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“Humor has always played an important role in argument, sometimes as the sugar that makes the medicine go down. You can slip humor into an argument to put readers at ease, thereby making them more open to a proposal you have to offer.”

Unfortunately, debate judges are not emotionless, data computing machines. Sadness, humor, impoliteness, courtesy, anxiety, relief; they really do feel all of these emotions. In light of this, appeal to their emotions (a.k.a. pathos). This post is not about pathos as a whole, however. Humor, specifically, can be just as effective (if not more) than a parade of journalists, lawyers, and PhDs who support your argument.

“It’s hard to say no when you’re laughing.”

Remember this. It is truth. The book continues to explain why.

“Humor also makes otherwise sober people suspend their judgment and even their prejudices, perhaps because the surprise and naughtiness of wit are combustive: the provoke laughter or smiles, not reflection.”

With any joke, pun, or witty remark there is a fine line to be tread between amusing and insulting. It is a very effective rhetorical tool if used properly. It is a very damaging rhetorical disaster if used improperly.

“…ridicule is a two-edged sword that requires a deft hand to wield it. Humor that reflects bad taste discredits a writer completely, as does ridicule that misses its mark.”

To be clear, never ridicule, never mock, never direct your humor to insult another individual. But even though that specific quote mentioned ridicule, everything completely cross-applies to humor and wit.

Just like anything else, effectively using humor takes practice. You could go the trial-and-error route by cracking jokes in debate rounds and finding out which ones offend and which ones do not. This is not recommended. You could hide behind facts, credentials, and evidence, refusing to use humor (because it does take guts to crack a joke about something that is usually serious). This is not recommended. Stoa and NCFCA have multiple entertaining speech events which serve as effective methods to practice drama/acting skills, and which also happen to improve your ability to incorporate humor into debate rounds (see: Two Is Better Than One: Balancing Your Debating). This is one recommended. Also, you could have a practice debate or two where you focus on witty sayings, figures of speech, humor, et cetera. This is strongly recommended.

Even though humor is 100% pathos and 0% logos or ethos, it is often much, much more effective than a laundry list of articles written by educated individuals with credentials so long they make Google’s head spin.

Crack a joke. Go debate.


All quotations are taken from Everything’s An Argument, Fifth Edition, by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkieqicz, Copyright 2010

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