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Benjamin Cucchi
The story of the trainer who became a stand-up comedian
Oct 04, 2023

After more than 20 years in education – now a freelance trainer specializing in experiential learning – Carmine Rodi discovered a passion that changed his approach to teaching: comedy and storytelling. That’s how he became also a professional stand-up comedian, hosting popular shows and open mics in Prague’s clubs and internationally.


So, what happens when a trainer starts to do stand-up comedy? What’s the impact on his teaching practice and on his personality? Is it a positive or a negative one? 


In this interview, we’ll understand why “funny” is good – yes, also in a learning context. Because funny means engaging, memorable and personal – all of which are great qualities for an educator to have.

Learning and comedy: what do they have to do with each other? How did stand-up change your perspective on training?

Carmine: “Sometime after I started to do stand-up, it became clear to me that it’s possible in training to engage people in a more personal way, authentic and sincere – and still be 100% professional. Somehow there’s this idea that a professional is detached, like you shouldn’t see the person behind the profession. Instead, what comedy taught me is that when I show my personality, my vulnerability, my contradictions: that’s the most powerful connection there is. Because it brings me closer as a human being to other human beings, and that’s deep.”

"Then, it convinced me that adult education doesn't need to be serious and strict at all. Today we look so much, to standardize input and output, to measure performance through results. While any type of learning activity is supposed to be about bringing the best potential out of an individual, to inspire creativity, critical thinking, autonomous thinking. And humor is great for that."
Carmine Rodi
Trainer & Facilitator

Carmine: “Finally, any artistic form will inevitably rewrite part of your personality, the way you are. My brain just works differently, as a comedian is always looking for something funny, even in the dark moments or when things go wrong. And this is a superpower because it helps to make good of something bad. Then, being that comedy is based on language and performance, it mostly changed how I communicate and the way I stand in a social setting. When I explain something in a learning session or I recount an anecdote to some friends I tell the story exactly as I do stand-up because that’s just my storytelling voice now.”

But aren’t educators and comedians two completely different types of professionals? How do you balance being both at the same time?
"It’s something I’ve been asking myself a lot, as I have these two parts of my brain which are always interacting with each other. And I think that there is a common denominator, as in both cases you got a person talking to an audience, somehow trying to engage, inspire and motivate a group. But then, I would say that it can be tricky when a trainer tries to be a comedian, and vice versa. We should not confuse the two completely. Just like if you teach Physical Education, doesn’t mean you’re a professional martial artist."
Carmine Rodi
Trainer & Facilitator

Carmine: “An educator shouldn’t be funny for fun’s sake: humor is a tool. A trainer can and will use humor to connect, to engage, to inspire, to be memorable … but it shouldn’t be the whole point. While, for a comedian, to tell jokes is the whole point! It’s ok for an entertainer to just entertain, but a trainer has a different responsibility. Education can really (trans)form people’s minds and, in a way, educators shape an entire generation. We know how deep the impact is. On the other hand, I feel that a comedian has a smaller responsibility.”

Then, why is humor such a good educational tool?

Carmine: “There’s been a lot of research on the topic, but I think that the bottom line is that laughing is a powerful emotion and emotions create memories. We could wonder: Is it possible that I’ll stop learning when I’m having “too much fun”? Actually it’s the contrary! Humor and comedy are amazing doors to create memorable experiences.”

Carmine: “That is why humor is a very effective tool in the hands of a trainer, much more than fear. I grew up in the ’80s-’90s and many of my teachers liked to be feared and respected, which actually was counterproductive. Also in a corporate context or working with adults, fear is a strong motivator, but in the end it doesn’t last: you remember fear, but you don’t remember the experience or the learning. So, in general, I recommend investing in the light side instead of the dark side: positive emotions last longer and are much more powerful.”


“To prove the point, try this little mental experiment. Do you remember every single class you took? Like the content of every single lesson? Of course not. Do you remember the personality of every single educator you encounter? The answer may be close to 100%. Because, it’s always the personality that shines, for good or for bad.”

