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Get Funny…Fast! Interview with Jan McInnis

Comedy is like shaping a successful blog: work hard, act professionally, and be consistent.  Over time, you’ll build up momentum and gain a following.  Of course, writing comedy is like writing a great blog post–it takes practice.

I recently read Finding The Funny Fast: How to Create Quick Humor to Connect with Clients, Coworkers and Crowds by comedienne Jan McInnis.

I love how this 126 page read provides numerous techniques and examples for helping anyone who does writing or public speaking find the funny . . . quickly!

I have several health talks this spring for new moms, and I’m excited to use the tools I learned from this book to make my presentations more memorable. After reading this book, I found myself more aware of funny in the everyday. . . and I laugh more often.  Laughter is the best medicine, after all!  Truly, I’ve found more opportunities to make my patients and my audience laugh.

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Meet Jan McInnis, a Virginia-native who now resides in California, who turned from a career as a marketing director to become a stand-up comedienne.  Her jokes have been featured on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and she’s opened for Kevin Nealon of Saturday Night Live fame.  Yet, Ms. McInnis built her comedy career in conventions.  I’d like to see her perform a keynote address for a blog conference!

Ms. McInnis wasn’t always considered funny by her peers.  At her high school reunion, most of her former classmates were completely astounded that she became a comedienne.  She followed her heart and worked hard to create a career that she loves.  Truly, I think those components are indeed the secret to success.

Jan McInnis, “The Work Lady” and author of Finding the Funny Fast

When I started out, my marketing materials were better than my act.  Luckily, I worked hard, and my act caught up. But more than that, I had many club owners say how they liked working with me because I was so professional.

TwB: Your book, Finding the Funny Fast contains a ton of tips and suggestions for developing comedic writing and delivery for anyone who wants to prevent an audience from snoring.

Specifically, how can your book help writers and bloggers improve their post content for their readers?

McInnis: I think the idea for most blogs, and many writers, is that they want fresh material, AND they want people to read it and return. My book tells you how to make your speech or written document fresh by including quick, on-the-spot humor. A lot of blog advice says to connect you blog to current events that are happening now, since I’ve written for radio for 10 years, I know how to step you through topical humor. Humor also keeps people engaged in what you have to say, so that they read it and come back.

TwB: I love that on page 10, you diffuse the common reason people provide “for not even trying to spice up their communications with some laughs,” with your personal story about a career switch to comedy after 15 years working as a marketing director. In fact, your book gives a lot of “formulas” for funny.

What response have you received from readers who transformed from “used to not be funny” to now communicating funny after reading your book?

McInnis: I’ve gotten very nice comments from people. . everyone from professional speakers to comics saying that they like that the book is conversational and that I’ve simply and easily explained the steps to writing humor in an understandable way, so they’ve been able to actually use the ideas. One guy said it motivated [himself] to try to add quick humor into his presentations because he realizes just how much he’s been missing over the years by not doing it.

TwB: What event or desire encouraged you to switch careers from marketing to comedy?

McInnis:Well, I always wanted to be a comedian, since I was a kid. But there was no “entertainment” gene in my family (i.e. no one “gave me permission”) which is what I guess I thought was supposed to happen. Someone was supposed to walk up to you and say, go ahead and become a comic. So I didn’t, until I was in my 30’s and realized that I can at least TRY it.

Actually I went on stage once during the 80’s and the comedy boom. I did really well, but was so freaked out by the bright lights and not being able to see that I didn’t try again for 7 or 8 years. I missed the boom, and was in my 30’s before trying it again. But, I finally decided that I should try it one last time. I went onstage at an open mike, did really well.  I was hired to open for Kevin Nealon from Saturday Night Live. I knew then that I was going to do this for life, however I didn’t leave my “day job” for another 2.5 years. When I did leave, it was at a time when I’d finally just had it with my boss and didn’t want to continue with the company.  So, I figured I needed to look for another job in the industry or try comedy full-time. It was a no-brainer. . .I’d been on stage pretty much every weekend and almost every night in those 2.5 years, and had built up a lot of contacts, so I just did it.

TwB: How has your marketing background helped you develop your career as a comedy writer/speaker?

McInnis: When I started out, my marketing materials were better than my act.  Luckily, I worked hard, and my act caught up. But more than that, I had many club owners say how they liked working with me because I was so professional. They have many choices, and I’m sure I wasn’t the funniest, but they knew I’d show up.  They knew I wouldn’t drink up the bar, and that I’d do my time (i.e. not run long and go an extra 20 minutes). That professionalism really helped me out. And I really did have good marketing materials, well written letters and I was polite on the phone.

TwB: You’ve carved out a successful niche for yourself with clean comedy at conventions and seminars. How did you decide to develop a reputation as a “clean” comedienne?

