In litigating and stand-up comedy, ‘thick skin is required:’ Michael Currie

Currie's comedy show, 'Good Laughs,' on May 25, will feature six other litigator-comics

In litigating and stand-up comedy, ‘thick skin is required:’ Michael Currie
Michael Currie, Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb

Michael Currie’s stand-up-comedy career began in undergrad as a method for overcoming his apprehension around public speaking. Since there seemed no more nerve-racking form of it than a comedy set, he thought that would be the most effective way to face the fear.

Good Laughs was born, and Currie, who was called in 2015, has kept the show going since. The latest instalment is set for May 25, and will feature six other comedians who, like Currie, are litigators by day.

The parallels between stand-up comedy and litigation go beyond the jitters, says Currie. Just as one is concerned with bombing, the other is worried about losing the case and disappointing the client. Like litigators, comedians build confidence through practice, and because the crowd can sense insecurity, bombing is less likely once the fear of bombing is conquered.

Both are “highly public,” he says. “There's no hiding behind the results.” Trial lawyers argue in front of a decision-maker, their clients, and the results go up on CanLII. For comedians, the public awareness of their success or failure is instantaneous.

In both a comedy club and a courtroom, the judge and audience can tell when you are unprepared.

“You might have a brilliant set,” says Currie. “But if you don't present it, perform it well, it's not going to land. Same in court. A judge won't follow you if you're not coherent and present your arguments in a fashion that is easily digestible for him or her to take.”

And while both comedians and litigators can learn from watching other professionals, nothing will sharpen skills like experience. “On-feet time is irreplaceable,” he says.         

Of course, there are contrasts between the two practices as well. “99.9 percent of the time, you don't want a judge laughing at you in court,” says Currie. And while comedy often deals in misdirection, and punchlines can be intended to surprise the audience, it is bad news if the judge does not know where the lawyer is going with their argument.

In the June 2011 issue of The Advocates’ Journal, Currie’s colleague and prominent litigator Jonathan Lisus wrote about how losing is an inevitable experience for even the best litigators. In “The advocate as loser,” Lisus gleans from conversations with veteran trial lawyers Roger Oatley, Earl Cherniak and John Rosen:

“[I]f you try your cases, you will have losses. And you will have wins. They are closely intertwined. Do not let the losses deter you from trying cases. If you try more cases, you will have more wins, but you will also have more losses. Winning and losing are flip sides of the same coin, the one we toss high into the air every time we walk into court and begin a trial.”

The same lesson applies to comedy, says Currie. “You're going to bomb a lot… but it's the people who keep coming back that hone their craft and get better at it.”

Good Laughs will take place May 25, 7:30 pm, at the Danforth Comedy Bar, 2800 Danforth Ave. Sponsored by Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb, the show will raise money for the Michael Garron Hospital Foundation.

Along with Currie, the lineup includes Claudia Brabazon, of the Ontario Crown office; Eugene Cipparone, from Goodmans LLP; Christine Kilby, of Kilby Mediation; Peter Henein, from Henein Hutchison Robitaille LLP; and Ceilidh Joan Henderson, from Teshebaeva Henderson LLP. The event’s emcee is Yuk Yuks founder Mark Breslin.

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