One of the most common questions funny people get is, “how do you ever come up with that stuff?”
As a professional humorist (as opposed to an amateur humorist or even an unprofessional humorist), I can tell you that there is a formula for seeing the world as a comedian does. It’s called Congruent Incongruence and it simply means seeing both connections and disconnections at the same time.
For instance, at a recent all-staff meeting for a local healthcare organization, the executive director recognized all of the people who “had not worked there for a year yet.” I asked if she was referring to people who had been there less than a year or people who had been there a long time but who haven’t done all that much work. It got a laugh from the executive director and the staff.
The connection in this example was the concept of “not working” while the disconnect was whether she meant working there or working at all! The humor comes from the “at all” comment.
So the key to humor is seeing the duality of the connected disconnectedness. We see it frequently in common phrases such as “jumbo shrimp” or “pretty ugly” or “found missing.” These ideas are opposites and yet joined together in concept.
But how can you find examples of congruent incongruence in your day-to-day life? It comes from paying attention and constantly asking yourself, “What might be funny about this? What’s weird about this? What’s silly about this?”
Comedian and speaker Judy Carter, in her book The Comedy Bible, says to ask yourself what’s weird, scary, hard or stupid about something. By doing that, you see any given situation from another perspective.
I call it the “dog whistle approach.” When a dog hears the high pitch of a dog whistle, it will usually tilt its head to the side. We can do the same thing. We tilt our perspective to the side, so to speak, and in doing so, we see the situation differently.
So, if you see an ad in the newspaper like the one here that says, “Kids and Seniors Sale,” you might first wonder, “why would they be selling kids and seniors?” Then, you might ask yourself why the seniors cost more – especially since they don’t last as long.
This was an ad for airline tickets, as indicated in small print at the bottom, but the humor comes from both the disconnect of thinking they are selling kids and seniors and that the seniors cost more. See how this works? If not, perhaps you should just put this blog down and slowly walk away.
Now, how does congruent incongruence help us to Do it Well and Make it Fun?
First, it helps us manage stress. Life is a lot less stressful if we can regularly see the humor around us by noticing the simultaneous connections and disconnections. For instance, I once saw a very ugly plaid suitcase at an airport but noticed that the owner had tied a rainbow strap to it so you could distinguish it among the other luggage. Really? I’m not sure that was necessary.
Second, the act of simultaneously seeing connections and disconnections can lead us to more creativity and problem solving. Cognitively, humor engages a similar process to creative thinking so seeing more humor can also lead to greater creativity. The more creative we are, the more options we have in life and work.
Third, it’s just more fun when we can balance our day with a little bit of humor. At the beach last week, we saw a woman floating in the ocean, on an inner tube, while reading a book. Just behind her, was a school of fish. Someone commented that it was ironic that she was using the ocean as a library right next to a school of fish. It’s a stretch, I know, but it does illustrate the mechanics of congruent incongruence.
Seeing connections amidst disconnections is a foundation for humor. And since humor is an essential part of the Do it Well, Make it Fun philosophy, congruent incongruence can help us achieve a well-fun experience.