How to Add Humor to a Graduation Speech

Three Parts:Picking Appropriate JokesFinding the Right ToneDelivering Your Funny Speech

Boring graduation speeches are a tragedy. If you've been tasked with giving one, you can learn to inject a little humor into the proceedings. Learn to pick appropriate jokes that will have your audience in stitches. Learn to nail the tone and deliver your speech to emphasize the humor, as well as the heart.

Part 1
Picking Appropriate Jokes

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    Use funny inspirational quotes to get you started. Starting with inspirational quotes is a common (even corny) feature of the graduation speech. If you want to have a little humor in your speeches, using humorous quotes can be a great way to do it and add some levity.[1] Here are a few classics of the genre:
    • Will Rogers: "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
    • Ben Franklin: "You will find the key to success under the alarm clock."
    • Bill Watterson: "What's it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don't recommend it."
    • Ray Magliozzi: "You will never have more energy or enthusiasm, hair, or brain cells than you have today."
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    Make a funny reference, but take it seriously. One excellent way of putting a little humor in your speech is ironically referencing something that seems like it would be a silly reference for a graduation speech. Pop culture like songs, cartoons, and action movies could all be great references for a funny graduation speech, as long as you take it seriously and develop it.
    • Pick a pearl from a favorite rap song: "As the venerable Lil Wayne taught us, 'Real G's move in silence, like lasagna.' And that's what I want to talk to you about today. No, not the questionable Italian casseroles lovingly served by the lunch ladies at our school, but moving forward. In silence. Like the real G's that Jefferson High School has made us."
    • Reference some "low" culture: "Wondering these halls, we were like so many Mario Brothers in the sewers of our lives. Getting lost and finding our way. Reaching for stars. Thinking we were sparkling and invincible. Trampling strange mushrooms. Smashing turtles with hammers. Doing battles with princess-stealing dragon creatures who live in fiery realms. Well...we did some of that."
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    Tell a story specific to your school. Think of a funny story specific to your school, something that involves characters present at the graduation. This could be a good way to lead into your speech with some humor, as long as the story is appropriate for your audience.
    • If you're giving a speech because you're an exceptional student or an administrator, it could get a good opportunity to self-deprecate. Tell a story about a time you failed spectacularly.
    • Try to think of something everyone will be able to recognize. If your school has been under construction all year, make jokes about "building the future one closed hallway at a time."
    • Avoid telling "inside" jokes unless you're going to explain them. If something is funny to you and your swim-team friends, but nobody else knows what it means, it's not good for a graduation speech. Remember who your audience is.
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    Poke fun at the "traditional" graduation speech. While it might be difficult to pull off well, poking fun at the usual cliches of the graduation speech can be a good way to find something more interesting to say. Think of the corniest speech you could possibly give, then use that as a spring to go in the opposite direction.
    • Attack the "hard-work" cliché: "Lots of people will tell you that success comes with hard work. And that the only way to climb that ladder of success is by keeping your hands out of your pockets. But it isn't true. Some people are just lucky. And that's what I want to talk about today..."
    • Pick on the "I see the future innovators of the world" cliché: "I look out at you, my fellow graduates, and you know what I see? I see a future of loan debt. I see the students who will break their thumbs on the Xbox of life. The kids who will back-up the emergency rooms of the world, on Halloween, when the partying was too intense. Who will have 14 grandmothers die during finals week. And who will take control of their lives."
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    Start with a lame joke, then unpack it. Lots of good speeches, and some bad ones, use some conceit, story, or aphorism through the whole speech as a kind of metaphor. David Foster Wallace's "This is Water" is a classic speech of the genre.[2] He starts with a simple joke about two fish swimming along in the ocean, and then talks at length about the cliches of graduation speeches, in which many speakers position themselves as the older fish swimming along telling the younger fish what water is.
    • Pick a common joke that you like and tell it. Knock-knock jokes, chicken crossing the road jokes, talking dog jokes, jokes about moths visiting podiatrists. You can use any joke if you put the work into it.
    • "My dad used to love to tell a joke. It goes like this: A guy and a skeleton walk into a bar. The guy orders two beers and a mop. I think there are two kinds of people in this world. Skeletons, and the people who mop up after them when they drink too much."

