10 things I learnt by watching a top comedian at work

Up close and personal with Dara O’Briain

Recently, I was fortunate enough to see a work in progress and I learnt a lot. Myself, my wife and 58 others crammed into the most gorgeous, tiny theatre on Monday evening to watch a work in progress – it was a warm up gig for one of the UK and Ireland’s top comedians. Being up so close and personal, I learnt a lot. Dara O’Briain, is host of the BBC’s Mock the Week and Stargazing Live, amongst many other things and is about to embark on another sell-out UK tour from January.

Here’s what I learnt:

  1. Even if you’re on top of your game, you’re never too good to test your customer / audience reaction.
  2. Even when you’ve established yourself with a new market, unless you have something interesting to say, you will not engage your audience. Jerry Seinfeld once said he has three minutes where he can rely on his brand and the audience will listen to whatever he has to say. After that, he has to be as funny/engaging as any other comedian. Dara was in the same boat.
  3. You’re only as good as your last gig /communication.
  4. Honesty and transparency will win through every time – Dara explained from the outset that some things may not work. (Most things did).
  5. Practice, practice, practice whatever you do. The 10,000 hours rule applies to so many walks of life. I bet Dara’s done his 10,000 hours – and it shows.
  6. It’s OK to be nervous – it shows you care and are passionate about what you do. It was noticeable he was more nervous at the less tried and tested parts.
  7. I stood up in front of two audiences last week and presented what I do. I stood up and talked for 30 minutes. 20 minutes is the accepted length of time to hold an audience’s attention. Dara stood there for an hour and a half with 60 people hanging on his every word. That’s really tough. Next time you do a business presentation, I don’t recommend you try it.
  8. Stories he told about himself and every day life resonated most. Stories win every time. Audiences love stories. Especially ones that show challenge in the face of adversity and ones that people can relate to.
  9. Audiences / clients generally want you to succeed when you stand up in front of them – start with that mindset and you won’t go far wrong.
  10. Whilst this clearly wasn’t a business event, it amazes me the number of people who don’t get that communications in business can be entertaining too. When you are trying to deliver a message, if you do it with humour and energy, you’ll get a better response every time – because it’ll be memorable.

And for you Dara if you read this – make more the of corporate mockery – it’ll resonate across the country… your Dutch accent sounded French until I prompted you… the Call of Duty stuff was great and do more with the Dad’s late night telly – it makes us squirm and that’s funny.

I now have a new found respect for stand up comedians – you’re very alone on that stage and 90 minutes of saying original, interesting, funny, entertaining stuff with nothing but a mic to hold onto is tough.

2 replies
  1. Allison Reynolds
    Allison Reynolds says:

    Great post Mark. I listen to a newish podcast called “You Made It Weird” http://www.nerdist.com/podcast/you-made-it-weird/ where US comedians are interviewed by another comedian about the “craft” of comedy based around the premise of revealing 3 weird things about themselves. It is not surprising that much of the same angst that goes into our biz goes into theirs but they thrive off of the immediate failure feedback that so many of us avoid. Revealing stuff for me

  2. sean
    sean says:

    It was interesting to read this, Dara makes it look effortless to be so humorous and engaging, his 10,000 hrs…. must have a lot to do with it!

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