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Two years ago today, my TEDx talk on the skill of humor was uploaded to the TEDx YouTube Channel. To say it has changed my life is both an exaggeration and an understatement. It’s an exaggeration because regardless of how it was received, I would have continued on my mission to make the world funnier so that it may be effective-r. And it’s an understatement because I could not have predicted what would happen once the video went live.

To celebrate the two year anniversary, I decided to take a look at why humor is an idea worth spreading through the lens of what’s happened with the video. I already believed humor had the ability to create change, that’s why I gave the talk and what we’ve been working on for the last ten years at Humor That Works, but I wanted to look at the impact the TEDx talk has had, not on me, but on other people around the world. (To see a personal look at the experience, you can see last year’s post on The Process of Giving a TEDx Talk.)

The YouTube Video

The easiest place to start is with the YouTube video itself. After all, that’s where the viewing happens (unless you’re big into pirating already free TEDx videos). As of the writing of these words (June 12, 2019), the video has 4,702,914 views, 89,637 likes, 2,351 dislikes, and 2,256 comments.

For a little context, 136,389 talks have been uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel, with the skill of humor currently being the 76th most viewed talk (top 0.6%). But that comes with an important caveat: some TEDx talks are also elevated to the TED brand.

For example, Thomas Suarez’s talk on app development has 3 million views on the TEDx YouTube Channel, good for #134. But his talk is also on the TED YouTube Channel with 6.8 million views and the TED website with another 9 million, so the TEDx channel ranking comes with a grain of salt. Still, 4.7 million views suggests that perhaps there’s something to the idea of humor.

I also think it’s fair to say that the talk has been well-received. The percentage of likes (89,637) to dislikes (2,351) is at 97.44%, comparable to the top five talks on TEDx. The percentage of likes compared to the overall number of views is also the highest (1.91%) among the most viewed.

Top TEDx Videos

That same table shows that the engagement on the skill of humor–in this case the number of comments compared to the number of views–is also pretty solid and is on-par with the top five as well (0.05%). If we believe these other talks to be worth sharing, numerically the skill of humor belongs there as well.

Of course, if an idea is worth spreading, it should actually be spread to others. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the YouTube analytics for the talk so I can’t give exact numbers, but some Google searching shows that the video has indeed been shared. It has been embedded on a number of websites (including the World Economic Forum), discussed on podcasts, included in lists of TEDx talks to watch, and posted on most forms of social media, including nearly 5,000 shares on Facebook:

number of facebook shares

This suggests the idea has spread, though I am still waiting for it to get popular on MySpace and Google+ to confirm its legitimacy.

The YouTube Comments

While views are a great metric to follow (and fantastic for the ego), they don’t tell the whole story. Another interesting place to explore is the YouTube comments. People are often wary of exploring the depths of YouTube comments as they can be a harrowing place, but I’ve found most of the comments on the talk encouraging, enlightening, and/or hilarious.

The comments range from positive compliments about the talk to utter disbelief that so many people could possibly enjoy this “unfunny, waste of time.” There’s also a subset of comments dedicated to additional celebrities I’m similar to (including Neil Patrick Harris, Chandler Bing, and SpongeBob SquarePants).

Of the 2,256 comments, the most popular one (by likes) is:

The mark of something funny on the internet

A true compliment in the days of internet to be sure. The most popular comment (by replies) is:

Isosceles Triangle pickup line

Not to be outdone, a number of the replies are additional math pickup lines, including this great combo of math puns:

Math replies

Of the positive comments, there are people praising the talk and sharing how it’s helped them broaden their perspective:

Phenomenal speech

There are those who said it spoke to them:

Straight up love this

Side note: I’m not sure even my mom would watch the talk five times on repeat, so I appreciate the support Raul.

And there were others who were very enthusiastic (i.e. ALL CAPS) in their praise:

Video is genius

The neutral comments consists of quotes from the talk:

Human Error Messages Quote

Lots of love for my grandma (and rightfully so):

Grandmother is savage

And some pretty hilarious digs at me:

You can hear the nerd in his voice
Forehead is so big it has its own sense of humor

And my personal favorite:

I would pay to hear how this guy sounds on helium.

The negative comments are mostly about how unfunny I am:

Staged and Forced

Though luckily I do have some supporters defending me:

I thought he was pretty okay

Thank you for the backup, Jack ;).

