Kady Potter

6 July 2015

How comedy writing can make you a more confident copywriter

When I meet people, I tell them that I’m a freelance copywriter and comedy writer. Mid-handshake, they stop and give me an odd sort of look. A comedy writer? A what now? Nobody’s ever tacked that onto the end of their job description before. What’s that all about?

I’m the copywriter who doesn’t put the ‘comma’ in ‘comedy’, because it doesn’t need one. Cue the ‘da-dum-tshh’ of two elephants and a cymbal falling off of a cliff. Writing and performing comedy has given me a professional advantage in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Creative writing – “No, fork handles. Handles for forks.”

I believe that having a natural tendency towards humour in my writing makes me more creative by default. It’s definitely won me clients that are seeking to inject a little comedy into their comms.

Cultural fit with a client is just as important for the solo copywriter as it is for an agency. My personality comes across in my writing for clients to take note of – it’s all over my website. And people comment on it when they contact me, explaining that they’re interested to see how my humour would translate into the copy they need.

The trend towards ‘funny ‘copy isn’t new by any means. Brands are increasingly using social media as the place to try out a jocular, much less corporate tone of voice. Look at innocent. Everyone wants to sound like innocent.

Kady Potter confronts yet another too-tall mic stand

Kady Potter confronts yet another too-tall mic stand

I should also mention Arena Flowers and GCS Recruitment on Twitter. Those are two accounts you wouldn’t expect to be tweeting jokes – but that’s all they do. (And both of them follow me, so that’s really all that matters, right?) Twitter is a great platform for trying out quick jokes, and the impact is immediately measured in favourites and RTs. It’s becoming more common to see job descriptions for social media writers listing ‘a good sense of humour’ as an essential requirement. Humour can make you more hireable.

Presentations – “Our main weapons are fear and surprise…”

I help out at comedy ‘scratch that itch’ nights for Funny Women, where people are encouraged to try new material and give their jokes a go. (See photo.) The one question that everyone asks me is: ‘How do you have the confidence to get up there and tell jokes like that?’

The short answer, from a short woman, is that it isn’t exactly confidence. The long answer has a lot more ‘um’ and ‘erm’ breaks while I try to give constructive advice.

It’s not confidence in the truest sense of the word. The ‘fight or flight’ feeling you get before standing up to pitch or make a speech is the same feeling stand-up comedians have while shuffling awkwardly in the wings. At the point I step forward to take the microphone, that’s it. I’ve chosen to fight. And rather than breeze my way through the set with confidence, I’m usually on autopilot. I’ll come back off stage with almost no memory of how the performance went.

However, something is changing. The more I go up there and reel off five minutes of material, the less my palms sweat the next time I’m waiting to do it. So it isn’t exactly confidence, but it is helping. It’s almost like extra practice. Getting more stage time under my belt as a comedian makes it easier to get up and talk in a professional capacity. And the crowd at a comedy night is much harder to please.

Networking – “Hey, you, with the broken nose! Play the piano!”

Back to that handshake moment. For freelancers in particular, word of mouth can be everything. I know many writers who make a very good living off of personal recommendations alone. Having a point of difference – as a comedy writer – makes me memorable. And I can’t buy that as a networking advantage.

When others overhear the laughter rippling from a group I’m regaling with tales of my heroic adventures, it makes them curious. To some people, it makes me more interesting – they’ve seen this small woman hold court at the other end of the room, and they want to get to know me. I can now occasionally go into a room and be recognised as ‘Kady, that writer who tells jokes’. I quite like having a reputation.

Having comedy up my sleeve (not like that, I’m not a magician) gives me something unusual to talk about when making new friends and connections. Comedy is perfect when you need an icebreaker. A quick quip can cut through awkward silences and get group discussions back on track. It also marks you out in a group as the one worth listening to.

I know it can be tough to put your face and your half-price Vistaprint business cards out there. I’ve strugged with that fear for a long time. Moving into comedy writing has changed things for me. It’s opened a lot of doors, particularly to TV channel Christmas parties where they’re handing out free margaritas. It might well make a difference to you.


Image credit: Steven Seller

  • Kady Potter confronts yet another too-tall mic stand

What do you think?

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Will

December 20, 2016 at 12:44am

How important is the performing part? Does it still work if you write comedy but don’t perform it? Does it work the other way around: Does copywriting make one a more speedy and prolific comedy writer? Surely confidence isn’t global, and you’re confident in whatever you’re well-practiced in? Or are you talking about social confidence, a specific type of confidence? IMO there is no fix for that – shy people who don’t get the clients have a handicap that stays with them for life.

Kady Potter

December 21, 2016 at 8:59am

Hi Will,

That’s… a lot of questions!

And I’m actually going to respond to your final sentence first.

Your line about ‘shy people who don’t get the clients’ bothers me. The whole point of my article is that confidence can – slowly, tentatively, steadily – be built. By anyone. That ‘handicap’ absolutely does not have to stay with you for life. The whole point of my article is to encourage people to drop that defeatist mentality.

On to your actual questions.

I’d say, personally, that ‘having an audience’ for your comedy writing is more important than performing it yourself. So, yes, you can still gain confidence by seeking feedback on it that way.

Copywriting can make you more ‘speedy and prolific’, especially if you’ve worked in a high-pressure environment. But whether that’s a good thing in the context of comedy… I’m unsure. It’s always nice to have multiple ideas you can pare down to the real comedy gold. That said, ‘prolific’ does not equal ‘consistently good’.

Confidence isn’t global from the outset – but it can be. It has plenty of potential to be. Yes, having practiced something will give you greater confidence, because you feel like you know it better. But that can be applied to anything – any subject, any situation – and to far more than one of those at a time. There’s no reason to limit yourself to being confident in just one area, or two, or… you get the idea.

The notion that ‘social confidence’ is uniquely specific and can’t be ‘fixed’… is bull****. I mean that, it’s a cop-out. I assure you that no copywriter you look up to or admire now began their career with perfect gift of the gab. We’ve all had to work at it, to some extent. It won’t ever get fixed if you refuse to put the effort in.

I get the impression that lost bids have coloured your thinking here. There’s also no copywriter you’ll meet who’s ever won every single job they ever pitched for. It’s a knock each time, but you get over it. As well as confidence, something else all copywriters learn to develop is a thicker skin. You have to dust yourself off, put yourself out there and pitch again. And again and again and again. The more you lean on ‘shyness’ and deliberately avoid those situations, the less opportunities you have to win work. Repeat self-perpetuating cycle ad infinitum.

This article should not have read as an ‘easy for the confident person to say’ story. My aim was to encourage people to have more faith in themselves and their abilities. If that’s not what you got out of this, please think about this comment and re-read the article with that context in mind.