If Businessmen Were Comedians: The Magic of Improvisation

Round illuminated sign with the words Comedy Store. At the base of the image are smiling lips in red color

Why comedy is a serious business and how stand-up comedy skills can help entrepreneurs in crisis

At the height of the pandemic, no one knew how the crisis would end, but no doubt, the world would never be the same because of it. We will probably feel the effects of the Covid pandemic and the economic downturn in the next few years as well, but in the current situation we cannot stand idly by and it is good to develop new skills, such as those of stand-up comedians. The advice comes from Peter McGraw, a professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Boulder, Colorado, who has spent years analyzing humor and looking for answers to the question of what makes things funny. 

He has a theory that the techniques used by comedians to make audiences laugh can be useful to businessmen – not only to stay above water, but also to float. 

A man and a woman are sitting at a round table with an open laptop on it and claping their hands for success
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Leaders and hasty speeches

When you watch an improvisational comedian, you may decide that the artist quite spontaneously follows their inspiration and speaks “prima vista”, without prior preparation. But the truth is that every professional follows exact rules and rehearses thoroughly. This helps them to give their best. Even the most daring improvisation moves within certain limits. How can this strategy be applied to a manager’s job, according to McGraw? 

You are conferring with colleagues and a problem arises. Before commenting on it, first consider the options for its removal. If you have already reached a decision and you rush to share it, you automatically limit the range of possibilities and narrow the thinking of the meeting participants. Listen to others and then tell them your idea. That way, you’ll gather a variety of offers, not just ones that are similar to yours. 

Two businessmen are on some of the high floors of a skyscraper. They are sitting at a round glass table, there is a laptop on it, and behind them, through the large windows, you can see the tall buildings of the city
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The wounded soul of the manager

It is true that a manager must demonstrate their strengths to their subordinates in order to set an example. In a difficult situation, they need to set their team up for success more than ever. No, the the leader can’t understand everything, and they don’t have to. They must trust their colleagues and not be afraid of their own vulnerability. The psychologist supports their claim with another specific skill of comedians: the ability to share something unpleasant about themselves, not in order to provoke laughter, but to show their true face. 

Like the star comedian Chris Rock, who during one of his shows shocked everyone by saying that he was cheating on his wife and with provocative fantasies about adultery. A very successful performance! 

Three men in the office. One of them stands next to the whiteboard and makes a presentation, while the others listen to him. A lot of yellow slips are stuck on the whiteboard
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Funny things are more serious than serious things

The audience appreciates provocative humor because they understand that the actor is not trying to impersonate someone else, but is playing himself. And although business is not a game, “in difficult and unstable times, no one knows how to do the right thing. It’s normal to have doubts or not know somethingadmit it to your team and employees will appreciate your honesty.” 

Glowing inscription "Laugh"
Photo: Unsplash

Life is a series of comic tricks.

Vladimir Nabokov


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