Today Kathi is talking with British comedian Tom Elliot all about the humorous side of our message and how we can use it to connect with our audience. As communicators, we have a deep desire to break down barriers and really connect with our audience. Join in the conversation to find out how this comedian with the heart of an evangelist does just that, and learn:
- 7 Secrets for getting your audience to pay attention to you
- How the perception of your audience is the vehicle for humor
- How do we connect with an audience and take away some of those natural barriers
Links and Resources:
Tom’s podcast: Oh My Days Academy Podcast
7 Secrets For Getting Your Audience to Pay Attention to You:
Consider your style of humor
Keep a notebook
Consider its purpose
Do NOT tell vicar jokes
Start with YOU
The perception of you impacts the humor
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Meet Your Hosts
Author, Speaker, Communicator Academy Creator and CEO
Tom Elliott is one of the UK’s most exciting comedy magicians, touring throughout the year in comedy clubs, churches, theatres and festivals, whilst also being the resident MC of his own variety show at Bentley Pavilion in Doncaster in the North of England.
Once described by Miranda Hart as ‘Such Fun’, Tom has appeared on BBC TV & Radio, had a feature piece in the Times Newspaper and received £9000+ through crowdfunding support.
Founder of the ‘Oh My Days Academy’, Tom hosts a weekly podcast, championing the art of living fully in every domain of life.
As an ambassador for Compassion UK and Cinnamon Network International, Tom’s work goes beyond the value of entertainment and serves to help thousands of vulnerable people across the world.
Read along with the Podcast!
Writing at The Red House Podcast # 220
Getting Your Audience to Pay Attention to Your Message
Kathi – Well, hey friends. Welcome to the Writing at the Red House podcast, where we gather at the table to break bread and tell tales with some of our favorite authors and speakers, who love to share the story of God’s extravagant love. Friends, we’ve got a treat today. Tom Elliot. I was on his podcast. You know, I don’t mean to objectify you, I really don’t, but the British accent is just something that we Americans cannot get enough of.
Tom – Here it’s coming. You’re going to talk about tea now, aren’t you? I’ve seen a viral video lately, of you guys putting tea in the microwave, and it’s infuriated us Brits.
Kathi – You’re not supposed to put tea in the microwave?
Tom – Not at all! Criminal! Criminal!
Kathi – Well, here’s the thing. Tea has become very important to me. I’ve lived in two places. I don’t know if you can say I’ve lived in England, but I lived on canals for a summer in England. That was an amazing experience. I also lived in Japan, where, let’s be clear, they take their tea very seriously. So, I shame internationally. That’s just my go-to move. Here’s the thing: There’s just something about the accent. We could listen to you guys all day long. Here’s my question: Does our accent make you insane?
Tom – Well, to some people, maybe. I just end up impersonating accents, so forgive me if I slip into a bad, almost American accent.
Kathi – I would actually love to hear a bad American accent. I think that’s delightful. I don’t know that Californians have the quirks that some of our Southern friends do, or on the East Shore. Or, maybe, I’m just one of those people that thinks I sound delightful, because of where I’m from. So, you know.
Tom – See, to me, you’re all just American. I hadn’t realized there was such subtleties.
Kathi – Oh, really!?
Tom – Maybe I don’t know enough.
Kathi – Someday, we’re going to have a discussion about the difference between Minnesota and the East Coast, Southern. I can slip into a Valley Girl if I need be. I’m a child of the 80s.
Tom – No. No. I lied. Texas has a very different accent.
Kathi – I can’t even imitate it, ‘cause my Texan friends would disown me, but yes.
Tom – You’d lose subscribers.
Kathi – Well, here’s the other thing. If you ever watched an episode of Dallas growing up, you know about the Texas accent. Absolutely. So, this is the perfect illustration. Tom, you are a comedian. You are a magician. But that’s not always what you do. So, can you tell my listeners how you actually bring in a paycheck?
Tom – Well, that is my bread and butter. I’m a comedian-magician with the heart of an evangelist. So, I feel called to share something of the Gospel, something of Jesus and the life in its fullness that He offers with people. However, a few years ago, I felt God say to me, “Tom, most evangelists do most of their work through churches.” And that’s great. I have loads of friends who are evangelists, and they see loads of fruit, so that’s not a criticism of evangelists, at all. Right? But, at the same time, it seems a bit odd, doesn’t it, for an evangelist to do his or her work in a church building. So, I felt God say to me, “Well, what does it look like, then, to do evangelism through the mainstream?” Now, it’s slightly different. In the States, I get the feeling that you guys are a lot more open to people speaking of God in a mainstream, secular space. In Britain, it’s a little bit different, as in it would be a bit unusual if, in a mainstream corporate conference, for instance, someone started mentioning Jesus. I think there’s a slight difference there.
