Alexandria Love, a student in the Professional Communication MA program at the University of San Francisco, put on a show called Anyone? No? Ok. as part of her production company, Here’s Why That’s Funny, at the local PianoFight on Saturday, September 23. The show was her charity event for Reading is Fundamental (rif.org). The comedy scene in the San Francisco Bay Area is flourishing with talented performers such as Alexandria, and she was kind enough to do a Q&A to relate her comedic experience with valuable communication insights.
What’s the biggest communication challenge with being a stand-up comedian?
Stand-up comedy is unlike any other form of direct communication because any feedback that I’m hoping to receive, be it positive or critical, it occurs instantaneously. Unlike making a movie, giving a speech, or writing a novel, comedy forces me to deliver my communications materials, and stand up and wait for feedback after every line. Unlike any other form of communication, if that feedback is silence, that means I’ve failed.
Sometimes that feedback is in the form of a drunk, angry heckler telling me things that they don’t like about me, some of which have nothing to do with my material. Sometimes these people get physical. Sometimes they try to talk to me after shows. That’s not always fun. Sometimes I tell jokes about my experiences being black, or queer, or a woman, and I can feel people who don’t have that experience pulling back, rolling their eyes, or being vocally disinterested. So it goes. Sometimes people don’t like to hear about things that don’t relate to them directly. My job as a communicator is to make sure that everyone relates to me, even if they’re my exact opposite, and even if (or especially if) they’re unwilling to relate to me. This job is hard.
But the biggest challenge, honestly? Originality. When I was a kid, comics weren’t mainstream. Comedy albums and the occasional comedy central half hour were how we got our fix. Now, there’s a lot more options for comedy consumption, which is great, because comedy is important, but for comedians it’s harder to come up with material that no one else in the history of comedy has ever come up with before! There’s no database for every joke that’s ever been told, and yet if your material has traces of another comedian’s work, down to a certain word or concept, your career could be over.
What connections do you see between professional communication and comedy?
I like to say that comedy is exactly professional communications, except everything is on fire, and nobody likes you. My job is to relate to people. I try my best to make people feel warm, but I also understand that I have a job to do. I have to get my message to them. There’s so much going on in our country – impending war, climate change, 45, casual racism, systemic racism – there’s a lot of things that I like to cover. I have to find a way to make that message clear to others who might not have any frame of reference for what I’m talking about. In ProComms and in stand up, there’s a message, and I’m the one with the message. I have to make sure that the message stays as clear in their heads as it is in my head.
Who are your favorite comedians in the SF Bay Area?
Is this just a space for me to promote my friends? I’m sure you’ve all heard of Irene Tu. Arguably the best comic in the bay area right now, and a good friend of mine, but she doesn’t know this yet. If you’re able, you should also check out Natasha Muse, Jane Harrison, Luna Malbroux, and – boy oh boy, you have got to check out my friend Valerie Vernale. She’s a newer comic with a finely ground wit of a vet. My close friend Brooke Heinichen and I will be at the punchline together in the fall. There are also, I’m sure, plenty of male comedians to check out. Don’t listen to the naysayers – male comedians can be JUST as funny as women.
What role do you think comedy plays in everyday communication?
Before I was a comedian, I was a teacher. I hosted a small classroom in Palo Alto with girls from a bunch of different backgrounds. Some of them were so rich that their parents were CEOs, CFOs, and corporation Presidents. Some of the girls came from backgrounds like mine where they didn’t grow up with much. The one thing that we all had in common was that we loved to laugh, and I noticed that our sense of humor was pretty similar across the board.
Comedy connects people. It’s been the truth since Carlin, and it’ll be the truth long after today’s greats like Maria Bamford and Dave Chappelle are six feet under. It’s one of the few constants in life – we’re born, we experience, we laugh about those experiences, then we die. Nowadays we all need to laugh even more. Comedy creates a space where the expectation isn’t that we mourn how terrible and short life can be – it’s to understand that there are things out of our control, and connect with each other about those things. Ideally, after connecting, we can all share a big laugh.
How has being a comedian made you a better communicator?
If I tell a joke that doesn’t work, it’s not the audiences fault. It’s my fault. I have to view communication in that way, too. If I tell my friend something and it’s misinterpreted, it’s because I failed to transmit the message correctly. It forces you to learn to be very careful with words. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a good joke is worth a thousand messages. I don’t have a lot of time when I’m up on stage – in best case situations, I have a half hour – that means I have to be very deliberate with how I communicate my message to my audience. It causes me to do close reading on my own writing, and it forces me to think about things from the perspective of the audience. Comedy is the easiest way to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.