Part 2
Finding the Right Tone

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    Think about your audience. As you're crafting your jokes for your graduation speech, Try to keep in mind all of the people who will be there. Your fellow classmates may be your target, but remember that they might be hugely outnumbered by faculty, family members, and other people who might not think your inside joke with the swim team is funny.
    • You probably won't make everyone laugh, even if your joke is great. Don't worry about broadcasting to every body in the audience, but try to keep it clean for as many people as possible. Remember they are there.
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    Find out where you are in the line-up. It's also important to find out about the order of events at the ceremony. When will you be speaking? It's probably not best to include too many jokes if you're slated to speak right after a tribute to a fallen classmate, or a very serious benediction. It might come off as bad taste.
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    Keep it clean and respectful. Being funny doesn't mean being crude. Keep your jokes relatively PG and tasteful, so everyone can laugh. Don't insult administration or single out specific teachers as part of your speech.
    • It's probably not necessary to name specific people at all in your speech. Even if you think they might laugh to be called out for something in the graduation speech, you never know who'll take offense. Don't tease anyone but yourself.
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    Connect the humor to something heart-felt. Jokes shouldn't be used just for the sake of jokes. The best jokes can be developed into something more complicated and meaningful, for the speech to work.
    • Sometimes, it can be hard to think of a joke to go along with a specific theme, and it's a lot easier to find a specific theme from a joke you want to tell.
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    Watch some funny speeches for advice. When you're trying to figure out the best tone and delivery for your speech, watch some.[3] Check out a few of the funniest and most clever commencement speeches given.[4] Here are some recent classics, both by comedians and celebrities, as well as regular students:

Part 3
Delivering Your Funny Speech

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    Start by thanking everyone and testing the waters. In the beginning of your speech, it's a good idea to read your audience. You might use an early joke to Try to anticipate how your speech will go, but you don't want to launch into your most complicated or ridiculous jokes right off the bat. Ease into things and see how ready to laugh your audience will be.
    • Lead in a general way, thanking everyone who has already spoken and brought you up to the stage. Even if your speech involves voices and costumes, don't forget the standard "thank you" stuff.
    • It's hard to guess the mood of a particular audience. Some might be rowdy and ready to laugh, others might be kind of somber, or bored. Start normally and find the right tone for the day.
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    Have a back-up plan if necessary. What happens if you launch into your jokes and nobody laughs? That could be an awkward situation, if your speech just builds and includes nothing but jokes. While this is unlikely if you do your speech-writing appropriately, it's a good idea to have an emergency back-up plan in place if you suddenly have a change of heart.
    • You can always avoid emphasizing the jokes with your voice. Just read it as straight as possible, instead of pausing dramatically for emphasis and waiting for the laughter to die down.
    • Mark all your jokes with one color, or with an underline, and then let all the straight stuff stay in regular font and text. If you need to, you can quickly see the jokes you can skip over. Just focus on the content.
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    Expect people to laugh in unexpected places. This always happens. You think one line will kill, and you get nothing but silence. Two sentences later, people will laugh at something you thought was pretty straightforward. Don't worry about this. If people are laughing, that's a good thing. Don't worry about it too much, but be ready to pause in places you might not have thought you should pause.
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    Commit to the "character" that you're playing. In some cases, you might be adopting a kind of character to be funny. You might be overly dramatic, or fake-serious, or you may just end up being yourself. Whatever you're doing, commit to it as much as possible.
    • If you're going to belt a Sinatra song dramatically, you've got to stay serious so people will laugh. If you're going to give a fake-academic talk, stay in professor mode all the way through.
    • Don't laugh at your own jokes. Practice saying them so you won't be giving away your own punchlines.
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    Slow down. If your speech is funny, give the people enough time to catch up with your clever sense of humor. Pacing is important to any kind of speech. Slow down as you're giving it and pause in the right places.
    • Slow down the speed that you're reading your words, as well as your pauses in between sentences. Give each sentence a full stop.
    • If people are laughing, just stop talking for minute. Don't try to talk over the laughter.
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    Enunciate your words. Mumble-mouthed jokes won't get any laughs. Practice reading your speech slowly, enunciating and pronouncing each word properly. If you stumble over jokes and mess up the words, or have to start over a particular joke, it'll lose some of its punch.
    • Practice your speech several times. Have it nearly memorized, without actually memorizing it. Nothing stops a joke dead in the water like bad timing.
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    Don't "just" be funny. Jokes are well and good, but it's important to have a speech that's more complicated than a litany of jokes. You can be the funniest comedian at your school, but you want to say something of substance in the end. Thank people sincerely for having you give the speech and sitting to listen to it at the end, even if the rest of your speech was sarcastic or ridiculous.
    • End on some positive note. People like to be moved at a graduation, as well.


  • Think of a funny story that happened while you were in school, and add it to the speech.
  • Find a joke or two that relates to you, your classmates or your school.
  • Run jokes with friends.
  • Try to make original jokes.


  • Don't insult any teachers or administration with your jokes.

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Categories: Speechwriting