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Nancy Berk, Ph.D.

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David Brenner's 5 Comedy Career Lessons for College Graduates

Posted: 04/ 6/2012 11:15 am

Last month, at Bryant University's Women's Summit, I spoke about strategies for launching successful new careers. Although my audience was focused on reinvention, I knew the lessons could be applied at any career stage. Still, the relevance of the topic for college graduates hadn't crossed my mind until I met a comedy icon who attributed his many successes to some of the same cognitive and behavioral strategies. Given commencement is right down the road, it seemed only fitting to share these comedy life lessons with parents and their graduates....

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing legendary funny man David Brenner for my podcast Whine At 9. One of the most televised faces in comedy, Brenner has headlined the biggest stages in the country, had four HBO specials and his own talk show. Before that, he was a successful writer, producer, and director of television documentaries. He also holds the record (158!) for Tonight Show appearances, which, in my book, means he must have been doing something right -- so what was it?

Below are 5 career lessons I noted from the successful and ever changing career of comedian David Brenner.

1. More is better.
David Brenner isn't a comedy icon by accident. Sure, he's hysterically funny and has a bigger share of talent than most, but he also produces like crazy. Whether he needs it or not, Brenner continuously writes new material. He's got more backup plans and options than the Secret Service. So he's always prepared when he's thrown a curve. In addition, he rarely turns down an opportunity. Another line in the water, whether it be big or small, is another opportunity for success.

2. Consider alternate routes.
Never dismiss an opportunity because it isn't perfect. You never know where that big break or opportunity will come from or how it might surface. Brenner often took lower paying comedy club gigs (requiring multiple performances) over bigger paycheck, one-show-only corporate events, because it gave him more opportunities to perform and perfect his material. These alternate, initially less lucrative routes led to better performances, larger fan bases and later bankability.

3. Be real.
Losing sight of your core values is the downfall of many superstars. Staying true to yourself and your family just might be the prescription for keeping your head in a career that can go to your head. Brenner cites his ability to switch from "the guy on stage" to "family guy" once he steps out of the spotlight. That's a great skill to learn.

4. Change it up.
Few careers go as planned, so it pays to think outside of the box. What does a comic do when television spots start drying up and comedy clubs are closing faster than Borders' bookstores? Brenner became a political pundit appearing on national news shows like MSNBC and CNN.

5. Give back.
There is room for everyone's success. When you are able, use your time and talent to help others on the same path. Some might say Johnny Carson gave Brenner his big break. When Brenner landed his own talk show, he also opened the door and stage floor to showcase new talent.

Obviously, you don't have to be a genius to realize the power of these lessons, but it does help to have a comedy genius illustrate them. Special thanks to my friend David Brenner for letting me share his story. And best wishes to all upcoming college graduates and their proud parents!

 
 
 

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