Confidence Tips from Stand-up Comics

Confidence Tips from Stand-up Comics

By Daniel Seifert
Behind their wisecracks: two Indian stand-up comedians share how to conquer stage fright and own the limelight.

Strange but true: in many a survey, people rate public speaking as scarier than death. A lack of self-assurance may be why. But you don’t have to be among the 19 percent of Indians we surveyed who revealed that a lack of confidence keeps them from living fully.

We’ve got tips for busting fear and cracking smiles, from two of India’s sharpest comedians: Sanjay Manaktala and Sorabh Pant.

Make fun of yo’self

SANJAY: We have a rule in comedy. Always make fun of yourself before you go into the audience. If the first time you speak you joke about yourself, the audience warms up to you. They go, “Alright, this guy can take a joke, so now I’ll let him pull my leg.”

There was a great comedian named Louie Anderson. He’s very fat, at least 200 kilos. He had a great gag where he would remove the microphone stand in front of him and say, “Can you see me now?” Before he’s even tried a real joke on you, you’re on his side.


SANJAY: I used to do a lot of corporate work. And when you don’t try to overanalyse the situation and you use humour to break the ice, it puts people at ease.

Because you might be thinking, “Uh oh, these people will be finding the error in our software soon,” but half the time they are tired from a flight and want to get comfortable first. So comedy moves the conversation forward.

Watch yo’self

SANJAY: It’s painful for people who aren’t in the creative industry to watch themselves on camera or hear their voice recording. But if you’re going to be speaking to 200 people at a business conference, you should be comfortable watching and listening to yourself, if you expect the audience to.

So get over your discomfort. Get audiences to buy into you by watching yourself. You are your biggest critic and you can identify your weaknesses — half the time people don’t know they are there until they watch themselves talking.

Alphabetise to memorise

SANJAY: Initially I would use acronyms to memorise scripts. So I might do a story about geoblocking websites, and then Facebook, and then corporate life. So in my broad script I’d write G for geoblocking, F for Facebook. And I’d try to make an acronym out of those things like Go For Comedy or whatever. (Oh, and I’d also shamelessly write notes on my hand!) 


SORABH: I got over my terrible shyness after reading an old P.G. Wodehouse story. There was a man with crippling shyness and he just decided that every day, he would speak to one brand new person.

I did the same. I worked at it. I’d make sure I spoke to a stranger every day. And it helped. My jokes and people listening more to me came after that practice.


SORABH: There’s no real technique to beating stage fright. I’ve done over 1,000 shows in 14 countries. And I still get stage fright each and every time. You’ve got to ride that wave, embrace it, enjoy it like a rollercoaster. Recognise that it’s normal. Even The Beatles had it.


SANJAY: A book that’s helped me be creative is Steal Like an Artist. The book doesn’t really tell you to steal, but it tells you to make a lot of bad stuff. If you want to become a writer you won’t become one by overanalysing at your desk. You become a writer by writing, by putting out a load of really bad blogs, haha! And eventually you’ll get better.

That’s how it was for me. My first 20 comedy videos were terrible! But put out as much work as you can and you’ll have no place to go but up — if you keep doing it.