Crazy Shit To Do: Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

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If you have been reading my blog, you might have caught the fact that last summer (August 2015), I went on a crazy adventure to Tanzania. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, camping out in the Serengeti and relaxing on the island paradise of Zanzibar are a combination that can create memories to last a lifetime.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the ultimate adventures that you can do. In two weeks, my entire worldview and beliefs about myself changed. I pushed myself to the limits and discovered what I am capable of, connected with nature and explored a set of whole new cultures up close and personal.

The most incredible part of this whole trip is that this is something that just a year before I would never have considered doing. I would never even have imagined myself being capable of doing this. Climbing a mountain was never something that I thought I would ever do, especially not one so tall.

On the surface, it seems like a daunting task. Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and rises up to 5,895 meters above sea level. It is located close to the equator, but due to its height, its top is constantly bathed in snow.

The peak of the mountain is covered by glaciers, although ones that are shrinking fast due to global warming. They have shrunk by 85% in the past 100 years and unfortunately most predictions say that they might disappear completely in a very short while.

Standing at the top is an amazing experience. Looking around, you see a desolate landscape and huge swathes of snow and ice. You are in Africa, but there is snow!

The rugged beauty that is in front of you has a special effect on all that experience it. It is as if you were suddenly transported to another world.

You are overwhelmed by the entire magic of it all. You have spent days circling this monster, getting closer and closer to its peak, to be foiled day after day. However on this final day, you have made it.

By standing on the top, you get a sense of something more powerful than yourself. It makes you reflect on the world and your place in it. What you are experiencing is awe and it can really change your entire world view, not only of yourself, but others. This has actually been proven by scientific studies:

New research from UC Berkeley and UC Irvine suggests that experiencing awe can actually prompt us to act more benevolently toward others. In other words, awe can help make the world a better place.

You literally come back a changed person. The top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is something only a select few get to experience and you are lucky to be one of them.
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Operation Anthropoid: The Story Of The Most Daring Secret Mission Of World War 2

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If you had seen the movie “Casablanca”, you might remember the scene in the cafe where the German officers start singing a German song. To hush them down, the brave Czechoslovak resistance leader, husband of the Scandinavian bombshell Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman) starts singing the Marsellaise. Right after that, everyone else joins in.

The film was made in 1942 and one of the most heroic characters there, is a Czechoslovak resistance fighter who is trying to smuggle himself out of Nazi-controlled territories in order to continue his struggle. This guy was a fictional character, however the year 1942 was also the setting of probably the most daring act of resistance during the entire war. And this was real!

The act was codenamed Operation Anthropoid and resulted in the assassination of one of the most-feared Nazi leaders, Reinhard Heydrich. This was the guy who organized the Final Solution and planned the extermination of all the Jews from Europe.

Just like the movie, the heroes of this story were Czechoslovak resistance fighters.

The scene is this: Hitler is on a roll. His armies have crushed all opposition and control most of continental Europe. The German armies are going from one victory to another in the East against the Soviets and an invasion of Britain is imminent.

In the middle of the continent lies the city of Prague, formerly the capital of the Czechoslovak Republic, the only democracy in Central Europe before the war, and now the seat of the government of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, completely controlled by the Nazis.

Before the War, Czechoslovakia was one of the continent’s economic powerhouses and had a very strong military industry, especially producing heavy machinery and tanks. It was sacrificed by the UK and France in order to appease Hitler, but that just made him even stronger.

By occupying the country, he took over its military equipment and added it to his own army (almost half the German tanks that attacked France in 1940 were formerly from the Czechoslovak army).

Many Czechoslovak military personnel escaped the country and installed themselves in places like the UK, France or the Soviet Union, in order to fight the Nazis and free their country. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile was located in London and so were much of the forces of the Czechoslovak army-in-exile.

However the situation in their homeland was dire. The country was occupied by the Nazis, who were crushing any forms of opposition. The exile authorities were determined to shake things up.

Striking at the heart of the Nazi machine, at one of its leaders, could galvanize the population and wake up the resistance, which was losing any hope of success at this point. After a long discussion, it was decided that the target of this operation would be Heydrich, one of the most feared men in the Nazi Reich.

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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 6: Even More On Joke Forms

The forms that we have described in the previous post are the basic ways of structuring humor. However they can be enhanced with special helpers to make the jokes even more funny.

