Lessons #117-121: Five Things Stand-Up Comedy Taught Me About Life

by Rachel on January 17, 2012

I’m so glad I decided to try stand-up comedy when I was a teenager; the experience has had so many lasting effects on my personal and career development over the years. Stand-up is one of those things people find scary, and it is scary. But like most scary situations, it paid off in the long run even when it didn’t go perfectly.

Here are five life lessons I learned from doing stand-up.

Lesson 117. It’s OK to play it safe when taking risk. I know that the word “risk” implies that if you fail, it’s going to be an EPIC FAIL, but I don’t think that has to be the case. The first time I did stand-up, it was in a super safe environment. But it wasn’t long before I was comfortable enough to do competitions or performing without tons of people I knew in the audience. When it comes to risks you want to take in life, start small. Just going a little bit outside of your comfort zone a little is still going outside your comfort zone, and sometimes that’s the most you have the guts to do. Sure, people may tell you the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, and that might be true. But I still think it’s better to take a little risk than not take one at all.

Lesson 118. It’s really fun to change people’s first impressions. It’s easy to get caught up in what people must think of you and tell yourself you’re too young, too old, too fat, too whatever to try something new or be successful. Um, so what? I’ll never forget when the male emcee told me after an open mic night I did, “That was really funny. And I didn’t expect you to be funny because you’re really pretty.” I mean, backhanded compliments and good, old-fashioned sexism to lead to the best montages of ass kicking in movies, right? Well, that’s kind of what happened to me after that comment. Ever since then, I’ve relished being the “wrong” type for something and that comment is on my mind whenever I walk into a new situation and I know people are underestimating me for some reason or another.

Lesson 118.5. Sexism is real. I used to think that sexism in the workplace was something that happened to other people, not me. Nope!

Lesson 119. Not everything you do is going to get a great response. I got good responses to a lot of the jokes I told, but yeah…there were times when I heard crickets. So what? You move on. I realized that even if I told a joke or two that fell flat, people still liked my routines overall. It’s the same way with life; you don’t get it right every time, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still damn good at what you’re doing.

Lesson 120. Not everything you do is going to get a great response and sometimes that’s your fault. It’s so easy for comedians to blame the audience for not laughing at their jokes; it’s a lot harder to admit that maybe that joke just wasn’t that good. In the same way, it’s easy for people to blame their critics when they mess up. When someone tells us we’ve failed, it hurts, and we immediately want to blame the person who hurt us. But maybe your shitty performance review isn’t your boss’s fault and maybe your recent failed relationship doesn’t mean “all guys suck.” Maybe it’s you. Maybe what you’re doing isn’t working.

Lesson 121. Success has a lot to do with finding the right audience. I remember telling one of my favorite jokes about sexting on an iPhone during a comedy routine I did in early 2010 and it totally fell flat. Well, the three people in the audience who owned an iPhone thought it was hilarious but everyone else — who didn’t exactly have the look of trendy, early-adopters of technology — was just giving me this look of, “I don’t get it.” I should have seen that coming. Now I could do that joke and, considering that even my mother is aware of Damn You, Auto Correct!, it would probably kill. I’ve learned that sometimes what we think is failure is just a case of misjudging the audience. Even when I hear someone complaining about how her boss doesn’t like her unorthodox method of problem solving or how it’s BS that some guy doesn’t text her back within an hour, I think, Find the people who get you. If you’re unsuccessful because people don’t “get” you, then you need to find an audience that is a better fit for you. There’s a boss who will love your crazy ways and a guy who will always text you back in 30 seconds. Now I try to fill my life with the people who get me and I’m much happier as a result.

Even if you have no desire to tell jokes to a room full of strangers, there is probably something that would be your stand-up — that thing you’d love to try, that you know would be fun and would change you and help you grow. Doing stand-up still gave me tools I use every day. So whatever your stand-up is, stop talking yourself out of it.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie January 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

I can’t even imagine the courage it would take to get up on stage like that, but I have to say that I really admire what you’ve taken away from the experience. It would be so easy to let yourself be defeated or to give up, but you learned from it and let it teach you important things. Well done!


2 Diane January 17, 2012 at 9:58 am

Audience is really important, but my favorite thing is that sometimes the audience surprises you! I recently told a story that leans heavily on pop culture references, the internet, and sex. Almost everyone in the audience was 40+ and I was freaking out that they were going to see it as “this is why you don’t let your children on the internet!” Shockingly enough, they loved it! I saw super old guys laughing really hard. It was an amazing moment that shows you can transcend your audience (especially if you’re me, and your audience is 19-year-old virgins and gay men).


3 Rachel January 17, 2012 at 10:13 am

Ha, you know, as I was writing this, I was going to talk about knowing your audience in the context of not telling sex jokes to…and then I couldn’t think of an audience I wouldn’t tell a sex joke to because I’m always surprised by the people who find my material funny. I think you definitely have to give your audience a chance before you decide they won’t get you…but once they don’t get you, it’s time to PTFO.


4 Diane January 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Yep, definitely! I’ve had “let’s just finish this and get off the stage” moments aplenty. I’ve also had to defend some of my references (like with the auto-correct joke), because I KNOW the people who will be seeing my show will get them. Nerds are going to get that “LOST” joke, I’m not gonna remove it because six people in my workshop don’t watch TV.


5 deva at deva by definition January 17, 2012 at 11:26 am

Both this post and your previous rule post about owning your success have given me a lot of food for thought, especially in terms of finding the people that get me. Not the me they want me to be, but the me that IS. I’d rather be me than someone else’s idealized version of me – I don’t want to wear the Mirrormask.


6 Nicole @ Giraffelegs January 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

hahah You have to learn to roll with the backhanded compliments, and nothing teaches you how to get on board with that bullshit like greek life.


7 Kavi @ Lab to Fab! January 19, 2012 at 10:33 am

I really liked this post! The lessons you learned during standup really transcends to day to day life!


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