The callback is a comedy writing principle that can be applied to real-life conversations. It’s premise is simple, yet when executed properly, it can be a great way to build rapport with someone. Here’s what the callback entails:
When you execute a callback, you reference something from earlier in the conversation.
That’s it. Here’s an example of one of favorite callbacks by an obscure comedian named Tom McTigue. I’m going to paraphrase him here, because the joke is best told in the first-person form:
Be honest with me, okay? I appreciate when you laugh at my the jokes, but it also helps when you don’t laugh. That’s how I learn, you know. If I tell an awful joke, and you decide to be polite and fake-laugh, I’ll think it’s great and tell it again at the next club. And then everyone will be dead silent, and I’m gonna think, “Well, those sons of bitches in San Diego set me up!”
That usually gets a few chuckles, and he moves on. About half an hour later, he starts talking about life as a comedian:
Doing the stand-up circuit can be pretty exhausting. Going from one club to another, night after night, I’m just tired all the time now. Well… I mean, I’m tired. But I’m not… you know, Ethiopian tired. I can still brush a fly off my face if I need to.
That joke, naturally, gets a bit of stunned silence, and maybe even some “ooooohs.”
And that’s when he looks around the audience, shakes his head, and says….
Those sons of bitches in LA set me up….
That turned out to be a lot of effort to explain the concept of the callback. But hey, it’s one of my favorite jokes, and I wanted to figure out a way to work that into a post. So there you go.
The reason the callback is so powerful is the same reason good friends love inside jokes: You get to feel like you’re part of an exclusive club that’s “in the know.” When you get a reference that most others won’t, it demonstrates the special bond you and the other person have.
Within a conversation, the callback also demonstrates that you’re actually listening to the other person. And of course, that’s pretty important when you’re trying to connect to someone.
The secret to executing an effective callback is to wait. If someone says something, and you respond right away to it, of course that’s great. You’re listening in that moment. But the more time that passes between the original reference and the callback, the more the other person will feel that sense of rapport when you do bring it up again.
And that’s pretty much it. If you’re talking to someone, remember some key detail they mention early on, and make sure you reference it later on in the conversation. You’ll be amazed at how quickly it can help you establish rapport with this person.
Or, you know, just make a sincere effort to listen to them, so that the callbacks come naturally….