Last night in Tysons Corner, I hosted a roast for a doctor who’s moving into a new role. On the dais were ten of his colleagues, all taking their turns to be a comedian for the first time in their lives…or at least the first time since the failed open-mic adventure at Yuk-Yuk’s in 1983.
These are people who save lives daily. They diagnose diseases early, analyze complex MRI results, cut out dangerous growths, perform open-heart surgery, and perform a host of other critical duties that keep the rest of us breathing. And yet, for some of them, delivering a five-minute comedy roast was incredibly intimidating. They were afraid of failure and embarrassment. People who perform liver transplants were afraid of jokes bombing.
So, when we huddled up before the show, I knew we had to get their minds right. They needed to approach this the right way or the show would flop despite the funny material.
When thinking of what to say, a reality dawned on me – All the pump-up, “You can do it!” talk in the world doesn’t do a damn thing for nerves.
All it does is make the nervous speaker even more nervous, as they think, “Great. They’re telling me I got this. What’s wrong with me that I don’t think the same way??”
So, I took a different approach, one that hit this fear head-on. “Enjoy this night”, I said, “Because tomorrow, you’re going back to telling people they have three months to live.”
Morbid? Yes. Grim? Absolutely. Truthful? Better believe it.
It put in perspective that comedy is fun. An escape. A diversion. And it needs to be treated as such. Making people laugh is the icing on the cake of life, but these doctors are the cake itself.
I reminded them that their legacies would be defined by how many lives they’ve saved, not how many laughs they’d gotten. And it was that perspective that allowed them to relax and approach the night from a different angle.
And then, they crushed it. Every single one of them. It was as smooth and funny as any Comedy Central or Dean Martin roast I’ve ever seen.
Once the performances were treated for what they were – a fun, light homage to a great man who’d been an awesome boss, they stopped fretting and treated the roast like they do cataract surgery…demonstrating cool, calm and excellence.
Kudos, docs. Hell of a show. Just don’t bill my insurance for this post.