Brand building through storytelling

Following a tough act

LubaIf I had known my plenary speech the other day was going to follow a speech by Canada’s most enduringly beloved female comic, you can bet I’d have done a couple of things differently. First, I’d have hot-footed it over to the Royal York Hotel to catch every minute of inspired mimicry and sheer unbridled nuttiness from Luba Goy of Air Farce fame. Second, I’d have felt a titch nervous about following Luba.

By the time I arrived at the ETFO conference (Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario), the delegates were nodding, clapping, whooping, thigh-slapping and practically levitating through the gates of hilarity that Luba, the woman of 3,000 characters, had blown wide open. I won’t say the audience was rolling in the aisles because that suggests speaking in tongues and the only tongue being spoken was the universal, stress-dissolving, barrier-breaking languageof laughter.

Do I really need to tell you Luba got a standing ovation? And that I too was jumping to my feet?

I am a woman of only one character, my own. I never got the hang of funny voices. I don’t know how to scrunch up my face like a beaver (my grandson would love that trick). Still, it’s hard to feel intimidated when you’ve just been richly amused. “Luba is Luba, and I am myself,” I thought. “She creates characters, I create stories. We’re both blessed.”

My speech, a new one, was called “Life Lessons from Difficult People.” Let’s face it, there’s always someone—maybe someone very close to your heart—who doesn’t come through, doesn’t seem to care, or simply doesn’t get it. You can’t control the crazy-making things that person does, but you can control your own reaction.

Based on difficult people I’ve known (and have been from time to time, to be perfectly honest), I’ve developed some guidelines for rising above the madness before it drains your energy and hope. In fact, I now find myself grateful to folks who’ve driven me to distraction. If not for them, I’d know less than I do about the complications of the human heart—the most fascinating subject there is. I wouldn’t know my own capacity for meeting a challenge. Even more important, I’d allow myself to get sidetracked by the differences in temperament and perspective that drive people apart, when I’d rather be energized by all the things we have in common.

As I told the stories that brought this message to life, I studied the faces in the room. Women were smiling, nodding, scribbling in notebooks. I couldn’t have asked for a more responsive group. As they all stood up to applaud me, I looked for Luba’s red jacket. No sign of her.

I was lining up for the buffet lunch when she found me. She told me she’d been sitting at the back, laughing and crying until her mascara ran. To my delight, she’d connected with my presentation just as I’d connected with hers. We found a quiet table, where she told me a little about the obstacles she’s overcome in her journey to stardom—immigration to Canada from war-ravaged Europe, the loss of her adored father as a child, the struggle to fit in at school, where her a wise teacher set her on the path to performance by encouraging young Luba to enter a speaking contest. It was a poignant, dramatic story that I hope she will write someday. (Funny thing about great comics: Lucille Ball, Groucho MarxSteve MartinWoody Allen…they’ve all laughed their way out turmoil and sadness.)

“Do you have a card?” I asked, handing her mine. She gave me an Air Farce postcard on which she wrote these words, “Thank you for sharing and giving such a powerful presentation. You inspired and moved me.”

Thank you, Luba, for your grace and creative fire. I never guessed we’d have lunch together. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.

Click here to read my post about Steve Martin’s wonderful memoir, Born Standing Up: a Comic’s Life.

Posted by Rona

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