Good tellers of jokes and humorous stories tell them in such a way as for the audience to be able to visualize all the little adventures in their heads. Visualization can be done through very detailed and vivid descriptions, but also through the use of metaphors and similes.

In order to create a picture in someone head’s, you need to be as descriptive as possible. Be detailed and specific and use as many adjectives as you can. Instead of saying it was a small car, say it was a diminutive, red Honda Civic that was nearing its expiration date. See how that second description creates a better picture than the first?

Sometimes being detailed and descriptive doesn’t create the image that you want and you need some other way to create the desired effect.

With metaphors and similes you describe an abstract concept by comparing it to something more familiar. These are often added by comedians in order to create funny pictures in your head.

Your brain often thinks through analogies, basically by using familiar concepts to try to picture and find relationships between objects that are a bit more fuzzy or unknown. These types of comparisons are often done using metaphors or similes.

That’s why putting in metaphors and similes can have such a powerful effect.

With a metaphor you are saying that one thing is another thing in a figurative way. This is the highest level of comparison. With a simile you are saying one thing is like another thing.

Examples:

My friend is LIKE a baby.
– simile

My friend IS a baby.
– metaphor

Notice how each of them has a slight difference in meaning. A metaphor is usually a much stronger way of putting that comparison.

The choice of metaphors and similes gives the joke a special meaning and often reveals hidden aspects of the opinion you hold about the subject of your joke.

An organization is like a tree full of monkeys, all on different limbs at different levels. The monkeys on top look down and see a tree full of smiling faces. The monkeys on the bottom look up and see nothing but assholes.

The author of the above joke uses a mix of similes and metaphors in order to paint a picture in your head. This then brings out the point of the joke in a much better way than if a different technique was used.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 5: More Joke Forms

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There are two basic types of humor: verbal-based humor and content-based humor. With verbal-based humor you play around with the meanings of words and if you use different words than the ones initially used in the joke, then you will lose the humor.

We have looked at verbal-based humor or play on words in the last post. In this post, we will focus on content-based humor or what I like to call play on things.

Play On Things

With content-based humor, the humor is not in the words used themselves, but in the entire idea that is being conveyed. As such, a play on things passes the translation test. You can retell the joke in different words and the humor is still there.

Let’s have a look at some of the main types of content-based humor.

5) Using exaggeration or understatement

Exaggerations and understatements are one of the most effective ways to create humor. They create a mismatch between the actual situation and the words being said, which then produces the laughter.

Exaggeration by itself does not create humor and is in fact often used in normal non-funny ways. To make things funnier you have to exaggerate so much that it is obvious that you are exaggerating. That’s the key to exaggeration in comedy.

If you want to put an emphasis on someone being fat, then make the comparison as unrealistic as possible. This unrealistic comparison is what makes it funny. Say the guy weighted more than a pick-up truck or that he weighted two tons.

There are several ways of creating funny exaggerations, for example through the use of hyperboles, metaphors or analogies.

Hyperboles are extreme exaggerations in order to make a point. They are comparisons just like similes and metaphors, but very extravagant and over the top. They amplify what you are trying to say.

For example if you are trying to make the point that something is too expensive and unaffordable, you can say that it costs a gazillion dollars. Or when someone says that they are buried under a ton of paperwork, they don’t mean that the ceiling suddenly opened up and inundated the room with a bunch of paper. Instead what the person means is that they have to fill out a lot of boring forms.

I knew a girl so ugly, I took her to the top of the Empire State building and planes started to attack her.” Rodney Dangerfield

If it weren’t for pick-pocketers, I’d have no sex life at all.” Rodney Dangerfield

All my wife does is shop – once she was sick for a week, and three stores went under.” Henry Youngman

I have been a gigantic Rolling Stones fan since approximately the Spanish-American War.” Dave Barry

Went to the paper shop – it had blown away.” Tommy Cooper

Metaphors, similes and analogies are also good ways to exaggerate the description of a particular scene or situation. These types of comparisons often paint vivid pictures in your head.

