Lessons in stand-up comedy


I was talking to a client the other day, and it occurred to me that our job often requires telling folks things they don't want to hear.

I was talking to a client the other day, and it occurred to me that our job often requires telling folks things they don't want to hear. Bad news about a patient's disease, tough love about diets for fat pets, problems we don't have cures for, prices for procedures that may exceed their budgets, and the list goes on. And you never really know how clients will take the bad news.

I've been blessed with chances over the years to deliver good news in the form of funny, motivational and informative talks. I remember many of them fondly. But on one particular occasion, I was terrified of the group before me.

"Who exactly am I talking to?"

I had been asked by a friend to give a funny talk to a group on a day close to Christmas. I owed her a favor and said I'd be glad to do it. I forgot to ask one thing, though: Who exactly was I going to be speaking to? I wrote the date on my calendar and promptly forgot all about it. The months passed and as the week approached, she called to remind me and gave me the location.

I was surprised when I arrived to find the speaking engagement right next to a hospital. It didn't look anything like a meeting hall where most of these talks are given. I walked in and told the receptionist I'd been given directions to this location to give a talk. She smiled graciously and shook my hand. She led me through a series of hallways into an office where I was instructed to wait. My friend was on her way, she told me.

I had my laptop, with my presentation full of the usual funny animal slides. I went through my talk a little in my head as my friend walked in to the office and gave me a big hug and thanked me profusely for coming and talking to this group. She said they needed a lift and something to laugh about during the holidays.

My curiosity finally pushed me to ask the question I should have trotted out long before.

"Who exactly am I talking to?"

"You mean you don't know?" she asked, eyebrows high on her forehead.

I started scrolling through memories in my brain, trying to figure out whatever was so obvious to her. I was feeling a little pressure and wasn't sure why.

"These people are all terminally ill," she said. "I've heard you give talks many times and really think you'll make them laugh—and be happy."

"Don't worry—they'll love it"

What? How did I miss this detail? My brain suddenly went to mush as I considered the task. What in the world could I possibly say to dying people at Christmas that would make them happy?

"I had absolutely no idea this would be the audience," I stammered. "I'm not even kind of prepared to do this. I was just gonna give a talk about the life of a veterinarian and all the funny things we see everyday. These people ain't gonna' wanna' hear that stuff!"

She must have detected the pitch of my voice and seen the sweat drops gathering on my forehead.

"Don't worry," she soothed. "I've heard that talk before. They'll love it." Her calm tone made me want to strangle her.

She led me down yet another hall and through a large double door and into a conference room. This was no normal conference room either. It sported 150 or so hospital beds and soft chairs. In those beds and chairs were people who fit the bill for exactly who she said I'd be talking to: the terminally ill.

My skin was clammy—sweat dripped from every pore

She sat me down on a stage next to a podium and before I even had a moment to persuade my brain that everything would be okay, an A/V dude hooked up my computer, and she introduced me.

I stood up behind the podium and looked out at the crowd. They didn't look like they were in any mood to laugh.

Do you know how hard it is to tell stories that are supposed to be funny to people who don't laugh? It is awful. I had more than a dozen stories, and the thought of delivering them filled me with dread. My skin was clammy—sweat dripped from every pore. I must have stood there for a good 15 seconds and without a word.

Finally I found the courage to begin. Some lower level of my brain must have convinced an upper level of my brain that it would never be over if I didn't get started.

I went through the first story and laid it out with all the gusto I could muster. When the point of the story arrived that should invoke laughter, not a peep was heard. It was my best story. If they didn't laugh at that, I might as well just get off that stage and head back to Lamesa.

I was petrified. Five seconds. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Still not a peep. Just about the time I was ready to pack it in, an old dude in a wheelchair to my left began to cackle in a gruff raspy roll. This led a lady in bed wearing a revealing hospital gown to start laughing loud and hard. The giggles spread, and soon the entire room was leg-slapping happy.

I couldn't believe it. These dying and depressed people were cracking up. I paused for a long moment to absorb what had just happened. The story is pretty funny, but it had never made anyone laugh like this. They just kept laughing and talking to one another about things like that that had happened in their lives.

I probably talked for two hours. We had the best time. I walked out from behind the podium and got them involved in the stories. They thanked me a thousand times for coming, and I must have gotten sloppy cheek kisses from half the audience.

As I talked to that client the other day, I remembered that evening with the people I thought would never laugh. You just never know by looking who might be dying for a reason to smile.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Brock, visit dvm360.com/brock

Related Videos
Related Content
© 2023 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.