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Career Lessons from a Comedian

Ashling McWilliam for local2 sault ste. marie
October 19th, 2011 at 12:35pm

This article is a column or editorial.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of LOCAL2.

BOSSYPANTSWhile reading Tina Fey’s book, “BossyPants,” I realized that not only had she written an entertaining autobiography, but she had also created a journal of life lessons, describing the difficulties faced as a successful women in the male dominated world of Comedy.

After finishing the novel, I came to the realization that this book contained valuable career advice for everyone, whether male or female. I believe that we can all learn from the recommendations provided by Fey, no matter what industry we work in.

Fey spends a good chunk of her novel describing the art of improvisation. This form of comedy requires teamwork and a minimum of two people. She writes that the first rule is to always agree with your partner on stage. If you disagree with your scene partner then you are simply arguing on stage and nobody will find that funny. “The rule of agreement reminds you to respect what your partner has created and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a yes and see where that takes you.” In the last week or so I have tried to keep track of how I do in this area at work. Although I didn’t say no all of the time, I also rarely gave an outright, “yes!.” Quite often we think our ideas are the best, but we sometimes need to take the time to say YES! What’s your idea? And give our co-workers a chance to finish describing their thoughts before automatically dismissing them.

In improvisation the best response to give is a “Yes, and……” Fey explains to the reader that if your partner simply says “Yes” but doesn’t add anything to the story, you are left to fend for yourself. Without input from your team on stage you become a lone wolf, making it stand-up comedy, which is a completely different area of expertise from improvisation. Fey writes, “To me, Yes and means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.” This isn’t to say that you always have to provide input at work, but teamwork does require input from every member and a worker that provides valuable insight is usually the one to be promoted.

Fey goes on to guide us through the world of comedy, “In improv, you don’t want to riddle your partner with questions. If your partner presents you with a scenario, then say, “Yes, and..followed by an assertion. She explains that asking questions repeatedly can tire your partner out. Well, the same applies at work. If your boss proposes a change and you ask question after question, you are going to tire them out. Providing solutions to problems rather than just problems is always the best way to go.

“Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. Make statements, with your actions and your voice.” Fey uses this example, “no one wants to hear their doctor say, ‘I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure?” This piece of advice speaks for itself. Find out the facts and know your subject so that you can speak with confidence.

Tina Fey also has some advice specifically geared to women in the workplace. As a well known female comedian, Fey has faced many harsh critics who deem women as “not funny”. She has also fought against the male comedian stereotype for most of her career. Fey has some advice for those of us facing prejudice at work. “So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism…ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.” Sometimes this is easier said than done. It can be difficult to ignore hurtful comments, but try to keep this piece of advice in mind.

One last quote that I would like to draw attention to is the following, “In improve there are no mistakes, only beautiful, happy accidents.” In the real world, we know this isn’t true. Sometimes there are terrible accidents. We all make mistakes, but we need to move on and learn from these mistakes in order to better ourselves.

If you haven’t already read her autobiography, I would give it a try. Not only does it provide you with some noteworthy advice, but it also will have you laughing the whole way through.


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