I'd like to share some recent thoughts about teaching and stand-up comedy, and how these two worlds are built from the roots of the same tree in almost every aspect. I could never be a stand-up comedian. I don't have the delivery for it or the patience to formulate a full set that people could keep relating to in a humorous way. I'm a bit too weird. I'd freestyle and improv it too much once I started to get nervous, which would most likely happen because I still dislike public speaking or being the center of attention. But the act of stand-up comedy itself, as well as the following of the international scene surrounding it, has been a huge part of my life and a true passion of mine for the last half-decade or so. I follow podcasts, I go to shows, and I can name almost every comedian that has made at least some sort of name for him/herself in North America (and South Africa, and Australia, and Europe... and Japan, if they speak English). So it's definitely something I feel like I know a lot about, and the comparisons and parallels I've made to stand-up comedy since becoming a teacher have been vast, varied, and plentiful. I'd like to point out a few of those similarities and differences on paper.
First, let's get the differences out of the way. The biggest contrast is definitely the fact that when teaching, you're not required to make people laugh. It's not your job, and you never need to worry about it. This is the fundamental difference that separates the two jobs and is the most major difference that can be detailed. Another very big difference is that in stand-up comedy, you can essentially say anything you want at any time. There are no boundaries or restrictions. In teaching, you have to be a lot more politically correct and make sure you don't offend your "audience". I put audience in quotes because I believe it's the 3rd and final difference between the two occupations. Stand-up comedy has an audience that has paid to be there, and teaching has a classroom full of students that might or might-not want to be there.
I do believe those are the only differences. You could get technical and say things like "well, in one case you can drink alcohol in the room and in the other you can only drink water", but that's way too minor to focus on when viewing true relationships between distinct worlds of life. Therefore, I want to detail some aspects between these two acts which I have found to be the same down to the core of their meanings. Much of this will only refer to middle school, high school, and university, where the kids are actual people, and not witless shells of their future selves (just kidding, kids are smart).
1. Both require a completely reactive relationship between speaker and listeners.
If you're not teaching at a level based on the reactions of your students, you're teaching at the wrong level. You need to be able to look into the eyes of the listeners and pull out whether or not they are understanding the words coming out of your mouth. To be a good teacher, you have to adapt your lessons on the fly with absolutely no preparation beforehand for such changes. Some of your classes may be a group of complete geniuses and some may have just gotten off of the slowest bus in the neighborhood. Others will be extremely mixed and you'll have to know how to draw the fine line between intelligence and dumbfoundedness.
Same goes for comedy. If you're a comedian who lays down the same set to every single audience, regardless of set or setting, chances are that you haven't been doing comedy for all that long or haven't had more than a dozen minutes of material prepared yet. Comedians are always changing and modifying parts of their set to conform to what they believe the audience will respond to the most. I've heard a comedian use the same jokes in a set that I'd heard them do before, but with a completely different method of delivery and an altering of words that made the entire duration much more understandable and fun to the new audience.
2. You will be heckled in both.
In comedy, a heckler is someone who harasses, interrupts, or consistently yells comments from the audience as to directly provoke the comedian on-stage. In general, hecklers are an extremely bad thing and a very small percentage of comedians would say they "like" them. But that doesn't mean there haven't been some epic situations where hecklers made the comedians show go better. Thinking quickly and on their feet, comedians can turn a seemingly bad show into a laugh factory directed at an individual person or group that they otherwise wouldn't have been able to if heckling didn't exist. Keeping your wits on your tongue and being able to expect the unexpected are extremely good qualities for any public speaker, and having harassing people in the audience is beneficial to any individual's speaking abilities.
Same goes for the classroom, with a slightly different tone. In the classroom, we have to deal with our own comedians in the audience, constantly one-upping their friends as to who can either provoke or score points with the teacher more. We have brats, pranksters, and clowns to deal with. In the same sense as comedy, the use of wit can help defend against these people more than anything physical ever could. If you have the ability to hear a flagrant or smart-ass comment, and turn it around on the kid, or even harness the idea of what they've said and run with it into new areas to teach, you can leave a lasting impression on the minds of the full audience all at once. An impression that they will take away to home with them and think about, which is a good thing since it will most likely be about your lesson plan for that day. Same exact way as people who just heard a great comedy set will go home and repeat the jokes they heard to their friends later.
3. Both require a sense of humor and likeability to be successful.
These points are obvious in comedy. If you pay for a show and end up not even liking the comedian as a person, there is no way you will have taken anything positive from the set. Sense of humor doesn’t even need to be explained here, since that’s what comedy is.
In the classroom, both points are a lot less apparent but still matter very much. Try and think back to a teacher from your childhood that you remember as being a positive force in your life but that you did not like as a person. I can think of a few, but the memories are much more scattered and vague compared to the teachers that really made an impact on me growing up. You can’t be an asshole and be a truly successful teacher. On the other hand, comedians can be truly mean, and although that’s often an asset, they still need to be likeable to the audience in general no matter how rude they are.
In both worlds, wit and adaptability reign supreme. Teachers and comedians both have to remain flexible and be able to handle whatever situation is thrown at them, because there will be many and they will be amazingly varied in strength and size. In both worlds, you usually don’t have a boss or overseer during work hours. You make your own plans, present your own style, and receive immediate and unadulterated feedback based on your performances.
You should know whether or not you are good at what you do moreso than almost any other profession, since you are graded as a person and a speaker, not by an employer who does not see your work on a personal level.
Both are very difficult, yet rewarding careers, and I don’t know what the point of this synopsis was other than to put my thoughts down on paper of two things will always remain a complete constant in my life.
- Episode 04: Busan
- Episode 05: DMZ