Kathi – I think that there are certain places where that’s okay. I think it’s becoming harder and harder in the United States. But, from my time in England – I’ve been there a few times – I would say the propriety of talking about God in a secular setting is almost zero. It feels like it to me.
Tom – Yeah, if I mention Jesus in a comedy club, I’d soon be kicked off, rather than welcomed back. So, I’ve had to rethink my strategy. How do I be an evangelist in a comedy club? In a theatre? In schools? Schools are slightly different. You can get away with a little bit there, because of the RE curriculum, but what does it look like to do the work of an evangelist there?
Kathi – So, I’m guessing that RE curriculum is Religious Education curriculum?
Tom – It is, yes.
Kathi – Okay, so in public schools, there is Religious Education curriculum?
Tom – Yeah, we still have that.
Kathi – Okay, that’s really interesting. Okay, so this fascinates me. I will say, most of my speaking is in a church setting, or a Christian setting, and every once in a while, I’ll do something in a public library, or something like that, where I have to be a lot more careful about what I’m talking about. So, I want to hear how you do this.
Tom – So, that was part of the reason for setting up my podcast, in that, I wanted to use my comedy, and my magic, as a platform, as a connection builder, to take people on a journey. So, at the end of my show now, these days – and I have done it in other ways, when I was doing a lot of churches, and I still do a lot of churches, sometimes I’d weave a message in, and we can talk about that today – but nowadays, because I’m beginning to enter comedy clubs and do small little theatres, what I’m doing is, I’m directing people to a podcast, which is very much on a similar level. It’s not a come-to-Jesus-moment podcast, it’s a perception changer, and occasionally we drop in a bit about spirituality. The theme of the podcast is, how do we live life well? So, it goes from this kind of comedy and magic, and “Why don’t you join me on a podcast? I believe we want to live life well. We want to make the most of life. This is the podcast.” Bit by bit, little by little, there’s just a perception changing conversation that might make people go, “Huh. Maybe there is something to faith.”
Kathi – Okay, so you have seven points that you feel like, “This is going to help us understand how to do this well.” So, give me Number One.
Tom – So, before we dig in, obviously, the context. A lot of your audience, Kathi, are speakers who speak the Gospel, whereas I’m coming from the approach of a comedian-magician who has done plenty of speaking with humor, and the points I have will apply to both.
Kathi – We’re going to be able to learn from all of this, yes. Absolutely.
Tom – So, the number one is: Be Yourself. I’ve made this mistake and it’s so easy to do. When you start out doing any kind of humor, or any kind of public appearance type role, it’s so easy to slip into the character of someone else. You can so easily take on someone else’s persona. So, these days, when I learn a new magic trick, for instance, I follow the advice that someone gave me. I don’t listen to them present. I watch them perform it, but I turn the volume off. I don’t want to end up nicking their gags. I remember I had a TV journalist came to video one of my gigs once. When I came out, I was all excited to watch it. It was on the BBC. I was really excited to watch it. I realized I had nicked the gags of a person I look up to, massively. I realized, “Oh, man. I’ve just become someone else, and it’s not me.” I’ve had to really discipline myself to move away from that.
Kathi – It’s really interesting. People will say, ‘cause I also have a podcast called Clutter Free Academy, and people will say, “Have you read Marie Kondo’s book?” I’m like, “No!” ‘cause I don’t want to be quoting her as me. That’s really important. As much as I want to do research about what’s out there, I want to stay true to who I am. I love the idea that you watch, but you don’t listen, so you can develop your own thing. I love that.
Tom – That was really helpful to me. At this point, if you think I haven’t got a sense of humor – that’s a very sad place to be – but if you’re listening to this thinking, “I know that if I’m honest with myself, I’m not a naturally funny person.” That’s okay. Be affirmed in that. Don’t try to do humor if it’s just not you.
Kathi – Absolutely. You say you have to consider your humor in all of this.
Tom – Sure. That’s the second point. Consider what type of humor works well for you. For me, storytelling isn’t my greatest of gifts. But, give me someone on stage that I can interact with, that I can use a magic trick to guide that conversation, or that interaction, and I’m away. I love it. In fact, one of my favorite moments is when I get heckled. Just because the interaction, it stimulates. I absolutely love it.
Kathi – I think you saw my face when you said that. That’s my worst nightmare. My worst nightmare is to be heckled.
