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Almost all of us have been there. Sitting, listening to a speaker or a debater, laughing blissfully. At that moment, the speaker has the audience practically in his or her palm. Later, we will try those same tactics we heard, only to be greeted with awkward moments. The Joke fell flat. Debaters start bemoaning themselves and any apparent lack of wit. “But I am not naturally funny, or quick-witted” Is a comment I hear a lot. Or even “ I just can’t think like that, or I don’t know what to say to make people laugh” Sound familiar?

Some debate coaches have taught a rule called the “Two Laugh Rule” which means, if the speaker can get your judges to visibly laugh twice in a single round, they will win every time. I cannot comment on whether that is factually true or not, but the sentiment is very accurate. Judges vote for debaters who break the norm and persuade them, rather than just going down the flow and responding (though they are not mutually exclusive).

Well, after you read this, you will have no more excuses

Want the short answer? Prep all of your jokes before the debate round, and plan when to use them.

First, here is why humor is important, and second, we will examine WHY I just told you to prep and write canned jokes.

Humor does several important things in a debate that NO other technique can even touch.

    • First, it breaks the wall between judge and debater. The judge (or audience) will always root and vote for the person they feel most at ease with. Humor helps your audience relax.
    • It endears the speaker to any judge or audience that might be biased or hostile. You can’t disagree with a speaker who has you clutching your sides laughing, or even chuckling.  
  • It takes control of the room. The moment after a laugh, or a joke, is when the audience is listening intently! Why? Because their brains want to hear another joke, so they are intently listening. Save your most important pieces of info right on the tail end of a joke.

Now, if you are not a naturally gifted comedian or quick-witted personality, why should you spend time writing, copy/pasting, or researching funny jokes to include in your speeches?

    • The judge and the audience cannot tell the difference. To them, humor is humor. They don’t know you labored over the joke for an hour, crafting the comedic pause and the punchline. Every debate round, you have a different judge and a different audience.
    • This means you can use a lot of the same jokes twice. Your judges and audience don’t know you used the joke last round. I would prep jokes in my 1AC, as a foolproof way to get a laugh every single round.
  • Prepping canned jokes will start to help you understand what is required to create a funny moment. A funny moment doesn’t need to be a full hearty guffaw, but it can be a slight chuckle or a moment when the judge smirks.

So without further ado – Here are some ways you can become FUNNY in a debate.

  1. The canned analogy joke: A joke you prepared earlier, that usually caters to your audience’s habits
      • EX. This policy is like Harry Reid’s term in the Senate. It needs to end now.
      • EX. If Bernie Sanders could win an election, he’d implement your policy.
    • EX. I’d love to help the negative out. Could someone show me which way they came in? (don’t jab the opposition team unless it’s meaningless, and you guys are good friends).
  2. The Qualified Joke: using a Ph.D. to back your humorous position.
    • EX. My opponents said our advantages probably won’t happen. Well according to Dr. John Smith, even a dart throwing monkey is right 25% of the time, so you should still vote for us.
    • EX. Experts say that 95% of the stats you read on the internet are fake
  3. The List Twist; Making a humorous moment out of a usually mundane one. When you are listing potential outcomes, probabilities, or aspects of any subject, give one unexpected one at the end.
    • EX. This plan will increase taxes, hurt the economy, and has as much chance of success as Hillary Clinton had of winning Wisconsin.
  4. Funny impacts: finding a humorous way to tell the judge what the opposing team’s plan will accomplish. 
      • EX. So your team’s plan will stop global cooling?
      • Yes
    • Besides increasing air condition costs for Inuits, what else will that do?
  5. The Recovery: did a joke fall flat? Joke about it.
      • EX. *no one laughs at your joke* Welp, my grandma laughed super hard at that one, sorry guys.
    • EX. *no one laughs at your joke* Yeah so my partner thought that joke was hilarious.
  6.  Unexpected Moments: use a time no one expects humor to crack a smile. In debate rounds, this is usually during Cross-Ex.
    • EX. I really just have one important question for you today.
    • Ok.
    • Are you a MacBook or a PC person?
    • Uhhhh *chuckles*
  7. Puns: utilize your subject matter to joke with rhyming or related words.
    • EX. *during a round about marine natural resources* So today we are going to just jump right into the deep end and address this whale of a case.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of humor, and to be honest, these aren’t even the best tactics! To learn the best ones, you’ll have to sign up for Ethos coaching (gotcha!). Remeber, that in all of this, the size of the audience also matters. Smaller rooms, with fewer people, aren’t likely to roll on the floor laughing. Larger rounds with lots of people are more prone to catching fits of laughter, in a sort of Placebo Effect (in larger audiences, people laugh, not because things are funny, but because they think it should be funny, or they think others think its funny). Utilize both these settings to your advantage. In a smaller setting, you can look your judge in the eye, and be a bit more personal.

Keep Learning!

Here is another good Ethos article on humor!


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