Do Your Own Material

by Lou Solomon, dated May 2, 2011

Billy Crystal got his start as a stand-up comic doing very good impersonations of people like Muhammad Ali and sportscaster Howard Cosell.

One night in the summer of 1974, Crystal was performing at Catch a Rising Star in New York.  Jack Rollins, one of the most sought-after managers in the business, was in the audience that night.  Rollins could have given a young comic like Crystal a big break.

Crystal threw himself into his impersonations and the crowd loved him.  With all the uproarious laughter, he just knew that he was blowing Jack Rollins away.  But after the show, when Rollins asked to meet with him, it was to offer advice.  Rollins told Crystal that while his impersonations were great, there wasn’t one inch of the real Billy Crystal in his show.  He went on the say that Billy would never be memorable as long as he was being someone else.

At Interact Studio we have banned the comment, “I don’t like talking about myself.”  It is either misplaced modesty, an attempt to avoid vulnerability or the fear that there is nothing to say.  It’s actually generous to share something real and relevant about yourself.

The advice of Jack Collins paid off for Crystal, who is one of the most adored comedians of all time—and most people don’t remember he ever did impersonations.

Whatever you do, don’t waste time being who you think you should be–or telling other people’s stories.  You are not in those stories.  But you were there when your child was born; you were there when you granddad died, you were there when you got your first break.  Being who you really are–with confidence and humility–is the only way to gain true credibility in your career and life.

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Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.