A Koala, a Scarecrow, and Batman Walk Into a Bar: Lessons in Interviewing From Great Stand-Up Comedians!

By: Ron Bower

I recently went to see Tom Papa, a great and experienced stand-up comic. The next day I woke up thinking about comedic skills and the parallels with the skills necessary to be an effective interviewer. Can you say, “Interviewing nerd?”

Here’s my take on how we can become even more effective interviewers by leveraging a few skills of the most successful stand-up comedians.

And don’t worry, I am not going to recommend that you start telling jokes during an interview! Although, if you make it to the end of this post, I promise you some potentially entertaining and semi-funny interviewing and recruiting jokes.

  1. PREPARATION. Great comedians don’t just walk on stage and start randomly talking. They prepare, practice, and test their jokes out before it really matters. They practice so much that by the time they go on stage, their material just flows in a very natural way. In a similar way, great interviewers prepare, practice, and test their interview questions to make sure they are going to work. They don’t just walk into an interview and “have a conversation.” They practice enough that their structured interview feels fresh and conversational.

    Great comedians hone their craft by studying other great comics and practicing in smaller/safe venues. Great interviewers understand the importance of interviewing training, observing other interviewers, and continually upgrading their craft.

  2. RELEVANCE. The most successful comedians continue to update their material. They stay fresh, keep up with current events, and keep their conversation relevant to their audience. Successful interviewers keep their questions relevant to the job, their company culture, and the business at hand. They make sure they have questions that align with evolving workplace trends by asking meaningful questions about the challenges of working from home, how to effectively manage a remote workforce, or talking about the impact of AI in the workplace.

  3. INSIGHT. In my opinion, the best comedians make you think. They challenge the status quo. Great interview questions do the same. They make you think. Great interview questions can’t be answered without meaningful thought. Don’t ask cutesy, shallow, interview questions that would be better suited to use when sitting around a campfire with friends. Ask questions that matter. Ask questions that will help you determine whether your candidate has the skills, ability, and knowledge to do your job. Great comedians don’t tell outdated jokes!

  4. DON’T GIVE AWAY THE PUNCHLINE. Great comedians keep you on the edge of your seat waiting for a punchline. And the best of the best will surprise you when they get to the punchline. Don’t project the answers to interview questions to the candidate. Don’t tell a candidate that you are a collaborative organization, and then ask them whether they prefer to work alone or with others. Don’t give away the punchline! A college friend of mine still gets jabbed today for the time he started a conversation with, “Have you heard my Bozo the Clone joke?” He proceeded to tell a joke in which the punch line was (you guessed it) “Bozo the Clone.”

  5. ENGAGEMENT. A strong interviewer knows how to engage their candidates, making them feel comfortable enough to share their skills and experiences. Comedians, at their best, understand that connecting with an audience and holding that for an hour will create raving fans. Both understand that a genuine and authentic personal connection with an audience is the foundation of success. According to a study published in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment, candidates who have a positive interview experience are more likely to accept job offers.

Just like a good laugh, a positive interview experience leaves a lasting impression. Crafting a hilarious comedy set and being a great interviewer both take practice, skill, and a solid understanding of human nature. By mastering the art of interviewing, we can make better hiring decisions, increase the quality of hire, and improve the business results of our organization. Watching a great comedian can release stress and improve your quality of life.

If you want to learn more about how to implement “Interviewing for Results” training for your managers and interviewers, check this out. If you need a simple, powerful, and ridiculously affordable SaaS tool to generate custom interview guides, take a peek over here. If you need to spend some time listening to another great comedian, I hear that Netflix is a Joke!

And, as promised, here are a few jokes from The Google about interviewing, including an (albeit long) bonus...my absolute favorite recruiting joke of all time. And as a nod to our upcoming celebration of Father’s Day, we’ve made sure to include a few dad jokes…

  1. Manager: “How well do you perform under pressure?”
    Candidate: “Not bad, but I do a great Bohemian Rhapsody!”

  2. Why did the scarecrow get the job? Because he was outstanding in his field!

  3. Hiring Manager: “How long were you in your last position?”
    Candidate: “I’d say my biggest strength would be my listening skills.”

  4. Why did the elephant get rejected for a job? His qualifications were completely irrelephant!

  5. Why did the koala get the job? She had all the right koalafications!

  6. What is the most common job for spiders? Web designer!

  7. Interviewer: “What is your biggest weakness?”
    “My issues with reality. I sometimes struggle to see what’s real and not real.”
    Interviewer: “And what is your greatest strength?”
    Candidate: “I am Batman!”

  8. I was in a job interview today when the manager handed me his laptop and said, “I want you to try and sell this to me.” So, I put it under my warm, walked out of the building, and went home. Eventually, he called my cell phone and said, “Bring back my laptop!” I said, “$500 and it’s yours.”

  9. “Instead of my resume, I’ve provided you with a summary of my daily horoscope for the last year. You will see that I’m a very special person destined for great things!”

  10. Hiring Manager: “How would you describe yourself?”
    Candidate: “Verbally. But I have also prepared an interpretive dance.”

And…a drumroll please…the greatest recruiting joke of all time:

One day while walking down the street a highly successful Human Resources Manager was tragically hit by a tequila truck and she died. Her soul arrived in heaven where she was met at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter himself.

"Welcome to Heaven," said St. Peter. "Before you get settled in though, it seems we have a problem. You see, strangely enough, we've never once had a Human Resources Manager make it this far and we're not really sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," said the woman.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have higher orders. What we're going to do is let you have a day in Hell and a day in Heaven and then you can choose whichever one you want to spend an eternity in."

"Actually, I think I've made up my mind, I prefer to stay in Heaven," said the woman.

"Sorry, we have rules..."

And with that St. Peter put the executive in an elevator and it went down-down-down to Hell.

The doors opened and she found herself stepping out onto the putting green of a beautiful golf course. In the distance was a country club and standing in front of her were all her friends - fellow executives that she had worked with, and they were well dressed in evening gowns and cheering for her. They ran up and kissed her on both cheeks and they talked about old times. They played an excellent round of golf and at night went to the country club where she enjoyed an excellent steak and lobster dinner.

She met the Devil who was actually a really nice guy and she had a great time telling jokes and dancing. She was having such a good time that before she knew it, it was time to leave. Everybody shook her hand and waved goodbye as she got on the elevator.

The elevator went up-up-up and opened back up at the Pearly Gates and she found St. Peter waiting for her.

"Now it's time to spend a day in Heaven," he said. So she spent the next 24 hours lounging around on clouds and playing the harp and singing. She had a great time and before she knew it her 24 hours were up, and St. Peter came to see her.

"So, you've spent a day in Hell, and you've spent a day in Heaven. Now you must choose your eternity."

The woman paused for a second and then replied, "Well, I never thought I'd say this, I mean, Heaven has been really great and all, but I think I had a better time in Hell." So St. Peter escorted her to the elevator and again she went down-down-down back to Hell.

When the doors of the elevator opened she found herself standing in a desolate wasteland covered in garbage and filth. She saw her friends dressed in rags and picking up the garbage and putting it in sacks.

The Devil came up to her and put his arm around her.

"I don't understand," stammered the woman "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a country club and we ate lobster and we danced and had a great time. Now all there is is a wasteland of garbage, and all my friends look miserable."

The Devil looked at her, smiled, and said, "Yesterday we were recruiting you — today you're an Employee."