Lunchtime Speaker

Thursday, August 4, 2016

12:30pm – 2:00pm

Chris Coccia, Stand-Up Comedian, The DC Improv Comedy Club

Our second ‘outside the industry’ session features a DC Improv Comedy Club comedian and stand-up comedy coach demonstrating how to use humor to make stories memorable and attention-grabbing.

Have feedback on this session? We’d love to hear it! Submit it here.

Learning Objectives

  • How do you hit the hearts of your target audience?
  • When did you cross the line?
  • What happens if it falls flat?
  • Why is humor important?
  • Is humor being fresh again?
  • How do you convey humor across mediums?
  • Where do you find humor when you are not funny?
  • How do you respond to people who are offended (haters)?

Introduction from BuzzFeed

Rena Shapiro, BuzzFeed – “3 Things You Didn’t Know About BuzzFeed”

  1. Our journalists are very impressive.
  2. We reach a lot of people on the hill and off the hill and grassroots.
  3. We have a team dedicated to helping your friends inside the beltway leverage what other organizations have been doing for years.

Why bring a comedian here?

  • Not here today as a stand-up comedian
  • Not here to turn you into a comedian, but rather to take the fundamentals of stand up comedy and figure out how you can use them to convey your message
  • Why make distinction? Because as a comedian, we’re putting funny first. Our priority is to be funny. For you guys, your job is to get your message out there first. You don’t want to be funny first.
    • Sometimes the comedy can get in the way, to quote Mary Poppins “sugar that makes the medicine go down”

What are the fundamentals of comedy?

  • Comedians are confident, they have a unique voice, and they open up.
  • You need to get to who you are on stage, everything else builds off there.
  • Your persona is a your personality with a job to do.
  • You have to let your guard down, you have to be vulnerable.
    • Don’t imagine the audience naked, they have to imagine you naked, that’s how you get that real connection.
  • It takes a long time to get there, in business; persona is referred to as your story.
  • Apparently storytelling is huge, the more honest you can be, the more open you can be to your audience, the more you have a connection there, it is work.
  • Authentic engagement is what we’re looking for – if you don’t have that authentic engagement it comes off as contrived.

Lessons Learned

  • Soul crushers exist – they are the jaded ones, the ones who take without giving, they knock your enthusiasm.
  • Attitude and confidence, directly determined my success.


  • The audience can’t be more invested in your success than you are
  • The strength of your story sets the upper limit
  • Be willing to fail, for comics and comedians, that’s the only way to operate.
  • Have willingness.
  • Return to your roots: remember what brought you to the mission in the first place.
  • Be yourself.


Audience Question: How do you craft a message with humor?

Coccia Answer: Everyone has a different style for crafting a message. Example: Seinfeld is a meticulous writer, I circle around a topic.

Audience Question: Do you tell political jokes?

Coccia Answer: Not in DC! Current events have a date stamp on it, which makes it difficult to incorporate.

Audience Question: Can you talk about timing? When is it appropriate to bring humor into the situation?

Coccia Answer: When you’re on the hill, you don’t want to go as a comedian. The better way to bring humor into that situation is to put the joke on yourself.

Audience Question: Do you have guidance on how you should structure a humorous speech?

Coccia Answer: It used to be you start with your second funniest, end with your funniest, but now that formula has shifted. People are much more comfortable with jumping from one topic to another. We’re a distracted generation – we don’t need to flow seamlessly.

  • The best content is one that incorporates a bit of truth.
  • Find your natural progression and remember that it’s not how we talk about it that makes it good, it’s who we are that stands out.
  • Public speaking is harder than being a comedian.

If you start your act out without connecting with the audience, try making eye contact with one person.

Audience Question: Do you have any recommendations for dealing with opponents?

Coccia Answer: In comedy, you’re opposition is primarily hecklers, and they usually don’t have a specific point of view. For advocacy opponents, you likely have people who are directly opposing you. One thing that works is to just not give them a reaction.