A year ago, at age 51 I was challenged to try my hand at a five minute set at an open mic night. What seemed like a one time deal, has turned into a weekly adventure. I have now performed at over 55 open mic nights, and been invited to be a featured comic in two shows. The experience has brought with it many lessons about comedy, business, and life. Stand up comedy is the hardest use of the spoken word. Being a student of this art form has impacted my life. I was recently asked about what it is that is having such and impact. At first I could not answer, but then I blurted out the first thing that came to mind: “I am now allowed to laugh and have fun at work (and play)”.
Fear of Other Laughing At You
Looking back on my life it has become clear that I spent a lot of time trying to achieve “things”. My work became how I defined my worth on some level. To me, business seemed serious, and I am not sure I let myself have fun all along the journey. Too often I needed to prove something (to others? to myself?) and I worried about being judged. I feared people laughing at me (in that mocking way). Never did I want to be seen as irrelevant or second tier in my efforts. I now see this held me back.
It turns out that there is an increase in people being worried about what others think, and a fear of being laughed at with a mocking sneer. The team is “gelotophobia”. Yes, that sounds like the fear of Italian ice cream, but it is the fear of being laughed at. I know as a kid the idea of being mocked was not good, and I simply made choices to protect myself from such ridicule. I think many people do the same thing. But this meant not being 100% authentic and it stifled my enjoyment at work and in life.
Permission To Laugh
In the last few years I have reached a place where I am willing to try new things and push myself into activities that may or may not work out. I do not care what others think about me any more. If they want to mock me, let them. I am giving the world permission to laugh at me or roll their eyes. Additionally I am allowing myself to laugh in all situations. At me, at others, at society, etc…
The stand up comedy has been just one of these things, but a major part of my allowing myself to laugh. And to now fear what others think . To really grow at doing stand up, you need to do stand up. It takes a lot of stage time, and you will bomb from time to time. Additionally I am 20-30 years older than most of the comics, and they are not always welcoming and friendly. At business events I have always fit in, but at comedy clubs I am the outsider. This experience has given me new understanding and empathy about how others feel in what they perceive as awkward social situations.
Performing stand up each week has also meant watching a lot of other comics. Both at open mic nights and on Netflix, I study how people create humor and why we laugh. I also have been reading a lot about how humor sets us free and builds relationship. As a speaker I see why the best presenters are the ones that mix content with fun.
It is freeing to live with humor. It makes life and work more fun. To allow myself to let in the laughs, and not fear others laughing at me, it is changing my world. Slowly, but changes none the less. I am more comfortable with navigating the hard parts of life. Others can make judgement and it has less impact on how I view myself. A person who dismisses me cannot actually rob me of my value.
I am now allowed to laugh. When things are not going my way in business or life, I can choose to smile and look for the humor. This is key. Seeing the lighter side makes work and play more fun.
Humor in the Workplace
There is much written about the idea of humor in the workplace. Laughter is good for the soul, but it is also good for the workplace. According to a recent article by Maria Martinez on Ladders.com, “establishing a balance between producing high-quality work and encouraging camaraderie and humor within your team’s workflow creates an important entry point to building rapport and trust”.
In my presentation about helping people manage career potential, I have begun asking those in the audience about how they feel about this idea of humor. It does seem to scare many people, and they relate to my story. I try to show them that they need to grant themselves permission to be allowed to laugh.
But in today’s politically charged environment we have to be careful. An article in Fast Company Magazine in May 2019 warns of the dangers of using humor in the workplace. When you don’t use humor appropriately, it can backfire. It can distract, divide or disparage people if it is inappropriate. There is a fine line in what is really funny and what can offend or hurt.
Look For The Fun and the Funny
When working with my clients, I ask them about their own experiences with humor. We explore the “fun and the funny” in past conferences and how it impacts the culture of their live events. Meeting planners seek speakers who are interactive, but it is important to remember that a group that laughs is sharing an experience. Funny speakers and their content are more memorable. But this is not just for the meetings business. All companies have more employee satisfaction if people enjoy working together.
This is is a good way to live. Seek out the lighter side, while still doing great work. Build better relationships by sharing fun. It’s okay to share a laugh. Funny does not mean not capable.
But none of this happens by accident. You must be mindful of creating more fun at work. Forbes had an article in 2018 by Christine Comaford, “5 Ways to Have More Fun at Work” that included mindful practice as one of the main points. She even recommends attending a “laughter yoga class” (who even knew that was a thing?). See, there can be laughter everywhere.
Thom Singer is a funny motivational speaker and professional master of ceremonies / EmCee.