Loni Love (now a television personality) was taking a stand-up comedy class It’s in Chapter 10 her book, I Tried To Change So You Don’t Have To). Loni’s material drew on her work experience as an engineer working in a cubicle at Xerox. One joke was about why have a “Take Your Kids To Work” day. You go to work, she says, to leave your kids.
That’s a low-key but funny joke. Loni’s coworkers – who worked in cubicles – totally got it.
Claire, the instructor, hated it.
Claire kept telling her students to “find their voice.” Loni pointed out she’d never lost hers.
Studying her favorite comics, Loni realized there are many ways to be funny.
Jerry Seinfeld told jokes about everyday life; Joan Rivers put herself down; Richard Pryor woke people up to the issues. Loni wanted to be a warm friendly comedian who joked about her cubicle life.
Claire: “What the audience wants from you is more personal. More of you speaking from your own experience.”
Loni: “This IS my experience. I work in an office.”
Claire: “Tell me about where you grew up.”
Loni: “I grew up in the projects.”
Claire: “Fantastic! Were there drug dealers? Drive-by shootings? Give me some of that gritty hardscrabble life you lived.”
Loni wanted to point out that she didn’t know about gangs, drugs, and drive-bys. She went to school. She played the French horn.
“I think,” she writes, “when Claire saw me – a curvaceous black woman from the projects – all she thought was Def Jam, and it prevented her from actually seeing me.”
She came up with some jokes about “the hood” that made reference to shootings and included lots of swearing. She never felt comfortable with those jokes. As her class prepared to take the stage for a graduation show, her friend from class told her to “Do you, girl…she don’t know your life.”
Showtime! Loni went out on stage and talked about her cubicles. She got a standing O.
I can relate to this, although my comedy has been limited to open mics and an occasional low-key show. I’ve gotten lots of good advice about delivering lines and holding the microphone. But every time someone’s advised me on material, I delivered duds.
In comedy, your material has to come from YOU…and be something the audience will understand.
And the same holds for storytelling. You have to tell stories that fit you and your story archetype.
Lots of marketing gurus will be just like Loni’s Claire. They’ll tell you to dig deep into your past and come up with a story about how you screwed up. They’ll tell you to pick your wildest adventure. “You’ll sound more authentic,” they’ll say.
But your reality might be completely different. Maybe you’ll tell stories about your best clients. You’ll focus on your achievements with only a brief nod to the struggles that got you there…and maybe you’ll tell stories that aren’t about you at all.
As always, the best advice is, “Follow your intuition.” When you get good advice, you’ll get that click that says, “This is just what I needed to hear.” Otherwise,
Don’t let anyone write your material.
And if you’d like me to help you find your story and tell it – check out the Strategic Intensive.