Can Anyone Write Jokes? I thought I would test it.

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It’s not just a designer’s job but everybody’s job to solve a problem. In one of the episodes of Mr.Bean series, Mr.Bean faces a challenge of painting the whole living room white, with lesser effort and in quick time. After a serious of failed attempts, Mr.Bean realizes an efficient method to paint — Painting by exploding fireworks.

“Mr.Bean carefully covers virtually everything in the living room and kitchen (including each individual grape in his fruit bowl) in the newspaper and, when he runs out of paper to cover his clock, uses the hat Hubert left behind. He places the firework in the paint can and ignites the fuse. Bean quickly runs out and hides behind a corner in the hall. At that moment, a tired and hungover Hubert stumbles out of the neighbour’s flat, realizes that he left his hat in Bean’s flat and goes in to retrieve it just as the firecracker explodes.

After some time, Mr.Bean goes inside and is satisfied that his paint bomb worked, as his whole flat is covered with white paint. However, he is shocked to discover a silhouette of Hubert getting his hat is frozen onto a section of wall as the only unpainted area. -Wikipedia”

The story explains how the solution tried by Mr.Bean ended in tragedy? Similar to this, designers also use a “Story mapping” tool in checking whether the product succeeds or ends up as a tragedy. Our Story mapping has all the elements similar to Mr.Bean’s story — Character sketches, goals, context, challenges in each context, and how the product would solve the problem — Mapping out an intended experience of use for a product.

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In the above graph, a user starts at position X and as he goes, face various challenges until our product provides a solution and solves his problem. At the end, User’s position/status A is higher than from X where he started. Suppose User’s status ends at B, which is lower than X, then the product did not solve the problem as expected and ended as tragedy(Comedy).

THE SIXTH SENSE

One of our mentors told me, “Wherever possible, try your best to design for six senses than the five senses”. I was confused, “What is the sixth sense”. He replied, “Sense of humour. Give your user a pleasant surprise, bring a smile to their face”.

We all know that how Sense of Humor would help in our work place, home, in presentations, public speaking, among friends. We do not want to be “Stand-up” comedians or funny characters. A happy country needs everyone to have “Sense of Humor”. Can everyone write their own jokes? I thought that I will give a try and share the experience. I bought a couple of short books on comedy(I have provided the references at the end of the article). I have shared below ‘the rules for writing the jokes’ which I came across in those books.

Joke Structure — To write a story, we ask questions -Why? Where? What? Why? When? How? — this helps us to define the characters, context, and challenges. We use only essential details, and strip away things which are not needed. “Less is More”. Same thing applies to our joke structure.

Rule 01 — For a wonderful design solution, everything should work ‘right’ in the given contexts. For a joke to happen, something should go wrong. This is an important difference. I used “What If” creativity tool to generate ideas for “What could go wrong?”.

Rule 02 — To design a better solution or to write a joke, you need to become a character. We need to understand how a user behaves, reacts in different contexts. Design Thinking focuses more on people than anything else. Do not promise a better product, promise a better life.

How could we write jokes, if we do not know anything about other’s life? As we are well aware of ourselves, as we are unique than anybody else, we could be that character and write from our perspective. We could tell our truth without worrying what others would feel.

Best jokes come from characters in conflict. “People are more interesting than things” -James Scott Bell

User research shows how a User’s attitude, behaviour changes based on the context.

In writing jokes, the character need not be funny. A character turns funny because of the context — James Scott Bell.

Rule 03 — Ideas. Where do we get ideas from? As we are playing our own character, we just need to look back at our life and our social situations.

In design research, suspend judgement, observe everything. For writing jokes — do not look for a funny situation. Find a situation and make it funny.

Rule 04 — Design is in the details. Designers focus on each and every element, each and every potential user interaction area in a product, tweak their concepts step by step to achieve the desired results. Similarly, we need to tweak the joke concept or language for the desired effect. I have used ‘analogy creativity technique’ to generate ideas for detailing the joke.

We should not explain about the product. ‘The Design’ should talk for a successful product. Similarly, a joke should talk on its own.

Rule 05 Peak End Rule — How a user feels about a product depend on the experience he or she felt at the end of the product’s use. A movie’s success depends on the climax. Similarly, the joke should end with a surprise or against listener’s expectations.

Based on the rules, I started writing jokes with characters, context, thought about what a listener would expect ‘how the ending would be’ and how could I surprise the user by an unexpected ending. I looked at some of the life situations, used them and modified the ending in some cases so that it could be funny. I have shared those incidents below. I have used fictional names and not the real names.

Conversations with my wife

Jim’s Restaurant

I looked at my wife and said “Jim has called me for lunch on Monday. “

My Wife “Oh.Ok. How is his restaurant business which he has started with a partner”

Me: “I am not sure. Looks like he is not doing it now”

Wife: “Did Jim drop the restaurant or the restaurant dropped him?”

