For most people with public speaking anxiety, the idea of performing stand up comedy in front of a room of people would be a no go, but Nardos Osterhart saw standup as a great way to overcome her fears.
Osterhart, who works as a hospital administrator, said as she was advancing in her career it became apparent that public speaking was a skill set she would need to tackle to be effective in her work.
“I was thinking about ways to overcome some of those public speaking anxieties I had and that I knew were part of the job,” Osterhart explained. “The more I did my job, the more I realized being a good presenter was going to be important, in terms of my impact in my work.”
Osterhart considered the more traditional routes to improving her comfort with public speaking, but she said many opportunities she came across were offered during the work day or in the evenings when she wanted to he home with her husband and young children.
“I was researching and exploring opportunities and I realized these things were going to be hard to fit into my lifestyle,” she said.
As a fan of stand up comedy already, Osterhart said she began to consider the prospect of stand up comedy as a way to face her anxieties on the stage.
On a whim, Osterhart fired off an email to Dr. Grins Comedy Club, located at The B.O.B., thinking it would likely be months before she heard back—if she heard back at all.
“Instead, my query went to Dr. Grin’s emcee, Stu McCallister, and minutes later I got a reply with a date and time on stage,” Osterhart said. The date was three months out.
“I told my husband ‘I’m going to be doing stand up in three months for three minutes at Dr. Grins.’”
With no material, Osterhart said she set to work trying to write jokes. “I started writing jokes, random thoughts about my life and who I am. I thought, ‘what is it that my favorite comics do? What do they talk about?’”
Osterhart was a fan of Jerry Seinfeld’s observational humor and style, so she decided to start there.
“So I thought ‘what’s always awkward about myself?’ I have a strange name, I’m not always good at parenting, being married is difficult, and I don’t always react like I’m supposed to.”
Osterhart’s husband served as her initial test audience. “I’d say, “Is this funny? Is this funny? Until he said ‘kind of ‘and then I started working on those ‘kind ofs.’ The things that made him break a smile a little bit.”
She also began booking gigs on smaller stand up stages to prepare for her Dr. Grin’s debut.
“I tried my five minutes in different rooms, and I was so nervous, until the minute I got on stage. I remember thinking, the worst that could happen is you could bomb, but you’ve seen people bomb before and there is no other way to overcome this fear, you just have to try it. I was terrified and nervous, but you just have to try it.
“I said everything way too fast but I got laughs and I got support, and I think that was the lesson for me. People don’t want you to fail. They are just as awkward as you are. They hope you are funny. They don’t want you to fail or do badly. That moment of realizing people want you to do well.”
When she started her journey in 2012, Osterhart said she committed to doing stand up for at least a year, figuring that was a substantial amount of time for reaching her goal with becoming more comfortable with public speaking. But, she was quickly hooked by her new hobby.
And she’s managed to tally up a lot of laughs. Osterhart won the Funniest Person in Grand Rapids contest in 2013, and competed in the San Francisco Comedy Competition in 2014. She also emcees at Dr. Grins Comedy Club.
Three years ago, Osterhart embarked on another challenge, she staged her first one-woman show, “Hafrican,” which she said was an opportunity for her to test out a lengthier routine. The Indy Fringe Festival selected the show for its 2016 lineup.
“Hafrican” was fueled by Osterhart’s immigrant background.
“My background intrigues people. I have this immigrant story,” she said. “I was born in Nigeria and my family is from Ethiopia. I have this perspective of how do I enjoy this new life in America in the context of looking around and feeling like everyone is kind of spoiled, including myself, compared to how I grew up.
“I’d started sharing stories on stage, mostly the set up/punch line theme of a joke, about what growing up was like and from my perspective as a parent dealing with parents who are African immigrants, for example, and that seemed to get a lot of laughs and people enjoyed them.”
She also wanted to use her show and her stories to help bridge a better understanding about refugees and immigrants. “Back in 2015 and 2016, there was a refugee and immigration crisis situation going on. People were fleeing the northeast coast of Africa to get to Italy and other European countries because things were challenging for them from an economic but also political perspective.
“I was trying to grab on to the heartstrings of the people who were having a hard time empathizing with refugees in America or anywhere else in the world.”
Three years after premiering “Halfrican,” Osterhart is at it again. She’s created her second one-woman show, “Broad, Wholesome, Charitable Views,” with debut performances scheduled for March 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. at Wealthy Theatre.
The show chronicles the moments leading up to a reluctant tour of Dublin and London Osterhart took with her husband to celebrate her 40th birthday.
She said she hopes to book additional performances throughout the year as she did with “Halfrican.”