I have a grandson who keeps the food on his plate separate. The chicken can’t touch the pasta, which can’t touch the beans, which have to be placed away from the bread. There can be no mingling of the elements, which is a principle that also can be found in such diverse fields as insurance, chemistry, and Christology. I like it, because there is clarity. I also think it is genetic.
Last Monday afternoon, I gave a talk to university faculty and staff about using social media to promote oneself and one’s work. I used myself as an example, noting that I have three identities on the Internet. One is for my consulting business, another for writing, and a third for my academic work. I keep them separate and distinct. There is little mingling or overlap. Again, clarity.
That same evening I went on stage at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City to give my debut as a stand-up comedian. I used a stage name: Bobby Bronco. I got the insight minutes before going on and told the emcee to introduce me under that name. He looked doubtful but did it anyway. I don’t know if the name will stick or even if I will continue with stand-up in a serious way (i.e., beyond bar mitzvahs and sales meetings), but for the time being I am Bobby Bronco.
Why a stage name? Clarity, of course. The comedy will benefit, too, since a different persona will have more freedom to explore topics. I can’t imagine a professor telling jokes about marriage, child rearing, or people’s annoying habits, but Bobby Bronco can. A stage name also allows me to put up the “Off Duty” sign when I am not performing. I need that, since I am what I call a “closet introvert.” I need a lot of alone time. I know that, because people keep telling me to go away.
I took a seven-week comedy class and learned about the art of stand-up. Comedians work tirelessly on their material, often laboring over one word or the timing between a setup and punchline. It is not unlike writing that way, except that stand-up is more immediate and present; writing more reflective and distant. Stand-up sits across from you at the kitchen table, spitting straw wrappers; writing calls to you ruefully from the living room.
Then there is the act of stand-up, which is more than content. It is the actual delivery and performance of the content. To prepare, I took Peter O’Toole’s advice to actors and studied my set line by line until I knew it cold. That kind of memorization is crucial, because it gives you the freedom to be present and interact with the audience. It is also not unlike teaching. If you stand in front of a class and read from your notes or do Power Point karaoke, you’ll get clobbered.
One of the things that impressed me the most about stand-up is the community. Our class met every week for three hours right around the corner from The Late Show. We would do our set and get feedback from each other as well as from the instructor, a professional comedian. I have never seen a group of strangers come together so quickly to help each other out. Maybe that happens in the military or if the electricity goes out. It happened here, because people’s greatest fear, even more than death, is getting up in front of an audience and performing. So other students rooting for you makes a big difference.
Sit back, relax, make sure the volume is turned up on the video below, and enjoy the show. No flash photography, refunds, or heckling.
And drive home safely.