McInnis: Well, I did write clean humor so I could qualify for convention shows, but it also goes back to what I really believe: In my keynotes where I teach people about using humor for business, I always say in the end that you must be true to yourself. You must do the comedy that appeals to you. Of course for business purposes, it HAS to be clean, but if you really, really can’t do clean humor, then don’t do it – find a venue where you can do the your type of humor. There are plenty of well known, successful comedians who have racier material than me.  They are true to themselves and have found their place. I’ve worked with ventriloquists, magicians and even mimes.  Yes, there are people doing all sorts of humor because that’s what resonates with them.

TwB: How did you break into speaking at seminars and conventions?

McInnis: I started out as a marketing person for 15 years in a “regular” day job, and I had hired entertainers for events, so I knew there was a market. Many comics didn’t/don’t even know this exists as an option. So when I went into the comedy clubs, my goal was to build an act that would appeal to this audience. Then it was just making contacts, making contacts, making contacts and also letting people know what you want, along with a little luck. A funny story, I got in partly because I worked with a comic who did me really wrong in a club (long story), and when I ran into him on the road the next month, I gave him a LOT of grief. . . he felt so bad, and he knew that I wanted to get into the convention market, that he hooked me up with his friend who was a comic performing in the convention arena, Frank King. I made the connection with Frank, and through a series of events, Frank ended up helping me out quite a bit to get into this market. I’m still friends with the comic who did me wrong, and we’ve laughed about how his mistake has made me a lot of money.

TwB: You’ve got a “knack” for writing comedy, fast, for any seminar or convention topic, but what in day-to-day life inspires you? What makes YOU laugh?

McInnis: I really laugh at the everyday stuff and the ironies that are all around us. My brother and sisters and I, as well as my friends are sarcastic in a nice way.   We love pointing out funny things and making cracks about the day-to-day stuff that happens that you just can’t make up.

TwB: After reading Finding the Funny Fast, where can readers turn for more information and inspiration on communicating with comedy?

McInnis: Funny you should ask. I’ve started a comedy writing blog, titled appropriately www.ComedyWritingBlog.com where I share tips on writing. That’s a great place to start. But for comedy inspiration, just look around you and start to notice the funny things that are going on.  Soon, you won’t be able to turn the inspiration off!

TwB: What books are on your nightstand, now?

McInnis: I like a lot of, not sure what you’d call it – inspiration books. . . though that doesn’t really sound like the right category to put them in. Think and Grow Rich is great, as well as Key to Yourself. Both written many moons ago, but the principles of the law of attraction are the same. After that first open mike in which the club owner hired me, and I decided in that moment that I was going to do this for my living, then doors just flew open. It really was amazing how fast things fell into place when I was focused and determined. And it still happens today quite frequently. My favorite saying is that things usually work out better than you expected–so far that’s been true. So, I really believe in the law of attraction. Okay, I also like cheesy murder mysteries–fiction and non-fiction. You’ve got to zone out of the real world occasionally.

TwB: I understand you are available as a speaker for seminars and conventions. What type of groups usually appreciate your humor the most, and why?

McInnis:I’ve done a ton of health care groups because it think health care “gets it.” They deal with tough issues day in and day out and they understand that you need to laugh in order to stay sane. I’ve done my keynote Finding the Funny in Change for a lot of them.  It includes my comedy, but it also has some great tips on dealing with change that I learned from leaving my day job and going into comedy. I also do a lot of financial groups and educational groups.  With my keynote Finding the Funny in Communications, I’m able to pass on tips to them on how to inject humor into written and verbal communications so you connect with clients, sell a product, keep people engaged, and be memorable. And of course I’ve done tons of women’s events, even though my act hits well for both men and women.  But, women love to laugh so I love being in front of them! With that said, I’ve done programs for pretty much every group you can imagine: mushroom growers to alfalfa seed growers, Pep Boys, the Federal Reserve, and IT people. You name it, there’s an association for EVERYONE.

TwB: Where can readers find your speaking availability schedule?

McInnis: Generally, you can go to my website www.TheWorkLady.com, and you can always send me an email at Jan@TheWorkLady.com, if you have questions. I do a lot of work humor, so I go by The Work Lady which is why that’s my website.  Plus, no one can spell McInnis, so I had to use something else!

TwB: Where can readers purchase your book, Finding the Funny Fast?

McInnis: On my website www.TheWorkLady.com or through Amazon, although you save a buck or two by going to my website.

Note: I received a copy of Finding the Funny Fast for the purposes of this review and interview.  Read my full disclosure.

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Inspiring Woman: Dr. Anna Patchias, of Champion Tutoring

inspiring woman2Welcome to a new feature on Traveling with Baby.  Inspiring Woman is a monthly column on the first Monday of each month that features interviews with amazing and inspiring women.  These women are moms, community leaders, entrepreneurs, or everyday heroes–each is making her corner of the world a better place.  If you know of an amazing woman who would be a great fit for this feature, please e-mail me with more details: drgarnecki [at] gmail [dot] com.

