If I can get laughs from a diverse group of people I just met in a bar, I know I can be successful speaking anywhere for any reason. But there are many reasons why the handful of speakers with the ability to do this consistently — i.e. stand-up comics — are the people who are paid the least. The #1 being that most comics do not have an hour of rolling laughter. This is why I do not begrudge the winner-take-all business model of stand-up comedy clubs. I owned my own venue for a couple of years, closing it when I started touring. So I am thankful — perhaps more than most — that places like The Comedy Store provide me with a venue to layer and hone my act. In exchange I make sure that anytime I take the stage, 75% of my set is the best I have. The other 25% I’m working out. That seems like a fair exchange. But this is not the end of the inquiry.
I turn 55 this year. I don’t know that the guy who has been a plumber for 20 years becomes measurably better between 55 and 56. I do know that eventually his body is going to say, “Please stop.” In contrast, by the end of the year I know I will have my hilarious new hour of stand-up and that — yes — I will absolutely be objectively better after fleshing out hundreds — if not thousands — of preliminary ideas, in my quest to discover the ones that reliably serve-up the funny. Unlike the plumber, I can do this as long as I have my wits (and wit) about me.
My wife and I started with nothing, made good in advertising in our 20s, lost it all to Ben & Jerry and related litigation in our 30s, then made it back in our 40s with a software company. So, here we are — mid-50s — we have our money and great health. When I say “our money” I mean that SHE pretty much calls the shots on this money. For more information on the totality of circumstances that resulted in that agreement, watch my award-winning, one-man show, FOOL FOR A CLIENT, which streams for free on MarkWhitney.com.
But Julie and I have a side deal: any money I make running my mouth — regardless of whether it is in a bar room, boardroom, theater, keynote, fundraiser, convention or annual meeting — she doesn’t get to launder that money. It’s mine.
Marriage is about compromise. I make a suggestion — we “compromise” — then do it her way. This rule does not apply to $$$ I make jawjackin’!
That is why this week you will see me at The Comedy Store working out the stand-up. I’ll be layering and honing a couple of keynotes at a couple of different Rotary Clubs. In my Toastmasters Club I’ll be competing in Round #1 of the International Speech Competition. If I make it to the finals in Malaysia in August and WIN, I will be crowned the 2014 World Champion Of Public Speaking.
My point in writing is that if I was in my 20s and had it do do all over again — I’d be working every speaking platform — as I am doing now: comedy clubs, the independent theater circuit, local, regional and national sales team rallies, fundraisers, annual meetings, conventions, and so forth. I would seek out any meaningful opportunity to speak, on any available platform and not restrict myself only to speaking in bar rooms that happen to have a microphone perched on a plywood platform blanketed with $1 a yard commercial carpet.
The number of people on the planet who can stand on stage, look hundreds of people in the eye — people they don’t know and who don’t know them — and serve up predictable laughs are hen’s teeth rare. I note — as revealed in Seinfeld’s latest “Coffee” episode — that the great Tina Fey does not count herself among us. Will Ferrell is another: great comedic actor, great sketch comic, great storyteller, and the first to admit he can’t do stand-up.
The subset of stand-ups who put the effort into mastering story are fewer still and that is a costly mistake. That said, performing stand-up comedy successfully, in an establishment where 200 people are more committed to drinking than they are to you, is like the X-GAMES of public speaking. If you are among the small handful of individuals on the planet who can reliably get laughs under these circumstances — and as an unknown comic no less — you are, in fact, one of the world’s great public speakers and there’s money in that!