Tom – So, here’s a story. I did a mini-corporate gathering. It was a mini work party, if you like. My first line was “Have we had a good evening?” and most everyone went, “Yeah.” and the guy in the front row said, “Up until now, yes.” He said it with a smile on his face. He wasn’t being mean. He wasn’t being harsh at all, but do you know what? I was able to engage with him throughout the whole evening. I had him up on stage. It was great fun. He loved it. I loved it. The audience loved it.
Kathi – He basically volunteered as your partner for that night.
Tom – He did. You can imagine the audience. He was a well-known guy within the company. People loved it.
Kathi – I think about, “Funny is funny is funny.” But I’m a storyteller. If I get up and try to do jokes? It’s never going to happen. So funny. They know me as a humorous speaker, so the sound check guy will always say, “Well, just tell a joke.” And I say, “Why do blondes have more fun? Because there aren’t enough redheads to go around.” It’s the one joke I know. You have to understand your humor. My husband has very self-deprecating, but very dry humor, so if he tries to be funny, it almost never works.
Tom – Absolutely, yeah. You’ve got to stick with the humor that works well for you. Whether it’s interaction, whether it’s storytelling. Some people do visual, or musical, even. If you thrive in a particular area, know that and use that. Maximize that humor to its advantage.
Kathi – I love it. Okay, one: Be Yourself. Two: Consider your Humor. What’s number three?
Tom – Keep a Notebook, particularly if you’re a storyteller. I’m sure, if you’re anything like me, Kathi, I have plenty of notebooks. In fact, I spoke to someone this morning about keeping notebooks and they said they had a box of 40 delivered just ‘cause they loved them so much. So, I try to keep a notebook. If something funny happens, keep a notebook of it. If you think of a funny little line to go somewhere, make a note of it. Fill it with mind maps. It’s brilliant.
Kathi – Okay, so I have to know. What’s your favorite notebook, and do you have a favorite pen?
Tom – Biro is my favorite pen, I think.
Kathi – Biro?
Tom – A standard biro. I’m an ambassador for Compassion, which you might know of.
Kathi – I love Compassion. I’m an ambassador for Compassion, as well.
Tom – Brilliant. They’ve got brand new pens. I tend to use those all the time. It works well for me.
Kathi – That’s so funny. My favorite pen of today – I’m a little bit of a tramp when it comes to my love of pens – Uniball Signo 207. I’m very specific about my pens. I will give you my heart. I will loan you my car. You can spend the night at my house. Do not take my pens. I love it. A notebook. We always think we’re going to remember, and we never do.
Tom – The best ideas always come at the most inconvenient times, so always keep a notebook.
Kathi – You’re absolutely right. So, Tom has already told us three ways to get your message and be able to use all of your gifts and talents in order to share that message. The first thing he said is Be Yourself. Two: Consider your Humor. Three: Keep a Notebook. Okay, tell me what number four is.
Tom – Number four is to Consider its Purpose. Is it to illustrate a point that you’re wanting to make? Or is it to simply break down barriers? For me, these days, it’s more of the latter. It’s more about breaking barriers, changing perceptions, than it is anything else. A few years ago, it was all about the illustration. I decided, in the context of where I’m performing, largely mainstream, it was about breaking those barriers. It wasn’t about illustration. It would feel a bit weird if I suddenly brought a point out of it. But, in a church context, for a minister, an illustration is where you might want to be leading to.
Kathi – Here’s where I think the cultural difference comes in. In America, we assume a lot of people are Christians who aren’t. I’m guessing, in England, it’s the exact opposite. It’s like, “Well, Tom looks normal. He can’t be a Christian.” So, what you’re doing is breaking down a barrier to say, “Hey, we’re a lot alike. I just happen to love Jesus. Let me tell you about that.”
Tom – Absolutely. Humor is so important. How much humor you then give, before you get to your point, matters. You’ve got to have them onside before you can launch into a faith message, or challenge them a little bit. Can you imagine, if you’re talking about something like sin, here in Britain, it’s a big thing for people to swallow, so you might need quite a lot of humor before you say, “By the way, your life doesn’t match up.” That’s a big thing.
Kathi – And humor, to me, is the fastest way of connection in any relationship, whether it’s one-on-one, or person to an audience. So, using that type of humor, let’s go back to point number two: consider your humor. You’re not doing this to try to be funny. That’s always the most uncomfortable situation, but when you can be self-deprecating, and say, “I’m just like everybody else, and here are the places we connect.” That can be a beautiful thing. Okay, that was number four. Consider its Purpose. Number five you’re going to have to explain, ‘cause we don’t understand. I now know, because I’ve been in an interview with you, but number five. Give us your point.
