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andrew tarvin tedx tamu

On December 9, 2016 at 18:31, an email hit my inbox that was both exciting and intimidating. It was an invite from TEDxTAMU asking if I was interested in applying to speak at their TEDx event in April 2017.

I was excited because doing a TEDx talk is a thrilling experience and it has the potential to lead to bigger things; I was intimidated because it’s a lot of work… and it has the potential to lead to bigger things.

Technically, a TEDx talk is just another engagement but, if it goes well (and you get a good video (and you say something that resonates (and it gets shared))), it can amplify your message far beyond most other platforms.

For example, I’ve done over 500 engagements as a speaker, reaching over 35,000 people live. 10 of those events have shared my talks online, the highest viewcount of any of those videos is 4,883 (a talk on the humor process). The collective viewcount is 19,964 views.

My first TEDx talk on humor at work has 211,375 views as of this writing. That’s 13x more people that I’ve possibly been able to help with my message, from one talk. That says nothing of the additional boost in credibility I got from having done a TEDx talk, the quality video I could share to demonstrate my speaking ability, and the joy of knowing 200,000+ people have seen my terrible MS Paint drawings.

I was excited, but intimidated.

The Difference between TED and TEDx

I should note that a TEDx talk is different than a TED talk, and one of my biggest pet peeves is people who claim they are TED speakers when all they’ve done is a TEDx event.

The TED Conference is the big one, it only happens once a year, and there’s a pretty intense process just to be able to attend (not to mention tickets cost $5,000). To speak there, you have to be invited by the curators and it’s usually reserved for people doing massively huge things (think Elon Musk and Brene Brown, not “some guy” named Drew).

A TEDx event is an independently run event with TED style talks, meaning they’re six to eighteen minutes long. Just about any group can run a TEDx event, assuming they apply and go through the TEDx process.

That’s not to say that TEDx events can’t be incredible; the one’s I’ve been a part of have been. But they’re not the same as TED. A speaker claiming to be a TED speaker when they’ve done TEDx is like saying you’re a NFL player because you play football in an intramural league.

That said, the process for doing a TEDx talk is similar to a TED event and TEDx events are all roughly the same in setup and format.

The Process of Giving a TEDx Talk

It starts first with getting an invitation to speak. This might be because someone saw you speak elsewhere and recommended you as a speaker (what happened to me for TEDxTAMU), or you applied online. Most events book 3-5 months before the event date and you can find a list of all upcoming TEDx events on the TED website.

Sometimes, as part of this process, you will already know the topic you’re going to speak on. Other times, you’ll build it after you’ve been selected (in a “You’re so awesome we know we want you to be part of the event no matter what you talk about” kind of way). From there, you have a series of check-ins with someone from the event team where you’ll go over your talk leading up to event and make sure you don’t just try to wing it like 90% of the other things you do in your life.

Here’s the timeline for my TEDxTAMU talk:

tedx timeline

The day before the event you’ll do a rehearsal of your talk, getting last minute notes from event staff or sometimes a presentation coach, as well as get used to the stage, clicker, etc. The day of the event, you’ll do the talk as part of a line-up of other awesome speakers, and maybe do some networking as well.

After the event is over, usually one to three months, the video will go onto the TEDx YouTube channel to be shared with the world. A very select few TEDx videos are then upgraded to the TED website (like Shawn Achor).

How these upgraded videos are selected, I do not know. I’ve been told that a member of the TED curation team watches every TEDx talk and so it’s possible that they decide, or they sometimes add a talk if it’s been viewed millions of times on YouTube. Either way, I’m told it’s not something you should expect to happen, like winning the lottery or successfully solving one of those peg board games on the first try.

After that, you are a TEDx speaker and can share the video with anyone willing to watch.

Choosing a Topic for a TEDx Talk

For me, after getting over the excitement of doing another TEDx talk, and telling the group I would happily apply, I had to come up with a topic to speak on. There are a number of ideas rattling around in my brain that I think are worth spreading. After a quick brainstorm, I had ten that I was interested in exploring:

  1. How to take risks with no fear.
  2. Fate versus choice.
  3. We are all more alike than we are different.
  4. The perils of unleadership.
  5. Imposter syndrome.
  6. Three steps to small talk.
  7. We are not our personality assessments.
  8. The quantification of life.
  9. Do we need emotion?
  10. The skill of humor.

After hashing out the theme and rough outline for each of these ideas, I narrowed it down to the three “The’s”:

  1. The Perils of Unleadership. A talk exploring the difference between intention and action, and the things we unknowingly do that demotivate the people around us.
  2. The Quantification of Life. A talk focused on the pros and cons of quantifying everything we do, complete with examples of things I’ve tracked and analyzed over the years, including: tracking every hour of my day for an entire year, using data analytics to determine my favorite song, and my stand-up on attempting to quantify love.
  3. The Skill of Humor. A talk on the idea that humor is a skill, which means it can be learned. I saw this as an extension of my first TEDx talk on humor in the workplace with more of a focus on how to be funny instead of why to be funny.

With these ideas in hand, I talked to a number of friends and colleagues over the pros and cons of each one. The most helpful criteria I heard with regard to choosing a TEDx topic included:

  • What do you have the most expertise in? TEDx isn’t just about sharing an idea you think about, it’s about sharing something you are truly a subject matter expert in and can bring new perspective to. They want to hear about the challenges of the modern school system from experts like Ken Robinson, not your Aunt Karen.
  • What can you execute really really well? Because of the potential a TEDx video has, it’s important to do something you can knock out of the park. Trying something out for the very first time is great for an improv stage, not the TEDx stage.
  • What do you want to speak on going forward? Assuming the talk goes well and you get great video as a result, you’ll start to get inquiries about speaking on the topic of your TEDx talk. Unlike stand-up, where a video of your material usually indicates that material is nearing the end of its lifecycle, a TEDx video can be the start of you talking about that topic for years to come.

Based on this criteria, I applied to TEDxTAMU to speak on The Skill of Humor and was accepted.

NOTE: If you’re organizing a TEDx event and think any of the other ideas sound interesting, I’d be happy to share it at your event. I’d also add talking about the lessons from my new book, The United States of Laughter, to the mix. Have your people email my people.

Preparing for a TEDx Talk

As mentioned, there’s a typical process that all TEDx speakers go through for an event, and one of the most helpful parts of the process is having a deadline. Unlike Tim Urban, I don’t procrastinate; I just believe in Just-In-Time Productivity. So the deadlines served as great motivators to actually work on my talk.

However, that wasn’t enough. So I did what I do whenever I’m preparing for a new talk: I booked myself on stand-up shows.

I do this for three reasons:

  1. All of my talks include a lot of humor (even if I’m talking leadership or decision-making) and no matter the venue, I am always corporate clean. My material is Rated Mom (as in I always want my mom to be comfortable watching my work). Therefore, if material I do works in a stand-up comedy club, I know it’ll work with a speaking audience because the bar for laughter is lower.
  2. It’s easier to book stand-up shows than speaking events and my responsibility on those shows is lower than at my events. If I’m working on material at a stand-up show and it’s not Grade A, that’s okay. If I’m at a speaking event and I bomb, that’s a whole different story. Time is something we speakers take very seriously. As Carrie Wilkerson says, “if I’m booked to speak for an hour to 500 people, I’m now responsible for 500 human hours.”
  3. It gives me deadlines. If I book five shows in a week, that’s five times I’ll be thinking about, writing, performing, and reviewing the material I’m working on. Sure, I could theoretically still do that if I didn’t have any stand-up shows, or I could also just catch up on Doctor Who instead.

In the four months leading up to the TEDx event, I did 17 comedy shows to work on material that could be used in the talk.

As it got closer to the event, however, I knew I couldn’t just do stand-up as I needed to work on transitions and do full run-throughs. So I started finding ways to work on the complete 18 minute version of the talk in front of more traditional speaking audiences.

First, I re-arranged my humor keynote so that I could do The Skill of Humor as the middle section of my talk. Second, I reached out to a few previous clients, as well as a couple of meetup groups, and offered to give my talk for free. To them, they got a good talk for no cost, for me I got a deadline on my calendar to practice the talk and get feedback.

In total, I was able to practice my full TEDx talk 13 times in front of an actual audience before the event.

A Last Minute Change

Going into the final week before the event, I felt pretty good about the talk. I knew the jokes were funny because I worked on them in stand-up; I knew the TEDxTAMU team was happy with the talk because of our check-ins; and I knew that the overall flow worked as a speech because I had tried it in front of real audiences.

