There’s an adage: “don’t tell me you’re funny – make me laugh”. This really comes into play when somebody finds out you do stand-up comedy: “You’re a stand up, are you? Go on then – tell me a joke”.
A distinctive and original voice will connect with an audience and will help them remember your act even if they can’t remember your name on a four-act bill.
People think being on stage is the scary moment, but I’d take a mic and spotlight every single time over a stranger, one-on-one, throwing down the gauntlet of saying “make me laugh”. This is because comedy isn’t just the words you say, it’s the nebulous collection of qualities that surround it too.
In a comedy club, there’s the simple fact of being on a stage with a mic in your hand. Until you prove otherwise, you’re afforded the perception of funny just by being there. Plus, the audience is there ready to - hopefully - hear killer gags and have a great night. This context gives you an amazing head start.
Above: Comedians Jack Dee and Eddie Izzard have distinct voices which set them apart.
Then there’s all the elements that support the words you speak: your body language, your outfit, your delivery, the material that has gone immediately before. These add to the telling of a joke. Driving all this is something comedian’s call 'finding your voice'. Your voice is the DNA of your stage persona. It's your worldview, and informs what you want to say. It can be stumbled upon, or it can take years to find and refine, but it is essential to who you are onstage.
To give you an example of a voice, Jack Dee’s is one of a dour, misanthropic, grouch. That’s his worldview and the comedy comes from that persona’s interactions with the world around him and informs the whole presentation of his act. I believe what makes the truly great comics cut through and stand out is the distinctiveness and originality of that voice.
There are huge parallels to be drawn between brands identifying their 'why' and comedians finding their voice.
A distinctive and original voice will connect with an audience and will help them remember your act even if they can’t remember your name on a four-act bill. It will give bookers a reason to book you because they know you offer something new and thrilling to their audiences. The superb Eddie Izzard would be a gold standard example. Her voice began as 'action transvestite'. While it has subtly evolved throughout her career, it always comes back to that exploring, daring, exciting worldview. It frames every flight of fancy Eddie takes you on. It informs how she dresses, how she delivers her material and the topics she tackles. It’s unique. It’s memorable, and it can’t be copied without coming off as a poor imitation.
And that [and here's the Sunday morning sermon-level thematic pivot] is where brands can learn a great deal from comedy. There are huge parallels to be drawn between brands identifying their 'why' – as Simon Sinek has famously invited us all to do – and comedians finding their voice. For both, it’s the motivation to do what you do. Acts that have unique, impossible to copy styles cut through and stay in the mind, mirroring the distinctiveness that [professor of marketing science] Byron Sharp highlights as being essential for a brand to achieve growth.
Above: Author and speaker Simon Sinek's famous TED talk about 'starting with why'.
Originality allows you to cut through and engage. For comedians, taking fresh angles on a situation, borne out of interesting insights, excite and entice an audience, no matter how well trodden the topic area. As we know from Eating The Big Fish’s eight credos of challenger brands, brands that are ideas-led, presenting something new and unexpected to the audience before they even realise they want it, win.
So, what are the implications for marketers reading this?
1. Firstly, given this specific column, I’d say learn from comedians. Consider your personal favourite: What would you say their 'voice' is? What is it that makes them distinctive from the rest of the acts on the comedy circuit? Once you’ve done that, think about related-world concepts you can adopt to inform your own marketing practice.
Whether you’re putting out campaigns or punchlines, distinctiveness and originality matter.
2. Among your own competitive set, try and define a 'voice'-equivalent for your brand. What is original and distinctive about you that sets you out either from your competitive set, or an ever-wider context?
3. Think about the implications that voice has on the content and context that your brand delivers. How does your behaviour, how you appear, where you appear, and what you say deliver on the originality and distinctiveness and set you apart from others?
These three actions will help you find your voice if your brand doesn’t have one, or help you sense check where you are if you feel you already know your 'why'.
This is important because, whether you’re putting out campaigns or punchlines, distinctiveness and originality matter.