Hi, my name is Ben Butler, and I work as a program manager for a tech payments company. I live in Dublin, and I can see the National Maternity Hospital – the place I was born – from my desk. So, I’ve moved about 25 feet in 25 years. Such an intrepid explorer…
Outside of my work, I perform stand up comedy around Ireland and the US. I do a couple of gigs a week these days. I have been into comedy since I was about ten: I watched Tommy Tiernan on the Late Late Show and forced my dad to take me to his DVD signing the next day. From there, I was hooked.
I started comedy because I wanted to write and speak more. I liked the idea of doing that just generally, but I am inherently lazy. Having the extrinsic motivation of a spotlight and a bunch of people’s faces staring at you is a pretty good incentive. Comedy also adds an extra dimension to life such that – if I end up in an awkward situation – I can console myself with the fact that this is fodder for comedy. I am a pretty awkward human, so this happens a lot.
My first gig went surprisingly alright! I was so nervous before though. I had done a fair bit of public speaking before, but I was still terrified. Obviously some gigs have gone better than others, but I haven’t had any disasters yet. I did get heckled at my first gig, but it was actually after I had finished – some old guy shouted up, “Was that really his first time?!” – so that was nice.
I believe that any creative outlet is a plus. For comedy in particular, being able to write and speak well is incredibly valuable in a technology career. It helps in other ways as well. It is a very different thing to perform stand up versus cracking jokes at the coffee machine – but my public speaking skills have definitely improved. Part of my job in tech is to tell stories: to create a narrative for something we are trying to build. That storytelling approach transfers into both worlds, I think. I do think slide decks are comedy gold – I would love to do a Powerpoint comedy show someday.
It’s true that there isn’t a whole lot of comedy/tech crossover at the highest levels: Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, has a comedy background, but that is about all I can think of. However, I think there are a lot of funny people in tech, though. Some of my friends and co-workers are hilarious, and there are also people like Richard Sarvate, co-host of The Setup (one of my favourite comedy nights in SF) who used to be a computer programmer.
Honestly, I have got nothing but encouragement from friends and co-workers in tech on the comedy front. Folks in the Dublin office came in droves to support me at my first gig, and the teams in SF and Seattle have both come to see me do shows there. (Thank you!) Going full time in comedy is a really tough thing to do, but – yeah – it would be incredible if things were to work out that way. I think if I could do a mix of writing and performing comedy, that’d be the dream. I would also like to be a lecturer when I am older – perhaps that’d be the manifestation of my Powerpoint comedy goal.
My comedy is quite personal, so naturally, my work will come into it. I have a bit about my card being declined that, due to the fact that I spend my days in a payments company, I enjoy in a particularly nerdy way. I also travel with work a lot, and that presents a lot of material. It is actually a comedy dream of mine to write an actually funny version of the infamous ‘So, how about that airplane food?’ comedy trope – I’ll keep you posted when I’ve gotten it.