Can Agile Methodology be adapted for stand-up comedy?

About a week ago I embarked on a little experiment that was somewhat of a melding of my professional life as a Business Analyst and my favourite recreation – doing stupid comedy videos for YouTube.  I decided to enter a competition being run by the pay TV Comedy Channel in Australia.  It was a simple enough competition; submit a video of you being funny.  This seemed to play to my strengths so I decided to give it a go.

Now, I could have simply worked on a routine and submitted the video but that would be ignoring the strengths of the system – namely being able to get feedback from viewers and using that to improve the performance before submitting a video to the competition.  And what methodology promotes itself as a way to achieve delivery via multiple rapid iterations?  Agile, of course!

It seemed as though the geek and the performer in me would finally meet and get a chance to work together.  A few disclaimers about me and Agile: first, I don’t know a damn thing about Agile in any formal sense.  Basically, I know what I’ve picked up from reading articles and blogs but I’ve had no training.  Then again, when they’re put on the spot about Agile’s lack of suitability in particular settings, its evangelists usually say “use what works – ignore what doesn’t.”  So I planned to take the “launch a prototype, get feedback, re-work the prototype, release another iteration” approach and ignore any of the finer points of the methodology.

I’m just geeky enough to be fascinated with how the process of developing a stand-up routine mirrored IT development so closely.  The essence of this routine goes right back to the first video I ever put on YouTube in those dark and far-away times of June 2006:

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT2rTapxI4E

So to treat this as an Agile project I looked at the three key requirements:

  1. An original routine
  2. Less than three minutes long
  3. The video file had to be less than 5MB

In considering the first iteration I actually decided to ignore requirements 2 and 3.  These had to be met for the release version but I decided first to simply do something and refine it as the iterations progressed.  So this was the first version I released for review (regular readers may have seen some of these videos but I’m including the whole series here to illustrate the process):

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uph6uYz5kTE

The responses to this prototype were broadly positive and included “keep it simple” and “more anger”.  Obviously it also had to be shorter, so on to iteration two:

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIomX1lK1Lw

The key feedback that came out of this iteration was “lose the conversation with the cow-orker.”  The next version took this on board and worked harder on meeting two other requirements; make it shorter (mandatory) and make it angrier (optional but nice to have).

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrzJilgsz9Q

The “user” feedback to this iteration was overwhelmingly positive.  At this point it’s fair to say that the users’ “wants” had been met (it was regarded as a funny routine) so the final iteration had to meet the mandatory requirements: it had to be less than 3 minutes long and the video file had to be less than 5MB.  These requirements proved to be more difficult to meet than I had foreseen, especially the 5MB limit.  I’ll be exploring the “lessons learned” in detail in another post but suffice to say that leaving critical technical requirements until the last minute is not a good idea.

The important point is I got there in the end with this final iteration:

The URL for this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFf0vuAbOJ0

So, to answer the central question of this post: Can Agile Methodology be adapted (successfully) for stand-up comedy?  Well, there are two measures of success in this case.  One is whether or not I managed to deliver something according to the requirements and the other is whether or not I actually win the competition.  To the first, I’d give a resounding “yes”!  I was not exactly surprised but certainly very pleased with how well this approach worked.  As for the competition, I should know the answer to that within about 48 hours.  I have no idea how many people have entered the competition or what the standard of my competitors is, but I think I’m in with a chance.

The nerd in me can’t resist following this experiment up with a more detailed “post-implementation review.”  It has been fascinating to me how closely this development cycle has followed my experiences in the IT world.  I know I’ve often thought my job was a joke and it appears I may have been closer to the literal truth than I realised.

11 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Video Blogging

11 responses to “Can Agile Methodology be adapted for stand-up comedy?

  1. I seem to have heard this somewhere else before……*smiles*…

    Best of luck, Mr A, and yes, I will send you some vids shortly.

    Gruntski.

  2. Good luck! I’m sure it’ll be great!

  3. one thing to keep in mind, is don’t try to satisfy everyone.

    that way lies media-ocrity.

    instead go for the 70% hate you and 30% love you.

  4. Wow nice job, you went from a bleh boring routine in the beginning, to a funny routine by the time you where done!

  5. Salamaat,
    best wishes…you will do great. And yes, geeky skills are universally handy🙂

  6. In my own experiences with stand-up comedy, I find you tend to lose the audience if you stat dwelling on “shit stink” and “the smell of human excrement”…. Perhaps, of course, things are different in Australia (and there’s an experiment in itself….)

    Me? I tend to stick to the non-controversial…. like Britney’s vagina…

    http://markdaycomedy.wordpress.com/2006/12/03/britney-spears-mel-gibson-and-the-joys-of-no-underwear/

  7. Gruntski: I’m sure this all feels verrrry familiar to you😉

    Suroor: thanks!

    Engtech: yeah, the fact that people tend to contradict each other with advice strongly suggests trying to please everyone is a mug’s game.

    Devlin: I’m glad you agree the project worked!

    Maliha: There’s nothing geeks can’t do🙂

    Mark: Toilet humour is usually a good lowest common denominator safe bet. I agree, dwelling on shit for too long would be problematic. And who knew Britney’s vagina would become so widespread?

  8. Margherite

    I know it’s a candidate for stand-up comedy because the idiots who write job descriptions for Dice have started requiring 10 years of experience in Agile environments.

  9. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA one of my pet hates regarding recruitment!

  10. Oh one thing though, in the second to last video, I loved the word play about in-out-in, etc, I think that if you re-recorded it and didn’t flub it up (at least I think I detected a few flubs.🙂 it would add a lot to the routine.

    Also the bit about “unless I get lucky” was brillent, removing it detracted a lot from the routine

  11. There’s always a few flubs🙂 thanks for the feedback!

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