Conan’s Advice: Finding Your Style

After my win, it was a wonderful surprise to have a few clubs approach me and invite me to be their guest speaker. One club in particular asked me if I would do my award-winning speech again. Of course! Then I read the rest of the email (paraphrased): we would love for you to do an educational session teaching us your techniques on how to make the audience laugh.

Me, teaching? Really? This is a student club who is inviting me (someone who no longer understands their lingo) to teach. I will have to find a way teach without making them fall asleep. There’s a reason I never wrote down “teacher” on the things I wanted to be when I grew up. Okay that is a lie, but many years ago I crossed that profession off my list.

While pondering what on earth I was going to say, a fellow member sent me the link to Conan O’Brien’s  commencement speech at Dartmouth College in 2011. In the email she wrote “I was watching this video and thought of you.” She thought of me while watching a great giant of a comedian? Vivien’s ego has just skyrocketed. I sat down and watched the entire video. That man is both hilariously funny and wonderfully inspirational. A lot of different quotes have struck a chord with me (prepare for many more “Conan” inspired writings) but for the purposes of this post, one sticks out in particular:

“Way back in the 1940’s there was a very funny man named Jack Benny. He was a giant star and easily one of the greatest comedians of his generation. And a much younger man named Johnny Carson wanted very much to be Jack Benny. In some ways he was, but in many ways he wasn’t. He emulated Jack Benny, but his own quirks and mannerisms, along with a changing medium, pulled him in a different direction. And yet his failure to completely become his hero made him the funniest person of his generation. David Letterman wanted to be Johnny Carson, and was not, and as a result my generation of comedians wanted to be David Letterman. And none of us are – my peers and I have all missed that mark in a thousand different ways. But the point is this: It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”

Suddenly I was inspire. I realized if there was one thing I could try to hammer home, it is simply: find your style.

As another club member has said to me on numerous occasions, “Vivien, you can’t pull off slapstick. Your kind of comedy is the underrated kind, where you say something and the audience realizes a split second later it was hilariously funny.”

She was right, of course. There are a thousand and one different styles, all with the goal of making the audience laugh. I had spent years slowly inserting comedy into my speeches (some that went great, others bombed). By the time the contest came around, I was fortunate enough to feel like I had a good sense of what my comedy style would be and what I would or would not be comfortable doing on stage. When other members were eagerly offering me pieces of advice on how to improve my speech, this sense came to the forefront. Many pieces of advice I accepted and worked hard to incorporate (and it paid off). But there were other pieces of advice I had to thank but not accept. Not because I didn’t find them funny, but simply because I didn’t find myself comfortable for that: no matter how hard I tried, it did not fit my style. My general feeling is this: if you don’t feel comfortable enough to put your performance into it 100%, it is not going to be funny.

You can’t feel reserved and timid especially in a speech like this. That much I have learned while going through the contests.

While I don’t believe “finding you style” is anything revolutionary or ground-breaking, I think it is a good place to start. Added bonus if one of those “kids” goes on to win the Humorous Contest in 2013!

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2 thoughts on “Conan’s Advice: Finding Your Style

  1. “Vivien, you can’t pull off slapstick. Your kind of comedy is the underrated kind, where you say something and the audience realizes a split second later it was hilariously funny.”
    So always make sure you pause long enough for us to catch up and laugh! It’s all about being yourself isn’t it? Good one Viv.

    • Very true! And making sure you let the audience finish laughing before you continue your speech.
      I was proud of myself for achieving the above mentioned especially at the Division and District.
      Still gotta work on the powerful pauses. Thanks 🙂

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