Putting on my clown's trousers, with Sustainable Stand Up

Game for a laugh: photo by  @SteveCrossPhotos .

Game for a laugh: photo by @SteveCrossPhotos.

Contemplating ecological apocalypse, and being really really angry with the bozos who are letting it happen, can make us sustainability people pretty dull conversationalists. 

In a bid to learn some new ways of delighting people while helping them stare into the abyss, I enrolled in the marvellous Sustainable Stand Up course, run by my old friend and colleague - and all round laughter fairy - Belina Raffy with support from Dr Steve Cross.

About the course

There were six of us on the course, and we met in a rehearsal room in London's glamorous London Bridge area. There were also on-line classes where we connected using a video conferencing platform. There was homework. There were improvisation exercises. I now know enough comedy theory to analyse why my sides just split.

Other comics-in-progress were from NGOs, think tanks, innovation agencies and academic institutions.  All of us had sustainability-related work - not just the eco-side, but the social side too.  We were mostly from different organisations, but it also works as a team course - see this blog post from Raid Naim.

Some of the exercises we did could make a direct transfer to coaching, facilitation and training work - I particularly loved how the '1 minute rant' helped me see a new way of dealing with 'difficult' participants in facilitation settings.

Letting go to make room for the better ideas

One of the unexpected learnings for me was recognising how easy it was for me to let go of OK jokes or adequate ways of setting up and landing particular jokes, because I'd thought of something better.  I wrote and discarded at least double the amount of material I eventually ended up using.  While I do make changes and discard things in other areas of my work (and life) this can be a slow, hard process and is often accompanied by feelings of blame or shame: I tell myself a better person wouldn't have had the weak idea, only the stronger one.  For reasons which I can't quite pin down, letting go of weaker jokes for stronger ones was so much easier emotionally.  I really hope to bring that lightness to the process of coming up with and improving ideas in my wider work.

About the show

We all did our sets on a Saturday evening, in a pub near Kings Cross in London.  The sense of camaraderie was strong and we all helped each other get used to the mics and the lighting before the crowd arrived.  We were each able to recruit a handful of pals to whoop and cheer for us in the basement comedy club, and we all gave our best performances that evening: something about 'this is it' sharpens you up, and you definitely are in a relationship with the audience in a way that is hard to imagine in rehearsal.

Without the prospect of doing our sets in front of (supportive) friends and strangers, I wouldn't have worked so hard on my set, and taken the feedback so seriously.  The performance and the associated jeopardy makes a huge difference.  (See 'who will catch me when I fall?' for more on not being paralysed by fear.)

If someone invites you to their Sustainable Stand Up gig, and you have any interest at all in laughing about the silly and frustrating aspects of sustainability, DO GO!

Go on, go on, go on, go on

Thinking about doing it yourself?  Do! There are Sustainable Stand Up courses coming up in London and Berlin.  Keep an eye out for other dates and locations.

Am I funny now?


Here is my set.