Sunday, April 26, 2009

How comedy can change your life ...... episode 3

I ended the last blogpost by mentioning that I provide the participants in the workshop with a series of questions and get them to present the answers so I can find out more about them and observe how they assemble and communicate their ideas. I typically ask about 8 questions which are taken from a wide selection that I am always adding to. The questions are not of a skill testing nature; there are no wrong answers and there is little preparation required.


 Some of the questions ask for direct information about the person:


 “What nicknames have you had and what is the story behind them”


Some of the questions are more abstracted:


“What inanimate object would you most like to be”


Some of the questions are designed to elicit attitudes and opinions:


“What’s the most frustrating thing about the modern world”



The answers are to be presented rather than simply read out. While no-one is expected to turn the presentation into a full-blown comedy extravaganza there should be a little verve put into it, all depending, of course, on the personality of the person who is answering the questions. In some cases the raw information given with each answer is of value, and sometimes the method of construction and/or the style of delivery is more important. While there is too much involved this process to give a complete summary of it here, I will use the three cited questions to help give you some idea of what can be involved.


“What nicknames have you had and what is the story behind them”


The answers given to this question sometimes relate only to simple rhyming words but more frequently they will give information about the person’s personality and/or interests, how other people perceive them, and their reactions to that perception. Nicknames can sometimes be indicative of another side of someone’s personality and background, and having a group share nicknames, not only brings them greater understanding and familiarity, but it often has an amusing side as well.


“What inanimate object would you most like to be”


This is a much more psychologically driven question. Some of the most typical answer categories are:

1 - the kinaesthetic: a bean-bag chair, a pillow


2 - the logical: a satellite, a television (“so people want to see me and I can be entertaining and different all the time”)

3 – the sexual: a bra, Mel Gibsons saddle

4 – the poetic: a rock, a tree


This is a very short list of possible types of responses and the answers to this question are unavoidably revealing of a person’s character and the nature of their value systems. This is directly relevant to the way they construct ideas and speech. Someone who is very logical will relate very differently to a subject than someone who is very poetic and/or kinaesthetic etc. etc..


“What’s the most frustrating thing about the modern world”


This is a question that revolves around emotion and it gives people a chance to show how they express emotion. Some people are frustrated about ideological things, others are frustrated by very specific things. Some people will relate to actual events, some will be very impassioned and others very logical and, ironically, almost devoid of what one would call “frustration”. Emotional content can be a defining and powerful aspect in communication skills and comedy in particular. Attitude and emotion can create comedy with very little script and knowing how people deliver emotional content gives a clearer picture of what type of comedy someone may be suited to writing and presenting.




There are many other questions which intended to shine a light in many directions. After seeing the answers to a series of questions delivered I can determine what type of constructions and deliveries people are most inclined towards. Some should write construct things logically – idea based comedy full of observations and examples. Some should relate things through experiences and characters. Some should use emotion, some should use abstraction and often people will have a blend of many things.


Aside from what is gleaned from the content, there is also the more basic analysis of the way each person moves, uses facial expressions, how they use their voice, noticing if they relate to things through story and/or character, how they make and use eye contact and much more. The factors that make up each persons communication style and technique are numerous, but they can be isolated and identified which helps to show people the tools and traits they are working with. Reading and assessing these characteristics and potentials is, quite honestly, one of the great joys I have in my work. Students can be aware of some of the things that are pointed out but there are always things that are new and surprising to them and seeing people light up from recognizing and understanding these aspects of themselves is both fun and rewarding for myself and the other students.


Once this analysis is completed I can guide students as to how to write and present comedy in a way that will suit them and, thus, be more real and effective in front of a crowd. It is fairly self evident how the process I have been outlining translates into better communication/public speaking skills and in some ways the main question that may remain in the mind of the reader is “where’s the funny part?”. The reason that you haven’t been reading a lot of funny examples in this blogpost is because the funny is different for each personality and for each group. The focus is on comedy and it comes out consistently as all the other learning takes place but I can’t relate exactly what it is to you because it is different every time. Humour is the most human of activities and this workshop is intended to examine and enhance this human element which for the benefit the individuals as well as the group.