And then, three days before the event, I presented a modified version of the talk to my brother’s class at Texas A&M. My brother, David Tarvin, is a communications lecturer and has a PhD in rhetoric. He teaches public speaking, leadership and conflict resolution, and intercultural communication; needless to say, he knows a thing or two about speeches (but only a thing or two, I refuse to give him too much credit).

Side Note: People often wonder what it is about our upbringing that led me to being a professional speaker and my brother being a teacher of public speaking. The truth is that it’s mostly coincidence. I got into being an engineer and doing stand-up and improv; David got into it because he loves teaching and likes to talk.

After presenting it to his class, with positive feedback all around, I asked David for feedback. His response was, “It’s good.” (Long Pause) “But…” and then he basically outlined how, in an 18-minute talk, I had two primary themes when any good talk, particularly one so short, should have only one.

We parsed through the speech and I realized he was right. I definitely had elements of The Skill of Humor as a theme. However, I also had a theme for why to use humor at work, the topic of my first TEDx talk. As it currently stood, this TEDx talk was almost like an updated version of my first TEDx talk with different jokes. And that’s not what I wanted.

I wanted this talk to complement the first one. The entire goal of the first talk was to convince people why humor is so important. The goal of the second talk was supposed to be how to actually use humor, no matter how funny you think you are.

So, with my brother’s help, and with less than 72 hours until I’d be presenting, we set about re-organizing the talk:

tedx outline before after

As you can see from the two outlines above, I am a nerd when it comes to creating talk outlines. But, more importantly, you can see that I kept a lot of the content the same. However, I re-organized the structure of the talking points and streamlined the sections that felt more like the “why to use humor” in order to focus more on the sections that talked about “how to use humor.”

I shared my changes with David on Thursday night, he approved, and then I presented it to another one of his classes on Friday. The feedback was even better than the previous deliveries and I knew the new structure was definitely stronger.

Friday night, I did the dress rehearsal and got positive feedback from the TEDxTAMU team. Then I had dinner with family (my mom had come down for the event), and went to bed, dreaming of a successful event (and milkshakes).

The Day of the TEDx Talk

Having done over 500 speaking events in my career, I don’t often get nervous before events. Usually I just get excited. Saturday, April 22nd was different. I felt the nervous energy that is a mix of fear and excitement, the same nervousness I felt when I first started doing improv 10+ years prior or whenever I get onto an empty subway car in NYC (is it just my lucky day or is the car empty because of some horrid smell?).

I woke up at 8:50 and did a run-through of my talk. My only real concern at that point was time. Whenever I practiced the new version on my own, I came in at around 22 minutes. Not good for a 18-minute talk.

My last run through of the morning came in at 20 minutes and I figured that was close enough, given that I typically talk faster in the moment and I wouldn’t have the luxury of pausing to collect my thoughts.

I showered and had breakfast before David, my mom, and David’s roommate, Andrea, dropped me off at the event. I went backstage and met some of the other fellow speakers while my family found their seats (front and center).

I was the last speaker in the second block of the day. That meant I got to sit with my nerves a little while longer while my fellow speakers went out and did their thing. I remember they had a great mix of compelling ideas and fun delivery but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they talked about. I was too focused on my own fate.

And then it was my turn. I hit the stage at approximately 11:35 CT and, as I walked to center stage, my nerves dissipated. Before I knew it, I was excitedly sharing the first story about my grandmother texting me. And after 19 minutes and 16 seconds, I walked off to applause.

Afterwards, I took some pictures with the TEDxTAMU sign, with my mom, some of the team, and a few new fans I had gained during the talk.

tedx with mom

Then we headed to lunch as a family and I finally breathed a sigh of relief.

Waiting for the TEDx Video

Giving a TEDx talk is only part of the journey. After that, you wait for the video.

And, as Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part. You’re left wondering, “Was I as good (or as bad) as I thought I was?” “Will the energy in the room translate to video?” “Did the camera get my good side?”

The video is edited by whatever group the TEDx event has contracted, and then uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel for the world to see. For me, there was an intermediate step that was supposed to happen, didn’t, but then eventually did.

From my first TEDx talk, I realized how important the edit of the video is, particularly with a talk on humor. With TEDxOSU, I saw an early draft of the video and had a few notes to share (73 of them, actually).

They included things like, “When I compare myself to ‘skinny Hugh Jackman,’ cut to a close up of my face so that you can see that I do, in fact, look like a ‘skinny Hugh Jackman.'” Things that helped the comedy flow and punchlines work in a video setting.

So, when I agreed to do TEDxTAMU, I confirmed that I would have the ability to give notes on the edit before it went live. This got lost somewhere in the process, so when I sent a follow-up email to see when I’d get to look at the rough-cut, I was informed the video was already online (with 800+ views).

Unfortunately there were a few key problems with the initial edit, so we had to pull the video and do a re-edit.

To get a sense of the small changes that can have a big impact, here’s part of the email I sent to the editor:

tedxtamu video edits

After a couple of iterations, I was happy with the video and they re-uploaded it to YouTube and everything was great. Almost. The default thumbnail for the video was one of my slides and didn’t really represent what my talk was about.

I sent an email to the TEDx YouTube channel (with the support of TEDxTAMU), and they changed the thumbnail to something more engaging. And then everything was great.

What Happens After You Give a TEDx Talk

My talk has now been online just over a year, and as of this writing, has been viewed nearly one million times. But the success of this talk (views-wise) is relatively recent.

As of January 2018, the talk was at just over 3,000 views. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I do have some from periodically checking and here’s the growth over time:

tedx views over time

I don’t know what happened from January to March but the talk became more popular and views started skyrocketing. Maybe it took time for people to think, “WTF?”

Views haven’t been the only positive from the experience. In addition to the fun of having a lot of hits, I can also point to the TEDx talk as a direct source of income.

I’ve had nine inquiries come in that have specifically said they first saw my talk; four of those inquiries have led to bookings. In other cases, I’ve used the talk as proof of credibility and as a speaker demo when people have asked about my services. I’ve also gotten a few podcast invites and one inquiry to see if I was single.

But the most powerful outcome has been the comments I’ve received from people about how it has impacted their life. People from all over the world have reached out on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to share what the talk has meant to them.

But you can’t please everyone. As of this writing, the video has 19,000+ likes and 465 dislikes on YouTube. And some of the comments are less than positive (including one YouTuber who claims I am “Formulaic, dispassionate and utterly predictable”).

Still, it seems to have made a good number of people laugh, and hopefully learn, and that’s all I can ask for.

A Review of My TEDx Experience

Overall, giving a TEDx talk was an incredible experience. From a very early draft of this article (when the talk was at less than 5,000 views), I wrote:

“Even if the talk never goes viral, I’m still very happy with the result. Speaking on The Skill of Humor helped me to dramatically improve my humor keynote and the video has been a great marketing tool to share with clients on what I can do.”

Note: We’ll ignore that it’s taken me six months to actually publish this post.

For the talk itself, I’m happy with my performance in the video. There were a few spots where I stumbled but none of them are catastrophic and I don’t think they detract from the performance.

I was happy with the response for the various jokes and most of the laughs went about as expected. I was happy to see the SPF joke went over well because it was a last minute addition that I had never tested on stage, and you can distinctly hear my mom’s laugh with the horse joke. The stories of my grandmother were the clear winners from the talk, with a lot of people telling me, “WTF!”

A big shout out to the TEDxTAMU team for having me at the their event. And to other TEDx organizers, seriously, email me! I’d love to do another talk (maybe even a talk on a giving a talk?).

To see it all in action, watch the talk below:

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drew best of 2017

2017 built on the good and bad of 2016. Political discussion got more divided, the weather got harsher, and my personal year was great.

So, ignoring the macro and focusing on the DrewCo, here’s my review of 2017.

Best Achievement – Publishing The United States of Laughter

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided to actually write a book about my experiences as a nomad. When I began, I wasn’t entirely sure I would publish it, maybe just keep it as a more in-depth journal of my journey. But after the first few drafts, and getting inspired by Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, I decided to unleash it upon the world. I’m very glad I did. As a result, I hit top new release in both Travel Writing and Humor Essays, I launched the book out of a catapult, I talked about it on a few different news stations, and 50+ people gave it a 5-star review on Amazon.

Runner-Up: My second public TEDx Talk.

