Erma Bombeck was very comfortable in front of a television camera. (See her here on Oprah. Her segment begins at the :55 mark.)
TV doesn’t always come so naturally to writers, though. Syndicated columnist Tracy Beckerman has done her share of TV appearances and offers some tricks of the trade:
I recently met a guy and was introduced to him as a humor writer.
“Oh, cool,” he said. “Say something funny.” I didn’t really have a funny response so I just karate-chopped him instead. It worked: It made him forget he asked me to say something funny.
This is a problem a lot of humor writers encounter: the expectation that we can perform funny, whether socially, on stage, or on camera, simply because we write humor. There are some of us who can do that successfully, but for many, there is a good reason why we spend our time behind a computer screen and not on a TV screen. However, since getting the word out about what you write often necessitates public appearances, and even sometimes TV appearances, it is helpful for those of us who are a little camera shy to have some tricks up our sleeve on the off chance The Today Show calls:
1. Try to find out what the questions are in advance. Not always possible, but usually you can at least get a general topic or focus from the producer so you can prepare some funny responses in advance and not have to rely on making fun of the host’s bad plastic surgery.
2. Have a couple of funny stories in your pocket that you can pull out no matter what the question is. A good lawyer always has a response ready no matter what gets thrown at him in court. A good humorist should have a funny retort ready at all times that does not include the release of bodily gases.
3. Wear something funny. Not your whole outfit, because then you just look like a lunatic, but one thing that is comment-worthy. The interviewer will definitely mention it and then you can say something funny about it, or …
4. Bring a visual aid. Don’t overdue this (I mean, I wouldn’t bring a goat on the show with you), but something that can help you make a funny point. For instance, one time I brought a bumper sticker I made that said, “Reluctant Minivan Driver On Board.” (Trust me, it was funnier in context).
5. When all else fails and you are sure you are going to screw up, give the camera guy and the director mass quantities of chocolate before the shoot. That way they’ll make you look good no matter how badly you do on camera.
Tracy Beckerman writes the syndicated humor column and blog “Lost in Suburbia.”