Why I started doing stand up comedy

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I had rehearsed and rehearsed and now the night had come. I was nervous but I tried not to show it. What if they didn't laugh? What the hell did you sign up for? Thinking you could make people laugh? How arrogant of you! You foolish man! Imposter syndrome kicks into top gear and the desire to flee is rising.  Hold on. Breathe. Slow. Down. Breathe. The MC calls my name…….

……. showtime.

But why would I bother start doing stand-up comedy at forty years old. It's hard to believe but there is a solid business reason behind it. I had worked for the same company for 16 years before I decided to branch out on my own. I knew it would be different but when you leave after that length of time you start to question your decision and wonder why you left this bubble of comfort and security. But then you realise that IS EXACTLY the reason; to leave the bubble of comfort and security and stretch yourself. To test yourself against the world without all the trappings of corporate protection. To risk it all.

And maybe fail.

It was with that in mind that I started analysing my 'game'. What was I known for? One thing was being a good public speaker but now I was out on my own in the corporate wilderness, I would have to really enhance this element of my skills as it would be important in every aspect of running a business; sales pitches, training delivery, results presentation....... the list goes on. So how could I raise my game in an innovative way that would give me an edge? Where better to do that than on stage telling jokes. So I signed up to complete a 6 week stand up workshop with Ciaran McMahon of You Talk Funny and it was well worth it. 

Why is stand up so applicable to becoming a grade-A presenter in a business context? Simply put, it's a process and all good comedians apply their process well. I won't give away all the secrets but the three big take-aways for me were as follows:

Know yourself inside-out

You need to know yourself better. That means taking time to reflect on what makes you, you. As a presenter people will judge you on how you look, how you sound and what persona you put across. It's not any different in stand-up. In fact they will be more judgey! So make sure you find out from others how you come across and actively seek that feedback.

Funny for you or funny for me?

We all have great ideas…… in our heads. We need to understand that we are all subject to bias - that idea/joke which we come up with is much funnier than any other. Many people prepare a presentation in their heads but I am afraid to tell you that your head is unreliable. What sounds amazing to your own internal voice might not just be the best phrasing when it's out there in the air in front of you. The easy solution is to take the time to write it down and then test it with some trusted critics that will give you a fair assessment of your 'presentation/joke'.


Practice. Record. Listen. Practice. Repeat! If you are worried about "going blank" then use every channel for learning. Writing it down is the first channel. Reading it out is the second. Listening back is the third and Repetition is the fourth. You can't be over familiar with the material. Repeat until you are bored. Believe me you won't be bored come presenting time because the adrenalin kicks in like sugar in a three year old.

These three things along with some other great comedy tools in the process really did raise my game. I feel more confident now when I present in a business context because the nerves have found a new, higher baseline. I am more comfortable with my own style, I enjoy the process of testing my material and feel confidence from the process of preparation and practice.

How do I know it worked? Well I have six gigs under my belt now. One was 30 minutes long and another was in the same Manchester comedy club where Peter Kay and John Bishop started their careers: it was only 5 minutes but it all counts! I won't be going on tour anytime soon but I am enjoying being in the stretch zone knowing that I am learning more every time. 

If you'd like to raise your presenting game in a more unorthodox way you'll have to sign up for Ciaran's workshop for the full experience yourself in Dublin and contact Ciaran McMahon on the link below

Stephen Naughton