Robert McKee on the power of story
Presentation Zen in India

Comedian: The documentary

Comedian_dvd_Earlier this month I wrote this piece on how professional stand-up comics and presenters & speakers have much in common. Many of you agreed. Then my buddy and marketing guru Mitch Joel in Canada left this comment concerning a wonderful little documentary called Comedian: "[Comedian] is the movie that aligns perfectly with this blog post," wrote Mitch. "To watch Seinfeld grapple with new material, work it out in front of an audience, refine the flow and the stories, rehearse, plus, on top of it, the isolation that all speakers feel was scary (and brilliant). I highly recommend it. I think all people passionate about presenting should rent, buy, and devour the documentary Comedian starring Jerry Seinfeld...."

Jerry_seinfeld Well, Mitch was right. I loved this documentary and I too highly recommend it. However, it's not for everyone — don't buy it if you just are looking for laughs; it's not a comedy though it's often funny — but if you are a professional speaker or presenter (or any other professional) with a passion for learning and improving your speaking skills, then I think you will enjoy this documentary. William Krischke's Amazon review of the documentary (DVD) parallels my own reaction to the the film. "This ends up being less a documentary about comedy and more a character study of a mature and an immature craftsman," wrote William. "The craft here is comedy, but it really could be anything, especially any type of art. A friend and I watched this and afterwards talked about how well Jerry Seinfeld and Orny Adams illustrate the principles of leadership."

Orny_adams I too thought of the dynamic between Jerry Seinfeld (sitting above, back stage) and Orny Adams (standing right, on stage) was a lesson in contrast: the master artist and the aspiring artist/student. But the student shows he has much to learn, not about technique (he's already good) but about himself and learning to get over himself and his ego. Unlike a good student of the Zen arts, for example, Orny fought against constructive criticism and advice from the masters in the film. Yet the grasshopper fought mostly against self-doubt and his own attachment to the way he thought it was suppose to be. This destructive monologue of self-doubt and comparison with others is something most of us carry on in our heads all the time; the true master of any art learns to go beyond such crippling talk. 

In this scene below from the documentary, you can see how the master is so perplexed by the grasshopper's concern for the things that matter not. Orny's head and concerns are in the wrong place. So the master tries to make his point, not through lecture, but through a short story (as a former musician on the road I found this old story quite amusing and illuminating). Checkout this clip below.

Update from the other side of the pond
Below is a short video message recorded yesterday on the beach here in Oregon. Hope your summer (or winter for my friends Down Under) is going well.


Paul E

Garr, I didn't sense enough irony in your comment about "a typical summer day on the Oregon coast". You're going to make people want to move there.

Attention readers (and viewers): note the need for a long-sleeved sweatshirt on a beautiful summer day!

Go Beavs!

Mitch Joel - Twist Image

I knew you would enjoy this film, Garr. For those of your readers who are full-time or professional speakers, I think the manner, tone and flow will resonate a lot more.

For the person who have to occasionally present, I'm hopeful that the movie demonstrates that a great presentation does require some level of risk-taking, coupled with practice, practice, practice.

Reading this Blog posting puts me in the mood to watch the documentary all over again.

Jon Thomas

Great post Mitch. I am always amazed at the poise of many comedians. It's their profession to present night in and night out. They have the added pressure of a paying audience who expect the comedian(s) to make them laugh, a lot, all night. We truly can learn a lot from them. I'll definitely pick up a copy of Seinfeld's documentary.


Thank you, Garr! The documentary looks really interesting. Unfortunately, after 10 minutes of surfing the usual suspects it seems the DVD is only available in the US or with the American regional code.

Does anybody know whether there is a way to get a European copy in London?

Sean Murphy

The movie, and the scene you focus on, really resonated with me as well. I blogged about it here

"Seinfeld’s objective, like those of a serial entrepreneur, was to create a new act from scratch. We watch him start out and he is strangely fumbling and awkward. We see a lot of backstage/offstage conversations. I speak a lot, normally to smaller crowds than Seinfeld does, but it was interesting to see him get the same 'pre-game jitters' I do in the few minutes before a presentation is slated to start. I guess that’s a sign that he is still taking risks to improve his act. If he didn't care he wouldn’t be nervous."

I think Seinfeld was pursuing his dream, and Orny was pursued by his.

Pete Thomas


Great post. Watched the documentary today and also looked up a stand up comedy workshop in my area. Not that I want to be a comedian, but I want to improve my speaking and stage skills. Now to improve my slides etc etc etc.

Thanks a ton,

Pete Thomas

public speaking tips

I think that inserting some funny stories as the comedians do is something great,but do not overdoing it,otherwise,you'll look like an acrobat at stage.


Watching the movie last night, I came to the same conclusion you did (and it was timely as I gave a presentation in the morning and took Jerry's advice of "never open with new material.")

Though I'm a loyal blog reader, it was through the wonders of Zemanta that your post came up while I was writing mine.

By way of intro, I'm Dan Pink's marketing advisor for Bunko.

Keep up the good work.

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