Demonstration Session

Thursday, August 4, 2016

2:00pm – 3:00pm

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

Get a taste for what it’s like to be a stand-up comedian while learning some unorthodox messaging techniques. Our lunchtime speaker has kindly agreed to teach an abridged version of his coveted stand-up comedy class – you won’t want to miss it!

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


“To get to the funny and to get the ‘stuff’ out.” Stand-up comedian Chris Coccia shared how the audience’s comfort level is just as important as the speaker’s comfort level in comedy. The audience was comprised of several advocacy professionals, most are relatively regular public speaking jobs. Most attendees present wanted to use comedy to make their messages more engaging, digestible for their audiences.


Question: How do you add more comedy to policy and data heavy talks in order to increase retention and add more of a narrative and story to your speeches?

Coccia Answer: In comedy, self-deprecation, owning your failures and be aware of the situation is helpful in making this connection. Highlighting these experiences shows the audience that you are “just like them” and can help them to feel more in tune with what you are saying.

Question: In speechwriting for others, how do you balance content? You cannot be too inappropriate but you also need strong jokes in order for them to be worthwhile.

Coccia Answer: You need to get into a relaxed state. Both the speaker and the audience, but especially the speaker. The speaker sets the tone. You’ll always have the joke that is ridiculously funny, but you know you can’t say it. Don’t forget it but definitely don’t use it if it’s not the right environment/atmosphere.

Question: How do you deal with different audiences? If you have a variety of target audiences that have different values and levels of comfort and relaxation, how do you incorporate comedy?

Coccia Answer: Attempt to meet them where they are. Lines like “I know how hard you are working. I mean, I don’t know, but you know” can be good because it highlights your self-deprecation and makes them feel better discussing their struggles with you.

Question: Are there any successful comedians that are not self-deprecating?

Coccia Answer: Sometimes you’ll have comedians that are more positive, confident with themselves; however, the self-deprecation helps to let the audience let their hair down and open up to you. This is purposeful because the level of comfort and approachability the audience has is important to successfully conveying your message.

Question: What can you say about timing?

Coccia Answer: It comes with practice. And observation. Watch comedians that you would like to emulate. Listen to their sets will help you to orchestrate your comedic voice and style. Keep in mind sometimes longer amounts of time are necessary for your audience to catch up with your lines/jokes.

Question: How do you deal with a more divisive audience? How far do you go with comedy in those situations?

Coccia Answer: When you’re playing in someone else’s house – you have to play by their rules. Know your goal in speaking and use comedy to get to that goal, but don’t go beyond what is appropriate for the occasion and your audience.

Also, use the “voice” of other folks to keep the more vivacious comedic lines away from yourself. Start with lines like “My cousin said this crazy thing the other day…” to set someone else as the “antagonist” in more aggressive jokes.

Question: What do you when you prepare for one audience but end up delivering to another, different audience?

Coccia Answer: A good tactic is to open up with self deprecation. Establish common ground but then address the elephant in the room.

Also, make sure that you’re set up right. Make sure the event staff is aware of who you are or make a note to address your role in the event during the beginning to increase connection with the audience.

Question: When politicians are supposed to be comedians, should we judge them if their jokes go too far?

Coccia Answer: Who they are allows them to get away with some jokes that would not work in other situations or for other people. If the President or a Senator makes a more aggressive joke in the right environment, it might work. However, everyone cannot – and should not – use those tactics.

Question: How do you make advocacy work that is simply not funny (read: child suffering) “funny” or humorous?

Coccia Answer: Engaging with audiences on those topics maybe not about the work itself, but the difficulty of the work or the particular qwerks could be something to highlight in a humorous way.

Question: How do you use comedy in sales that’s not inauthentic?

Coccia Answer: Don’t go too far – it’s not simply a performance. Meet your audience at their level, explain to them truthfully about what you’re working with, be a tad self-deprecating by understanding the situation and how they are interpreting the situation and make light of it.

Question: How do you deliver the joke if you can’t see your audience’s reaction? For instance radio or webinars?

Coccia Answer: For those situations, work with your coworkers to collaborate on jokes that you can “stage” during the session. Also, make sure to be patient and allow your audience time to absorb your joke.

Question: Is there a difference in preparing for an audience that doesn’t want you to succeed?

Coccia answer: Don’t pre-judge your audience. Don’t assume everything. You have to tell yourself that they want you to succeed. You have to assume that they want you to win, even if they disagree. They at least want to hear you out. Why would they want to come anyway?

Question: How do you prepare for non-scripted comedy?

Coccia Answer: Unscripted comedy is the place that you want to be. The more comfortable you are with them, the more engaged and effective your comedy will be. Try it often.


  • Always think of your audience and your purpose in speaking to them when considering a comedy approach.
  • Use self-deprecation or personal connection to help the audience “let their hair down” and feel comfortable listening to your message.
  • Remember – don’t let the joke overshadow the message or your goal in your speech. Prioritize your message first and comedy afterward.