What I learned from doing stand up
Performing a stand up set - about feminism - was not something I had ever thought of doing.
Yet, I signed up for a course, and 8 weeks later, there I was, speaking to a fairly large audience.
That evening, I left work early to go home and prepare.
As a good strategist and an anxious, overachiever human, I had obviously made amends just the night before, so there were new parts to memorise.
I paced around my flat - part deliberately, part nervously - saying out loud the words I had pulled together and apart, killed and brought back, played with or obsessed about.
Later that night, some of them I forgot; some of them I remembered.
Whilst on that stage, all of them - old, new, improvised, stumbled - were just about perfect to me.
I loved every second of being on a stage, doing stand up.
But I don’t plan on doing it again.
The lead up to the show was intense - at the same time (incredibly) fun and (somewhat) painful.
On the very first class, I realised I had a lot to learn. A lot.
Before that, I couldn’t remember the last time I was so out of my comfort zone or so skilfully challenged.
I had forgotten the feeling of being an absolute beginner at something.
It was incredible, refreshing.
More remarkably so because it clearly was a completely safe space to fail.
We were all trying, in that class.
The teacher was not only competent and sharp, she was also uplifting and kind.
She guided us, in those 8 weeks, through a try again, fail again, fail better process.
So fail I did.
Week after week.
Again, and again, and again.
I was so uneducated in comedy that, at points - many of them -, I didn’t even have the vocabulary to understand what was being asked of me.
It seemed obvious to everyone, but me.
So I ever tried.
Writing and rewriting punchlines, testing different styles of delivery to see what landed (also known as trying out new material)
Reading books about jokes, reading books about comedians.
Booking meeting rooms during lunch breaks, talking aloud to an imaginary audience.
Using a remote, or a hairbrush, or a water bottle, as a microphone.
Cutting down words to get to the very core of the story.
Watching one Netflix special after the other, pouring over YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, to figure out whose style I liked and whose I didn’t - and why.
(Why is such a crucial but oft-ignored question in learning and development - a topic for another essay)
As exhausting as it was, I loved every part of the process.
Except the having to be funny part.
Turns out that can be quite a problem when the goal of comedy is to make people laugh.
I never felt an urgency to be on a stage to inspire laughter.
I wanted to be there because I had something to say.
And I needed to be honest to my own story.
Not feeling the urge to be constantly funny was a pain point throughout most of the course.
Until I finally understood how liberating it actually can be.
The skills I learnt during those weeks go way beyond comedy.
Twisting narrative arcs.
Speaking to crowds.
Reading the room.
Holding your fucking nerves.
Dealing with people who interrupt you.
(Known as ‘hecklers’ in the comedy world, or ‘insecure men’ everywhere else. Tip for both: acknowledge them, repeat what they said back at them and to others in the room, do not attack them, and move on to what you’re saying next).
All very useful.
For me, being funny - or using comedy - became a device.
It’s a means to deliver a message. One of many ways to do so. Not the end goal.
Laughter can ease people into listening up to otherwise hard or not so pleasant subjects.
There’s a reason so many talks start with a joke.
It puts people at ease.
Laughter breaks down barriers.
Try to make someone with crossed arms laugh.
If they do, they’ll automatically uncross their ams and physically open up.
(Unless it’s very cold, then give them a hot drink and try again in a warmer day. )
It was clear, from even before starting the course that I wanted to talk about feminism.
Or rather, about my experience as a woman.
(Those are very connected)
It had to ultimately be funny, yes, but not at the cost of the truth.
I wanted the story to be real - to be genuinely me.
Those were the creative constraints I unknowingly but firmly set myself, and when I walked on that stage, I was proud of what I had put together.
Punchlines and all.
Even though comedy isn’t my thing, I’ve had an incredible time doing this.
It was hard, uncomfortable and fun.
Because it was so new and strange to me, I got to experience the world through other lenses.
With a different way to look at and a greater vocabulary to interrogate events.
It also exposed me to people I’d ordinarily not meet.
New lives, new perspectives… that in itself, would make it worth it.
Because there’s nothing more boring that being surrounded by people who think, work, live, love, dream, fail exactly like you.
For me, life is about improvement. About growth.
About making the world a better, kinder and more interesting place than that you entered.
For yourself, and for others.
And for that, you’ve got to expand your limits.
To be curious. To ask questions.
To be open. To be challenged.
To be open to be challenged.
To learn, to listen, and to create.
To distill thoughts and ideas, to understand, and to ignite transformation.
To inspire, through speech, actions, presence, comedy and much more, evolution in the world.
Be it in the one inside, or around us.
Now, onto the next learning. What will that be?