If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “Safe to assume you were the class clown in grammar and high school”, I’d now be a self-proclaimed billionaire running for our nation’s highest office.
Truth be told, though, I was anything BUT the class clown in my adolescent years. In fact, I was arguably the introvert’s introvert (whatever that means). The sea change came when the Northeastern University co-op program threw me into the deep into of the pool. (As a radio co-host and interviewer it was sink or swim.)
So, let’s fast forward 30 years.
I decided to add a one-time only, stand-up comedy performance to my bucket list. I enrolled in the American Comedy Institute, studied under the tutelage of professional comedians for four successive nights and made my debut at Stand-Up New York on Amsterdam Avenue.
The MC that night happened to be Clayton Fletcher. Clayton made the mistake of telling this now egomaniacal, extrovert’s extrovert that I had potential, and invited me to perform the very next weekend on his show.
Thanks to my success mastering comedy skills (stand-up, improv, sketch, and scripted) and incorporating them into my firm’s management development programs AND selling it to clients to help them help their introverts to overcome the fear of public speaking, my Inc. editor recently asked me to name my earliest influencers.
After thinking it through for a nanosecond, I immediately thought of two people (one of whom was, and is, a legend at my high school and the other who was, and is, one of the greatest improvisational comedians of all time).
Let’s begin with influencer number one.
I attended a public high school in northern New Jersey that, shall we say, never, ever gave the Phillips Exeter Academy a run for its money in terms of graduating the best, and brightest, leaders of the future.
We were nonetheless blessed with several, world-class intellects and wits.
John Barbetta (aka Johnny B) was one of them). In fact, JB was in a league of his own when it came to injecting incisive, witty, dry humor into the most banal classroom conversations imaginable.
JB literally made my Advanced History class a must-attend event just to watch him engage in laugh out loud funny, but incredibly insightful, repartee with our late, great teacher, Cleo Notarides.
While I was the class introvert, I was gifted then, as now, with better than average listening and observational skills. So, I not only went to school on JB’s M.O., but noticed two remarkable side effects;
1.) John’s commentary made the most attractive young women in class laugh out loud. One, in fact, leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t you just love John?”
2.) The semi-literate jocks who attended the very same class also laughed out loud at John’s back-and-forth with Ms. Notarides. I doubt they understood most of what was being said but, if the great looking girls found it funny, then the jocks followed suit).
Bottom-line: John was the original crossover HS hero.
My other huge influence was Johnny Carson.
I made a point of watching every single Tonight Show. I didn’t zero in on Carson’s monologues, which oft-times bombed but, rather, his amazing ability to engage with every type of guest ranging from the brilliant (Carl Sagan) to the brain dead (Carol Wayne). Note to Millennial and Gen Z readers: Please Google each name for further information).
JC’s true genius, though, lay in his mastery of non-verbal communications. Look at this one example:
The rest, as they say, is history. But, truth be told, I never would have gotten to where I am today if I hadn’t keenly observed and learned from JB and JC.
And, that’s no joke.