In fact, you can see a parallel between some of the positive comments and some of the negative:

Positive and Negative Comments

Going through the comments helped me realize something important: my ego wants to be liked by everyone, to be heralded as a hilarious person by all humans, get elevated to TED.com, and maybe even have a Netflix humor special someday. While the last two desires are tangible goals that may one day come true, the first two are impossible.

By looking at the comments on what, by many metrics, is a “successful” talk, I realized my goal is not to please everyone because I can’t. If you have an idea worth spreading, some people are going to be against it, or going to be against your way of doing it, no matter what you say or do.

Instead, my goal is to provide value to the people who resonate with my message. Every ounce of energy I devote to the haters is an ounce of energy I could have been using to serve the believers (even the ones that think I’m just pretty okay).

The Direct Messages

All of the stats above speak to a quantified look at why the skill of humor is an idea worth spreading, or rather, how it has spread. But the biggest indicator that humor is worth spreading comes from the messages I’ve received since the talk came out–the emails, DMs, and in-person conversations I’ve had with folks who felt compelled to reach out because of a 19-minute video on the internet.

That people would take the time to seek me out, write a message, and hit send, is incredibly humbling to me. I’ve never watched a video on YouTube and then taken the time to contact the person who created it (though I am going to start). The willingness to reach out speaks to their willingness to express gratitude, the impact of the talk, or more likely, a combination of the two.

Over the last two years, I’ve received 256 messages via email and social media that directly quote the TEDx talk as their reason for reaching out. That’s just 0.005% of the number of views the talk has received, but it is an average of more than one message every three days.

And the messages have come from all range of services:

Messages from all forms of media.

I’ve yet to receive a shout out via messenger pigeon or smoke signal, but I am holding out hope.

And they’ve come from all over the world, representing 44 countries, 28 states, and six continents (what’s going on Antarctica?!?):

Messages from all over the world

The fact that messages have come from around the globe speaks to the fact that humor is a universal value, something that isn’t specific to one region or type of person, but rather is a fundamental human experience. And that we live in a cool time where the world is more connected.

A majority (58%) of the 200+ messages were just quick shout outs and thank yous to say how they enjoyed the talk:

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

How they needed some good humor:

You put a smile on my face for 19 minutes straight

Or how it’s prompted more humor:

Some of the messages were words of encouragement for my self-proclaimed nerdery:

Go on wichyo nerdy self

And offers to partake in nerdy activities:

Are you interested in joining our D&D session?

The answer is yes, I’m always down for D&D (unless it’s Season 8 of Game of Thrones).

The Events

There were two other types of messages that further suggest there is value in spreading the idea of humor. The first were inquiries about my work, including one from a surprising source:

Your TEDx talk was fantastic and I feel FBI employees could really benefit from hearing from you.

39 of the 256 messages I received were like the one above, asking me to come speak to an organization. Another 12 were to be on a podcast. I really enjoy seeing these types of messages because I’m passionate about what I do and love any opportunity to talk about the value of humor in our work and lives.

But moreso (or maybe equally so), requesting a talk or interview is direct evidence that the idea is worth spreading because it’s literally asking me to spread the message. It means that event organizers and podcast hosts saw the talk and thought, “I want my audience to hear this message.”

Those 39 inquiries have led to 18 events in three countries, plus four more coming up within the next year and four more that are still being discussed. It’s resulted in me sharing the message of humor in front of ~5,000 people live.

It’s also generated 12 appearances on podcasts ranging in topic from sales to training to work-life balance. If you add in an estimated number of listens from podcasts I was a guest on, along with the views from videos that were posted from the aforementioned events, my best guess for total people impacted from extensions of the TEDx talk is ~50,000. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 4.7 million views on the talk itself, but evidence that the idea is spreading.

But there is one last type of message I want to explore further, one that truly speaks to what has happened since the video went live.

The Impact

Everything written above has been fun to explore. Doing a deep dive into the statistics of the YouTube video, exploring the comments, analyzing the messages, and thinking about the additional events the talk has led to all touch on the value of humor (and is perhaps a tiny bit vain).

But the greatest indicator that the skill of humor is an idea worth spreading comes from one last category of messages I’ve received.

I was watching your TED talk and I have never been more inspired about comedy than today. I went to your website as soon as I finished watching the video. Thank you for inspiring the uninspired.

They are the messages from people talking about how they’ve been inspired by the talk. Or how they’re going to make a change:

I've just watched your TED video by chance and I had to tell you that it made my day. I've been taken life too seriously lately and your speech is going to make a difference starting tomorrow. You have no idea how much you helped me

I’ve received notes about how it’s provided them encouragement:

just watched your skill of humor video on youtube and just wanted to tell you how genuinely enlightening it was.

