From Conference Room to the Stage: An Interview with Comedians Ivi Demi and Joan Fuchsman

Joan Fuchsman, Ivi Demi, Juania Owens

In a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, “The Unexpected Benefits of Pursuing a Passion Outside of Work”, Jon M. Jachimowicz, a Harvard Business School Assistant Professor who researches why people struggle to pursue their passions; Joyce Ha, a Ph.D. candidate in organizational behavior; and Julian Arango, a behavioral strategist, dissect the growing body of research that finds adults who engage in extracurricular hobbies and activities outside of work benefit in both their personal and professional lives.

The studies found that individuals report having more energy, and feeling less stressed and more creative, “all of which may boost work engagement and retention. One recent study even showed that people accrued greater benefits when their personal passions and their actual work were very different.”

Further, Robert Cross, who’s studied the habits and social networks of high performers for 20 years, noted in a Bloomberg article, “Interests Outside of Work Can Make Us More Productive on the Job”, that having hobbies “provides dimensionality in our lives” – dimensionality that “makes us feel like well-rounded humans who have more to live for than a paycheck.”

Given the considerable results this research has found, it’s no wonder, Ivi Demi and Joan Fuchsman, two of Advanced Management Strategies Group’s (AMSG) newest employees, found their way to comedy, an activity that is vastly different from their professional lives and provides a creative outlet. With over eight years of experience, Demi is a Business Analyst on our U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Category Management (CM) Support Services Contract. At the behest of his brother, Demi has been performing stand-up comedy for two years. With over 20 years of experience, Fuchsman is a Senior Communications Specialist/Writer on our Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Acquisition and Program Support Services Contract who has been writing and telling jokes for 15 years.

With 17 years of comedic experience combined, Demi and Fuchsman talk about their influences growing up, what it’s like being on stage, how writing and telling jokes benefits their lives, and where they get the courage and inspiration to perform. Read the interview below.

How did you get your start as a comedian?

ID: I was always a fan of comedy growing up, spending most of my time after school watching specials on Comedy Central and HBO. But for the longest time, I never really saw myself as someone who could get up on a stage in front of strangers. Over the last few years, my brother was my biggest supporter, pushing me (kicking and screaming) to go to my first open mic and try out my writing. I think without his influence and advice, I would not have tried it out and fallen in love with it.

JF: I became interested in standup and improv about 15 years ago. I went to a show at the DC Improv Comedy Club and there was a flyer about their classes on the table. One of my friends thought I should give it a try. To this day, I don’t know why he thought this was a good idea, but I signed up. After taking and performing improv, I realized I wasn’t loose enough to really be comfortable doing improv. That’s when I thought I’d give stand-up a try. I felt more comfortable writing my own material.

How long have you been performing standup comedy?

ID: It’s been just a little under two years at this point. I lost a whole year of performance time because of the pandemic, which I tried to fill in with online Zoom comedy, which was exactly as insane as it sounds.

JF: I don’t really do stand-up. I took a lot of classes at the DC Improv Comedy Club and the Washington Improv Theater, and performed at my improv and standup classes graduations, but that is it. At this stage in my life, I knew I wasn’t going to be a performer and I didn’t have the stomach for it. During the pandemic, as part of a Facebook Group, Hot Breath Pro Comedy Network, that I belong to, I have done some Zoom shows. However, I am more interested in the contests and writing opportunities this group provides. They offer daily writing exercises and a monthly 90 second set contests. We are given a theme and have two weeks to write, record, and submit our set. The group’s founder, who is also a comedian, picks three finalists and then the whole group votes for the winner. I made it to the finals once and won once. Also, about two years ago, I joined the Washington DC Comedy Writers Group, another Facebook group, that meets weekly on Zoom. We do writing exercises and also provide feedback  to those who are working on standup sets.

What was your first time like on the stage?

ID: Incredibly terrifying and a whole lot of butterflies in my stomach. And for some reason, I didn’t completely bomb. I got a lot of great feedback and encouragement from some more established comics, and I’ve not looked back since.

JF: I was a nervous wreck. I performed as part of my graduation at an open mic in Rosslyn, VA. It did go well, and I got a lot of laughs.

