From a young age I enjoyed comedy, raised on a comedy feast of such shows such as Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. For John Cleese fans, yes, a fish called Wanda was also watched.
This love of comedy stayed with me through to Adulthood.
Open Mic Nights in Sydney
Fast forward to the winter of 2008, Sydney, Australia.
Sitting in a bar on a Monday night because Monday night is Open Mic night, where newbies try Stand-up comedy for the first time and seasoned comedians try new material. It’s inspiring to watch people try Stand-up comedy for the first time.
On one of these Monday nights, it just struck me could this be a goal on my bucket list, deliver 5 minutes of comedy.
Three reasons(aka excuses) were holding me back.
- A fear of public speaking
- No comedy material
- Most important I did not think I was all that funny.
But what was the motivation, at the time I just thought “I want to do it”.
I left Sydney and lived in Dublin for the next 2 years. It was a busy time, working in a self-employed capacity during the day and studying business at night. Leaving little time for other activities.
Toastmasters and Mentoring
Cork beckoned and top of the list after finding work and somewhere to live was joining Cork Toastmasters Club. After delivering the first five speeches, the fear of public speaking began to reduce and after a few more speeches believe it or not I began to enjoy public speaking.
Many experienced Toastmasters have provided insightful feedback over the years including feedback on every speech delivered. In particular two Toastmasters mentored me on my Toastmasters Journey.
The first mentor encouraged me to enter the Humorous speech contest. These contests involve delivering 5 to 7 minutes of humorous material. You compete against other Toastmasters and approximately 5 judges decide the winner. The first contest was quite challenging and I felt I had underperformed, it got easier in subsequent contests and eventually i got a few runner up spots in club contests.
The second mentor set me the 60 minute speech challenge and more recently began to explain the principles of delivering comedy material including the importance of timing. This toastmaster has been involved in Stand-up comedy in the past and was making a return, trying out in Open Mic nights in Cork. He encouraged me to attend an open mic night with him. The first night I attended the CoCo club in Cork, 15 comedians tried out material, many for the first time. It was heartening to see such a thriving comedy scene. I decided it was time to try out in an Open Mic night.
A month later I got into the Coco club early to ensure I was first on stage that night. The bar was quiet and I began to think back to the Open Mic nights in Sydney 10 years previously and the 3 reasons/excuses.
- Joining Toastmasters had helped dramatically reduced my fear of public speaking. Although right now as I waited to do Stand-up for the first time, I was feeling fear that I hadn’t felt in quite some time. Toastmasters has initially been challenging but Stand-up comedy is on another level. Thankfully my experiences with Toastmasters had helped me develop a range of techniques to relax before I went on stage (For tips for managing the fear of speaking see An Evolutionary Approach to Overcoming the fear of Public Speaking).
- Entering humorous speech contests meant I had now written some comedy material
- Toastmasters can help with a lot of things but it can’t make you funny. I still felt I wasn’t all that funny but I wasn’t going to leave that stop me.
I again questioned my motivation, the reason I admire my favourite Stand-ups as they are incredible Presenters. Presenters who combine excellent material with wonderful delivery.
Joining Toastmasters takes you outside my comfort zone, entering Toastmasters Contests stretched you further. Although I eventually I began to reach a level of comfort after several years in Toastmasters delivering approximately 50 speeches in the last 7 years.Stand-up comedy brought back the fear, it was stretching me as a presenter and I knew that it would make me a better public speaker in the future.
It was showtime .. I got up on stage, felt nervous but powered through and delivered my material. My first joke got a groan, then there was some laughs and most importantly there was great support from the other comedians and audience.
As I write this blog I have done a second Open Mic night and plan on trying out at Open Mic nights in the future. I may never reach any level of success in comedy perhaps not even a paid slot, right now Stand-up Comedy is fun and may serve to make be a better Speaker in the future.
It has been an interesting journey, you could tell yourself you are not “good enough” to enter a Toastmasters contest or try Stand-up. Another way of looking at it is, you can only become “good enough” by taking on such challenges. Unlike me don’t wait 10 years to take on some challenges .. do it today.