Katie Goodman knows a thing or two about the business of being funny. As the co-creator of Broad Comedy and the newly launched Benchwarmers Web-based comedy series, Goodman is a political satirist with a songbird twist (imagine if Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher and Weird Al Yankovic all, somehow, had a baby). In just three years, she became a standup sensation, shocking and delighting audiences with her relentless musical take on topics ranging from economics to motherhood.
More importantly, Goodman believes being funny is important in any business. Her advice for business owners who need a boost of humor: Find your edge and collaborate.
Find Your Edge
In comedy, “you have to be willing to grant yourself permission to go over the line,” Goodman says. “Being funny is about finding your edge.”
Meanwhile, in business, Goodman recommends we get comfortable finding that edge in those uncomfortable points in our daily routines—from difficult customer relationships to awkward life moments. By using humor to lighten the mood, you’re giving employees or customers permission to be human and allowing them a moment of relief before returning to work.
So, how do you find your edge? When coaching students in her workshops, Goodman always advises:
Find a safe environment. Check your local area for improv classes and take one. Heck, bring an employee or two with you. You might be amazed what it feels like to be surrounded by others seeking the same permission to push the edge. When you can pull your head out of your daily business routine and put it into an environment where you have permission to be you, your business will get a much needed swift kick. You'll uncover ideas to better serve your customers, new ways to talk about industry challenges, because you found an environment where it was safe to have a sense of humor about what you do and why you do it.
Remember this is about you. Finding your edge is never about what other people might think is funny about your industry. It’s about what you think is funny. That’s the difference between a schtick and a statement.
Think about your favorite colleague—the one who always gives you that needed breath of fresh air, the relief you crave during a hectic day. Her edge and ability to express what she thinks is funny or interesting about a situation is what gives you that relief. When you make the move to put the "you" back into your business—your perspectives, quirks and experiences—your customers will find new levels of appreciation for you.
Giving your business permission to be funny is huge and can’t happen unless the people powering your business own their respective edges. Once you’ve committed to diving into exploring your edge, you have to keep that edge sharp.
Collaborate to Find a “Better” Way
For most of Goodman’s career, she’s collaborated with her husband. They’ve directed one another, co-written countless acts, skits and shows—all in the name of finding “better.” Aside from describing her husband as a “director with benefits,” she admits there’s infinite value in their collaboration. “He’s objective,” she says, “but with context. He knows what I’m trying to get at, and collaborating helps us get to a better level of funny.”
When you’re in pursuit of what’s funny for your business and its audience, you can’t be funny in a silo. You have to throw your ideas out there in an environment where they can evolve into better—and that’s where collaboration is key. You have to be willing to be a bit naked and let others have access to your ideas.
And, as Goodman puts it, collaboration gives you a bigger pool of ideas. While none of us are really looking for that Cheesecake Factory-style menu of ideas with something to please everyone, there’s never a downside to a few more ideas and a spoonful of perspective. Great comics get better by workshopping material and making incremental adjustments along the way (to watch a powerful story of humor in progress, I recommend Eddie Izzard’s Believe—a documentary).
Great businesses are no different—it takes work to keep your sense of humor. If you want your business to stay on the edge, create a collaborative environment with people who understand where you’re headed and why. Their feedback will be invaluable and the source trusted.
Preach to Those Who Get You
Goodman has one bonus piece of funny business for you: Preach to the converted. “The audiences at my shows are often already on my side. I’m not really there to change anyone’s mind,” Goodman says. “We’re there to support each other and renew our collective energy about different topics, maybe life in general.”
By finding your edge and giving yourself permission to be yourself in your business, you're going to attract people who dig that brand of you and your sense of humor about your industry. It's a lot less exhausting to preach to the converted instead of converting. The converted will bring more of the converted along with them, right through your front door. Smells like revenue to me.
And the bottom line? Laughter’s contagious, and we all want to be that person who spreads something worth spreading. Finding the funny in your business makes it easier to share what needs sharing. Not a bad way to boost morale along with your bottom line.
Read more articles on company culture.
Photos from top: Thinkstock, Courtesy of Katie Goodman