Burnt Skin

I was waiting for food to be served at the dinner table, with my right hand’s elbow resting on the table and palm supporting my jaws. My wife brought the hot Kadai(An Indian cooking vessel made of steel similar to Wok with metal handles) to serve the gravy on my dining plate. Unfortunately, the vessel’s metal handle hit my wrist and burnt my skin.

“Ouch,” I cried.

My wife soon realised and said “Sorry”.

With irritation, I grumbled, “What Sorry?…”.

My wife with a calm, soft voice, “Sorry because I missed your face”

When and What to Eat

Me to wife “Tomorrow, Jose has called me for Dinner. After office, I would be going to meet him. So I would be late to home”

Wife “Oh. It’s a terrible news. I thought you would come early and take care of the child so that I could do some work. You know the situation already. Why did you accept the dinner invitation”

Husband “Ok, then Should I try to meet him for lunch during office hour itself?”

Wife “Oh. That would be a better option”

Husband “ok, then do not pack lunch for me tomorrow. I will have lunch with Jose.” She let out a sigh.

The Truth — Jose has invited me for lunch and not for dinner.

After a week,

My wife to me “I’ve made Kerala Puttu for breakfast”

Me in an irritable voice “What? I’m running late already for office. Puttu takes too much time to swallow. Why did you make Puttu?”

Wife “Ok.Yesterday night’s Chappathi is there. Should I heat them and give you”

Me “Oh. That’s a better option. I’ll have Chappathi then”

Truth — She never made Puttu and I never liked to eat Chappathi for breakfast. Conclusion — Never publish ‘how did you fool your wife’ in social media.

Conversation with an Ola Driver

A few months back we booked an Ola Cab from Vijayawada Railway station to a nearby hotel for lunch. After dropping us at the hotel, Ola driver requested us to book his car again to drop us back at the railway station. After finishing lunch, we could book the same taxi after a couple of cancellations.

Once we are back inside the car

Ola Driver, “Sirji, You already know what would be the charge between this hotel and railway station. Can you cancel the booking and pay the same in cash”

A technique widely used by Ola drivers to avoid paying commissions to the cab aggregator.

Me: “I would love to. Unfortunately, I need to submit bills to my office for reimbursement. This bill would go directly to our office account. Sorry, I cannot”

After couple of minutes -

Ola driver “Sirji, Since the office is paying for the trip, can we take a circuitous route, go for extra 5 km’s and then go to the railway station?”

I was shocked and perplexed.

Our College Projects

All the incidents mentioned here happened sixteen years back during our design course.

The Suitcase Project

My thesis was “Design of Upright Hard Shell Suitcase for Better Internal Space Organisation”. The objective was to help the user to easily organise things like Toiletries, Soiled clothes, Suit, Ironed clothes, Liquids, any sports gears, innerwear inside the suitcase-save time and effort. In the final presentation, I gave the demo of how to use the product to our external examiner.

At the end of the presentation, the external examiner with a cunning smile, “I was thinking how a Doctor would do surgery if he had to refer a manual every time. I suggest you have a permanent compartment in your suitcase for holding a thick manual.”

The Powerful Windshield wiper

Bidesh and his team’s project was to design a wiper system that could clean the entire windshield. He and his team were giving the presentation by standing on one side of the 5 foot wider table.

Bidesh, “Sir, this motor moves this wiper in x-axis” and he moved to the other side of table, lifted another wiper set, “Sir, this motor would move this wiper in Y-axis” and he moved to another side of table, lifted another wiper set and repeated “Sir, this motor would move this wiper in Z-axis, thus we would be cleaning the whole windshield”

I looked at the face of all our professors and the external examiner — I could see a stunned silence.

External examiner recollecting his senses, “I appreciate your belief that every human if provided an opportunity, would turn to a superhuman. Only a superhuman could drive a blindfolded car.”

After few seconds of silence, examiner again, “A human who could not become a superhuman could drive the car by sticking out the head through driver side window or he could stand and drive, stick out the head through sun-roof. A design should work for both humans and super-humans”

The Blooming Lotus Lamp

Kano and his team’s project was “A lotus flower lamp that blooms and lights up with the clap of your hands”. The lotus petals were made up of metal and the internal strings were attached by some shape memory alloy.

Kano, “Sir, If we clap, the petals would fully open up and the light would glow. Can I clap now?”

External Examiner, “Please proceed”. Kano clapped. The metal plates started moving.

After few minutes, the external examiner asked, “Are these metal plates are controlled through internet explorer”. Mano and his team gave a wry smile.

After few more minutes, the external examiner, “I never knew that metal plate would feel pain if they move faster”. Mano and his team again gave a wry smile.

After some more time, the external examiner, “Will the petals fully open before my body turn into a skeleton?”

