How far would you go to make your presentation more personable?
July 22, 2008
Meet Will Gompertz. He isn’t funny. So he signed up for a 10-week comedy course – and then tried his gags out on a paying audience. He relives a terrifying ordeal
I can’t tell a joke. That’s OK: I can’t remove an appendix or parse a Latin sentence either; you just learn to avoid the things you can’t do. But sometimes you get mugged. It happened to me recently when I signed up to give some lectures on contemporary art on a P&O cruise ship. (By day, I’m director of Tate Media, the arm of the galleries that makes TV programmes, runs the website and produces public events.) P&O wanted my talk to include some “laughs”. Laughs? In an art lecture? But it was too late: I’d signed the contract. So I enrolled on a stand-up comedy course.
For the next 10 weeks, every Wednesday evening, in a room above a pub in central London, I learned how to be funny. My tutor was called Chris, and he was the spitting image of Neil from The Young Ones. My fellow students were a mixed bag: wannabe comedians, writers, ad agency types – eight of us in all. Chris provided a microphone that didn’t plug in, a tiny whiteboard you could barely read, and a dog-eared print-out listing the contents of each lesson. There was a relaxed, almost romantic feel to the whole enterprise – until I read through the notes to lesson 10. For lesson 10, we had to perform a real live stand-up gig, in a real venue, in front of a real, paying audience. I hadn’t signed up for this. It’s one thing using jokes to liven up an art lecture; it’s quite another performing in front of a bunch of beered-up hedonists who have paid hard cash.
I know I couldn’t/wouldn’t go this far but this is what Will Gompertz, Director of Tate Media did what would you do to enliven your presentations? For the full story head over to the Guardian Arts Section.