Sunday, 10 September 2017

Teaching and stand up comedy....

In August I spent a few days at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I watched a lot of comedy shows, hung out with some friends (yes, I have friends), made a couple of new friends, chatted with strangers, spoke some Spanish, drank some beer, and ate a lot of junk food.

This is something I do each year and, for the first time in many years, every show I saw this year was at least Good and most of them were Outstanding.

I've just read that sentence back and I know that it sounded like an Ofsted rating but, as a student (and often writer) of comedy, I can tell you that there are many similarities between teaching and performing stand up comedy.

Admittedly there are many differences:
...a teacher's audience is usually sober.
...a teacher keeps regular hours and gets paid regularly.
...teachers get paid during the holidays.
...teachers can get away with using other teachers' material and resources.
...for a comic, every set is an Ofsted inspection.

So, let's take a look at some of the similarities:

Anybody could do it.

Many people think they could probably do both simply by turning up. Both professions are incredibly difficult.

You're only in it for the adulation, money, holidays, etc...

Most teachers, and comics, do their jobs because they love them, not to be famous, rich or popular. Both jobs, in my opinion are a vocation (and a form of therapy!). The majority of working stand ups in the UK are not on megabucks. A jobbing comic will probably earn less than a teacher.


This is important for success in any profession but paramount for teachers and comics.
I'm always quite surprised that punters/pupils think the material they're presented with is being made up on the spot.

Anecdote: As I was leaving an Edinburgh Fringe show, the couple in front of me were discussing the performance. One said, "That was really good." His friend replied, "I'm disappointed. It was exactly the same as when I saw it on Tuesday with Tony."

Differentiation (or Know your audience)

Your lesson with 7A1 will be the same topic as you did with 7A5 (and you may use the same resources) but you'll take them to their destination by a different path.

If you don't you're not very good. (link to my differentiation post)

Every class is different. Every audience is different.
Bottom set Y10 on a Monday morning is a different group than bottom set Y10 last period on a Friday.

The audience at the Stand in Newcastle for the Thursday Show is quite often nothing like the audience for the Saturday can probably guess why...

Tailor your material to fit your class/audience.

and always have a plan B

and a plan C...

Delivery (Finding your own style)

You are you.
Be you.
Find your own teaching/stand up style that you're comfortable with.
You've probably seen the video of the teacher who greets each of his students with a different, personalised handshake. (You haven't? it's here.)

That isn't you!

Don't even try it.

Find your own "thing".

I try to inject a lot of humour into my lessons - Happy students do well, in my experience.

Over the years I've seen many stand ups and teachers who have tried to imitate the style of another established person they've seen in their profession. This is not necessarily a bad thing at the beginning of your career but these people are never going to reach their potential if they spend their professional life trying to be someone else.

The most successful comics (and teachers) are, in my opinion, inimitable.

For comics and teachers feedback comes in different forms.

Instant feedback happens in both professions:
If your audience is laughing or your students are taking part and on task, you're doing OK.
If your audience is not laughing, or your students have switched off, you'll know straight away that there's a problem.

However, comedy and teaching are both subjective. Not everyone will laugh at the same jokes and not all students will understand immediately. Everyone learns differently and laughs at differently things.

Both comics and teachers will  be heckled at some point. However, this can be a good thing, depending on the comments made and how they are presented. Dealing with this is a skill which needs to be learned and perfected to be successful.

I've seen stand ups and teachers ignore this feedback and try to carry on regardless. In both cases it rarely ends well.

As well as receiving feedback both jobs involve giving feedback: for a teacher different types of  assessment and for a stand up it's the reactions, pauses, words and body language shared with the audience.

A comic I saw this summer, mentioned that she was once chased from a venue through the car park and half way across the town... Not the best kind of feedback, you'd probably agree.

You can't please everybody all of the time.

Long term feedback (Reputation)

A teacher who has a good rapport with students and helps them make progress will get a good reputation and be a success. Records of this are kept via appraisal. This is how careers move on. The same thing happens in comedy. A comic with a good reputation will get work and eventually headline, play to bigger audiences and, hopefully, earn more


Continuing Professional Development - three words that strike fear into most teachers' hearts (those who have a heart!). Without CPD or a Personal Learning Network (PLN) or observing others, there is little opportunity for a teacher to improve his/her practice.

Similarly, a lot of comics will regularly attend comedy shows in order to see what their peers are doing and will watch new comics' acts to see what type of things audiences like, what works and what doesn't work.

In both professions a critical friend is always an asset.


Both professions involve a lot of work "out of hours" for which there is no pay.

Many writer/performers will start writing material for next summer's Edinburgh Fringe within the next few weeks.Constantly chopping and changing, trying out new material in their club sets, and in the case of political or satirical comics, hoping that nothing Trump-y or Brexit-y happens in the meantime.

This happens in teaching all the time and more so when new specifications are introduced or schools decide to change their assessment weeks, calendar, marking policy, etc...

Friends who aren't comics/teachers
In order to keep sane I rarely socialise with teachers.
Don't get me wrong I have lots of friends who are teachers but I need to have friends who don't just talk about marking, assessment and playing Naughtiest Child Top Trumps...

Whichever profession you are in you must do something else just to keep your sanity.

Finally...'re in a room full of people and you're the only one facing the wrong way.


Apprentice Alchemist said...

I enjoyed that read! As an ex teacher and ex entertainer i think you have captured the parallels perfectly. The part about imitation is especially true, i was terrible as a musician at imitating cover things so in our band we did things like rock versions of cheesy disco tunes. In class i cringe when a student teacher tries til imitate the phrases of an experienced teacher. So yes folks, whatever you do, be yourself and most importantly font let data get you down!

Dom said...

Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading Apprentice Alchemist. :)