And that it’s given them inspiration:

Deeply resonated and inspired by your Ted talk.

Or motivation:

Anyway I just wanted to say your TedTalk set it off for me this year. And it’s the reason I bought your audiobook. It is very inspiring and I have added your tips to a passion project I am working on to make a Behavior Design game.

For others, they felt a sense of validation:

Andrew - I watched your TedX talk and really enjoyed it - found it really validating, in fact. Just thought you might like to connect with an INFP... or a socially-anxious clown, if you will ;)

Or that it helped them in some way:

Hey, I know you're probably pretty busy so sorry if I'm bothering you, but I just wanted to say thank you.

Side Note: It is never a bother to hear from someone who reaches out; I respond to every single one of these messages.

To hear from people how you have positively impacted them is one of the greatest gifts you can receive. It puts into perspective why you do what you do and justifies the (metaphorical) blood, (figurative) sweat, and (occasionally literal) tears that go into it. But people don’t send these messages because of me, they send them because of the idea, the value and power of humor that is so desperately needed, and too often forgotten, in today’s world.

Perhaps the best articulation of this comes from an email I received from a former coaching client after the talk came out:

After watching your Ted Talk I realized a large part of why I am enjoying myself and my work so much is because my team and I laugh almost literally all day long. We are a small team that gets along so well and we love to laugh! My plan is never to leave :)

So many people assume that work has to feel like “work.” That it’s something you have to do just to survive. But what if, by using the skill of humor, we could enjoy not just our work but all parts of our lives a little bit more. What if we could better connect with the humans around us and better manage the ups and downs of daily life? What if we could all be a little funnier and have a lot more fun? To me, and quite a few others, that is an idea worth spreading.

If you haven’t watched the talk yet, you can do that here: the skill of humor. If you want to learn more about humor, check our site at Humor That Works or pick up the Humor That Works Book.

8th Floor Improv

The day started like any other day of my sophomore year at The Ohio State University. I woke up at 10am after hitting the snooze button 2 or 300 times, went to my engineering classes after eating a champion’s breakfast of S’mores Pop Tarts and Dr. Pepper, and then went to study for my major at the time: Halo (the videogame, not the yet-to-be-released Beyonce song or the hat angels wear).

As we entered our third or fourth 3-hour game of Capture The Flag against opponents down the hall, my best friend, Nate (and incidentally the only person that could consistently beat me at Halo), said something that would change my life.  Of course I didn’t know this at the time, it just seemed like something to talk about while we beat the pants off Nate’s residents (did I mention we were both Resident Advisors?).

Nate was (and still is, but we’ll keep things in the past tense for the sake of continuity) a stark contrast to me, and that’s probably why we’ve gotten along so well since we first met in the seventh grade back in Cincinnati. He was a Psychology major, I was a Computer Science & Engineering major with a minor in Business. I took four years to finish a typical five year program, he took five years to finish a typical four year program. He was naturally charismatic and when he spoke, he got people’s attention. I was naturally awkward and when I spoke, I got pained looks from the people listening. I was white, he was black.

But the biggest contrast was that he usually said the funny things, I usually said the smart things. He’d make people laugh, I’d make people think. Of course there were times where one of us would occasionally steal the other person’s thunder; I was occasionally funny and he was occasionally brilliant.

On this day, he was occasionally brilliant.

With the score 2-0 in favor of the good guys, we were resting pretty easily as we continued to “lay the smack down” on the freshmen down the hall. The four of us in the room (two other friends, Chris and Moran, whose lives also changed that day and the other 2 people on our 4-person team), were joking around as we normally did. Chris and Moran were opposites just as Nate and I were. Chris was a large, brooding white man. Moran was a skinny, hilarious black man. Moran could talk his way out of just about any situation even if he had no idea what he was talking about. Chris could barely talk his way into any situation, even if he knew exactly what he was talking about. Chris was an incredibly intelligent person trapped in an awkward socializer’s body. Moran was a incredibly funny person existing in a ball of fun.

With a click of Moran’s trigger and a toss of Chris’s grenade, we won the game. Moran sniped any defense the other team put up and Chris flipped the jeep foolishly trying to escape with our flag, and I escorted Nate and the other team’s flag back to our base for the final point.  We celebrated, we laughed, we mocked our inferior opponents (in a sportmanslike, definitely-appropriate-for-being-their-RA’s manner.