Best Personal Development – Less Than 100 Grams of Sugar

As many of you know, I love sugar. It’s my biggest vice, far greater than any alcohol or Grand Theft Auto video games. For 2017, I made it a goal to consume less than 100g of sugar each day which meant dropping my usual breakfast (Pop Tarts), no longer pretending drinking juice was particularly healthy, and limiting myself to only one dessert a day. Yes, this was actually a challenge but definitely needed considering 100 grams is double the old recommended amount by the World Health Organization and four times the updated recommendation of sugar for an adult (25g or less than one soda).

Runner-Up: Read a book a month.

Best Business Decision – Attending NSA Influence 2017

There are a few conferences I try to attend every year and the National Speaker’s Association annual summer conference is one of them. Though I’ve attended in the past, this year helped me establish additional credibility as a humorist and helped me further build my network with some of the most talented, and giving, speakers I’ve ever met. Subsequent meetings and events that sprang from those relationships have already started to transform my business.

Runner-Up: Publishing The United States of Laughter

Best Personal Decision – Brother’s Bachelor Party in Texas

My brothers and I don’t always get a chance to hang out considering we live in three different states, but it’s always a great time when we do. This year, for Adam’s Bachelor Party, we surprised him with a trip to Texas for a couple of baseball games, great food, and general brotherly fun.

Runner-Up: Notre Dame visit

Best Speaking Engagement – TEDxTAMU

It was another busy year of speaking but nothing can top the 18 minute talk I did for TEDxTAMU. I got a chance to talk about my favorite subject (humor), one of my brothers and my mom were in attendance, and it went very well. The fact that I have a great video as a result of it is an added bonus.

Runner-Up: Women’s Foodservice Forum

Best Performance – The Armando Diaz Experience

Nate was the reason I got into comedy in the first place but we don’t often get a chance to perform together considering we live on opposite coasts. So, when presented with the chance to be the monologist for his Armando show, it was a no-brainer.

Runner-Up: CSz Cincinnati

Best Travel – Acadia

My trip to Acadia National Park could not have been more perfect considering the views, hiking, and the company.

Runner-Up: Brother Road Trip

Best New Restaurant – Di Fara Pizza

It’s hard to still be impressed by pizza, but Di Fara’s in Brooklyn manages to do it. All of the pies are still made by the original owner and they are exquisite.

Runner-Up: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

Best Movie (I Saw) – Get Out

I’m not usually a horror film fan, but Jordan Peele’s movie does everything so well it’s hard not to like. It feels like there isn’t a wasted scene or line in the entire thing.

Runner-Up: Moonlight

Best TV Show (I Watched) – Stranger Things

I was late to the game with Stranger Things but it was thoroughly enjoyable and well-executed.

Runner-Up: Doctor Who

Best Book (I Read) – A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson’s book completely changed what I thought was possible with a memoir. It’s engaging, it’s entertaining, and it makes you laugh out loud. After reading it, I completely revamped by own book and was inspired to aim higher with what I wanted to write.

Runner-Up: Exactly What to Say

Best Tweet – 10 Marks the Spot

I’ve selected 20 of my best tweets of 2017 but my favorite favorite is this one:

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best of 2016

The meme du jour of 2016 was how awful of a year it was for the world. Brexit happened, Trump was elected, and Carrie Fisher died. Of course, some people were in favor of those things (not the last one, who would want that?).

At a macro level, 2016 was bad, particularly for climate change and women’s rights in some states. But at a Drew level, 2016 was a pretty good year. Here, as usual, is the best of the year.

Best Achievement – Completing All 50 States

On my 32 birthday this year, I finished my goal of speaking or performing in all 50 states. Hawaii was the perfect state to end the journey, filled with beautiful scenery, fun adventures, welcoming cousins who showed me around, and a storytelling show. 10/10 would do the whole thing again.

Runner-Up: Reaching 1,000 Performances.

Best Personal Development – Doing Weekly Planning

The farther removed I am from my project management days at P&G, the less I leverage that expertise in my day-to-day life. In 2016, one thing I brought back was more deliberate planning, this time at a weekly level. Each Sunday (approximately), I would think about what I wanted to accomplish that coming week and plan one key task for each day. I didn’t always complete those tasks and sometimes the planning happened on a Monday (or Thursday), but it did make me more aware of how I was spending my time.

Runner-Up: Checking my phone less frequently.

Best Business Decision – Moving Back to NYC

Since moving back to NYC, I’ve established great new business contacts, delivered some great events, re-engaged with some awesome people, and have had the best bagels in the country. NYC has always been a great place for building my skills as a speaker and comedian, it’s now also turning into a great place to deliver those skills.

Runner-Up: Starting a Mastermind group.

Best Personal Decision – Stopping my Nomadism

Don’t get me wrong, being a nomad for 18 months was an incredible experience (and was heralded as 2015’s best personal decision), but this year was also the right time to end it. Since moving back to NYC in September, I’ve been able to focus more on my work and have a lot more time to relax; I didn’t realize how much time I was spending planning my next trip or figuring out where I was going to sleep.

Runner-Up: Reconnecting with Old Friends

Best Speaking Engagement – Women’s Foodservice Forum

I surpassed 100 engagements for the second year in a row and spoke for some incredible groups. From my first single facilitator delivery of a two-day training at Microsoft, to presenting to my largest audience (1,000 people!) in Columbus, I was apart of some great events. But the top for me was the Women’s Foodservice Forum where I spoke to 400 aspiring leaders who were gracious, eager to learn, and seemed to really enjoy my sense of humor. It’s also where I got witness the butt sketch artist first-hand.

Runner-Up: PMI Central Ohio Chapter

Best Performance – The Story of My Year as a Nomad

While I certainly gave better performances in 2016, the most meaningful was my 1,000th performance on my 32nd birthday in my 50th state: the story of my year as a nomad.

Runner-Up: Featuring at Go Bananas Comedy Club

Best Travel – Hawaii

I sound like a broken record but how can you beat the Islands of Aloha?

Runner-Up: Zion National Forest

Best New Restaurant – Eleven Madison Park

It’s hard not to go with the World’s #3 ranked restaurant but for me the reason it’s on the top of the list is that they somehow made brussels sprouts AND scallops that I could not only stomach, but I actually liked. I guess my new rule is that I don’t like sprouts unless they’re served at a Michelin three star restaurant.

Runner-Up: Chick N Cone

Best Movie (I Saw) – Doctor Strange

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the Marvel movies. No, I don’t care that there are a million of them now and yes, I’m excited for yet another reboot of the Spider Man series. I enjoyed Doctor Strange because it introduced me to a character I knew nothing about and explored a world that was new to me.

Runners-Up: All of the Best Picture nominees, The Nice Guys

Best TV Show (I Watched) – Rick and Morty

 

The show is very weird and it takes a few episodes to get into, but by golly is it funny.

Runner-Up: Luke Cage

Best Book (I Read) – Smarter, Faster, Better

Charles Duhigg’s book is a great read for learning more about motivation and effectiveness, and it’s given me a phrase I used in most of my trainings: psychological safety. I find myself recommending this book to people over and over again.

Runners-Up: Bossypants, Modern Romance, Sprint

Best Tweet – Ghosts

I’ve selected 20 of my best tweets of 2016 but my favorite favorite is this one:

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performances by year running

My comedy career began on October 21, 2004, with a shortform improv comedy show in Smith Hall on The Ohio State University’s campus.

On February 11, 2016,  11 years, 3 months, and 21 days later, I performed my 1,000th show as a stand-up comedian, improviser, storyteller, spoken word artist, and sketch performer.

Because I’m an engineer, I tracked all of those performances in an Excel spreadsheet and decided to analyze the data to celebrate the passing of the millennial performance.

Did I perhaps go too far in the analysis? Probably. Did I wish I had even more data to analyze? Absolutely.

To give you a sense of what all I analyzed, here are some tidbits of what I learned:

  • I performed 1,000 shows in 4,130 days or roughly 1 show every 4 days.
  • I performed 7 types of shows, though shortform and stand-up were by far the most frequent.
  • I performed for 681 hours or roughly 28 days.
  • I performed in front of an estimated 41,240 people.
  • I performed in 104 cities, in 45 states, in 3 countries, and on 2 continents.
  • I performed at least once every month from December 2007 to February 2016 (a streak of 99 months).

Now for the deep dive…

Performances by Type

The first thing I wanted to know was the breakdown of performances by type.

performances by type a

Pie Chart of Performances by Type

Over the 1,000 shows, I tried improv (shortform, longform, and musical), stand-up, spoken word, storytelling, and sketch. (I also acted in a few things, but this is all about the live performances.)

#1. Improv (673 shows)

Improv was the clear majority at 67.3% of my performances. This makes sense as I started my performing career by helping co-found the 8th Floor Improv Comedy Group at OSU, I’ve been a member of ComedySportz since 2008, and I was on multiple house teams at The Magnet in NYC.

