A Comedian and a PR Specialist Walk Into a Bar…

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  • November 7, 2017
  • Kate Axelsson

I’m cutting my teeth on stand-up comedy and have been performing improvisation for about five years. I’m also a PR and Advertising major at St. Edward’s and INK’s intern, and so far, I’ve noticed a few noteworthy similarities between comedy and the professional world of communication.

The idea of public speaking makes some people want to run and hide. They fear speaking in front of a crowd more than needles, sharks, or even death. Now add in comedy, and you’re sure to terrify those people beyond compare. But, if you can bear it, the skills used in stand up can be helpful in communication, and vice versa.

Let feedback strengthen you

Receiving feedback or critique can be a hard pill to swallow, but stubbornness and growth don’t always mix; in comedy, if an audience doesn’t react to a joke or even outwardly hates it, listen to them. Fix it or nix it. Continuing to resist feedback will prevent progression and improvement, and you’ll lose your audience because they feel ignored. The same goes for communications and media; if a certain voice or style isn’t performing well, shift your copy or visuals to better suit the demographic. Part of this is knowing your audience. In both media and comedy, doing your research and understanding the views and values of your listeners will help you best craft and deliver your message.

In both comedy and communications, there are platforms where the message and voice are honed in over time. For comedy, performers use open mics and performances to test jokes until they have a polished set. In media, we use social channels to test copy and brand voice to see what resonates with the audience and what performs the best. The feedback from these platforms is what allows the message and voice to be refined over time (making those platforms essential for growth!) It is a constant dialogue between source and audience, whether it’s performer and crowd or media expert and digital audience, and acting on that feedback is the key factor that will set the future apart from the past.

Empathy and Compassion

Comedy and communications require an empathetic outlook. It means being aware of current events, double meanings, and unintended associations. Comedy often pushes the envelope and challenge our perceptions of society, but calling a transgression “just a joke” isn’t a get out of jail free card. My least favorite approach to comedy is relying on attacks and blaming which create an “us” vs. “them” mentality. It’s overdone and uninspired.

When crafting a message, compassion should be at the forefront. This also means being aware of your timing. Comedy is about timing the punchline correctly, but also timing when certain topics can be broached. Some subjects are always fair game, while others require time to let the dust settle, say if it’s on the heels of public controversy. In communications, it’s important to remain aware of current events and the phrasing of copy to remain respectful and dignified.

A lot of the work done in communications is written, and because of that, there can be ample room for misinterpretation. Using comedy in text can be great if done right, but subtleties like sarcasm are sometimes hard to discern. Navigating the use of comedic voice in communications is tricky, but again, it’s about knowing the audience and timing it right!

Want to see the comedy-comms relationship firsthand? There’s live comedy every night in Austin, so check out lastgascomedy.com or if you’re feeling brave, you could even try it yourself; theatres around Austin offer both stand-up and improv courses – Coldtowne, The New Movement and The Institution Theater among the best. Give it a try and see how it can benefit your career.

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