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It is such a delight to introduce you to Dr. Anna Patchias, mom of baby James, owner and Executive Director of Champion Tutoring, and the 2009 Chair of the Business Women’s Round Table (BWRT), an organization of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Anna Patchias, Ph.D. and her baby boy James

Anna Patchias, Ph.D. and her baby boy James

I first heard Anna speak at Quadruplicity, a business seminar created by women entrepreneurs to help other women in business find balance with the many hats they wear on a daily basis.  She was full of confidence and poise,  and I thought that I would love to meet her and learn from her.  I heard her speak again and again at the monthly BWRT meetings that she chairs, and again, I loved her warm hospitality in a large networking group that made everyone feel welcome.

I already knew Anna ran a successful tutoring company in addition to volunteering a leadership position at the Chamber of Commerce, but what really intrigued me is that she mostly works from home so she can spend more time with her beautiful son James.  I wanted to find out her secrets to balance with so many huge demands on her time, and I’m so happy she agreed to be the first person interviewed for the Inspiring Woman column.

Business Inspiration

TwB: What motivated you to purchase Champion Tutoring and to become an entrepreneur?

AP: My relationship with Champion TutoringChampion logo began when I was hired by the company’s founder and previous owner to work as a part-time English tutor. At that time, I was working on my doctorate in English literature. I had worked as a tutor at the University of Virginia (UVa), and I’d also taught a wide range of college writing and literature classes, but I’d never tutored school-age students before. It was an incredibly rewarding experience making a difference in the lives of young people. Today, I make it a priority to hire UVa grad students because I believe I have a responsibility as an entrepreneur to provide fair job opportunities in my community.

TwB: What’s been your biggest challenge and biggest inspiration as a business owner?

AP: My job as owner and Executive Director of Champion Tutoring has been both challenging and exhilarating. There is no typical day because I wear so many hats: marketing, community relations, financial and strategic planning, and – up until I became a mother – I was also the “daily operations” person, meeting with potential clients, troubleshooting with parents, and supervising a teaching staff of 30-35 part-time tutors. The biggest challenges were the practical, mundane, and daily aspects of running a business; these skills were not taught in academia, so I acquired them through hard work and also by asking for help from experts.

TwB: Congrats on celebrating Champion Tutoring’s 15-year anniversary–what a great milestone! What changes did you make once you bought the business, and what changes or goals do you have for it’s next 15 years?

AP: Because Champion was founded by a middle school math teacher with no business experience, the company started out small, with just a few tutors in one small office suite. A well-run company that prioritized each student’s individual learning style, it’s not surprising that it grew quickly. By the time I purchased the company, we celebrated its 10th anniversary, and it had grown by leaps and bounds. Yet, it still functioned like a tiny business, with outdated data management systems and little or no sales tracking. My first challenge was to grow revenues enough to be enable us to move to a [better] space that celebrated and proclaimed our success to the world; that’s just what we did in 2006.

After 5 years at the helm, I have turned over daily operations and management to my Director of Education, a writer and experienced educator in her own right. I still oversee marketing, community relations, and financial/strategic planning, but the Director of Education is in charge of everything else. Together, she and I are formulating a new strategic plan that will take the company through its second decade.

Finding Balance

TwB: How do you balance your time (at work and with family)?

AP: It was a tough first year as a working mom and business owner. I wanted to work from home in order to spend most of my time with my new baby. I was fortunate to have my husband’s emotional and financial support in this decision, since it meant a salary reduction for me. I was also extremely fortunate to be able to hire our Director of Education, who in one short year has put her own mark on the company while preserving its core values.

I wanted to stay true to my company’s vision but also to honor my choice to focus on my family.

I realized it’s not only okay but necessary to fly by the seat of you pants sometimes – I think most moms figure this out eventually.

TwB: How did running a successful business change once you became a mom?
(pregnancy, post-partum, etc.)

AP: I learned to let go and trust the wonderful person whom I had hired, and really delegate important things to her. For example, I had always done the recruiting and hiring even before I owned the company. The stellar teachers at Champion Tutoring are at the heart of our educational mission, so finding and retaining such talented people takes a great deal of hard work. But, it quickly became evident that I had to delegate this job to our Director of Education, and she has done an amazing job. This was a learning experience for me as a mom and as a business owner, since

It taught me a valuable lesson about how to let go, and embrace my new role as a mother.

Advice for Mompreneurs

TwB: What advice do you have for moms with babies or small children who are interested in launching a business from home or running a business part-time and still maximizing time with their children?

AP: First, do your homework because owning and running a business is a very hard life. Second, ask for help anywhere you can get it, as long as it’s a reputable source. For example, in order to compensate for my lack of business training, I sought free business counseling from SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), and enrolled in their business short courses. I also joined my local Chamber of Commerce to pursue networking and leadership opportunities.

My most important realization: I was ready to admit what I didn’t know and seek out advice and guidance from colleagues and mentors.

The issue of life/work balance for mothers who are starting a business is a tricky one; in the early stages, starting a business (no matter what kind) takes a great deal of time and hard work, and it does tend to take over your entire life.

Be realistic about this process but also set limits to protect your time with your children.

And hire help – even a few hours a week with a babysitter in my home has allowed me to get concentrated amounts of work done while knowing that my baby is safe and happy.

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