#2. Stand-up (300 shows)

Next up was stand-up, which I began in 2005. A few of us in the improv group felt that if we could be funny when making things up, we should be able to be funny when we had a plan.

(Turns out, at least for me, stand-up is a lot harder than improv but with practice and time, it gets easier and is a lot of fun.)

#3. Spoken Word (22 shows)

Much further behind that was spoken word, which I didn’t really start doing until 2015, when I started performing at more music venues and poetry shows. Stand-up isn’t necessarily forbidden in these types of venues (though it sometimes is), it is certainly much harder to pull off.

#4. Storytelling (3 shows)

I only had 3 storytelling performances, but the last one was a major milestone: my 1,000th show in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday. To see the story, watch The Story of My Year as a Nomad.

#5. Sketch (1 show)

I did exactly 1 sketch show: a 5-minute sketch for a friends 30th Birthday party in front of 25 people on August 17, 2013. So far, that’s been enough.

Improv (Shortform) vs Improv (Longform) vs Improv (Musical)

I was also curious of the breakdown of the different styles of improv as defined by shortform (such as Whose Line Is It Anyway and ComedySportz), longform (such as UCB and The Magnet), and musical (such as Baby Wants Candy and my team, Mint Condition).

improv performances by type

Pie Chart of Improv Performances

#1. Shortform (436 shows)

Again there was a clear winner with shortform at 64.8% of shows. This makes sense given that the 8th Floor was shortform when we started, my first touring group, Smarty Pants, was shortform, and I performed with ComedySportz in 20 of their 25 cities.

#2. Longform (172 shows)

Longform was next, where I performed at UCB, The Magnet, and on a number of different indie teams throughout NYC.

#3. Musical (66 shows)

I performed musical the least, where nearly all of my performances came at The Magnet in the form of class shows and the aforementioned Mint Condition.

Performances by Type (More Detailed Version)

Comparing the different styles of improv against all types of performances shifted the rankings.

performances by type detailed

Pie Chart of Detailed Performances

Shortform improv was still in the lead at 43.6% but second was stand-up at 30.0%, ahead of longform (17.2%) and musical (6.6%). And still only 1 sketch performance.

Thoughts on Performances by Type

  • Diversity of performance is good. Over the course of 1,000 shows, I did 7 types of performance: longform improv, musical improv, shortform improv, sketch, spoken word, stand-up, and storytelling. Trying different types made me an overall stronger performer (and person). There’s a lot a stand-up can learn from improvising, a storyteller can learn from spoken word, and an engineer can learn from all of the above.
  • I’m most comfortable performing shortform. Shortform was the most frequent performance type; it’s the first type of performance I ever did starting in 2004 and I’ve been doing it every year since. When I first started out, I was incredibly nervous before every show. Now, 400+ shows later, I’m not nervous to perform, just excited.
  • I’m not a good actor. I’ve only done one sketch show for a reason: I’m not very good at acting. Specifically, I’m not very good at making it look like I’m hearing something for the first time. Certainly I would get better at it if I did it more, but I prefer the other types of performance better so I haven’t given it much focus.

Performances by Group

Along the lines of understanding my performances by type, I was also interested in the performances I had by group.

Performances by Group

Table of Performances by Group

Over the last 11+ years, I performed with 31 “groups.” In the world of improv and sketch, groups referred to the teams with whom I performed on stage; in the world of stand-up, spoken word, and storytelling, they referred to the type of show I did (I wasn’t all that interested in how many different open mics I’ve done).

#1 ComedySportz (333 shows)

ComedySportz was #1 with one-third of all my performances being with the family friendly, shortform improv organization. A majority of those shows were with my hometown CSzNYC, but there were tons of other shows with teams from all around the country.

It’s one of the biggest families of improvisers on the planet and I’m proud to be a member.

#2 Stand-Up Open Mics (224 shows)

Just about every stand-up comic starts out at the open mic level. It’s where you cut your teeth as a comedian and work on new material for future shows (it’s also where I prep material for speaking engagements). Those workout rooms made up 22.4% of my performances with a whopping 224 shows. That’s a lot of performing to mostly other comedians.

Other stand-up related groups included guest spots (#5 at 49 shows) and being the MC (#9 at 23 shows).

A side note on stand-up: Though stand-up is generally perceived as a lonelier performance type (at least compared to improv), I found that I stuck mostly to a core set of organizations, which allowed me to build relationships with other comedians and not feel alone in the process.

Of the 300 total stand-up shows I did, 69.7% were with just four organizations:

  1. Laughing Buddha Comedy – 125 shows (41.7%)
  2. Comic Strip Live – 46 shows (15.3%)
  3. Funny Bone Comedy Clubs – 27 shows (9.0%)
  4. Monday Night Mirth – 11 shows (3.7%)

#3. Mint Condition (66 shows)

Mint Condition, the musical improv group I was apart of at The Magnet, was #3 with 66 shows. It was one of my favorite groups to perform with because every member brought a different skill to the table. And we made each other mixtapes.

At the time of my retirement from the team (I had to step down due to travel), it was the second longest running musical house team at The Magnet.

Rounding Out the Top 10

The 8th Floor was #4 at 60 shows, 34 of which were from when I was still in college and 26 were as an alumnus of the group.

I was in 43 class shows (#6), 22 improv jams (#10), and participated in 9 auditions, including callbacks (#15). Side note on the auditions: I made 50% of the things I auditioned for.

  • 2008 – ComedySportz NYC (made it)
  • 2008 – House Team at The City (group never happened)
  • 2009 – Harold Team at UCB (didn’t make it)
  • 2009 – Stand-Up at Comic Strip Live (didn’t pass)
  • 2011 – Musical House Team at Magnet (made it)
  • 2011 – Longform team at Magnet (made it)

The remaining Top 10 groups were Smarty Pants (#7), the first professional group I was apart of, and Grappler (#8), my first longform team at The Magnet.

A few shout-outs to groups not in the Top 10:

  • The Danboys (#13 with 16 shows). Another indie group but this one comprised of 8th Floor Alumni who had moved to NYC. As the first alum to move to NYC, it was a great feeling to be joined by fellow talented people in the Big Apple.
  • Slapstick Picknick (#18 with 7 shows). My first indie group and the most diverse in terms of performance, covering longform, shortform, and sketch.
  • Speechless Live (#20 with 3 shows). One of my favorite shows to do as it combines improv and presentations and seems to be right in my wheelhouse for performance.

Thoughts on Performances by Group

  • Comedy doesn’t have to be lonely. Regardless of performance type, I’ve found a community of welcoming performers wherever I’ve gone. Yes, there are unfriendly people in every type, but if you can find the people who you connect with, it makes the process a lot more fun.
  • The audience has fun when you have fun. When I reflect on my favorite groups, they’re often the most successful ones and the ones where I had the most fun when performing. I don’t think that’s a coincidence; I think when you have fun on stage, either because of the material you present or the people you’re performing with, the audience feeds off that energy and has fun with you.
  • You have to start somewhere. I was surprised to learn that 43% of my performances with my college improv group came after I graduated from college, in the form of a post-graduation summer run, special event shows, and alumni shows. When we started the group, we had no idea how long it was going to last, and it’s still going 12 years later. We just started somewhere and decided to see where it would take us.

Performances by Duration

The next thing I became curious about was how long I actually performed each type of comedy.

performances by duration

Bubble Chart of Performances by Duration. Bubble Size = Average Duration

In total, I performed for roughly 681 hours (or 28 days), with 95% of that time doing improv. The average duration of each performance was 40 minutes, though it varied greatly by performance type.

The longest show I did was 2 hours, which I did multiple times. The shortest show was 4 minutes, which also occurred multiple times (thanks to some open mics). 41.3% of my shows were for at least an hour; 28% were for 5 minutes or less.

performances by duration table

Table of Performances by Duration

#1. Shortform (556 hours)

I performed more hours of shortform than all of the other performance types combined (556 vs 125). This was partly due to the number of performances (436), but also due to the fact that my shortform shows were the longest of any performance type at an average of 75 minutes per show.

#2. Longform (67 hours)

Despite performing longform half the number of times as stand-up (172 vs 300), I had double the number of hours (67 hours vs 30 hours). This was due to the fact that my average longform show was nearly 4x longer than my average stand-up show (23 minutes vs 6 minutes).