Our primary living-room sofa looks like a buffalo that has been dead for some time.” Dave Barry

In the example above, in order to illustrate the point of how decrepit his sofa is, Dave Barry compares it to a dead rotting buffalo. Can you picture the dead buffalo and can you imagine how the sofa must have looked like? 🙂

Jokes also often rely on the use of stereotypes (about blondes, Scots, hillbillies…etc.). Stereotypes are a type of exaggeration.

They say that a “True Scot” in North America is one whose ancestors came from Scotland – but who were born in North America to save the fare.

The above joke uses the common stereotype that Scottish people are cheap, which is the premise of many ethnic jokes.

Understatements are the opposite of exaggerations in that they downplay the situation instead. They are correct in a literal sense, but fail to convey the magnitude or graveness of a particular event.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 4: Joke Forms

Most people think that humor is a free-flowing thing without any structure. That’s not true at all.

Most theories of humor state that the act of finding something funny is a result of things like surprise or incongruency. However these things don’t arise by themselves, but are highly dependent on delivery.

You can create these incongruities and surprise by putting in the right words, following a certain word order, and through the use of highly-paid actors (optional).

That and anything with O.J. “Orange Juice” Simpson in it, is funny. 🙂

The surprise or incongruency comes from the way the joke is structured. You can make or break a joke just by the specific form you put it in.

We’ve all heard someone bumble up a joke really badly. Fat Joe hears a great joke, jots it down into memory and then later tries to retell it in front of a crowd. Nobody laughs.

What makes it funny was lost on him. He did not get the essence of the joke right. The problem was that he did not put the joke in the correct structure and did not use the right form.

Let’s start off with a little exercise. Look at the jokes below and try to identify what makes them funny (well at least to some people 🙂 ):

Never argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.” George Carlin

War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” Bertrand Russell

I chased a girl for two years only to discover that her tastes were exactly like mine: We were both crazy about girls.” Groucho Marx

I had a flight attendant on the last flight who was so old, after she demonstrated the oxygen mask she left it on.” Bob Hope

A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says “You’ve been brought here for drinking.” The drunk says, “Okay, let’s get started.”” Henry Youngman

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.” George Carlin

We live in an inherently sexist society, in the sense that a lot of women who get ahead do so through the sexualisation of everything.” Omid Djalili

People who lose sleep over the stock market are lucky. I lose money.” Melvin Helitzer

Got it? We will come back to looking at these jokes in a little bit. First let’s get familiar with the basic joke forms.

There are many comedians, countless jokes and even more people trying to be funny, but luckily most jokes can be broken down into a limited number of formulas. If you learn to recognize these formulas, you can construct your own jokes much more easily.

A mathematician about his late colleague:
“He made a lot of mistakes, but he made them in a good direction. I tried to copy this, but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.”

Learning to tell jokes is a lot like learning any other skill. You will make a lot of mistakes at first, but over time you will get better and better. Having some joke frameworks in your head will help you get started in the right direction.

The trouble with learning from experience is that you never graduate.” Doug Larson

As the great Cicero observed more than two millennia go, all the different joke formulas can be divided into two categories: those based on words and those based on things. So between verbal and content based humor.

How do you tell the two categories apart? You use the translation test! 🙂

If you can tell the joke in different words and it still remains funny, then it is content-based humor, a play on things. If the joke depends on the particular meaning of a word or phrase and if you use different words, it loses its humor, then it is verbal humor, a play on words.
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What Is Your Origin Story?

Every legend has a beginning and every hero has an origin. Heroes are not born, they are made. What makes someone a hero is not the supernatural talents they were born with, but the path they take.

In ancient and modern legends, some people are born with supernatural powers, but these are not what make them a hero later on in life. It is the way they cultivate these powers and the choices that they make.

In real life, people are born with different gifts based on genetics and circumstances, but these are not what make them succeed later in life. It is the way they cultivate these gifts, the way they work on their strengths, but also their weaknesses, and the choices they make in life.

One of the comments I received on my post on contrarian thinking was from Jose Romero (his blog is here). It was a very powerful description of the path he has taken and the choices he had to make to become the man he is today:

When I was growing up I did not have the internet and to get information I would have had to go to the Library near me. So I had to learn to change my view by watching a lot Public Television where they used to have very good programs like Front Line, Nova etc.

