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Ask Adventure
Q: WHEN IT COMES TO CAMPFIRE STORYTELLING, MY COMIC TIMING FALLS FLAT. IS THERE ANY HOPE THAT I CAN IMPROVE?

The campfire, it seems, is surrounded by two kinds of people: Those who recall a banal experience and elicit belly laughs, and those who recount the funniest scenario they've ever seen and draw only a few forced chuckles. For folks in the latter camp, there's hope.

"Funny is not genetic," says John Hodgman, the wry host of Little Gray Book Lectures (www.littlegraybooks.com), a hip storytelling series based in Brooklyn, New York. "It is learned over time." Perfecting the process can take years, but here's a crash course to becoming a respectable campfire raconteur.

Hodgman recommends starting the tale with a one-line summary, like "Last week I accidentally set fire to my car." By revealing the crux of the story upfront, you pique interest and ensure you don't lose your own trail. Hook set, it's time for your riveting execution. Golden Rule: The humor's in the details.

"If you were hungover and in jail don't say: 'I felt like crap,'" says Hodgman. "Say, 'I was so thirsty, I looked at the stainless steel toilet in the middle of the room and wondered what would happen if I drank from it.' " Hodgman suggests practicing by telling jokes. "Even a silly joke is an effective little story," he says. "A duck walks up to a pharmacist and says: 'I need some lip balm.' The pharmacist gets it and asks how he's going to pay. The duck says: 'Just put it on my bill.' Stupid, but a story."


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Do you have a burning travel question that only the world's most dangerous writer, Robert Young Pelton, can answer? E-mail your question to adventure@ngs.org, subject line: Ask Pelton. It could be answered in an upcoming column.



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April 2005



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