Even if your topic is serious and not particularly fertile for comedy, it's always a good strategy to relax the audience with a lighthearted comment in your opening remarks. The very best kind of icebreaker, of course, is a quip that’s crafted specifically your audience. For example, at one event the stage décor included some soaring white fabric stretched into geometric shapes about 20 feet high. I said, “Rosie O’Donnell stayed here recently, and (pointing at the fabric) she very graciously donated her bathing suit for the stage décor,” and of course it brought down the house. I took a chance that this mostly male group of sales people would appreciate it, and it paid off.
If you’re just starting out as a speaker, crafting a custom line like that is not going to come easily to you—it’s taken me a couple of decades to get good at creating such lines and gaining the confidence to deliver them.
Happily, you don’t have to be skilled at writing custom comedy to get good laughs, and here I'll share one that's particularly useful for beginners: let the pros write comedy for you! The Internet puts at your fingertips hundreds of thousands of hilarious lines written by the best humor-writers in the world. As an experiment for the "Make 'Em Laugh" chapter of my eBook (www.fasttrackspeaking.com), I Googled “the economy is so bad,” and the search engine automatically filled in the word “jokes” at the end of the phrase. I clicked on it, did a little browsing and in a few seconds I found enough very funny “street jokes” (that don’t require attribution) to do a 20-minute monologue:

“The economy is so bad that CEOs are playing miniature golf.
It’s so bad I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.
I went to buy a toaster oven and they gave me a bank.
It’s so hard to find work out there, the Mafia is even laying off judges.”

It’s very important to note that I got this from a web site that encourages visitors to use their material and forward it to friends, and no attribution is necessary. What you MUST NOT do is use, say, a Conan O’Brian or Jimmy Kimmel line as if it’s your own. But there’s a very easy, quite ethical work-around in that situation. Just give your line an appropriate set-up, such as, “I’m very happy to be here. With all that snow I was afraid I’d get stuck in an airport somewhere. In fact the TV weatherman said this morning to dress warm if you're going outside. But as Seth Meyers pointed out a few nights ago, if you need a TV weatherman to remind you to wear a jacket, you've got bigger problems than the cold weather.”
Chances are very good that only a fraction of the audience will have heard the line, but everybody will enjoy it. There are lots of web sites where you can find the latest monologue jokes from the talk show hosts. One site has them all: go to www.newsmax.com and at the top of the page click on Jokes. Just be sure that you give the proper attribution, preferably before you do the joke like I did above. It’s a little lame if you do a joke and then say, “By the way, I’d like to thank Jimmy Fallon for that line.” Like I did above with Meyers, it’s pretty easy to figure out a way to give credit where credit is due while you’re telling the joke.

Author's Bio: 

Mack Dryden is a comedian, motivational humorist and speaking/humor coach who has appeared on dozens of TV shows, including The Tonight Show with both Johnny and Jay. He was a staff writer for Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, speaks to thousands of corporate and association audiences annually, and teaches "Speaking Effectively" seminars all across the country. See him in action at www.mackdryden.com.