Any questions?

Monday, April 20, 2009

How comedy can change your life (part 2)

To those of you who read part 1, welcome back! To those who have not, please do take a look at that as well, but do feel free to read the second part first.

The comedy workshops that I put on are designed to achieve three main objectives in an enjoyable and engaging way:

1 – To fundamentally improve each participants public speaking skills
2 – To strengthen the bonds and mutual understanding of the group
3 – To enable people to identify and enhance their creative potential

I like to work with groups between 4 and 10 people, so I can really focus on everybody individually. I begin by discussing some basics of comic theory which provides some structure to start de-mystifying what comedy is and shows how humour can be used to illuminate or to obscure. Some of this material examines what stand-up comedy is not.

1 – It is not about trying to make people laugh – comedy should be predicated on you, not the crowd. Define your own sense of humour and figure out how to make the most of it.

2 – It is not about trying to find what is funny – usually comedy material is written about things that interest you for whatever reason……and you learn to make them funny. Nothing stifles comedy creativity faster than “looking for stuff that’s funny”

After this I discuss how to take control of the environments people speak in; covering printed materials, taking control of room layouts, stage setups and introductions

(for more on this see my blogpost: “Before you’ve even said a word” )

The issues of making the most of lighting and the advantages that can be gained through understanding sound systems are also given consideration.

After this point the workshop takes on a far more interactive dynamic. The participants answer a series of questions that are given out in advance. The answers are given in a presented format rather than just reading them out. This gives me a chance to find out more about the people involved and see how they present themselves. In this section I am able to find out how people move, how they use expressions and body language and how they actually put their ideas together and express them. Each persons’ presentation is reviewed afterwards by myself and by the others in the group, so the insights that are gained are shared amongst all those involved. It’s also important to remember that this workshop revolves around comedy so the mood is always positive, observational and constructive without a harsh critical edge. Having worked as a comedian for so many years means that even the most involved of subjects is granted levity and this makes for a truly fruitful teaching environment.

What are these questions and what types of things can be learned from the presented answers? Well… that my friend, will be part of what will come to be known as “part 3” – stay tuned and thanks ----- please do feel free to post any comments or questions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How comedy can change your life - (part 1)

Comedy is a mystified thing. When people find out that I teach stand-up, the standard question posed is: can you really do that? It has been said by some that attempting to disassemble and understand comedy is like doing the same with a frog: you cannot capture it's essence and it dies in the process of trying. If that sentiment was originated by a city dweller than it can safely be called an urban myth. While humour is subjective and each individuals' sense of humour unique, it can most certainly be understood and to a great extent defined. I have decided to write this blog-post in order to make clear some of the benefits of understanding how you create and express comedy and how my comedy workshops can be of great value to your company or group.

I began working as a stand-up comedian in 1986, and have had the good fortune to work with people such as Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Ellen Degeneres and have performed across Canada, the U.S., the Carribbean and the UK. In 1998 I began teaching stand-up and I realized fairly quickly that I was, essentially, teaching people how to put together their ideas and express them in public so I made the transition to coaching people in public speaking, just purely, the art of public speaking. For years people had suggested that I speak on the subject of "humour in the workplace" but I felt no desire to tell people that if they gave their photocopier a name and wore a Hawaiian shirt every third Thursday they would enjoy their soul-draining job. Let it be said that what I do does not fall under the traditional category of  "humour in the workplace". 

The finest joke that humour plays is that is disguises itself as something unimportant; as a joke. It is a most effective disguise, and aside from a handful of theorists and those in the world who simply revel in being positive about everything there are few who gain from the all the value that humour has to offer. Aside the the positive and much publicized effects of laughter and social bonding there is the reality that comedy is an examination, an investigation, a method of understanding the world. If I choose to write a joke about something I am examining the subject in a uniquely personal way and often that examination can yield interesting results. In Arthur Koestler 's outstanding book "The Act of Creation" he draws parallels between scientific discovery, poetic revelation and comic punchline - all three use an original perspective to come to a "eureka!" moment. This point of view flies in the face of comedy as a "joke" and it presents a wealth of opportunities for those willing to take them.

