This is my most popular answer on Quora with over 20,000 views, replying to an interesting question:
“Boys,” said Gussie, “I mean ladies and gentlemen and boys, I do not detain you long, but I suppose on this occasion to feel compelled to say a few auspicious words; Ladies – and boys and gentlemen – we have all listened with interest to the remarks of our friend here who forgot to shave this morning – I don’t know his name, but then he didn’t know mine – Fitz-Wattle, I mean, absolutely absurd – which squares things up a bit – and we are all sorry that the Reverend What-ever-he-was-called should be dying of adenoids, but after all, here today, gone tomorrow, and all flesh is as grass, and what not, but that wasn’t what I wanted to say.
What I wanted to say was this – and I say it confidently – without fear of contradiction – I say, in short, I am happy to be here on this auspicious occasion and I take much pleasure in kindly awarding the prizes, consisting of the handsome books you see laid out on that table.
As Shakespeare says, there are sermons in books, stones in the running brooks, or, rather, the other way about, and there you have it in a nutshell.”
The point is that things can be funny for many reasons. As in the above case, because the speaker at the school prize day is utterly drunk and being rude to the headmaster.
So some humour is very context-specific. What amuses one audience might fall flat with another. Don’t have a stock joke you wheel out on every occasion. #Fail
I helped someone with a best man speech:
I’m no good at speaking.
But we City professional types here all love PowerPoint, right?
So I’ll give you a PowerPoint presentation instead of a speech …
Wild cheers! NO-ONE was expecting a PPT at a wedding. Surprise!
The essence of humour is this: CONTRAST/SURPRISE.
People smile because they are expecting something, but get something quite different. Look at the nice other examples people have given here, and spot the wide range of contrasts actually creating the smiles.
Here’s a good point. A speech does not start when you begin to talk! The opening formalities are important and need to be done well, but THEN the speech starts.
Here’swhen I was leaving at the end of my diplomatic career.
Note how I say all the nice things to thank people first.
Then I get to it:
What you all want to know is, why is he leaving?
Did he jump?
Or was he pushed?
The answer is … Yes!
Polska jest skomplikowana.
Poland is complicated.
Obcokrajowcy muszą mieć silne nerwy, aby tu żyć.
Foreigners need strong nerves to live here…
Here my strangled attempts to speak Polish and the general informality of my approach at what is rather a smart occasion combined to make everyone amused.
Bottom Line: start STRONGLY. Something like this:
You all think that Russia is the BEAR.
It’s … the FOX!
Everyone smiles – and is intrigued.
They want more. You have ‘em!