It did help that my Dad would bring home books for us to read. Since he had a 6th grade education he knew the importance of knowledge and how it can help a person succeed. Me and my brothers all got out of the inner city and made something of ourselves. None of us were thugs, drug dealers etc. We just stayed away and made our own paths.

I could have gone that route like so many of the kids I grew up with, but for what? There is no future at the end of that path, except death and prison. Neither is something I like to do so I stayed away, stayed in school and made the best of my situation while in the NYC public school system.

I learned to survive and made the right choices and so far it has led me here to you and other like minded people. I just wish that more people would realize that life is not hard to live but simple its just that we make it hard.

This was his origin story.

Every hero has an origin story, a tale of what made them who they are.

People love to hear about origin stories, because they get at the deep down core of a person, their evolution and their drive.

The curiosity of knowing where a hero or a powerful man came from has been ingrained in us since time immemorial. These types of stories were always popular. In the Middle Ages the biggest hero for people of Europe was Jesus and yes even he had his own origin story. One of the most popular stories of that time was the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which recounted all the misadventures that little kid Jesus got up to.

Today is no different. It seems as if Hollywood keeps coming up with a new Superhero Origin story every few months. These types of stories are popular among fans, since they want to know where their hero came from and how he became the man he is.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 3: How To Write A Joke

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Now that we know about the structure of a joke and the different parts that it consists of, how do we actually go about writing it?

What creative process do you need to go through in order to come up with an idea for a joke and then craft it in a funny way?

Watch the video below to see Jerry Seinfeld’s process:

A lot of humor is based on things happening around you, whether in the news or in your own life. These are the basic starting points of all jokes or funny stories. You just need to be able to capture that, process it and then deliver it in the right way.

You can write a simple story about your day, job, life and use comedy formula to shape it to create laugh points and make the audience start rolling in the aisles.

Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.” Dave Barry

Edgar E. Willis (author of “How to be funny on purpose”) states that every joke has what is called an expressed idea and an inferred idea. The expressed idea is what the joke teller says in an explicit form, while the inferred idea is the idea that the listeners should get out of what he is saying.

So basically the joke is delivering two ideas simultenously, what is said literally and what those words are implying.

Since you have two basic ideas in a joke, you also have two main starting places for a joke: either think up the inferred idea (what you want the audience to draw out of what you say), or come up with the expressed idea (material that will lead audience to make inferred idea).

Listen again to Jerry Seinfeld’s description of his joke creation process. In the example he gives, he is starting out from the inferred idea: Pop Tarts are weird and food is crazy.

Once he has the message he wants to pass in his head, he goes about crafting the words that would deliver it.

Here is another Jerry Seinfeld clip which has as its inferred idea the craziness of the shopping experience. Notice the words he uses in order to show this:

How do you craft the words themselves? Even if the inferred idea is good, the actual words that you use can be the difference between the audience giving out a slight chuckle or breaking out in roaring laughter that makes half the people end up in the hospital due to the fact that they were cracking up so hard that they forgot to breathe.

One way to do this is visualization, describing in such a way as to paint a vivid picture in the head. Another good joke formula is the use of exaggerations, either overstatements or understatements in order to better convey your idea.

This can be done by combining metaphors or analogies with hyperboles. Your brain often thinks using metaphors and analogies and that’s why their use can really underline what you are saying.

These are very powerful ways of expressing an idea. Using these tropes in different contexts can often give a very different spin to your message.

A metaphor basically says that A is B. For example the “war on drugs” is saying that there is a war on drugs.

On the other hand, a simile compares two things that are similar in some way. A simile often states that A is “like” B. In order to tell apart a simile from a metaphor look for words like “like” or “as”. For example when Forrest Gump said that “life is like a box of chocolates” or when you say something is “as cute as a kitten“.

An analogy is essentially an extended, more elegant simile. For example this quote from the character Matt McGrath in the movie “Broken Hearts Club” is an analogy: “Dumb gorgeous people should not be allowed to use literature when competing in the pick-up pool. It’s like bald people wearing hats.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 2: The Anatomy Of A Joke

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George Washington was the first President of the US and is often given to kids as an example of what they should aspire to. When he was in his late teens, he wrote out a list of rules that a gentleman should abide by.

The list contained such wise rules as don’t turn your back to someone when you are speaking, or that the gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

Do you know what his number one rule was?