How has writing and performing improved your personal life? Your professional life?

ID: I think being able to flex creative muscles is hugely important for any career path, and I’ve certainly seen it help in my professional life. It has allowed me to bring some of that creative energy to my day-to-day work, taking time to think of unique solutions to challenges I’m facing or improving my ability to write and shape stories that we tell in our presentations and reports. In my personal life, the dopamine rush of being on a stage has simply made each day so much more enjoyable. Even on my toughest days, I always have this excitement when I know that I have a show coming up and I look forward to getting out there and making people laugh.

JF: Personally, through the classes and writing groups, I have made a lot of new friends in the U.S., Canada, England, and Russia. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet some of them in person someday. And it’s bolstered my confidence to know that people find me and my writing funny. Professionally, it has helped me to think more creatively.

Who were your favorite comedians growing up? Now?

ID: Growing up I was a huge fan of Gary Gulman, one of the best storytellers and comedians out there. He still tours the country and whenever he’s in the DC area, I never miss his show. These days, in terms of newer, rising comics on the scene, I’m a huge fan of Beth Stelling, Jenny Zigrino, Joe List, and Sam Morrill. I highly recommend checking them out on YouTube and Netflix!

JF: Joan Rivers and Woody Allen (as the comic) were my favorites. Now I enjoy Bill Maher, Patton Oswalt, Wanda Sykes, Stephen Rodgers, and Taylor Tomlinson.

What type of comedy do you prefer?

ID: I’ve always been a fan of comedy that broaches darker/sadder themes, but with a lens towards finding the funny even in the worst moments in our lives. I tend to try and shape my comedy around that, using self-deprecating humor to talk about my life experiences and challenges. I also really enjoy comics from different backgrounds, particularly first-generation comedians who talk about their families and adjusting to America. As an immigrant myself, my family and our shared experiences adjusting to life here in the States is a big part of my comedy.

JF: I like observational comedy that is still personal—Jerry Seinfeld type of comedy.

What is your favorite comedy show? Venue?

ID: Any Gary Gulman show I’ve seen has generally been my favorite. I’ve seen him multiple times across different cities and he always writes amazing jokes. As far as venues, the Beacon Theatre in New York City will always be one of my favorite locations. It’s an iconic stage that I’d love to perform on one day.

JF: I got to see Joan Rivers a year or two before she died at the Strathmore Music Center in Maryland. She was amazing. She was so funny, and she did some physical comedy, too. The DC Improv is also a great venue.

What is your favorite comedy movie?

ID: For silly laughs, Anchorman always delivers. For sadder, darker comedy laughs, In Bruges is one of my favorite movies.

JF: I see so many movies, that it’s hard to choose. But I love the two Paddington movies and a Woody Allen movie, Deconstructing Harry, with Robin Williams.

Where do you get your material?

ID: Life stories and my family generally make up much of my material. I will take personal experiences and try to connect with the audience as best as I can. My writing process generally isn’t very organized, but I like to jot down notes and ideas throughout the week in a notebook and then spend time on the weekends expanding those ideas into larger sets and stories.

JF: My comedy is observational and how it affects me. I tell people that nothing rolls off my back.

How do you prepare yourself for the stage?

ID: Leading up to a show, I try to take note of the type of audience and venue and prepare the jokes I want to tell. I make a list of the jokes I’ll be going through that evening on my phone and will memorize the order and flow of the stories. When it’s almost showtime, the last 20-30 minutes before I’m on, I try to disconnect and not look at my notes so that I’m more focused on the crowd and how they’re reacting to other comics. It’s good to use that time to just make myself feel comfortable and get an understanding of the vibe of the room. When I’m up there, it’s always a blast. And there’s no going back! No matter how nervous I may feel that day. I tend to describe it like parachuting out of a plane. Once you’ve jumped, you just have to ride it out and enjoy the thrill of it.

JF: When I have done shows I just repeat, repeat, repeat my material. I have to memorize and then make it sound conversational when delivering

Is there something else you would like to add?

JF: I really enjoy the writing process. I’ve discovered that is my thing. But I’m so glad I took the improv and standup classes and did perform. I made a lot of friends in the classes and the performing helped bolster my self-confidence.