And then it came. As the laughter died down and the four of us sat in the tiny dorm room given to RA’s, narrow enough to touch both walls at the same time, Nate said the
words that would change our lives.

“We should start our own improv group.”

Disappointed? Surprised? Expecting something profound and quote-worthy? The sentence itself was nothing profound but the concept, and what would happen as a result, was.

Prior to this sentence, I was on a path to computer stardom.  Until this point, I had never done anything theater related and was always the nerd in school. I graduated in the top 1% of my high school class, got a full scholarship to attend Ohio State and was working towards those engineering and business degrees so I could become the next Bill Gates (or at least an entrepreneur or corporate executive working in the tech field). That sentenced changed that, but like I said, we had no idea at the time. We had no clue what we were getting into, we just said, “Yes.”

To fill in some much needed detail, Nate had done some theater work back in high school, and as part of his classes, he did improvisation–exercises based on making things up in the moment. At Ohio State, he found a college group that did improv shows. He joined the already hilarious cast and had some very funny shows with the group.

Our sophomore year, Chris and I auditioned for the group. Chris got in based on his far too vast referential knowledge, and I did not (I do want to point that I was invited to callbacks but had to miss due to my responsibilities as an RA, and that’s the reason I didn’t make it. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself).

While Nate and Chris enjoyed performing in the group, they realized something was lacking, something could be better. The group, funny as they were, only met a few times a month and only averaged a show once a quarter. What was missing was more–more practice, more performances, more time doing this thing called improv.

Nate came up with the idea that we could start our own improv group. We, with the collective experience of about one year of improv (Nate’s year plus a quarter’s worth from Chris; Moran and I had no improv experience), decided that day to say “Yes.”  We summoned the help of two other friends (neither with improv experience) and started practicing in the basement of the residence hall where I was an RA.

Two and a half years and countless hours of unguided practices and some good and some not-so-good shows later, the group was celebrating their 50th Show in front of a 200+ person crowd at a theater off-campus. The original founders graduated and left the group in the hands of the very capable members left in the group. Each year new members come in as old members graduate, and The 8th Floor Improv Comedy Group still exists today, performing sold-out shows every month. They’ve been featured on-screen in-front of the 100,000 fans at Ohio Stadium during Buckeye games and perform to thousands of incoming freshmen at orientation.

As for us, Nate moved on to Chicago where he took classes at iO and Second City and is now a house player at iO and working in various shows at Second City. Chris stayed
in Columbus, started his own graphic design company and continues to improvise throughout the city. Moran moved to Chicago, is engaged with a child (he’s not engaged to a child, he’s an engaged to a wonderful woman and has a child) and taking improv classes when his family-life allows.

And me, I’m living in NYC working for a Fortune 20 Company as a Project Manager and self-proclaimed Corporate Humorist. I’m taking classes at The Magnet and Upright Citizens Brigade performing improv and stand-up across the city, and blogging/consulting/training on humor through my company, Humor That Works.

And all of it is a result of a simple, non-poetic, sentence from a best friend my sophomore year of college.

“We should start our own improv group.”

5 of the 6 founders, 2007. L->R Moran, Chris, Nate, Damon, Drew

I wanted to try to be like some of those topical comedians that make jokes about current events and stuff.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find any newspapers, but I did find my old high school history book.  So here goes some topical humor:

  • You hear about this Van Gogh guy?  He cut off part of his ear because he was scared his friend was going to stop hanging out with him.  Yeah, that would keep me around–I think he took “lend me your ear” a little too literally.
  • This Abraham Lincoln character seems kind of shady.  I heard he’s lost a few other elections, what makes him think he can become President of the United States?  I also heard he’s a fan of theater, I wonder how that will play out for him.
  • These Pilgrim people seem like interesting guests.  It’s nice to have company over, but I hope they don’t stay long.  I also find it weird that they left a place called Plymouth because they were unhappy, only to call the place they landed Plymouth.  That’d be like naming one of my children “Smallpox.”
  • Hannibal seems to be tearing through the country–on elephants of all animals. Elephants actually make great war transportation; not only do they carry a lot of weapons, and always remember where they are, they work for peanuts too.
  • This Mozart guy is making some pretty good music. And I just found out he’s deaf. How does that make sense? That’s like if Michaelangelo were blind or if Plato had no brain. Speaking of Michaelangelo, I think that guy is going to be pretty famous. I see nunchucks and the color orange in his future.
  • Isaac Newton got hit on the head with an apple the other day. He started blabbing about something called gravity or something. Whatever Newtie, you got hit on the head. I stayed out in the sun too long today and you don’t see me making up something like too much direct sun exposure causes uncontrolled cell division.

