Robert Orben wrote speeches for President Ford and jokes for Jack Paar, Red Skelton and Dick Gregory when those comedians were at the top of their games.
Now he advises business people, entertainers and politicians on inserting humor into their talks. He’s often told, “I enjoy a joke, but I can’t tell one.” His response: Anybody can.
Although some of his material sounds a tad dated, here are a few situations in which you can still use his gems:
- On acknowledging a gag gift or award: “All of my life I’ve wanted something like this—which gives you some idea what kind of a life I’ve had.”
- On winning an honor or award: “I’m kind of embarrassed getting this honor because I really am a very modest person. An extremely modest person. A tremendously talented and wonderfully deserving modest person.”
- On dealing with hecklers: “Please, you’re trying to confuse me and I think you’re too late.”
- Toward the end of a long meeting: “Sometimes I get the feeling that the two biggest problems in America today are making ends meet—and making meetings end.”
- With a noisy audience: “Could we have a little quiet in the back, please? There are people up here trying to sleep.”
- If you get a thorny question: “Sir, that’s what I call a pothole question: deep, dangerous and I’d rather not get into it.”
- If you get no questions: “Are there any questions? … Are there any answers? … Are there any survivors?”
—Adapted from The Speechwriter’s Handbook of Humor, Robert Orben, Marion Street Press.