A couple of weeks ago I was on a debate panel at the annual conference of my professional association. Speaking in public was a moderate concern, as was articulating my argument. The major worry for me, though, was that I was supposed to be funny. Yes, this wasn’t your regular debate where points and counterpoints are argued with the aim of winning the debate. It was to be light-hearted with the emphasis on entertainment and fun.
The debate was the last item on a full day’s agenda for the conference, giving me all day to over-think my performance. I’d spent a couple of weeks writing my speech and standing in the living room rehearsing it. I wasn’t too worried that I hadn’t memorised it because I’d have my notes before me. I was worried I wasn’t going to be funny. It’s a lot harder to write funny stuff and get instant feedback from an audience than you’d imagine.
My latest manuscript is supposed to be a romantic comedy. I wanted to write something that didn’t take itself too seriously. My characters crept into my life and took over. They made me laugh. The male protagonist is brash and determined without any sense of privacy. The female protagonist is secretive and anally retentive.
A few days after my debate performance, I sent my manuscript off to a couple of people to read. The idea is that they’ll provide me with feedback on whether the story works, whether the characters are likeable and if the minor characters add to/detract from the story. Most importantly, is there any comedy?
I’ve given my readers a decent amount of time to get it back to me. And the anxious wait continues.
Appearing on stage at the conference, I was the second speaker. The first speaker was drawing a lot of laughs. I stared at my notes, hastily re-written and modified over a calming coffee during the lunch break, and again during the final afternoon tea break when I realised my ending was not going to work. My speech was too serious. It’d never get any laughs.
Then I was introduced in the wackiest way possible — with a faux biography. From there I remembered not to wander about the stage or shift my weight repeatedly. I didn’t scratch my face or tug at my hair. Timing in the delivery of the funnier parts of the speech was perfect.
And people laughed.