Business Tips from the World of Stand-Up Comedy

By: Guest | February 28, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Susan Murphy

I am really fortunate in my line of work that I get to participate in some incredibly rewarding projects with outstanding people. Most recently, I was thrust into the world of stand-up comedy, as I volunteered for the Cracking-Up the Capital Comedy Festival.

This four-day festival brought together some of Canada’s top comedic talent, all with a goal to support mental health initiatives in our community.

As we put together the show, my eyes were opened to the world of comedy in a whole new way, and I realized there are many similarities between success in comedy and success in business.

Sometimes You Kill, Sometimes You Get Killed

There’s an expression in the stand-up comedy world: “He/she ‘killed’.” It means the comic ‘killed’ the audience with laughter, and had an immensely successful set everyone loved. It’s a comic’s dream to ‘kill.’

On the other side of the spectrum, a comedian can also ‘get killed’ on stage. This is a comic’s worst nightmare. Nobody laugh and the audience generally dislikes the performance. You become memorable not for what you’ve done, but for how poorly it was received.

It’s the same thing in business. Sometimes you totally kill. You exceed the expectations of your client, and you get piles of kudos and thanks. The project is a resounding success and you leave people wanting more (which translates to referrals and new business).

Just like comedians, every entrepreneur’s dream is to kill.

Then there’s the flip side. The project doesn’t go according to plan. You’re delayed, over-budget, and can’t live up to the hype. Maybe the client changed the scope. Maybe communication broke down.

Whether you’re a comic or not, if you get killed, it’s not a pleasant feeling. But ultimately, you can’t look to someone else to blame. The comedian gets a tough crowds sometimes, but the show must go on. Learning how to adjust performance for the crowd reduces the risk of getting killed on stage.

As business people, we get tough crowds too sometimes. It’s kill or be killed out there, and every room is different.

How are you dealing with that reality?

You Will be Judged by Your Ability to Recover

Let’s say you’re on stage, doing your act, and failing miserably. The crowd just isn’t into it, and you’re getting killed. Some people might just give up, muddle through, and then go cry in their Bud Light for the rest of the night. But others – the ones who really want it – will recover.

It might mean tossing the joke that worked great last night and replacing it with something more in tune with the audience. It might mean changing focus altogether. Improv, anyone?

Remember the last time you did a project where everything went perfectly? Everything was 100 percent smooth and seamless, and everyone was completely happy?

I didn’t think so.

In business, just as in comedy, your ability to recover is the basis on which you’ll be judged for all the other work you do. Bad days and mistakes are just a fact of life, but your ability to fix it, whatever the mistake might be, will make the difference between whether you succeed or fail. Recovery is key, whether you’re on a stage or in a boardroom.

Do Everything for the Good of the Show

The comedy festival I worked on was created by a mishmash of people from just about every walk of life. Our volunteer committee is made up of engineers, consultants, real estate agents, and public servants.

Not a comedy show producer in the bunch.

Fortunately, we are lucky to have pros from the comedy industry on board as well, as advisers and mentors. And of course, we had our performers, who, this time around, included the likes of Patrick McKenna, John Wing, and Colin Mochrie.

We all worked side-by-side, and it didn’t matter one bit whether someone was a famous comedian or an engineer. The stars of our show did not demand to be treated as such. The worker bees were not intimidated in the presence of the stars. Everyone was equal, and everyone worked hard, for the good of the show. There was not a selfish person in the bunch. No prima donnas. No inflated egos. Just a team of people working towards a common goal. And because we were all equals in our pursuit, the end result was, to put it mildly, extraordinary.

Do everything you do for the good of the show (or project), and demand that everyone on your team, including your clients, know this too. When people operate together towards a common goal, without letting egos or status or inhibitions get in the way, it just works, plain and simple.

They say that the best comedy is rooted in real life, and I believe it. I also believe that comedy has much to teach us about being successful.

