As a wine educator, I am a teacher, coach, mentor and performer, all rolled into one. I strive to ensure that my students truly learn about wine, while having a great time doing so. I want them to overcome any obstacles and to begin to really appreciate all of the nuances involved.
Accordingly, I constantly strive to improve my presentation skills, along with my pedagogical approach. Over the years, I have been fortunate to receive some great presentation skills training and I am a confident public speaker as a result. However, I know that while I enjoy wine very much, parts of it can be overwhelming, confusing or just plain boring. So, I sought out a way to solve this issue.
Accordingly, last fall, I enrolled in a stand-up comedy class. While I had never considered myself to be the funniest person, I thought that I had a great sense of humor that occasionally shone through. Apparently not.
When I told my mother that I was taking the class, her immediate response was, “You know you’re not funny, right?” My sister was a little less harsh in her reaction, but was equally surprised by my decision to study stand-up and was considerably anxious about my performance. But, I chose to ignore their concerns.
The class ran for three hours a week for five weeks and was expertly facilitated by the comedianne Cory Kahaney. At each class meeting, including the very first, participants were instructed to present a comedic set to the instructor and class, both of which would provide constructive feedback.
In between classes, we were writing new material and would occasionally have a specific homework assignment such as writing a joke about our mother or using a particular format such as a switch joke. Just as in a regular class, we were required to demonstrate that we had done the assignment; the only difference was that we had to tell our joke from the stage, rather than submit a piece of paper to the teacher.
We started off the sessions with a two-minute set. This eventually built to 5-6 minutes, which we aimed to perfect by the end of the last class meeting. Now was not the time to experiment or try new things.
A few weeks after the class ended, all of the students were scheduled to perform on stage at a prestigious comedy club in New York City — Comix. While it was a Saturday, it was a little less nerving to perform at 4:00 PM and instead of a room full of strangers, we were surrounded by our friends and family and those of our classmates. Accordingly, we had the benefit of an encouraging crowd.
I was scheduled to appear near the end of the show and waited nervously in the Green Room with fellow colleagues awaiting their turn. One by one, our classmates took the stage, performed their best and made the audience laugh. When my turn finally came, I stepped out onto the stage and was bathed by the brilliant lights. It was a heady moment. My husband and sister (who was clawing my husband since she was still so anxious about my lack of talent) were seated in front of the stage and, along with several other friends, were a welcome sight, putting me further at ease.
I began my set and was rewarded with laughter. I continued on until I saw the red light in the back of the room indicating that my time was up. I wrapped up with my closing joke and took a bow. I had had an amazing time and was sorry that the time had passed so quickly!
I exited the stage and reunited with the dozen or so friends and family afterward, sharing in the moment.
While I do not anticipate performing entire comedy sets for my students, I do plan to utilize more humor into my teaching and finding ways to always make wine fun. And, when I get the chance, I find myself up on stage doing my 5 minutes for yet a new audience. I may not be funny, but my comedy seems to make people laugh.