#3. Stand-Up (30 hours)

300 stand-up shows led to 30 hours of stand-up, or an average of 6 minutes per set. This was weighted heavily by the fact that many open mics are a mere 5 minutes. It can feel like an eternity when the set isn’t going well, but it is only 300 seconds of performance at a time.

Thoughts on Performances by Duration

  • The type of performance matters (for duration). To do a 90-minute shortform show is relatively easy, especially when given a strong format such as the one used in ComedySportz. Doing a 90-minute stand-up show would be nearly impossible for me (I could do it, but I’m not sure people would enjoy the whole thing).
  • Getting stage time in stand-up takes a long time. Just about every stand-up comedian on the planet agrees on one key to getting better at stand-up: get more stage time. The challenge is that time can be hard to get because stand-up shows, particularly in the early stages, are for just minutes at a time. Despite 30% of my shows being stand-up, it only accounted for 4.4% of my total stage time.
  • I’m far from a master performer. After 12 years of performing and 1,000 shows, I was still 9,218 hours away from the supposed 10,000 hours it takes to reach mastery. There’s been a lot of research contesting this idea, and my numbers don’t take into account practice time, but just for fun, let’s say I wanted to reach 10,000 hours of performing experience. At my current pace of 40 minutes per show, that’s only 14,118 more shows. If I average 100 shows a year, I’ll reach mastery sometime in the year 2157 when I’m a spry 173 years old.

Performances by Audience Size

I was also curious about how many people have seen me perform. This data is nowhere near exact. I tracked audience size since near the beginning (and my first few shows were light enough to estimate), but they were always rough estimates (e.g. around 80 people, not 83 people plus a baby).

performances by audience

Bubble Chart of Performances by Audience. Bubble Size = Average Audience

In total, 41,000+ people saw me perform live, an average of 41 people per performance.

My biggest show was for 1,200 people, a ComedySportz show for a Gildas Club event in Hackensack, NJ on November 3, 2011. We had Rachel Dratch as a guest performer that night, and needless to say (and yet I’m still saying it), it was an incredibly fun show.

My smallest show was for 4 people, which I did more than once, first with the 8th Floor, once with ComedySportz, and a few times in stand-up. These were some of the hardest shows I did, but if you can perform confidently in front of 4 people, you can also do it in front of 400.

11.8% percent of my shows were for audiences of 10 or less; 10.3% were for 100 or more.

performances by audience

Table of Performances by Audience

#1 Shortform (22,703 people)

55% of the people who saw me perform saw me do shortform improv. That was 22,703 people, or roughly the entire population of Yukon City, OK, a 26-square mile city just outside Oklahoma City.

#2 Stand-Up (11,804)

28% of my total audience saw me do stand-up at 11,804 people, or about the population of Baffin Island, a Canadian Island that resides mostly within the arctic circle.

#3 Longform (4,047)

10% of the 41,000 saw longform at 4,047 people, or the approximate number of people living in Chunking Mansions, a building located in Hong Kong.

Audience Size by Group

I also took a look at audience size by group.

performances by audience group total

Audience Size by Group

The top groups by total audience were ComedySportz (15,000+), Smarty Pants (nearly 5,000), and stand-up (open mics at 4,800, MC at 3,500, and guest spots at 3,200).

The groups that were best at attracting an audience were being an MC (average of 150 people per show), followed by Smarty Pants (118), and Speechless Live (108). My indie improv groups didn’t do as well, with an average between 10-13 people per show.

Thoughts on Performances by Audience Size

  • People who have seen me live is a fraction of who have seen me online. 41,000 people saw me in my first 1,000 performances. Compare that to the more than 1.8 million people who have seen my work on YouTube, Twitter, Facebookreddit and imgur. My Microsoft Office Pun has been viewed 1.4 million times (and has been stolen more times than I can count).
  • I’m mostly seen as an improviser. Though I’ve done 7 types of performances, 70% of the people who have seen me perform saw me do some form of improv. So to a majority of the people who have seen me, I’m an improviser (not a stand-up or storyteller).
  • Stand-up audience size varies drastically depending on type. The highest average audience size for any group was being the MC at a stand-up show with an average of 155 people. An average of 21 people were at stand-up open mics, one of the lowest averages per show. This makes sense as you’re not typically going to get a big audience for comedians working on new material.

Performances by Location

I was also interested in the number of places where I’ve performed. With my 1,000th performance, I had spoken or performed in all 50 states (and in 18 countries on 3 continents), but that included places I’d given a speech or led a workshop for Humor That Works, which I didn’t count in these performance totals.

map of my performances

Map of My Performances

For just performances, I hit 45 states (missing Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, and North Dakota) and two non-US countries (Norway and Netherlands).

performances by state by type

Table of Performances by State

#1 New York (707 shows)

The top state was New York, where I performed 70.7% of all of my shows. It was the only state where I did every performance type, and was home to 61% of my shortform shows, 70% of my stand-up, 94% of my longform, and 100% of my musical shows.

None of this was surprising given that I moved to New York for more performing opportunities and it’s home to some of the greatest (albeit smallest in physical size) stages in the world.

#2 Ohio (131 shows)

Next was Ohio, where I first started doing comedy, with 13.1% of my shows. A majority of those shows took place prior to moving to New York, but a number of shows came after the move, either for 8th Floor Alumni events or performing while in town for other reasons.

#3 New Jersey (20 shows)

The next closest state was New Jersey with a steep drop to just 2% of shows.

Performance Types by State

I was interested to see how many locations I did each performance type and I found a large discrepancy between the types.

# of performances by state type

Table for # of Performance Types by State

I did stand-up in the most locations at 27: 25 states and 2 countries (both were English speaking shows).

Next was spoken word at 21. With only 22 total spoken word performances, every spoken word performance occurred in a different state, with the exception of Ohio, where I did two events.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I only did longform in 3 states and storytelling in 2. I only performed musical and sketch in New York.

Performance Locations and Audience Size

After seeing the breakdown of locations by number of shows, I took a look at the locations by audience size.

performances by state by audience

Table of Performance Locations and Audience Size

The top 3 states by audience were the same as the top states by number of performances, though the percentages were skewed (New York had 70% of the number of shows but only 44% of the audience).

Starting at #4 it got interesting, particularly in the average audience size. Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, and Virginia all averaged more than 100 people per show, with Kentucky averaging 175.

New York, where a majority of my performances took place, averaged 26 people, the lowest average of any state where I performed more than twice, and 25th overall.

Performances by City

If I looked at the state level, it seemed natural to also look at the city level.

performances by city by audience

Table of Performances by City

I’ve performed in 104 cities around the world (well mostly the US plus two countries). 63% of cities were for a single show; 8% of the cities were for 10 or more performances.

Manhattan (as in New York, NY) was the clear winner with 64.6% of all performances taking place in the big apple. Next up were Columbus (7.2%), Cincinnati (1.8%), and Dayton (1.7%).

That means 75.3% of my performances happened in roughly 381 square miles (22 for Manhattan, 80 for Cincinnati, 223 for Columbus, and 56 for Dayton). That’s 0.01% of the United States.

As a side note, I’ve also performed in a city beginning with every letter of the alphabet except for E, G, X, and Z. I know my next tour will have to take me to El Paso, Grand Rapids, Xalapa, and Zaozhuang.

Thoughts on Performances by Location

  • Great performances take place all around the country / world. I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of shows in a lot of different places and I’m consistently impressed with the talent and diversity of performances. I’ve done open mics in tiny towns where performers have blown me away with their skill and passion. There’s certainly a greater number of talented performers in the big cities like NY and LA, but there’s no monopoly.
  • Some performance types are easier to travel with. Stand-up is by far the easiest type of show to do as I travel. I can call up a club or find an event to see about getting a guest spot, and they either say yes or no. Improv is a lot harder as most groups aren’t open to a stranger joining their group for a night … Except with ComedySportz. I can contact a CSz city and see if they’ll let me join their show and they’ll often welcome me as a guest player (which I’ve done a number of times). It’s one of the many awesome things about the CSz family.
  • The “big stage” has smaller audiences. Something most people don’t realize about moving to NY (or LA) to pursue comedy is that often you’ll end up doing more shows but for less people. This was true for me where I went from performing in comedy clubs (or on campus) in Ohio for 50-300 people, to performing in basements in NY for 10-20 people at a time.

Performances by Time

The final area I analyzed were my performances over time. Admittedly, I got a little carried away… I started first with performances by year (and ended up doing month, day, and time of day).

Performances by Year

total performances by year

Graph of Performances by Year

My comedy career started with 3 performances in 2004 and grew steadily over time, reaching a peak of 154 shows in 2014 before dropping off. 42 days and 14 performances into 2016, I hit the 1,000 performances milestone.

