Chris Tabish: Leadership with Laughter

Interview with Chris Tabish, Stand-up Comedian, Author and Founding Partner, Venture West Consulting, USA

Chris Tabish: Leadership with Laughter
Courtesy of Chris Tabish
Poland family business conference

Those who think business is no laughing matter have probably not met Chris Tabish. The stand-up comedian uses the lessons drawn from his combined experience as a humourist and owner of a business consulting firm, Silicon Valley’s Venture West Consulting, to great aplomb.

Realising that the connection between the two industries resonated with people, he decided to co-author a book entitled Comediology, thereby coining a new term. The precise definition of “comediology” reads: “Applying successful comedic techniques traditionally used to amuse, entertain or make an audience laugh to your regular occupation, profession or trade to enhance your daily effectiveness, fulfilment and joy.”

According to Tabish, comediology goes far beyond lightening the mood with a well-placed joke or two. Instead, he argues that the fundamentals of stand-up comedy can be applied by entrepreneurs and family business owners to improve their business prospects. Authenticity, presence and a unique voice are as essential in the board room as they are on the stage.

We sat down with Chris Tabish to learn more.

Chris Tabish: Leadership with Laughter
Chris Tabish performing, courtesy of Chris Tabish.

Where did you get the idea to combine comedy and business into a self-help book?

I noticed that there are tonnes of business books with terrific industry insights, but they are not that much fun to read. Then there are humorous books that are entertaining to read but do not offer any value in terms of life lessons. I have been doing stand-up for about 12 years now, but I am also a professional business consultant. So, I thought, why not combine these two worlds?

The result is Comediology, which is a fun book. I take the lessons I learned from stand-up comedy and apply them in the business world.

How can the principles of comedy benefit entrepreneurs and family business members?

One of the most powerful lessons that comedy has to offer is in finding your voice. When doing stand-up, I would often try to emulate the style of the previous performer, which did nothing for my career. Ultimately, I was presenting myself as a mediocre variant of what came before.

The same is often true in business, and companies like that get lost in the crowd. In both settings, it is those who find their voice and tap into their passion that become successful.

Comedy also helps develop personal connections quickly. Studies have shown that making people laugh is one of the best ways to make them feel connected and open.

Whether it’s winning someone over in a very short amount of time or smoothing over an awkward situation, comedy is a powerful tool in business.

One of the most powerful lessons that comedy has to offer is in finding your voice. […] It is those who find their voice and tap into their passion that become successful.

Is being funny learned or innate?

Despite what some people believe, we are all born with the ability to be funny. To me, a funny person is authentic and present in the moment.

The trap that most people fall into is thinking that they need to be as funny as the famous comedians they see. In reality, comedy is hard to compare, and we are all funny in different ways.

The ability to recognise the humour in things is innate. Similarly, business is all about acknowledging what distinguishes you from your competitors and determining where your superpower lies. In my opinion, we all have a superpower in business, and we all are funny. Success is just a matter of putting that individual twist on things.

Does comedy change with the times, or is humour timeless?

We live in an interesting era; emotions run high, and sensitivities are heightened. Some feel they must be extra careful not to offend. Being aware of that, comedians now tend to lean more towards self-deprecating jokes. In a business context, it is wise to err on the side of general humour.

General humour could include making observations on inanimate objects, rather than talking about other people. See how they react and slowly build upon that reaction. This technique creates an environment in which everyone feels comfortable.

There is no single style that can be considered universally funny. If you look at films in different cultures around the world, comedy is a diverse field. Jerry Lewis is considered a comic genius in France, while he is perceived quite differently in other parts of the world.

In comedy, contextual awareness is essential: fitting a joke into the context of what the audience believes is far more critical than the joke itself.

What do you do when you realise you have crossed the line and said something you should not have?

If you say the wrong thing, you need to apologise sincerely and authentically. Take David Letterman as an example. A few years ago, he committed a public faux pas but discussed it openly on his show. As a result, people were mad for about three minutes, and then they moved past it.

Anytime you are pointing to a person or group and talking about their differences, you are entering a danger zone. Before you go down that road, ask yourself, ‘How would I feel if someone was talking about me?’

It is easy to find something hilariously funny when you’re excited about it, but let the coffee wear off and look at it again later. Is it funny, or is it offensive? People get into trouble when they become too convinced of their own genius.

It is easy to find something hilariously funny when you’re excited about it, but let the coffee wear off and look at it again later. Is it funny, or is it offensive? People get into trouble when they become too convinced of their own genius.

Can humour be used negatively?

No question – it all comes down to the fundamentals of humour: authenticity, presence and humility. We’ve all been intimidated by someone trying to use humour as a defence mechanism and coming off as a bully.

In reality, however, they lack authenticity: when someone is confident in themselves, they tend not to attack others using humour.

As a stand-up comedian, attacking the audience might work once or twice, but it is not a recipe for long-term success. The same applies to business. Those who are successful tend to come across as authentic and likeable. They are usually self-deprecating and present in the moment.

How can you work with cultural difference and people who might see comedy as inappropriate in a business context?

Cultural differences certainly exist, so the question is, how can you adjust to the situation in the moment?

The answer is knowing yourself. Because I’m comfortable with who I am, I’m able to get up on stage, connect and have fun with the crowd.

Although joking around in a formal business setting may not always be appropriate, connecting with people light-heartedly and without inhibition goes a long way. Find that common ground where everyone can share similar perspectives and experiences. Before you know it, you’ll be sharing a few laughs as well.