Before the Dalai Lama spoke on the sober subjects of religion and the environment in Taiwan during a speech this week, he opened with a quip about his English.

"First thing, no grammar, no proper grammar," the 73-year-old said with a low-pitched staccato laugh while addressing a full auditorium of residents in the southern city of Kaohsiung. "There is a danger to get misunderstandings, so I always tell you, be careful Dalai Lama's broken English."

His mischievous chuckle and self-depricating humour sent waves of laughter through the audience.

A day earlier, when aides accidentally broke a table in front of the kneeling religious figure, he surprised a somber crowd of about 10,000 local Buddhists with the same laugh, generating applause. During a Tibetan-langauge prayer for the same audience, he suddenly put on a purple sun visor, breaking into English to say the overhead light was too strong. That time the crowd laughed.

Quips and outbursts of laughter characterise the world-renowned Tibetan spiritual leader's speeches as he uses humour, part of his core personality, to bring him closer to his listeners, people close to him say.