That’s something to think about next time you see your favorite comedian take the stage.

Susan Murphy is a writer, professional speaker, television producer, web site maker, teacher, digital media specialist, singer, and pet mom. She shows people how to tell better stories. 

  • suzemuse

    @bobledrew @SpinSucks awww shucks 🙂

  • belllindsay

    I love this post Sue – I’m always preaching that inspiration and learning opportunities are all around us – we just have to keep and open mind. I once wrote quite an epic corporate blog post inspired completely by an early morning conversation about the Sesame Street phone martians! Yup yup yup yup!! 😀

  • Aw @suzemuse delighted to see your smiling face here and to read this fabulous post. I love the analogy you’ve used. And certainly business veers into the comedic on an almost daily basis (or at least it does in MY life). Go you! Well done. Much appreciated. Yay! *applauding from the peanut gallery* 😉

  • PattiRoseKnight1

    I sure hope no police read this blog because I must say I’d love to KILL!

  • Yay! It’s so good to see you here! Thank you for contributing. I have a couple of friends who use stand-up comedy in the new business process in their agencies. They both believe laughter truly is the best medicine and their new business teams are trained in stand-up comedy. It sets them apart from their competitors and they win more often than not because of it. All that to say, you’re absolutely right. Not only is business like having to adjust in comedy, actually behaving like a comedian will help you win, too. (Tagging @martinwaxman here because he will love this.)

    • suzemuse

      @ginidietrich that is so true. And thank you for having me on the blog, I loved writing this and so happy to share it with you! Hi Martin! 🙂

  • Great post, I’ve been watching and reading about standup comedians a lot lately. I’ve heard it takes somewhere around 8 years to build your first 5-10 minutes of solid material….which sounds like launching a start-up, but more difficult!

    • suzemuse

      @JoeCardillo my comedian friends can attest to that very thing! It’s a long process indeed. Overnight success often takes years and years – that too is true in business!

  • rdopping

    To be honest, I read your post because you’re Canadian. All Canadians who post on Spin Sucks get my vote…..well, most of them anyway. I had to twitterize you to find out you’re in Ottawa. Oh well, I won’t hold THAT against you. Freezing there, huh?
    You thoughts are great (again, Canadian) and I agree, when you’re getting killed is when you see what you’re made of. In my line of work going from hero to zero can happen over night so “thick skin” is a must. That…, toss the ego and a big ole dose of Aretha Franklin and you’re all good.
    I am concerned about one thing though. You mention the lout who cries in his Bud Light all night. Bud Light? Really? Not a beer drinker, eh? How about that Clocktower?
    Hehe…..great post!

    • suzemuse

      @rdopping thanks for your comment! I am indeed a beer drinker, and no I don’t drink Bud Light. But if you’ve ever spent any time at a comedy club you’ll know that the beer selection is often not exactly premium. Hence the example 🙂

    • @rdopping (“Twitterize” — that gave me an LOL!)

  • Humor is part of my schtick, or at least my misguided efforts to bring the funny. I never got companies trying to be fun at the office but the work, the writing was so serious. Humor – used well – is a great communication tool.
    It’s hard – your post is spot on. Any TV host, actor, comic, even critic will tell you funny is way harder than drama. Can’t be faked, it either kills .. or dies right there, a slow ugly painful death. (See also, why I watched the Oscars mostly on mute.) So you have to learn how to read and work the room, improvise and keep it going. And the last time something was easy, 100% perfect? Never’s not even in the neighborhood. FWIW.

  • claudioxf3

    @jbo gracias Jose. Saludos!

  • “You will be judged by your ability to recover.”  I love that.  New maxim!

  • suzemuse

    @JonMikelBailey thanks for the RT!

  • Pingback: Fresh Business Info – Monday, March 4, 2013()

  • Pingback: Five Reasons Comedy Belongs in Advertising by @BusinessBeeCom Spin Sucks()