Humor That Works is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations learn how to be more effective, more productive, and more awesome using humor in the workplace.
Founded by Andrew Tarvin in 2009, Humor That Works has worked with more than 100 organizations including Procter & Gamble, General Assembly, and The Ohio State University on topics including humor in the workplace, communicating confidently, and strategic disengagement.
In addition to offering speaking, training, and coaching services, HTW is home to more than 400+ blog posts on business topics such as humor, relationships and productivity, garnering more than 1 million page views per year from 180 different countries.
MO: How did you come up with the concept for Humor That Works?
Andrew: I’m an engineer by mindset and trade. Even when I was a kid I was trying to find the most efficient way to do things (including writing up a 10-point plan of how to load and unload the dishwasher more efficiently).
However, in college I became a Resident Advisor and soon learned that you can’t be efficient with people—you can’t try to put in minimum time to get maximum results. Fortunately, I started doing improv and stand-up comedy at the same time and started to see that my work with humor was helping me interact with people in my job and everyday life. I was starting to be effective, not just efficient.
This continued when I was working at Procter & Gamble. I found tremendous success while working there and a large part of that was my ability to communicate, get people to listen, and maybe get a laugh or two. So I proclaimed myself the Corporate Humorist of P&G and started researching humor more.
While researching, I realized I wasn’t alone in finding humor valuable in the workplace. There were (and continue to be) a (large) number of studies touting how humor can improve communication, enhance problem solving, and build better leaders.
In 2009, I decided to take the Corporate Humorist external from P&G and thus Humor That Works was born.
MO: Can you expand on the development process behind having the idea for the company to getting it to creating a business around it?
Andrew: For me it started pretty organically. Humor That Works started as a blog where I’d post links to what other people were saying about humor. Then I started writing my own ideas about humor at work—my own take on different ideas plus what I was learning through my own experience. Eventually people started asking me to share more information with them, either through guest articles or speaking / training engagements.
After I did my first couple of trainings on humor in the workplace, it clicked in my head—this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, I want to teach people how to be more effective using humor. So I researched how thought leaders make money.
I found a number of different ideas: speaking, training, coaching, writing, consulting, and more. So I started trying each one out to see: 1) What I was good at; 2) What I enjoyed doing; and 3) What seemed to help people the most. From there, I refined my business and picked a few areas to focus on.
MO: What are some examples of how humor can help a business become more productive and efficient?
Andrew: Humor has been proven to improve communication, build relationships, enhance problem solving, increase personal productivity, and reduce stress. There are countless examples within each of those categories, not to mention a number of other ways with regard to leadership.
I was just reading a study that showed humor reduces absenteeism and turnover. So you gain productivity because people aren’t missing work, nor do you have the ramp up time of finding and hiring new employees.
Humor is also anti-stress. All the negative effects of chronic stress (muscle tension, high blood pressure, etc.) are counteracted by humor. Laughing decreases blood pressure and relaxes muscles. In fact just anticipating a laugh can relax muscles for up to 45-minutes. You don’t even have to laugh, you just have to anticipate one. Healthier employees are more productive employees.
Humor is also closely tied to creativity. So having a humorous organization can increase efficiency through improving problem solving skills and helping companies innovate. I could go on and on (and often do on my blog).
You combine all of these things together and you to start to see that humor is a competitive advantage. All of the companies stuck in the old mindset that work is work and shouldn’t be fun are getting left in the dust by the companies who embrace a fundamental truth: their employees are humans, and humans respond to humor.
MO: What did your initial marketing strategy look like and have you had to tweak it along the way?
Andrew: Most of my marketing has been organic. My strategy has been about connecting with people, seeing what their needs are, and if it makes sense, offering insights into how humor can help.
When it comes to marketing, I want my work to speak for me. My focus is much more on providing value to people than trying to convince them to buy. My site, my book, and my videos, are all forms of marketing in a way, but my goal is that they provide value first. It’s not just “Hey, buy this from me” but also includes helpful tips or at least something to make them laugh or smile.
Any tweaks I’ve made have been around clarifying my message and what it is I do. People hear “humor in the workplace” and they may jump to assumptions of what it’s about. My business is about driving business results while improving workplace satisfaction through something that works: humor.
It’s NOT about telling everyone they should hang rubber chickens in their cubicles or start acting like a company jester. Although, I’ve mentioned laughter, humor is broader than making jokes or doing comedy. Comedy and laughter is certainly included, but some of the most effective examples of humor in the workplace include simple ideas that are just a little different to the day-to-day work that get people to pay attention and maybe even smile.
MO: What inspired you to write your Amazon.com Best-Selling book: Humor That Works: 501 Ways to Use Humor to Beat Stress, Increase Productivity, and Have Fun at Work? Can you share a highlight that you’ve received a lot of positive feedback on?
Andrew: A study I ran on my site showed that the top 2 reasons people don’t use more humor at work are 1) They don’t think their coworkers would approve and 2) They don’t know how to get started. For #1, I try to highlight all of the research and case studies coming out that show how valuable humor is and that humor isn’t a nice-to-have but a must-have. Studies like the one that show 98% of CEOs prefer job candidates with a sense of humor; or that 55% of employees in one study said they’d take less money to have more fun at work.
I wrote the book to address #2. For people who want to use humor but don’t know how, the book gives 501 ways you can steal and use yourself. Sending an email? Try #26 and put a “hidden message” into your next email. Jumping on a conference call? Go to #373 and learn to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” while you wait for the host to join. Feeling stressed out? Do #411 and dramatically splash water on your face like you were in a movie.
As for positive feedback, I’m constantly getting notes from people saying the tried such-and-such idea and that it went great. Second to that are the people who tell me they laughed-out-loud while reading the book. That was the goal of the book—deliver actionable ideas while still entertaining the reader.
MO: When did you discover that you enjoy doing improv comedy and has your approach evolved since you first started out? What advice would you give to someone considering doing stand-up comedy for their first time?
Andrew: The first time I made someone laugh on stage I was hooked. I’m an introverted computer geek, so to actually be successful on stage in front of people was totally new to me.
I started doing improv and stand-up days in college. When we first started our group, we didn’t have any formal training. We watched Whose Line Is It Anyway and tried to repeat what we saw. Since then, I’ve taken classes, done a number of practices and open mics, and have performed more than 500 times in front of 10,000+ people.
The biggest change to my approach since I started is talking more about what I want to talk about. When I was just getting started, I wrote material that I thought audiences wanted. Since then, I’ve realized that it’s much more powerful to talk about things I want to talk about, and get people to laugh at that. I love math and have at least 10 minutes of material on the subject. Early on, I would have never thought of doing an irrational number joke, but now it’s one of my favorites.
I say for anyone who has ever thought about trying stand-up or improv: just go do it!
Aside from that, take a class. Getting on stage is only the true way to get better, but taking a class can help you feel more comfortable and can shave off a few years of trial-and-error if you do it all on your own. Find an improv class in your city and just try it out. You may never become a performing comedian, but you’ll learn skills that will make you a better speaker, writer, problem solver and more.
And if you don’t have someone offering classes in your area, contact me and we’ll set something up with your company. I’ve taught stand-up and improv comedy classes at a number of organizations—not just to teach people the basic skills and allow them to live a possible dream, but also to equip them with some incredible skills that will serve them in their jobs. Plus there’s no better teambuilding event than getting in front of your coworkers and making them laugh.
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