Below is an excerpt from the eBook I wrote for the Humor That Works site, available soon by signing up for the HTW Newsletter.

Excerpt:

A Personal Story

When I first started performing improv and stand-up years ago, I never knew it would turn into such a huge passion of mine. In fact, it’s rather atypical for a person like me to even be interested in comedy and humor. I’m a computer science and engineering major. Not only do I have the methodical nature of an engineer, but I also have the introverted tendencies of a computer nerd as well.

In actuality, it was both of those traits that helped me realize just how powerful humor is. My education in computer science taught me the value of re-using things that work (object-oriented programming anyone?). My work as an engineer has trained me to look for the most effective and efficient way to get things done.

As it turns out, humor is 1) re-usable and 2) effective and efficient. It’s re-usable in the sense that humor can work in any number of situations. It can bring people together over a silly joke, ease the tension after a stressful situation with a pithy observation, or even burn calories through laughter. It’s effective and efficient as it demonstrates understanding, confidence, and gets people on your side. What’s amazing is that humor even works in the more subjective areas of work and life, such as leadership or relationships.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The point is that I started learning that humor can be a huge component of success. And while I started seeing this from my own experiences, I wanted proof I wasn’t just crazy. Not because I didn’t believe my own experiences or think I might be insane, but because I wanted to prove that I was right.

I ended up being righter than I could imagine. And that’s the point of this eBook, to show you how right I am, to share with you what I’ve learned about the use of humor, both at work and in life.

Below are 15 ways that humor will improve your work and life, backed not just by my own experience but by various studies and smart people. Once you’re convinced of the power of humor, head to the Humor That Works site to find out how to start using humor today.

Let’s get started.

I had to write a hand-written note the other day, and it reminded me of how much it really sucks when you can’t use the delete ckey to fix all of your mistakes/  So i nthe …. So to give a shout out back to the days of yore, I’ve dcecided that I’m not going to tuse the delete key while writing this post.

HOpefully everything will still remain readable, and that I don’t drag on for too long (as I won’t be dediting it back down.).

Ive heard that you;re sopposed to be able to judge how much self esteem wone ahs by analyzing their ahandwriting.  For example… The idea is that the bigger the person’s handwriting, the bigger their self eesteem (maybe because it’s realyted to people with smlow self esteem thin k people won’t read their writing if it ‘s small?).  Well if that’s the case, then I have less self–esteem thatn pre0buscent te/boy with acne.

My handwriting is about the equivalent of a 6 point font a computer (yes I’m a geek and that’s how I’m doing my comparison), but not rnearly as neat.  I’ve never really thought about it being because I have low self eseteem, I( think I’m pretty awesome), it’s more about effieciecy.

You see I’m an engieener by trade, and so it seems more efficeient to write smaller.  You have less workd to do (the words/letters/linest hat make up those wletters are smaller) and it also takes up liess space.  I remember back in college comparing notes with people, and where they’d have 30 pages of notes on a given topic, I’d have 2 1/2.  Granted part of that may have been linked to sleeping in class, but the bigger part was that I just wronte smaller, and used the space more effectively/

I guess you might say the old saying for me should go (“the pen is mighteir than the dagger..”.).  I’d fventure to say that the othe r part of it was that in elemarntary school, people would always comment that my handiwiriting was small.

As a result, I’d be sure to continue writing small, and in fact probably tried to swrite smaller,  just because of the attention it received.

I imagine that ctually happens a liot.  It’s like some type of odd reward (or stroke if you follw transactinal/game theory).  You do something weird/different, you get a reaction or attention, so you do it more often, and often more extreme (you like that sentence, I idi fo r some reason).

That’s probbly why people get multiple peircings, tatoors, or why Rosie Odonnell is becomeing more and more of a  “not nice eperson “…

But I’d better stop before I hurt some people’s brain with my terrible typing.  At firtst cglance, it seppears that my brain is thinking way to fast for my hands to type (I put in letters that belong at the end of a word at the begginning) and that I also might very well be dyslexic.

And not e that I was typign at my normalspeed, not trying to slow down just to be more accurate, or speed up fto be less.  This is about how much editing I need to do for a normal bpost (unless the fact that I’m seeing all my errors is making me type wrose, then it might be alitt le off.).

Mayboe I should consider a tpying course: “The big red doc jimped over the silver moon” or something like that.