What I am interested in is the idea of getting people to understand and harness this potential for something powerful and productive in life and/or business if indeed, business can be described as something distinct from life. By watching people live and on video I seperate the strands that make up who they are, comedically and in other ways as well, and help to give them a sense of what specifics can be controlled and used to maximum potential. In a group setting there are added benefits that come from  camaraderie and mutual understanding. In the next blogpost I will go into the structure of the comedy workshops that I offer and how they can fit in with and benefit your own situation. In the meantime I welcome any and all questions on the subject ....... hmmmm?


Monday, April 6, 2009

The imaginary fear of public speaking

The word that is most synonymous with public speaking is fear - an odd word for an activity that so rarely causes death or bloodshed. Why is there so much terror involved? What is it that brings on the pounding heart, sweaty palms, bodily shaking, and the trademark trembling voice? Here are three of the most common reasons that people cite as contributing to their fear of speaking in public.



Eye Contact


Eye contact is a powerful thing. If someone walks by you on the street and locks eyes until they completely pass you by that’s a hostile act …… unless it’s accompanied by a smile. The smile has the power to change the context. Similarly many speakers and entertainment turn the power of eye contact into a truly positive thing.  So the message is that eye contact has impact, but it can be made positive rather than negative.




Some people have a shy side and speaking in public brings that side out. The truth of the matter is that it is not the act of speaking that brings out the shyness, it is the person who makes the decision to be shy. Shyness is a learned condition just as the word “ow” is a learned word. It can be held at a deep and unconscious level but it is learned and it can be unlearned as long as the person is willing to do some unlearning.


Saying the wrong thing


No-one wants to say the wrong thing and that driving desire to stay on track can cause many presenters to fumble, stumble and crumble. We take this to be normal and reasonable. What is interesting that when you are talking to someone at dinner or a social event you also want to avoid saying the wrong thing but people don’t usually disintegrate at dinner parties. Wanting to avoid saying the wrong thing is not a fundamental pressure that is a constant element of public speaking it is simply something that we choose to create in the situation.


There are many other aspects connected to fear and public speaking that I cannot cover in the space of a blog but the over-riding question is: are any of these fears legitimate and/or insurmountable? The simple answer is that while fear is too complex a human emotion to be dealt any definitive pronouncements, the fear of speaking in public is no more legitimate than the fear of driving a car. As long as they are willing, people can be cured of the fear of public speaking, and it can often be done quickly and easily. How this is done depends on the individual and a wide variety of details, but in most circumstances demystifying the subject and applying simple techniques can take people past this curious fear and to a point where speaking in public is easily done and (shock!) enjoyable. 



Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Backyard Workshop

Hello all,
                  I will have more posts coming up shortly - many thanks for you support and comments. 

For those of you in the Vancouver area:

 I have a workshop coming up at U.B.C. on Sunday, April 19th. I do these local workshops twice a year and refer to them as my "Backyard Workshops" and they are offered at a substantial discount. The total class size is limited to 10 so if you are interested please let me know as soon as possible. Details are below.

For those of you not from the Vancouver area:

Love to come to your area to do a workshop for your group or company - give me a call at 604-628-3466.

All fine things

                             PUBLIC SPEAKING WORKSHOP  SUNDAY, APRIL 19TH

 A full-day workshop that provides a complete examination of your own personal style of public speaking. Small class size (max. 10) provides one-on-one coaching that will show you the specific factors that define you as a speaker and explain how to take control of them and make the most of your skills.


·       How to overcome fear and/or shyness

·       How to write a speech that suits your character

·       How to find your “voice” and take control of it

·       How to use humour naturally and effectively



SUNDAY, APRIL 19TH   11 A.M. – 5 P.M.

COST: $80     LOCATION: U.B.C.

                          FOR DETAILS AND REGISTRATION:TEL:  604-628-3466


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