OPINION2 May 2024

How stand-up has helped my research career

Leisure & Arts Opinion UK

From being more courageous to going with the flow, Amanda Hammond talks about what she has learned from stand-up comedy and applied to her life in research.

microphone on a stage with blurry lights behind it

Chalk and cheese. Cats and dogs. Me and Lady Gaga. Market research and stand-up comedy. On the face of it, these things are all very different. But I believe you can find similarities in complete opposites.

Having worked in market research for seven years and amateur stand-up comedy for the last two, I find there are a lot of parallels – you just have to take a closer look. 

Before I explain why, I want to tell you about my experience with stand-up. In November 2022, I did a week-long intensive stand-up comedy course at the fantastic Bill Murray Comedy Club in Angel. And on the Sunday night, I performed a 5-minute set (or a ‘Tight Five’, as they call it in the biz) to a room full of people. 

During the course, I learned so much – how to write jokes (who would have thought it?!), refine my performance style and develop my stand-up persona. But I learned so much more than the basics of writing and performing comedy. I also learned to be more curious, more courageous, and more adaptable – three skills that have helped my career as a market researcher. 

Let’s start with curiosity. Both market researchers and stand-up comedians need to observe the world around them to understand it, whether that’s how people are going to vote in the next election, or what they think of Love Island.

As part of the training, I was asked to write three to four paragraphs about a life incident. Instead of writing about the big stuff, I was tasked with thinking of something smaller. Doing this helped me to see the nuance in everyday life – a skill researchers need to have to understand what people genuinely think, feel and do. 

In another task, I shared four comedy related things with my fellow course mates, which opened my eyes to a range of different comedy types I wasn’t aware of and might not have considered. As a researcher, it taught me to seek out the perspectives of others, because you never know what you might learn. 

Stand-up comedy also helped me be more courageous and to take risks, because there’s nothing quite like trying to make a room full of strangers laugh to push you out of your comfort zone. Comedians and market researchers are and should be innovative creatures – they never stand still (no pun intended). But being courageous isn’t just about taking risks. It also means accepting that those risks might not pay off – and that’s OK. 

Sarah Millican has a rule that whether a set goes well or poorly, she celebrates or commiserates until 11am the next day – after that, she moves on. I’ve also tried setting a timer for how long I feel downhearted and have tried to beat that next time. Not only have I used these tricks for comedy, but for presentations that could have been even better. When I’m feeling bad about something that hasn’t gone well, I try and remember that it isn’t a referendum on my self-worth. 

Finally, stand-up comedy has helped me be a more adaptable researcher – especially as a quallie. In comedy and qualitative research, you’re dealing with real people in real-life situations – and dealing with people can sometimes be like herding cats out of a wet paper bag. 

I was told I should know any set off by heart, but that I should also leave room to ‘go with the flow’. By ‘go with the flow’, I mean noises, latecomers, and hecklers who are trying to impress their mates but are actually making a fool of themselves. When I put my research hat on, this applies to presentations, meetings and moderation. For example, I’ll know what I need to ask in a focus group, but I’m also aware that things will happen which are out of my control. 

So, there we have it: stand-up and market research are surprisingly similar, and the former has helped me become a more curious, courageous and adaptable researcher. Now I need to figure out the similarities between Lady Gaga and I…

Amanda Hammond is a senior qualitative research executive at Sky and a lover of stand-up comedy