🙂

Don’t scratch your balls in public! 🙂

🙂

Well, actually it was number 2!

🙂

The list itself can be found here, but that was not the point of this little section.

The short story above (inspired by an A.J. Jacobs presentation) very nicely demonstrates the anatomy of a joke, as well as many elements inherent in comedy.

First there is some sort of an introduction, which explains the premise and leads the audience to think in one direction.

Then boom, an element of surprise suddenly appears, and the joke teller comes up with an unexpected unravelling of the story.

Sometimes this can be followed by another element that continues the joke, an add-on joke.

These things are called the set-up, the punchline, and the tagline and form the basic structure of a joke.

This is a formula that can be replicated in any type of story or joke on whatever subject you want. With any joke, first you need to set up the scene, then you finish it up with a punchline.

The key to the audience laughing is surprise. With the set-up you lead the audience to assume one thing and then suddenly hit them with something totally different, something that they weren’t expecting.

You can feed off of this by quickly adding up another short phrase which is called the tagline or topper. This is basically a short second joke that builds upon the punchline and in many cases can make you look spontaneous and witty.

An important part of any joke is what is sometimes called the connecter, which is something in the set-up that has a double meaning or can be interpreted in different ways. It can be a punch word or even an entire phrase.

My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.

Let’s illustrate the structure of a joke by decomposing this classic Rodney Dangerfield joke:

The set-up:My wife and I were happy for twenty years.” This sets up the audience to paint a picture of an old happy married couple.

The punchline:Then we met.” However this line totally destroys any image of a happy married couple that the audience might have had in their heads. It gives a totally different spin to the previous set-up.

Watch this Rodney Dangerfield video and try particularly to notice how he structures his jokes, how he sets them up, when he delivers his punchline and when he uses taglines.

You can use this with any of your favorite comics. Go find their videos, watch them and try to pay attention to how they structure their jokes and where the laugh points are. Most comics will usually use some sort of a version of the standard set-up, punchlines, taglines structure.

The overall themes of humor structure are based around tension, surprise and relationships. Melvin Helitzer in his book “Comedy Writing Secrets” describes what he calls the THREES formula, which are the very basic elements needed for a joke to be successful.

THREES stands for target, hostility, realism, exaggeration, emotion, surprise and I have broken down this concept in more detail in a previous article which you can read here.

EXERCISES:

Now for the exercises:

1) Start creating a collection of jokes that you come across and write them down somewhere. To start off, find 30 short jokes. They can be about anything you want. Once you have found them, try to look at how they are structured. Try to find the punchline, the set-up and any potential taglines.

2) Find videos of your favorite comics. Watch the videos and look for the laugh points. When does the audience laugh? Then go back and rewatch the clips, noticing how they structure their jokes and stories. Which part is the set-up, which is the punchline, which phrases or words serve as the connecters and are there any taglines? When watching, also try to look for elements from the THREES formula.

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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 1: Mindset And Finding The Comic In You

You have probably met those types of people, the ones that always have a witty remark that fits every occasion and that always brings the room to laughter. How do they do it? And how can you be like them?

The good news is that you can. Any skill can be learned and humor is one of them. The first step is to begin thinking funny.

You need to start finding the funny in everything. Funny people are just those that see the world in a different way. Stop being so serious and start seeing the absurdities of the world. The world isn’t serious. You can find the humorous part in every daily action imaginable.

What you need to do in order to do that is to reframe your mind. Put a different spin on daily events. See the humor in everything.

Start by observing what is around you, see the funny relationships and connections. Train yourself to see the humor.

Use what Jerry Seinfeld calls your “third eye”. It’s something that every comedian has in order to be able to view life with an ironic dettachment. This eye is the one that looks at what is happening from the funny angle, distances itself from the situation and sees its ridiculousness.

Life is full of humorous things, but you need to be able to see under the surface of what appears a serious world.

Here are some examples to point out the absurdities of the modern world:

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How do you find the picture above? The clothing is a little ridiculous right? You would probably chuckle at anyone wearing that today. However in the 18th century that was perfectly normal clothing and nobody would even bat an eye, if they saw it.

And now something from the modern world, just a different continent:

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For Papuans this is pretty normal clothing. Nothing to laugh about for them…

How about for you? 🙂
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