The Compact Bicycle

I and my friend Gitesh worked on a project to design a compact cycle using standard components. Our objective was to reduce the gap between the wheels to three inches.

This led to modify the position of pedal, seat and related components resulting in shifting of the centre of gravity. We needed to test the stability of cycle in riding conditions. Gitesh offered himself to test ride the cycle to check the stability.

He rode the cycle over a flat surface and we could see that the cycle was stable. I asked Gitesh to ride the cycle over a slope. Gitesh obliged and tried riding over a sloping surface. Suddenly, the front wheel lifted up and Gitesh fell flat on the ground, with the back body touching the ground first. We all ran towards him to see what happened. Unfortunately, Gitesh had survived. Not even a minor injury. Sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers.

The Dustbin

One of our projects was to design a dustbin that could encourage children to throw garbage inside the dustbin. The dustbin was in the shape of a Robot, with horizontally extended arms. The extended arms had one big roller each, which would display hand written messages every time a child throws garbage in. We all loved the product and kept it in a child play area to test the concept. One child came along with his father.

Child, “Dad, How would I polish my shoe, if they keep those rollers at that height? Why do they keep two independent rollers? One for left leg shoe and another for the right shoe?”

Professions that need creativity

One day, our professor in class, “We know design field needs creativity. Many other fields too need creativity. Can you tell me how did you use creativity in any other field with your own examples”

Binay got up and said, “I write songs using my creativity skills” — Our teacher asked him to sing a song. Binay sang and everyone appreciated including our beloved professor.

Next, Bidesh got up and said, “I use my creative skills in photography.” He showed some photographs and explained how he used his creative skills. Professor saw the examples and appreciated.

Next Ajay got up with a bit of hesitation and innocence, “I have got a skill which many of my friends have appreciated me over the years” and he hesitated again. Our professor, “Please go ahead. Would love to hear”. Ajay continuing, “I use creative skills to innovate bad words in the Hindi Language. Should I give you some examples”?

The shocked professor quickly announced, “Let’s discuss some tools used in generating ideas”.

The Childhood Interactions

The Match Box

I was around 8 years old. My mom was a strict disciplinarian. One day she had asked me to buy tomatoes from a nearby shop. I brought tomatoes, came back, left it in the kitchen and went out of home to play. After some time, my mother called me inside the home.

“Son, where is the remaining ten paise after buying tomatoes?”

I was shell shocked. I thought she would forget to ask.

So, with a bit of hesitation and fear, I replied “Mom, I bought a match box to light the stove”

My mom turned and looked at the stove in the kitchen.

“I could not see anything there. For which stove did you buy that match box?”

With the fear gripping severely, I uttered “The Small Toy Stove”

Without any match-box, fire lit up in my mother’s eyes and after few minutes I was applying an ointment over the swellings in my hand.

The Progress Report

I was in class 1. Our class teacher was well known for thrashing the errant children. She was a ‘Terror’ for us. Many times, I have wondered how she would behave in her home. At times, her change in behaviour was unpredictable.

My mother is also a strict disciplinarian. She would get angry and beat me badly if I score any rank other than the First Rank.

In one of the tests in class 1, I got the second rank. As expected, my mother smacked me and refused to sign the progress report. My teacher would thrash me if I do not submit the signed progress report the next day. I was in a tricky situation.

Next day morning, I was sitting sadly in our class. The wooden scale on teacher’s table appeared smiling at me and eagerly awaiting the golden opportunity.

My friend Farook looking at my state, “Shah, Why can’t you put your mom’s signature in the progress report and submit”

I was puzzled and stared at him frighteningly.

He coolly said, “See, my parents also won’t sign. But I have put my father’s signature and submitted. Nothing would happen. That’s the only option”.

With his encouragement, I felt confident and put my mom’s signature in the progress report. Our class teacher came to collect the reports. I could feel the tension building up in my heart. She came near me and asked the report. I gave it to her. She stared at the report for few seconds and my heart almost skipped the beat. Her face did not show any expressions and she moved to collect the next guy’s progress report. I was elated and happy. I felt happy as if I have hit a badass villain in a movie. The happiness remained for the whole day.

Evening, my mother came to pick me up. I saw my class teacher secretly discussing something with my mom and she kept staring at me now and then. I could sense something brewing up.

After reaching home, before I could change my clothes, my mom started smacking me with the scale and shouted, “How dare you put my signature in the report”. And the fireworks continued.

Once my mom cooled down, she regretted smacking me so severely. I saw that her mood had changed for the better.

I slowly asked her, “Mom, how did the teacher know that I only signed the report?”

My mom with a smile, “Because you signed the progress report in Pencil.”

I cursed my friend “Farooq”.

References: How to write comedy by James Scott Bell, Step by step to stand up comedy by Greg Dean, User’s journey by Donna Lichaw.

Written by

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at mmshah8@gmail.com. or https://www.shahmohammed.com

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