The Skill of Humor: Andrew Tarvin at TEDxTAMU (Transcript)

Andrew Tarvin – Humor Engineer (TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT)

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?”

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.”

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.”

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 & 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.

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But when people hear what it is that I do, they are a little bit skeptical, 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?” 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 and this stuff and on and on and on… And it’s all backed by research case studies and real-world examples.

And these are some impressive benefits, right? Humor can help you to look better, live longer and make it rain, right?

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.”

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I was like ”But you live with lions!” As if telling a joke is somehow scarier than living with lions.

But so many people have this perception as if the ability to make people laugh is somehow encoded in our DNA.

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.

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.

And I’ve been seen on The Daily Show with John Stewart, in the audience. 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. There’s a lot that’s funny about this picture; none of it is intentional.

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 — in this picture.

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