#1. 2014 (154 shows)

The most performances I’ve done in a year was 154. That’s an average of roughly 3 shows a week or 1 show every 2-3 days. I know there are plenty of performers who top that total, but that was quite a year for me.

#2. 2012 (134 shows)

2012 had the second most number of performances with 13.4% of all of my shows. Perhaps I was worried that the world was going to end so I tried to get all of my thoughts out before that happened.

#3 2011 (119 shows)

2011 was an incredibly busy year for me as I was still at P&G and was in the early stages of Humor That Works, yet I still managed to perform an average of 2+ times a week for 119 shows.

Performance Types by Year

Taking a closer look at the performances yielded an interesting story of my evolution as a performer.

performances by year by type

Graph of Performance Types by Year

Over the course of 12 years and 1,000 performances, I had a number of shifts in frequency of performance types.

Pie Charts of Performance Types 2004 to 2007

Pie Charts of Performance Types 2004 to 2007

My 3 shows in 2004 were all shortform shows for the 8th Floor, all in Columbus, OH.

In 2005, I did 11 more shortform shows and tried out stand-up for the first time, averaging 1 show a month for a total of 12 for the year.

In 2006, the year I graduated college with a degree in the comedy-friendly Computer Science & Engineering, I made my first big leap, both in shortform shows (39) and in stand-up (18), jumping to a total of 57 shows that year.

The next 4 years were surprisingly consistent, starting with 63 shows in 2007. I say surprising because I moved from Cincinnati to NYC in 2008 and, despite being around a lot more comedy opportunities, my performances remained relatively steady.

Pie Charts of Performance Types 2008 to 2011

Pie Charts of Performance Types 2008 to 2011

With the move to NYC in 2008, I started doing longform and split most of my time between taking classes and doing stand-up (for a total of 76 shows).

In 2009, I started Humor That Works while still working at P&G and had to make a choice on what to focus on. I decided to continue taking improv classes and performed with ComedySportz while putting stand-up on the back burner, and ended the year with 76 shows (38 shortform, 36 longform, 2 stand-up).

In 2010, I focused exclusively on improv. I did 50 shortform shows and 27 longform shows for a total of 77 for the year.

By 2011, I had been introduced to musical improv and performed on 2 house teams (one musical and one longform at The Magnet) and consistently with ComedySportz. I did stand-up once. It was the first year I broke the 100 show barrier at 119.

Pie Charts of Performance Types 2012 to 2015

Pie Charts of Performance Types 2012 to 2015

In the middle of 2012, I left my job at P&G to focus on Humor That Works, which gave me more time to perform. I was in my groove on all of my improv teams and started to inch my way back into stand-up. I did 134 shows that year.

In 2013, I did my first (and only) sketch show, took a storytelling class, and tried spoken word for the first time. I also started traveling more for my business. As a result, I had to retire from my longform and musical teams because I consistently missed practices and shows, which was unfair to the 6-7 other performers on the team. To compensate, I did more stand-up again and just barely eclipsed the century mark at 102 shows.

My busiest year for any performance type was in 2014 with 95 stand-up shows to go along with 57 shortform shows and 2 longform shows, for a total of 154 performances for the year.

2015 saw a decline across most performance types as I embarked on a nomadic journey. With fewer performance options, I performed at poetry and music open mics which led to more spoken word and storytelling performances (and tremendous growth as a performer). Despite the travels, I still hit 113 shows.

2016 performances

Pie Charts of Performance Types 2016

In 2016 I focused on hitting 1,000 performances and reached the milestone with 8 stand-up shows, 2 shortform shows, 3 spoken word shows, and my 1,000th performance, a storytelling show in my 50th state (Hawaii).

Audience Size by Year

From some of the other analyses I realized that number of performances didn’t necessarily correlate with higher total audience, so I took a look at total audience size by year.

total audience by year

My best year for total audience size was actually in 2007, when I “only” did 63 shows. Many of those shows were for high schools as part of Smarty Pants, some of which were in front of upwards of 900 kids. That was also the year I did my first paid stand-up spots as MC for a couple of different Funny Bones, each show averaging between 150-300 people.

2014, the year with the most performances, was third in audience size because many of those shows were smaller stand-up venues in NY.

Performances by Month

After I looked at the performances by year, I was interested in the breakdown of performances by month (both on average and each year).

performances by month

Stacked Graph of Performances by Month

The busiest month of the year for performances was August, with 12.3% of my total performances.

My slowest month immediately followed (September) with only 4.0%. Perhaps I got tired from all of the shows in August and took some time off.

Every other month was in the 7-10% range (70 to 100 shows).

average performance by month

Table of Top Months for Performance Types

The reason August was the highest month was largely driven by stand-up, with 54 shows, beating the average number of stand-up shows per month (25.2) by almost 29 shows.

The most popular month for shortform was July (often when ComedySportz World Championship takes place) at 59 shows (vs an average of 36.3).

June was the month for longform (24 shows vs 15.9 average, when DCM is) and spoken word (7 shows vs 1.7 average, the month of my two-week road trip in 2015).

Musical was pretty evenly distributed, and sketch and storytelling were too small of a sample size to focus on.

Table of Performances by Month and Year

Table of Performances by Month and Year

The most shows I ever did in one month was 40, back in August 2014 (also the most stand-up shows I’ve done at 38). The next highest month was 20, which I did twice, in November 2014 and May 2015.

The most improv shows I did in one month was 19 in July 2012, where I did the most shortform shows I’ve ever done (13) along with some longform and musical.

I performed in 8 longform shows in a month twice (June 2011 and March 2012), and the most musical shows I did in one month was 5 (November 2011).

I also performed at least once every single month from December 2007 to February 2016.

Performances by Day of the Week

After I saw the monthly breakdown I was curious about the daily breakdown.

performances by day of week

Graph of Performances by Day of the Week

It was no surprise that Friday and Saturday were the two most popular days of week for me to perform as that’s when most comedy shows happen.

After which it appeared I liked to take a few days off, as Sunday and Monday were my two least popular day for shows.

average performance by day

Table of Average Performances by Day

#1. Saturday (309 shows)

Saturday was the top day for shows with 30.9% of all performances coming on that day. The popularity of Saturday was driven primarily by shortform shows at 245 performances. I suppose that’s what happens when you perform a weekly Saturday show with ComedySportz NYC for 8 straight years.

#2. Friday (180 shows)

Friday was the second most popular day for shows at 18.0%. It was also the most popular day for stand-up specifically (72 shows) followed by Wednesday (55), Tuesday (47), Monday (36), and then Saturday (32). It appeared hard to do stand-up on Saturday when I did so much improv that day.

#3. Tuesday (157 shows)

Tuesday was #3 with 15.7% of shows. This was a bit surprising, I would have guessed Thursday or Sunday would be more popular. However, 97% of my musical improv shows came on Tuesdays (that was musical improv day at The Magnet), which bolstered the numbers.

Monday and Sunday were my least popular performance days at 72 apiece.

average audience by day

Table of Average Audience Per Day

The majority of people saw me perform on Saturday (28%) and Friday (23%), though average audience sizes were bigger on Sunday (55 people per show) and Friday (52). It appeared to be the hardest to get people to come out on a Monday (only 23 people per show and 4% of my audience).

# of performances in a day

Pie Chart of Performances in a Day

The most shows I did in a single day was 4, which I did 4 times. Interestingly all 4 times were either all shortform shows or all stand-up shows. When I wanted to perform a lot in a day, apparently I didn’t switch up type of performance.

I did 3 shows in a day 14 times (with diversity in performance type) and 2 shows in a day 100 times. 86.3% of the time it was just a single show that day (742 shows / 742 days).

Performances by Time of Day

I had already reviewed yearly, monthly, and daily data, so I figured I might as well jump into the time of day for each of my performances as well.

I didn’t keep track of when exactly I performed so I had to go back and add time-of-day to my excel sheet (Note: this is start time of the event, not necessarily the exact time I was on stage).

performances of time of day

Graph of Performances by Time of Day

Once I did that (and figured out how to put the data into buckets), the obvious trend emerged: I performed more often at night.

#1. 4pm to 8pm (549 shows)

54.9% of my shows started between the hours of 4pm-8pm, the earlier side of primetime.

#2. 8pm to 12am (345 shows)

34.5% of my performances started between 8pm-12am, the later side of primetime. Of the two primetime slots, I clearly favored earlier rather than later.

#3. 12pm to 4pm (63 shows)

A distant third to primetime was the early afternoon timeslot, when a lot of remote shows happened.

