Life Lessons from a Standup Superfan

Fun fact: at the time, the suit was not the funny part.

Let me be clear from the start of this entry. I am not “stand-up funny.” I’m only ever incidentally funny (if that!), and I try to not let the giggles I get from parents during our yearly orientation presentations ever give me the idea that I should quit my day job. But I am a stand-up enthusiast. I love comedy and have for a while, and working in student activities has given me the opportunity to make the acquaintance of a few stand-up comedians. Their jobs are HARD. Justin Berkman wrote a particularly thorough piece on his life as a comic a few weeks back, and it gave me even greater insight into the lives of these artists. And YES, they are artists.

I’ve found a few lessons for life from standup comedy, because it’s me and I find lessons in most things. Get psyched, I’m gonna share them with you! Humor me here. Pun not intentional, but recognized.

Timing is everything. I’ve written before about how sometimes timing is crucial to the success of the work that we do. Timing in a joke is even more important. Speed of delivery and the time and environment in which the joke is told are the difference between thunderous applause and the sound of crickets from outside the hall. Sometimes, a joke or a project aren’t going to land as you’d hope. And sometimes, that’s because the joke is bad or the project is a bad idea. BUT. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, you may have misjudged the atmosphere in which the joke is being told. Or maybe there are extenuating circumstances that you don’t know about that makes the environment a poor one to receive your work. These things happen. Commit yourself to doing the legwork about your surroundings, and you could find a different reception the next time around.

And sometimes, the joke is just bad. That’s okay too. The well’s not dry, just prime it and try again.

Don’t be afraid to shake it up. I’ve written previously about the importance of occasionally scrapping the “tried and true” and trying something new. It’s easy to get comfortable and recreate successful programs or initiatives, year after year, with the knowledge that a rotating clientele means these programs will always be new to someone. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t infuse change. “Effective” or “successful” are great metrics of success, but they can also be really boring. Could comedians rest on the laurels of the same jokes, knowing they’ll elicit a laugh? Sure. And some do. But many more write new ones, wishing to surprise and reignite the excitement of their loyal fans. We should be fearless enough to try the same. And if it doesn’t work as well? That’s okay. Again…the well’s not dry, just prime it and try again.

Embrace the chaos. I imagine comedians and student affairs professionals share a similar struggle when explaining their job to relatives over holiday breaks. While comedians may have real-world examples to point to for reference, who do we have? Dean Vernon from Animal House? Yeesh. Our days are not normal, our routines rarely stick. Understand that, learn to live with it. In our larger moments/days/weeks/months of seeming chaos, it may not always be comforting to know that’s what we signed up for. But we did. Our circumstances are going to be hard to explain to others, and at times even harder to fathom for ourselves. Such are our lives. Embrace it.

Improv is okay too! Improv and stand-up are different. I’m going to say this again. Improv and stand-up are different. Stand-up favors advance preparation and occasional inspiration from others. Improv, however, works well when you move quickly and depends on input from others. We all move forward with the best of intentions and believe that we have to work from a plan. But sometimes it’s best to say yes and roll with it. There are moments where a prompt from a coworker or friend is the best thing your project could ask for. They might not know your full thought process or the circumstances that you’re working under. Again, sometimes that’s best for you to roll with. Learn to distinguish the moments that you must march forward with a plan through, from the ones that could grow with the help of your “troupe.”

Find a way to deal with the hecklers. My inspiration to write about comedy came from my

He doesn’t need your help. He’s got this.

experience at a Bill Cosby show last night. It was my second time seeing him, and I was intrigued to see how his comedy would go over after a few years of his detour into political commentary. To his credit, his jokes were still very funny. He’s a pro, he’s been doing this a long time. And yet, there is always someone at a comedy show that believes they’re being helpful by “suggesting” things from their seat in the auditorium. Now, I respect comedians. I like to believe they go up having a plan. And I am WELL aware that they’re (generally) significantly better at what they’re doing than I could ever be. But sometimes people will pipe up with the understanding that they know better than you. How you handle these moments define you. And Bill handled them far better than I ever would. Case in point: if you’ve been married for a year while Mr. Cosby is joking about it from forty-nine years of experience…you can settle down. When you receive criticism from those around you, find your own way to determine if it’s a helpful suggestion from someone who has insight that could help you(and sometimes it is), or if it’s just noise, from someone who just wants to talk, that you should brush past and move forward.

What other lessons have you learned from standup comedy? Who are your favorite comedians? And did you realize I’d addressed comedy previously so many times? I sure didn’t…

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