362 – Dani Zoldan: Why Stand Up Saved My Life

The guest I had scheduled to interview had to cancel last minute.

But I wasn’t upset. These things happen to everyone who have busy schedules. I was actually pretty excited. And we’ll get that guest eventually. But in the meantime, I was able to do something creative. And like my producer Steve Cohen says, “Let’s make this the most productive thing we can do. Turn those lemons into lemonade.”

So I had Dani Zoldan come into the studio. He’s the owner of Stand Up NY, the comedy club I’m also part-owner of. I wanted to switch up the format. And I wanted to reflect.

Dani is the one who convinced me go to go on stage consistently. So I went up 6x a week. And I became obsessed. It’s been a year and a half since Dani invited me to take this challenge.

I’ve learned a lot of skills at a very high level.

Investing. Business. Chess. Poker.

But stand-up comedy is BY FAR the hardest skill I’ve ever wanted to learn. But I’ll tell you why it was worth it.

I’ve been a public speaker for 20+ years. I started off nervous, shy and awkward. I relied on powerpoints. And I can remember times when I was scared to death. I thought I was going to cry. Bnd then I got good. I got very good.

And there would even be people who would come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Oh, you should be a stand-up comedian.’ Because I would make the audience laugh. So I thought I was good. But after doing stand-up comedy for as long as I have, which is not long enough, my public speaking is 10x better.

And it’s funny because when I wrote “How To Be The Best Public Speaker on the Planet” and “11 Unusual Methods for Being a Great Public Speaker” the very first tip I give is to watch comedians and start off with a joke. This was way before I knew anything about the real power of stand-up.

Before I knew timing. Before I knew silence. Before I knew pausing. Before I knew voice inflection or how to move around the stage.

Here are some of the microskills I’ve been working on:

1. Humor
2. Likeability
3. Crowdwork
4. Understanding the Crowd
5. Using the Stage
6. Timing
7. Using Your Voice
8. Confidence
9. How to Deal with Hecklers

 

It’s like a muscle is kicking in

Through mastering these skills I’ve learned to improve my public speaking skills tenfold.

I’m now able to read my audience better. Who in the audience is responding to me. And who isn’t. What are they responding to. I’ve learned to be so much more aware.

I’m able to move more fluidly and intentionally around the stage. Or through the audience confidently. And I know when to make statements or ask questions to certain people.

And my timing is so much better. I feel like now I can go up in front of any audience, no matter the size or demographic, not prepare at all, and rip it up.

The humor has also helped. I’ve switched my stand up routine twenty or thirty times. So I have so much material I can fall back on. Or mix in with my public speaking. Before I was getting people to laugh. And now I have people laughing ten times as much.

But there’s always room to grow. Dante Nero who’s been doing stand up 10x longer than I have told me, “When you think you got it, you don’t have it. Something smashes you in the head.” So many comedians have told me this very same thing.

I’m probably due for a comedy reality check.

Comedians are the best public speakers and they are up against the most brutal audiences. When I get on stage at a conference, the stakes aren’t so high. Because the people mostly know who they’re going to seek. In a comedy club, people are hungry. Their stomachs are growling. And if you don’t feed them, they’ll attack. It’s the jungle. So I started studying all my favorite comedians more and more. I’d bring them on the podcast to learn the craft.

Gary Gulman. He was the first one. Then I had him on again to break down one of his most brilliant jokes.

I interviewed Bonnie McFarlane who told me she loves to get into fights with her audience.

And Jackie Martling who used to be Howard Stern’s lead joke writer.

Paul Mecurio told me how he went from living a double life as a lawyer who slipped out to tell jokes at lunch to a full-time comedian.

Then I talked to Sebastian Maniscalco who made $15 million last year and I got help from Godfrey, Dante Nero, Jimmy Yang, Tony Rock,

Sherrod Small and the list will go on.

I was fascinated by all the microskills they had to master to be one of the top performers. I was scared, but fascinated.
But most of all, I wanted to know what it was like. I wanted to know the rush that all these comedians knew. I found that. And I never looked back.

And I’ve grown in all areas of my life: writing, negotiating, selling, TV appearances, radio appearances, public speaking, relationships, and so on.

So I wanted to share all the ways comedy has helped me become a better public speaker.

Because we all want to grow at something. Or all things.

The point I wanted to make here today, with Dani’s help, is to show just how anyone can learn to be a better business partner, writer, speaker or even husband by learning the power of stand up.

I know this improved my life. And I hope it helps to show how it can change yours.


 

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