Stumble & Acknowledge

Sarah Silverman

In this moment from her 2017 special “A Speck of Dust,” Sarah means to say one group but says another group instead. The audience immediately realizes that she made the mistake, and then she quickly calls attention to her stumble, has fun with it, and then finds humor in the stumble.

Transcription: “We did this show, and there were protestors outside. Um, you know, “right to life,” uh, Westboro Baptist Church-y, NPR people. And… Not NPR. NRA. That is… They are different. Completely different tote bags.”

Whatever our politics, I think we can agree that “tote bags” is a delightfully harmless comparison point to focus on between these two very different groups. This joke is satisfying to the listener because of the way Sarah caused you to think That’s the wrong group, but instead of awkwardly pretending it didn’t happen, she acknowledged it and had fun with the mistake. Nothing is more tension-resolving and enjoyable to an audience than when the speaker says the thing everyone is thinking.

This joke may have been an organic mistake at some point, or perhaps it was always planned, but Sarah’s playful reaction to her wrong word choice is a great example of how to turn mistakes into magic.

To apply this, ask yourself: what is the thing my audience thinks about this subject but wouldn’t be likely to say, and how can I acknowledge it for them? And, next time I mess up in a speech or conversation, how can I confidently call attention to it and have fun with it?