Well that was okay for a first try …

I said to myself, as I struggled to see the steps off the stage in the dark cavern of the club where my eyes were still recovering from the blinding heat of the spotlights.  I stumbled back to my seat and hunkered down next to the select few friends I had invited to watch my debut on stage.  Looking back I would not have invited anyone to watch this stammering unfold before their eyes.

But I knew this could not be the end.  I had to try again.  Following the protocol for flight crews who go down in an emergency landing where they are put on the next flight out so that they do not have time to revel in the shock of what just happened, I immediately signed up to do it again.  I would spend the next two months re-writing my lines, practicing on stage and finessing my presence. Once I got a foothold on my confidence I even signed up to take a class at Tacoma Comedy Club presented by the very funny Cory Michaelis and Andrew Rivers.  What I learned goes well beyond how to be funny on stage, I learned lessons that carry through every aspect of life and business.

Be TRUE To YOUR STORY

My first time on stage my jokes were very safe.  Joking about divorce, parenting and the basic suburban career life of a forty-year-old male.  There is definitely some humor there, but it was not unique to my story.  My lines felt canned, rehearsed and unnatural. Any guy could grab my script and stand in telling my jokes with little impact to the end result.  I was not telling my story.  Not the heart of my story.

The weeks after my first experience I realized that I was not bringing anything special to the stage.  My jokes were okay at best and sure they got a few laughs, but the overall presence offered no point of differentiation that left the audience knowing you “that guy who…” This is where things got real personal for me.  I started joking about my darkest moments, making fun of my biggest failures and fears.  It was easy and natural and people laughed.  I was no longer stressed about remembering a canned word for word script, I was simply telling my story and it was making all the difference.

RETELL Bad Jokes

Though I was telling my story and things were starting to click I still had those moments where a joke I poured my soul into landed in the dark cavern of silence without reaction before me.  This can hurt. Leaving you feeling like that girl that didn’t get a call back after a first date. “Was it me? Was it something I said?” Then you turn to blame… “What was wrong with that audience? How did they not get my joke?” Whatever the reason, it just did not happen that night.

But then a week later the exact same joke may get a laugh. Or maybe it won’t. Either way, I learned to not give up too soon.  Try it out a few times with a few different audiences before moving on.  Every night you have a crowd filled with more environmental and human elements than could be imaginable.  Any one factor could change the reception of your joke and if you walk away too soon you may never know that you had a winner hidden away.  Maybe the only reason there was not laughter was that someone coughed at just the wrong moment, just out of your earshot, but enough to pull the attention of the audience away from you. Whatever the reason, do not give up too soon.  Try and try again until you know that it really is just a bad joke.

How many times have you presented an idea to a boss or teammate to little to no excitement for something you thought was a sure winner? What did you do then?  Did you walk away from your idea? Did you leave your product in the trash bin and go on with life to try to think of a better idea later? Or did you take it to a new audience? 

Perhaps the same idea simply needs to be heard by a different set of ears.  Perhaps your idea has a supportive audience right around the corner and you just need to seek them out.

REWRITE Bad Jokes

Eventually, you may find that it is the joke and not some crowd factor that is the problem.  But before you give up completely, sometimes just changing it a little bit can result in huge laughter.  Just as in life and business, many of the best ideas are improvements on abandoned or failed ideas from the past. Making slight adjustments to the things that are not producing results can take them over the top to later become some of our best producers. That idea that you left in the trash bin, may get pulled out by someone following behind you and with a couple of changes in thought, they have the next best-selling product.  There you are left with a feeling of loss or anger knowing that the idea was yours from the beginning.  How did they get it sold when you could not? Rewrite the bad joke and make it funny before you give up completely!


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Keynote speaker, life coach, author and entertainer, Andy Vargo is all about helping you live your best life by learning how to ‘Own Your Awkward’! If you ever feel awkward about yourself, then you can understand how Andy Vargo lived the first forty years of his life. Coming out of the closet at forty doesn’t define him, pursuing his passion to help others does. During the day, Andy works corporate and school events as a motivational speaker and helps people master life changes as a one on one life coach. At night you can find him working stages around the northwest as a comedian making light of his journey with the gift of laughter. Awkward is not only his brand, but his style as Andy encourages each of us to ‘Own Your Awkward’ and be true to your genuine selves. In addition to authoring the Awkward Journal Series, Andy hosts the podcast, Own Your Awkward, co-hosts the Be The Better Local Show on BD Local and shares thoughts and ideas in his blog and video series available at awkwardcareer.
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Laura Staley

Thank you for the encouragement to not give up entirely on ideas or material we’ve created, Andy. Sometimes finding the audience that can hear your story, jokes, or message makes all the difference. Stand up comedy takes incredible courage and vulnerability. I applaud you for not giving up after that first experience!

Just a couple months ago, I attended an open mic and shared comedic material-people actually laughed and I had a blast. Second time, some of the same material and people stared at me. Woh. I totally understand what you’ve described here.

Dan Gabree
Dan Gabree

Great story and advice. Even had a few points to laugh at as we reflect on our own “successes”. Thank you.