Comedy Tools in Action!

May 23, 2024

“We’ve done that exercise already,” the Chanel-chic woman in the front row wearing thick framed glasses said. She readjusted them and smiled.

 “Just so you know.” It wasn’t patronizing, she genuinely wanted to help us. 

We were in a conference room in Bethesda, Maryland running a workshop for a major hotel chain.

“Oh! Really? Wow,” the three of us said at the same time. It was me, Lauren Pritchard and Sydney Adeniyi, LOC people who I’ve traversed the country with many times at this point.

Lauren, along with an extensive TV career, has been teaching Improv tools to companies for over three decades. What she proposed was such a specific exercise it surprised all of us that someone had brought it to them earlier.

“Okay then!” Lauren said, always ready to be an example of what we teach, which is to be flexible.

“Then we won’t do that one! Moving on. Okay, find a person you haven’t met yet in ten seconds. Ten, nine, eight…”

People scurried around the room searching for an unfamiliar face and we were back in with a new activity that would make them laugh and give them another tool for creating connection at work.

This is the overarching goal of most of our training now, to have participants engage with each other regardless of status, gender, department, race or generation to create a sense of belonging. From what we have learned, this is “learning and development,” in the post-COVD, DEI era. Or as we now like to call it, “Learning and Discovery.” The focus is on teaching people to ask questions, to listen, and to respond to what they hear and, best case, to engage with empathy. Fortunately, we do this using Improv-based exercises which also brings laughter into the room.

Back to our bold friend. What was great about her candor is that she instinctively used three key comedians’ tools without realizing it. I’m delighted share them.

1. She was authentic. The woman said what she thought in the moment, she didn’t swallow her impulse. There was a slight risk in making us look bad, but she weighed the outcome of not saying anything and went for it. And we appreciated it.

2. She respected timing. She didn’t wait until after the fact to say something, which would have been humiliating for us and a waste of time for her colleagues. Although I believe you can do all Improv exercises repeatedly and learn something from them each time.

3. And then…we all “let go of the moment before.” In quotes because this is a key tool that I taught at UCLA, has a chapter dedicated to it in my book about laughter and long term marriage and one of the best ones for working with people in cognitive decline. Comedians know if a joke bombs you can’t ruminate, you have to let it go and move on to the next. Also true in many instances in life. There’s even an earworm song about it! In this recent instance, we didn’t wallow in humiliation of not being original enough or whatever. We made a course correction, literally, and stayed open to the next activity. And everyone, including us, left laughing.