What if someone’s not funny at all? Let’s pretend that I’m an educator, I agree with what you said so far, and I’m intrigued to use comedy in my teaching practice… but I feel that I’m no fun at all! What would you say to me?
"I get this a lot when I run my courses on public speaking and humor and I can assure that everybody can become funnier. So, the first thing I would say to someone that does not feel funny, is: Why do you think you’re not funny?"
Carmine Rodi
Trainer & Facilitator

Carmine: “In many families, cultures and educational contexts, we’re taught that we should be serious. “Don’t be a clown”. “Laughing is not appropriate in a professional setting or at the dinner table”. If a person has received a lot of judgments like these, they will grow up with blockages and insecurities. But there’s also the opposite, when a person is overconfident and overaggressive: pushing jokes too hard, imposing their opinion, stereotyping and generalizing. In both cases, all it takes is reflection, self-development and appropriate guidance. Here are two other common issues I encountered:


  • Thinking that we don’t have stories to tell. This is just silly, as we all dream and daily life is full of funny anecdotes! (Just think about what happened yesterday: I’m sure, if you think hard enough, you’ll find at least three weird things that happened to you).
  • Fear of failure. In this case the answer is just one: practice, practice, practice. There is no way you can learn how to be funny if you don’t try, and most importantly if you don’t try it with an audience! Which is dangerous, but when it works the reward is very high.”
Can you share some principles on how to use humor with learners?

Carmine: “Going into stand-up after many years of training, I was convinced that I already knew how to stand in front of an audience. I wasn’t afraid of that part, at least, or I thought I was able to captivate attention. Actually, I couldn’t be more wrong. Here are some tricks I learned the hard way from many rounds of trial and error.”

Think about it like poetry.

Time, pauses, specific words and sounds are very important. You’re painting a picture in the audience’s mind and all you have are words! So, make sure to use all the rhetorical repertoire at your disposal.

Animate the story

by, for example, telling it from the point of view of the audience, creating  quirky characters, acting out physically, and finding bizarre analogies about everything and anything. These are great ways to make any speech more colorful, impactful, and memorable.

Listen to the audience.

Sometimes I tell a joke and I notice that people laugh at something else, maybe something I mentioned in the set-up: so that’s the funny part! In this sense, comedy is a very humbling experience. You’re just a mirror of the audience and you have to notice what people respond to and change accordingly.

Find your own voice

As you become more confident, you begin to understand what topics you can and want to talk about. For example, I usually speak about topics I own, like growing up in Italy or being a father, because this is my life experience. And a more personal style also develops as a consequence.

How can we use comedy responsibly in an educational context? Did you ever cross the line?
"At the beginning, I was so happy with my new power that from day one I would flood the audience (any audience) with jokes, even edgy jokes. So, let’s say, I was delivering training or at a business conference and I went full comedian. But people were not there for that reason! We have to remember that comedy has a context: a time and a place that frames it as a constructed, artificial show. When that context is missing, we need to be extra careful."
Carmine Rodi
Trainer & Facilitator

Carmine: “Then, it’s important to know the group to which we are delivering training. Sometimes the group is ready from the start: very mature, open-minded and happy to see a different perspective. More often than not, it takes more time to get there. So, in all these years, I learned to really dose it and wait until there’s trust and connection with the group.”


“Finally, it’s a matter of purpose. Traditionally, comedy can be used for two things: to bring a group together by underlining the difference with another group (which very often comes with stereotyping and can be aggressive and obnoxious), or to make a group stronger by highlighting the similarities between its members. If we go into this second direction, using comedy to create connections, we’ll learn how to use this power with responsibility, like Spider-Man.”




To sum up, what are the three most important lessons trainers can learn from stand-up comedians?
Training is not stand-up

There are connections and we can explore them, but it’s not one and the same. So, it should be important to know that there are boundaries. I’ve seen when an overconfident comedian tries to lecture an audience, or when an overconfident educator goes full comedian: it’s not the best use of either.

If we don’t fail, we can’t improve

This applies to trainers, performers, and trainees. We should not punish them for mistakes, but instead make failure part of the process. And also being more condescendent to ourselves when we fail, because we’ll certainly fail many times. Just go on and do another show, or another training session. Try again. 

Embrace your vulnerable side

Be human, be authentic and use humor to bring people together, not to separate or to stand out. Ideally, you disappear into a crowd that is having fun with you. That’s the most beautiful way I can describe having a good comedy show. Now, it’s your time to bring humor into training: have a good laugh and learn better!

If you’re curious to know more about Carmine, check out his comedian page and his website to read more about his experiences, the courses he hosts, as well as the articles on his blog.






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