Tom – Don’t Tell Vicar Jokes. What I mean by this is, Kathi, I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, but I’ve been to some churches, and the vicar tries to funny. He needs a way to open up his sermon, needs a way to welcome people, and automatically goes into some joke he found on the internet. Let me share a few with you, and the lack of laughter, or the groans will show you why we don’t go here. Here we go. Who was the smallest person in the Bible?
Kathi – I don’t know.
Tom – Knee-high-miah.
Kathi – Oh my gosh.
Tom – See, Kathi. I’ve got you on board. Could you imagine if you weren’t a Christian? Would you get saved from my humor there?
Kathi – It’s so painful. We call those, in the United States, Dad Jokes. Those are Dad Jokes.
Tom – Absolutely. Here’s another one, right? What kind of person what Boaz before he got married?
Kathi – I don’t know.
Tom – Ruth-less. One more. And by the way, there are some highly respected comics that do these kinds of jokes very well. This isn’t to condemn them. I’m just saying vicars shouldn’t use them. Here we go. Last one. How does Moses make tea?
Kathi – I don’t know.
Tom – He-brews it.
Kathi – Oh my goodness.
Tom – See what I mean?
Kathi – And if you’re not a Christian? As a Christian, you can give that a “haha funny”, but you’re not going to know what ‘Ruth-less’ means, if you haven’t spent your time in Sunday School.
Tom – Absolutely.
Kathi – Yeah. No.
Tom – You don’t want sympathetic laughs. You want genuine belly laughs.
Kathi – That’s right. That’s what’s connecting, and those are not connecting jokes, by any stretch of the imagination. Okay, so number six: Start with You. Explain what that means.
Tom – You know what? I’m going to blend six and seven, ‘cause they’re the same thing, in some ways. That is, Start with You. If you have a look online – people can’t see me here, but I have a resemblance, so I’m told, to the kid from Home Alone. Right? Macauley Culkin.
Kathi – Yes, you do.
Tom – Yeah, so I have been approached in the supermarket to know if I was that man. I’m like, “No. He lives in the States, for a start.”
Kathi – Let’s be clear. Macauley Culkin, Home Alone, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Tom – So, I have a slight resemblance, right? So, when I say, “Start with You”, here’s the second point to that. The perception of the audience is a vehicle for your humor. So, I know that, perhaps, there are one or two people in my audience that, particularly if I point it out, are thinking, “He looks like that kid from Home Alone.” Quite often, these days, my opening line in my show is, “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘He looks like the guy from Home Alone.’” And I pull the face, right? That gets a laugh, because it’s in the back of people’s subconscious minds. They’re thinking, “I think I know him. Oh no. It’s not him.” Pointing out the obvious. Pointing out the thing that everyone is thinking is often an easy way to get humor.
Kathi – Got it. I love that. You know, again, it connects. You’re actually bringing to mind something that is very familiar to them. It feels warm, and it’s a great point of connection.
Tom – Self-deprecation works really well.
Kathi – Yes! That’s why I tell stories on myself. Every once in a while, someone will tell me, “Well, you shouldn’t have behaved that way.” And I’m like “I know, but it’s funny.” So, to think about how the audience perceives you, and be able to use that. I love all these things. We’re saying, “How do we connect with an audience and take away some of those natural barriers?” Especially when we’re talking about the things of Christ. How do you take away some of those natural barriers? You can, in so many speakers, you can build barriers, just by talking. If we’re not careful, we can build even more barriers. Now, I’ve learned that you cannot always read an audience by body language. I’ll have somebody, I’m like “That person in the second row hates my guts.”
Tom – Then they come up to you at the ends, and they say, “Kathi, that was amazing!” and you’re like, “Well, you could have told your face!”
Kathi – That is exactly my line that I don’t say to them. They don’t know how they come off. One thing I have learned, in a church setting, is always find out who the pastor’s wife is. I used to be afraid of her, and now I realize she’s used to giving those warm signals to the person on stage, because she has to go home with him. That’s the person you look to for encouragement. Okay, Tom, this is so great. We’re going to publish this list of seven in the podcast notes. We’re also going to make sure people have a way to go and listen to your podcast. I’ve just been so encouraged by you. Making this easier and making this accessible to those of us who are not professional comedians, we are not professional magicians, but we still have this deep desire to take those barriers out and just connect so deeply with our audience. Tom, thanks for being on Writing at the Red House podcast.
Tom – My pleasure. You know, I’m a big fan of your podcast. I tune in. Laughter is such a gift. For God’s sake, go and use it. If you’ve got it, use it. It’s such a gift. It can win people for the Kingdom.
Kathi – Thanks, once again, Tom. Guys, thank you for being here at the Writing at the Red House podcast. Thanks for spending a little bit of time getting better at what God has called you to do.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items