Similarly, the hours of 8am-4pm were dominated by shortform, a popular timeslot for private shows through Smarty Pants and ComedySportz. I did do stand-up once at 10am at a corporate event and it went about as well as you’d expect a 10am stand-up show to go.

I never performed between the hours of 4am-8am (perhaps a late-night bit show at DCM or a poorly planned stand-up show is in my future).

performances by time log

Performances by Time (Logarithmic)

Getting a little more specific (and using a log scale to see more data) showed the typical performance times, with a peak from 6pm-8pm (when 66.5% of my performances started).

average audience by time

Table of Time of Day by Audience Size

The most number of people saw me at 7pm (9,500 people), then 6pm (nearly 8,000), then 8pm (6,500). In fact, 77% of people saw me perform between the hours of 6pm and 11pm.

Average audience per show was highest at 9am at 156 people per show, followed by 10am with 107 people per show. Which makes sense in a way; the only time you’re going to convince someone to do comedy at 9am is when it’s a paid, private event for a large group of people.

For the evening hours, 9pm saw the biggest audiences at 64, then 7pm (56). Weirdly I did smaller shows at 8pm (36 people) than I did at 10pm (48).

Thoughts on Performances by Time

  • My performance types varied by year. There’s a natural ebb and flow to the different types of performances I did. Performance opportunities were driven by what was going on in my personal life, where I had been taking classes, and what I had been focusing on. I’m currently doing more stand-up, so the next 1,000 performances might look very different.
  • Performance burnout is real. I love performing but it does require energy, which means it also requires resting. My busiest month of shows (August) was followed by my slowest (September). My two busiest show days (Friday and Saturday) were followed by my two slowest (Sunday and Monday).
  • A lot of my work happens at night. I am not a morning person which is probably a good thing if part of my job is performance. A majority of shows happen at night and it’s tough to do a show at 10pm if you’ve been up since 6am (that’s also why Friday late shows are notoriously more difficult to do, because the audience gets tired from being up all day).

Summary of Analysis

The analysis of 1,000 performances started just because I could. I had already tracked the data (I used it as a way to motivate myself to perform) and decided I might as well look into it.

Through the process, I learned some things about myself, including:

  1. I’ll always want more data. As I began my analysis, I found myself wishing I had more data. In some cases, I went back and created it. I didn’t initially track the start time of my shows, but when I realized I wanted it, I went back through 12 years of calendar data to add it to the file. I really wish I had ranked my performances on a scale of 1 to 5; I’d love to see if there were any trends between performance rating and things like type, audience size, or time.
  2. I am far more experienced as an improviser. I knew I had done more improv than stand-up, but didn’t realize how big the gap was, particularly between the number of hours performed in each.
  3. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed (and benefited from greatly) being apart of ComedySportz. I knew emotionally that I’ve enjoyed being part of the CSz family, but the data showed logically why it’s been great for me. It’s given me a chance to perform frequently, in all types of spaces, at different times, and in different cities.
  4. I want to expand more online. Performing live is incredible, there’s nothing quite like hearing the sound of a group of strangers laughing at something you’ve said or done. However, I can reach far more people online than I could ever hope to reach in person. Luckily these two things are complementary. I can perform live, record the set, and post it for others to see. Or I can take bits I’ve worked on live and translate them to text or images to share with others.
  5. Laughter is universal, what makes people laugh is not. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been able to find a community that is eager and willing to laugh. What they’ll laugh at, however, changes based on where I am. Norwegians loved my material on the metric system, Alabamans did not. Spoken word audiences tended to appreciate wordplay, late night stand-up crowds not-so-much. Part of the fun of performance is solving the puzzle of each unique audience.

I’m excited to see how the next 1,000 shows compare.

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best of 2015

I do a lot in a year. I eat a lot of food, drink a lot of milkshakes, and generally find enjoyable ways to spend my  525,600 minutes. Here are the best of those moments. (See previous bestofs here.)

Best Achievement – Visiting 47 States

OK, technically this achievement was not on the goals list at the beginning of the year… but I think the fact that I visited (and spoke or performed in) 47 states is quite impressive. And when you add West Virginia, North Carolina, and Hawaii which I’ll get to by February 11, I’ll have hit all 50 states in a 12 month time period.

Runner-Up: 107 speaking / coaching / training engagements

Best Personal Development – Writing More Stories

A by-product of my nomadic travels (see below) has been that I’ve been more conscious of the stories happening in my life. By searching for “story worthy” moments, it’s helped me better appreciate the experiences I’ve had, whether they be the not-at-all kidnapping of Italy or a Walmart Parking Lot in Maine.

Runner-Up: Allowing myself to relax

Best Business Decision – Going to the National Speakers Association Conference

The NSA Conference in 2015 was a great event for me. Not only did I present to fellow speakers and find success, I also met with a bureau (thanks to an event I did at P&G) that has started to represent me. I also met some pretty awesome people.

Runner-Up: Going Nomadic

Best Personal Decision – Going Nomadic

Since March 1, 2015, I’ve been a corporate nomad. I’ve lived out of two bags and have traveled to 47 states and 7 countries. While I’ve certainly missed having a homebase, the experiences of traveling have far outweighed any challenges of being on the road. Having an awesome friends in so many places doesn’t hurt either.

Runner-Up: Staying in Touch

Best Speaking Engagement – AIN 2015

I spoke at a lot of events in 2015 and enjoyed every single one of them. However none were as enjoyable as presenting to my fellow applied improviser in the beautiful setting of the AIN Conference 2015. I did two sessions, and based on the feedback, they both went very well. You can also now see my talk in improvising conversations online.

Runners-Up: Procter & Gamble, OSU Young Alumni, General Assembly

Best Personal Performance – Throckmorton

Thanks to a great connection, I was able to perform in the 200+ seat Throckmorton Theater in the Bay Area. It was a great lineup of performers and I got to do a mix of stand-up and a cliche bit I’ve been working for over a year on. Based on the audience reaction, during and after, it was well received.

Runner-Up: ComedySportz in New York, San Antonio, Seattle, Richmond, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Quad Cities, Provo, Twin Cities, Detroit, Los Angeles, Portland, Indianapolis, Sacramento, and Houston.

Best Travel – 17 State Road Trip 

A year of being a Nomad is likely to lead to some incredible journeys. From my awesome adventures in Norway to great moments in Ohio, I had a phenomenal year of travel. But my favorite part of the journey was the 17 State Road Trip I went on with my brother. It started with my ComedySportz family in Illinois and ended with my real family in Ohio, and I visited 17 states along the way.

Runners-Up: Norway, Grand Canyon, Multiple New York Trips

Best New Restaurant – Sandy’s Donuts

According to Foursquare, I checked into 830 places in 2015, a majority of them restaurants. I’ve had some interesting concoctions in some interesting locations, but the one I keep telling people about is the Smores donut I had from Sandy’s Donuts in Fargo, North Dakota.

Runner-Up: Dognvill Burger, Plan Check

Best New Food – Chicken Alfredo Burrito

Some might see Chicken Alfredo pasta wrapped in a burrito with added cheese and think “Why?” The folks at La Parilla think, “Why not?” So I tried it. And no it wasn’t the most amazing thing that I ate the entire year, it was definitely the most indulgent from an American standpoint. And it was delicious.

Runner-Up: Bunny Bites

Best Live Show – ComedySportz World Championship 2015

Can the best live show I saw be one that I was in? Well it is. The ComedySportz World Championship 2015 versus Quad Cities was such an incredibly fun match to play in, and it went down to the wire for the winning team (Quad Cities). It was great to participate in but even better to watch.

Runner-Up: Honey at SF Improv Festival

Best Movie (I Saw) – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Were there things that could be improved? Yes. Did it have some similarities to A New Hope? Yes. Was it the movie I was most excited to see and thoroughly entertained in the entire time? Yes.

Runner-Up: Straight Outta Compton

Best TV Show (I Watched) – Daredevil 

Since I didn’t really read much last year, I decided to add a type of media I did consume a lot: TV. And not in the traditional sense, but more in the Netflix and binge variety. For me, my favorite show of the year was Daredevil. It’s superhero meets grungy detective show which is a great combo for me.

Runner-Up: Archer

Best Tweet – Efficiency

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2015, here’s my favorite of the year:

Efficiency should be a one syllable word.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2015. See you next year!

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airplane wing

On March 1, 2015, I started a nomadic journey, leaving my place in New York to reside pretty much anywhere in the world. This is my travel log as a corporate nomad.

