michael Port.