Comedy & authenticity: Laughter connects people

Laughter connects people. Whether you’re on a first date with one person or onstage in front of 1,000, sharing a laugh remains one of the best ways to break the emotional ice.Comedian Jane Condon understands that laughter connects peopl

My very funny friend Jane Condon recently wrote a piece for Women@Forbes about using comedy in business speeches. I agree with just about every word she wrote, including “and” and “the.”

But I want to highlight a couple of points she made.

Jane says, “Know your audience.” I would add, “and the occasion.”

Understanding the purpose and tone of the gathering might have helped Trump avoid getting booed at a high-society dinner. Then again…Trump.

Jane says, “Be you. Always.”

I don’t have anything to add to that, other than an emphatic head nod. But don’t confine authenticity to just the humorous part of your remarks. If your personality doesn’t shine through your words, the audience will sense the disconnect. At best, they’ll leave the speech feeling puzzled by you; at worst, they’ll dislike you, maybe without knowing quite why.

Something like that happened to the actress Anne Hathaway in 2013. She recently revealed that she’d been navigating a deeply unhappy period following her performance in the movie Les Misérables. Yet once she was nominated for—and won—an Academy Award,

“I had to stand up in front of people and feel something I don’t feel, which is uncomplicated happiness,” she says…. “I tried to pretend that I was happy and I got called out on it, big time.”

Somewhere along the way, Hathaway got transformed from, as the Vanity Fair article described it, a “friendly famous face into an actress the public loved to hate.”

I’m not an expert in the vagaries of an Oscar campaign, but I can’t help thinking that authenticity might have served Hathaway better than, well, acting.

Yes, her feelings were complicated, difficult to encapsulate into a sound bite. But imagine if she’d said, “Playing this character reminded me that so many women face these terrible situations, even today. That’s a tough thing to shake, and I haven’t quite done it yet.”

Who couldn’t connect to that?

Okay, back to Jane.

Jane says, “Lastly, be you.”

Yes. Authenticity is so important she mentioned it twice. She says,

Audiences are smarter than we give them credit for. Comedy comes from the true place. And authentic will read to the back of the room. So take risks (yes) but be you. There is only one you.

“There is only one you.” Even if you’re talking about a subject people have heard a million times before, when you come at it from an authentic place, you make it new for your listeners. No one else has your experiences, your perceptions. If laughter connects, then authenticity cements that connection.

Make ’em laugh, yes. But make ’em feel, too. And let them get to know the real you.

  • humor
  • speeches