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best of 2014

With approximately 8700 hours in a year to do things, I like checking back on how I spent some of those hours. Here are some of my favorites from 2014. You can also check out past years’ bestofs.

Best Achievement – 100 87 Speaking Engagements

For the second year, one of my primary goals for the year was to do 100 engagements for Humor That Works. I only hit 87, but I’m still happy with the results considering the engagements included some awesome events (see more below).

Runner-Up: 2 million pageviews.

Best Personal Development – Start Being More Mindful

One of my 5 daily habits this year was 5 minutes of “meditation” or just counting my breaths. I started noticing that, in an environment where you can always have external simulation of some sort (namely from a cellphone), I had lost the ability to just do nothing but think / take in the surroundings. While I’m still pretty bad at the habit, just trying it was a great start.

Runner-Up: Getting more honest in my tracking.

Best Business Decision – Apply to Facilitator Role

I received an email via LinkedIn about a group looking for an experienced facilitator. I decided to apply for the role since it was a limited time commitment and I ended up getting it, which ultimately led to me working with a great organization doing events in Seattle and Madrid.

Runner-Up: Perform 30 times in August.

Best Personal Decision – Go to the Philippines 

While technically I headed to Manila for a speaking engagement, it was very much a personal decision as well, particularly to stay for a week+ and with a friend. It was a great overall experience and my first time visiting Asia which led to a lot of learnings, fun, and only slightly embarrassing attempts at learning some of the language.

Runner-Up: Visit LA for Nate’s Birthday

Best Speaking Engagement – TEDxOhioStateUniversity 

There were a number of great events this past year, including some with ChangeLabs, a full day with Nationwide, PMI, and FunnyBizz. But the most important event for me was the TEDx talk I gave on humor at work. It was a blast to do, was well-received, and has now racked up 25,000+ views online.

Runners-Up: ChangeLabs, Nationwide, PMI, FunnyBizz

Best Personal Performance – Comedians Coming Home 

My very last show of the year was my favorite for a few different reasons: 1) It was in Cincinnati in front of some friends and family, 2) The material was well received, and 3) It ended with an interview with Rajiv that included a number of puns.

Runner-Up: The 30+ Shows in August

Best Travel – Madrid 

I took 36 trips in 2014, with 115 days on the road and 94 nights away from NYC. I saw: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Vincennes, Columbus, LA, Boston, Milwaukee, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, Providence, DC, Spain, Philippines, Scotland, England, Copenhagen. I enjoyed all of these trips but Madrid was probably my favorite given the event I did, the food I ate, and the best Gin & Tonic I’ve ever had.

Runners-Up: LA, Manila, Copenhagen

Best New Restaurant – Good Stuff Eatery 

I enjoyed a number of great restaurants throughout the year but my favorite was Good Stuff Eatery in DC as it included my favorite combo of foods: burgers + fries + shakes.

Runner-Up: Mandy & Joe’s Delicatessen, Gray’s Ice Cream

Best New Food – Spanish G&T 

It’s not technically a food and it’s rather bizarre that I’d choose an alcoholic drink, but the Gin & Tonic I had in Madrid was the best I’ve ever had and led me to do a lot of research on the history of G&Ts.

Runner-Up: Cabinet (aka Milkshake)

Best Live Show – No Man’s Land 

I enjoyed watching my buddy Rajiv in his one man show about love / relationships. It made me laugh, smile, and want to do a one man show of my own…

Runner-Up: Violet

Best Movie (I Saw) – Guardians of the Galaxy 

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the Marvel movies. They have action, great lines, and superheroes. Guardians of the Galaxy with Chris Pratt was the most entertaining movie I saw all year with good performances, humorous writing, and a nice soundtrack.

Runner-Up: Dr. Strangelove

Best Book (I Read) – Fun Home 

An incredibly well done autobiography done in the style of a graphic novel. It was very honest and revealing, more so than any book I’ve read in recent years.

Runner-Up: Catch-22

Best Tweet – Math Perspective 

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2014, here’s my top pick:

Life is about perspective. They aren’t math problems, they are math opportunities.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2014. See you next year!

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best of 2013

365 days is a lot of time to do a lot of things. Here are some of my favorites from 2013.

Best Achievement – 100 73 Speaking Engagements

One of my biggest goals for the year was to do 100 engagements for Humor That Works. While I only hit 73, I still think it was my biggest accomplishment. More than 2500 people got to hear the things I train on and even if just a small percent of those people are better because of it, it was a good year.

Runner-Up: Publish an App.

Best Personal Development – OKRs

Although this is more recent, one of the best videos I watched on productivity this year was how Google sets goals. The idea of creating stretch goals and still being satisfied with .7 or .8 has helped me frame my thinking for both goal setting and success.

Runner-Up: Broccoli isn’t that disgusting.

Best Business Decision – Go to Norway

Early on in 2013 I had a chance to go to Norway for a speaking engagement plus some stand-up. Not only did I learn that what I teach about humor in the workplace is relevant in other countries, I learned that I can make people laugh even if English isn’t their first language.

Runners-Up: Publish an App, Present at GA.

Best Personal Decision – Go to Norway

The trip to Norway was both a professional and personal decision. Personally it reminded me of the wonders of international travel and how limited I am when I can’t use English. I also tried reindeer burger.

Runner-Up: Convince Pat to make Banana Pudding.

Best Speaking Engagement – CSz Talk

There were way too many engagements this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. It I had to pick one (and I do because I’m making me), I would choose my CSz Talk on Efficiency vs Effectiveness. It was my first TED-style talk and balanced humor and message.

Runners-Up: LSU, GA, OSU, WSJ, WNO, P&G, TGP

Best Personal Performance – Gilda Club Event

This was one of the hardest “bests” to choose as I had so much fun in the 100+ shows I did this past year. But the Gilda Club event takes the cake for a few reasons: 1) It was for a good cause. 2) It was in front of 1,200 people. 3) I performed with Rachel Dratch.

Runners-Up: Stand Up Bergen, Mint Condition Last Show

Best Travel – Norway

I was traveling for more than 100 days in 2013, with trips to: Baton Rouge, Norway, Cincinnati (x6), Napa, San Francisco, Columbus (x2), Tyrone (x3), Yulan, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Westhampton, Boston (x4), Norwalk (x2), and Epsom. But it should be no surprise (based on the Best Business and Best Personal Decisions) that my favorite was Norway. A very very close second was Westhampton, followed by all the other great places.

Runner-Up: All the other great trips.

Best New Restaurant – Amy Ruths

It was a good year for fried chicken as I tried both Amy Ruth’s and Pies N Thighs this year. Though both were amazing, it has to go to Amy Ruth’s because their chicken and waffles is incredible.

Runners-Up: Pies N Thighs, Gott’s Roadside, What’s Up Dog?

Best New Food – Pancake Snack

One of the best things about Norway was their midday snack of a fresh pancake and jam. I don’t know what they call it but I call it delicious.

Runner-Up: Banana Pudding, Max Brenner Hot Chocolate.

Best Live Show – Eddie Izzard Workshop

I didn’t see as many live shows this year as I did last year, but I hit quite a variety. While Vanya and Sonja and Masha and Spike was funny, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark was interesting, and Punderdome is exclusively puns, my favorite was seeing Eddie Izzard workshop material for his new tour.

Runners-Up: Punderdome, Vanya and Sonja and Masha and Spike, Big Dumb Music Festival.

Best Movie (I Saw) – The World’s End

Sadly I missed the Best Picture Movie Marathon so I was limited on what I saw, but I’d say The Worlds End was my favorite. Also a special shot out to Last of Us; it’s a videogame but the story is so good that if it were a movie, it would easily be the best I saw this year.

Runners-Up: Star Trek Into Darkness, Last of Us.

Best TV Series (I Saw)  Breaking Bad

I’ve watched some great series this year, including Sherlock and Archer (but they aren’t eligible for Best Series because they aren’t complete yet). I really enjoyed Luther but I think the last season of Breaking Bad makes it a great watch all the way through.

Runner-Up: Luther.

Best Book (I Read) – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I’m nowhere close to an avid reader, having only read Count of Monte CristoThe Sport of BusinessThe Challenger SaleLead with a StoryThe Sea-Gull, and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Of all of those, Hitchhikers was my favorite because of it made me laugh out loud multiple times.

Runner-Up: Count of Monte Cristo.

Best Tweet – Good at PowerPoint?

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2013, here’s my top pick:

I thought I could sit on a bench. Some guy told me I couldn’t. I stood, corrected.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2013. See you next year!

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