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Using Laughter - Ex-Kalispell Man Gets the Last Laugh
by Tim Gard

When Tim Gard appears to be pulling a string back and forth through his ears, it's funny. But it's serious, too: Gard is advising members to "floss out the old policy" that may be hindering them in their work.

Who would have guessed that this former Flathead County welfare fraud investigator would one day spend his time traveling around the world being funny? Granted, he was considered a funny guy when he was senior class president at Flathead High School in 1972. "I felt more comfortable in front of a room than in the audience," he said, "but I didn't know there was an industry for guys like me."

Now that he has found out, Gard is making the most of it. As a professional speaker and humorist, he runs a Denver-based business called Comic Vision. Gard carries with him a suitcase full of silly props to aid him. A Flathead High School speech class got to see them when he spoke there last week. He also was the FHS commencement speaker this year.

Soon he'll be off to Singapore and Thailand to present his program to government agencies there. Gard travels 160,000 miles a year to deliver his Comic Vision message. He's so good that he spoke to the National Speakers Association about how he does it. And he earned the association's designation as a Certified Speaking Professional. This award is granted to less than 10 percent of professional speakers in the U.S. Gard's talent bloomed late. After high school, he worked at a series of casual jobs around Kalispell and joined the Navy (where he took part in the evacuation of Vietnam in April 1974). On his return, he became, of all things, a welfare fraud investigator. Not much funny about that. He went on to Denver to be a federal food-stamp overseer, another job not noted for its humor. But, people in tough jobs can use nonsense in their lives he discovered.

"Some things aren't funny; other things are," he says. For instance, the Montana Hunger and Homelessness Coalition program isn't funny at all "but the people who administer it have to have a way to survive stress."

As a sideline, Gard began giving motivational speeches to state and federal government groups. He made people laugh. In 1994, a new law forced him to make a choice: "Leave my government job, or stay and never laugh again." He opted for laughter. "When I told my parents," he said, "I might as well have told them I was joining the circus. I gave up a lot of security."

He formed his own company, set a speaking fee of $500 and managed to line up 50 programs in the first year. "I started by taking boring information and making it fun," he said. He depends less on subtlety than on silly, obvious humor. He shows a foam letter "B"; that's a freebie. A red letter "I" is a redeye. A little battery-operated toy box (labeled for ages 3 and up) that squawks, "Let me out of here," demonstrates the concept of thinking out of the box.

Gard has become an expert on travel. "I have so much fun when I travel," he said, "but it's hardly glamorous." He has learned to travel in the clothing he needs for his speeches. He carries with him one of his joke props. On the front, it says, "This is a major credit card"; on the back, "Here is some other form of identification."

His self-published book, Just Plane Humor, will come out soon, and he is a co-author of Leadership, the Tao of Humor. Gard's early and varied job experience has served as a foundation for his work. He has, he says, "been there, done that."

Copyright Tim Gard. All Rights Reserved.

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