How Stand-Up Comedy Helped Me Craft a Public Writer Persona
Writing my first jokes, I’d replaced my anxieties over the public-facing demands of an author career with a greater willingness to show up and be seen.
Brainstorming ways to make it fun led me to stand-up comedy. Comedians take their anxieties and mine them for comedy gold, so maybe one could help me craft that extroverted and engaging author persona. Queer Puerto Rican comedian and writer Christian Cintron had been on my radar (and social media feed) for a while, so after seeing a post promoting his virtual stand-up workshop, Stand Up 4 Your Power, I signed up. The four-week workshop combines comedy lessons with personal development. Sessions focus on joke writing, performance, narrative structure, and personal development, or using stand-up tools to integrate and heal.
I showed up to the first class defensive. “I’m just not funny,” I said, toggling from the Zoom window where we’d been chatting to my jokes. Christian told me to stand up and read the jokes I’d written as homework. There was something surreal about staring at my writing while knowing someone was watching me in a different window, the green light of my webcam the only tell I had an audience. I shifted back and forth on the balls of my feet, taking a moment to steady myself. This was nothing to be nervous about; it wasn’t all that different from the interviews I did regularly.
I started reading a monologue about my lifelong picky eating at a slow pace, but when Christian interjected to offer advice on my delivery, the reminder that I was being watched threw me. I resumed reading but faster, wanting to spit it all out and just be done. While I could say it all on paper, reading the words out loud—being seen—was excruciating.
Christian walked me through relevant comedy principles: pacing, repetition and callbacks, and punch lines. He told me where to put emphasis, where to cut, and where to edit. “When we edit our jokes, we edit our thoughts,” he said, refuting my assertion that I wasn’t funny.
Christian insisted I lead with my sexuality by working queerness into an early joke.
“People are going to see you onstage and make assumptions about you,” he said. “Calling out your most obvious qualities shows the audience you’re self-aware. It relaxes them and builds trust.”
As he talked more about playing with the audience’s perceptions, I realized that my nerves had never been about speaking; they’d been about being judged by the audience. But any audience would form an opinion on me, including my future readers. By playing with those perceptions, I could take my power back.
“So much of stand-up comedy is balancing vulnerability and aggression, confidence and humility, and what others want and what you want. This balance is what makes people charming and dynamic, and finding how you shine is important to your success in any industry,” Christian said in a conversation after the class ended.
Being onstage puts you in a vulnerable position. If you don’t balance that vulnerability with authority, you’ll veer into overthinking, judging yourself, or rushing through your material to get it over with, like I’d done that first class. Louis C.K. can get a Grammy despite his pastime of sexually harassing women and humblebragging about the “global amounts of trouble” it got him in, but for most aspiring comedians, overt aggression can turn an audience against you. Managing energy for performance requires balancing our natural tendencies with traits we have less of.
Learning stand-up helped me see my old fears in a new light. And while I hadn’t imagined joke writing would become part of my craft tool kit, by writing and rewriting my jokes, I changed the stories I’d been telling myself about humor, presence, and being seen.
During the four-week workshop, Christian spoke often about the ways stand-up could release emotional baggage. By joking about a painful experience, we could literally change the narrative. We could feel repressed feelings, work with our shadow self, and ultimately show up for any experience more fully, with less fear.
It was a bold promise, and I was skeptical at times. But when Christian laughed at my jokes, part of me thought, Heck yeah, that was funny. I am funny.
Greater self-acceptance helps us show up more authentically in any outlet. For me, it was the key to stepping up to a more public phase of my career with a balance of authority and empathy.
When I talk to other authors, they say they would almost always rather do anything than public speaking. Even a fifteen-second Instagram Reel about the themes of the memoir they’re shopping around is so off-putting, they’d rather write essays on spec to increase their profile instead.
The introverted writer may be a stereotype, but many of us tend to feel most comfortable in words. I imagine that’s because we can literally write the script. We operate out of our comfort zone when we focus on building our audience through funny tweets and heartfelt personal essays. But to effectively promote our books, we need to venture outside our comfort zones.
Many of us don’t think about this public-facing author persona until we have a book deal and we’re expected to go “out there” and promote our book. But increasingly, we’re expected to promote along the way by building an engaged audience in advance of a book deal. To do this effectively means not only knowing our target audience but also considering how to best engage them in ways that feel doable, if a stretch, for introverted writers like me.
Waiting to build connections with an audience compounds the stress of book promotion and triggers imposter syndrome. Instead of being elated over our forthcoming book release, we panic about expectations for social media presence, author appearances, interviews, and more. We berate ourselves for not being “good” at it, when in reality book promotion requires different skills than writing. Cultivating these skills along the way takes the pressure off and helps writers promote their work authentically.
“Nothing is worth inauthenticity,” says debut romance author Lindsay Maple. “Find what you enjoy doing and work on those areas. At the end of the day, you want to love what you do and feel proud of your work, so find marketing strategies that play to your strengths and interests.” Maple chose TikTok to promote (Not) Your Basic Love Story, which releases this fall because she’s always enjoyed drama classes.
When it was time for the conference preparation, I made notes. What did I want to convey to the audience? Who did I need to be for them to trust and learn from me? Framing my talk this way allowed me to balance authority with vulnerability, offering tips while sharing a personal hook in my introduction.
I practiced the material a couple of times and gave my talk. Speaking into the screen for a remote audience, I could feel the shift in my energy from those stand-up classes. I wasn’t racing through the material, desperate to turn the focus off me. I wasn’t lost in imposter syndrome or worried about judgment. I stood in my value and communicated my message.
Two days later, I did the podcast. I’d never have been able to handle back-to-back public appearances before the class, but I honestly didn’t stress over it.
Writing my first jokes, I’d replaced my anxieties over the public-facing demands of an author career with a greater willingness to show up and be seen—and I’d managed to have fun along the way.
Lindsey Danis writes fiction and essays that center LGBTQ voices, celebrate queer joy, and expand media representations of queer lives. Lindsey's essays have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, AFAR, Fodor's, and Longreads, received a notable mention in Best American Travel Writing, and are forthcoming in several anthologies. Lindsey is currently working on a novel, and their fiction has appeared in Oyster River Pages, Voyage YA Journal and elsewhere. When not writing, Lindsey is often found hiking or kayaking in the Hudson Valley.