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General Session: Comedy Gold: Using Humor to Convey a Message

October 27 @ 4:20 pm - 5:30 pm

This session features a DC Improv Comedy Club comedian and stand-up comedy coach who will demonstrate how to use humor to make our stories memorable and attention-grabbing.


Speaker: Chris Coccia (DC Improv Comedy Club)

  • About Chris
    • Been doing stand-up for over 30 years. 
    • From the Philly area, now working at the DC Improv Comedy Club
    • Works more niche shows at places like Synagogues, opening for bands, church auditoriums, etc. 
  • You have to own what you say
    • When you go to tell a story or make a presentation, you’re the mouthpiece for this message and those words represent you. If a punchline/message doesn’t feel right to the person delivering the words, it won’t resonate with an audience.
  • Relatability when storytelling
    • Chris shared an anecdote about being told “If you were as funny as you are off-stage when you’re on-stage you’d be great” earlier in his career. The takeaway here is that your authentic self is ultimately your most relatable, and resonates well with your audience. A personal story is more likable/engaging to an audience than an “act.” 
  • When it comes to humor and personability, you’re in charge of what you’re saying.
    • You can’t teach people to be funny, nor can you just feed them humor. Playing on the existing qualities and abilities and bringing that humor forward is a better use of time than trying to teach someone to be “funny” or recite an “act.” 
  • Three goals to learning comedy (a triangle):
    • The base of the pyramid is confidence and comfort. Believe that you belong when you’re speaking. You have to assume that your audience wants you to win. 
    • Uniqueness and authenticity. Telling your truth, even while shabby, is often better received than a message you can’t relate to that is polished. 
    • Creativity. Non-constructive criticism isn’t helpful to the process of helping others with storytelling. 
  • What happens when a joke falls flat?
    • You have to keep going. Sometimes things don’t work out, but a failed joke or comment ultimately shouldn’t defeat your entire message. Sometimes it’s the audience. A bad reception once doesn’t always equate to a bad message. 
  • Don’t let jokes get in the way of your humor.
    • Sometimes when you try too hard, you lose your natural appeal and humor. Using visuals can help with this, more of an ‘easter egg’ concept that allows everyone to feel bought in. 



  • People are struggling, and it’s often hard to know how to be ‘funny at a time like this.’ How do you strike that balance?
    • This is especially difficult in virtual situations because people don’t feel that they’re as vulnerable behind a screen. This certainly impacts the ability to be vulnerable with humor. You have to put yourself in a frame of mind of being extra careful. Often once you acknowledge the situation, everyone is able to take a deep breath and bring in that levity. 
  • How do you connect with people through the screen? (in reference to virtual comedy classes)
    • Actually found that most people felt more comfortable. Typically, people in their 20s-30s were easier to break out of their shells virtually. An older audience can be difficult to reach online. 
  • Sometimes using humor too much may make it difficult for people to take you seriously. How do you deal with the expectation to be ‘funny,’ or handle a situation where you make a joke too soon?
    • It’s not possible to turn funny on and off, but it can be difficult to cope with this expectation. In the context of training for grassroots level advocates, there’s an element of “don’t underestimate a good meme.” It’s certainly possible to hide behind humor/a joke, but use it as a way to convey a message. 
  • What’s your process for testing new material or messaging?
    • A great example of great and unexpected niche humor is the TSA social media. This is a perfect level of situationally appropriate low-grade humor. You’ll notice that they started really light on social media, and now it’s mostly all puns. This is especially impactful because they get so much bad feedback on social media, but this helps lighten the conversation on their account. Chris will often test material on people in his life where the stakes are low, such as friends and family. It’s best to start small before going bigger with the material. Create a small circle account on social media and test some jokes. Twitter is a great place to test comedy because it’s short and concise. The start of a joke is always quick with a fast punchline, making social a great place to practice. 
  • Any attempts for acknowledging an inappropriate joke without escalating or making it worse?
    • Sometimes, you do need to shut down an inappropriate situation before it goes too far. Setting clear boundaries can be a good lesson for everyone involved. There are lines you need to identify on where you can ignore a comment and where it needs to be addressed and shut down.


October 27
4:20 pm - 5:30 pm
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