PSU Insight

Speak with Power and Passion

Types of Humor

Exploring a list of the various types of humor won't make you funny. However, it might jog your creative thinking a bit, and creativity is the soul of humor. So consider the different types of humor listed here, and think about how you can use them to improve your presentations.

Joke — an obviously untrue story with a surprising ending. Disadvantage: the joke loses its effectiveness if your audience has heard it before; and the better the joke, the more likely they’ve heard it (or even worse, read it on the Internet).

Quip — demonstrates strong wit by speaker, and ability to develop humor ‘on the spot’. To be successful, quips must be appropriate and appear to be spontaneous.

“Inside” joke — a joke which depends on specific knowledge for its humor. Advantage: helps you to bond with your audience. Disadvantage: any audience members who do not have the specific knowledge won’t understand the joke, and will possibly resent it (and you) for excluding them.

Anecdote — a credible story with humorous aspects, or humorously presented. One of the strongest forms of humor for the public speaker.

Puns — people either hate them or love them. Appropriately used, they can be very punny.

Insults and wisecracks — unless your audience knows without a doubt that you don’t mean it, it’s best to avoid insulting your audience members, even humorously.

Self-deprecating remarks — possibly the “safest” form of humor, it lessens the likelihood that you’ll offend someone when you direct put-downs toward yourself. Warning: your audience must not believe that you believe the remarks to be true; if they do, you’ll receive pity, not laughter.

Parody and spoofs — only successful if your ‘target’ is largely immune to your barbs. In other words, in a David-vs-Goliath situation, make sure you’re the underdog.

Visual humor — humorous actions (hand gestures, facial expressions, etc.) force the audience to look at you. Disadvantage: people in your audience who are sight-impaired won't be able to appreciate visual humor.

Ethnic humor — to be successful, your audience must realize that you mean no offense to the ‘target’ group. Very risky.

Topical humor — makes for a very powerful presentation. Humorous reviews of current events shows your audience that you’re not giving them a “canned” speech. As with other types of humor, be sure that your audience appreciates the humor in your remarks.

Offensive humor — even if your humor doesn’t offend your current audience, you probably want to avoid humor which is obviously offensive to other people. People talk, presentations are recorded, etc. You don’t want your words to “come back and haunt you” later.