Andrew Bright is a comedian, trainer, and author. He is the owner and actor at The Panic Squad Improv Comedy, a funny improv comedy for diverse audiences ranging from local non-profits and businesses to national conferences and top Fortune 500 corporations. Bright is also passionate about teaching organizations how to lead, manage change and perform with excellence. His combined passion for improv comedy and leadership inspires his workshops that use improv comedy to teach key elements of teamwork and leadership.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

I was born in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and moved to the United States when I was five. Mom was Canadian and Dad was an American so I ended up with dual citizenship. This has been a great asset in performing and teaching across North America. I lived in Colorado from age 5 to 10, then moved to Washington where I live currently. I love the beauty and opportunities for adventure here in the Pacific Northwest.

I had loving parents and a great childhood full of fond memories. I was extremely small for my age, which came with the standard bullying throughout the school. Like most trials we face, I believe this experience helped me to build character and resolve. I learned to find my identity in truth, not in what others said or did. This foundation has served me well as someone who now lives a lot of life on stage in front of others. I also fell in love with making others laugh as a boy, and found I had a real knack for it. I recall telling jokes, making faces, and doing funny voices, all in an effort to bring a smile to someone. I absolutely crushed charades when we’d play as a family. Physical comedy has always been a strength and love of mine.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

I wish I would have understood that hard work is as important, if not more than talent. I had some great qualities as a young man. I was creative, funny, charismatic, and very good with people. I was also easily distracted, disorganized, and didn’t know how to really buckle down and work. I interviewed well and could find work easily, but I was fired from my first two jobs out of college due to my lack of drive and work ethic. Thankfully, each time my bosses sacked me, they also took time to explain why and offer advice. This gave me an opportunity to listen and change. Survival is also an excellent instructor. When I quit a salaried job in public relations to start a full-time career in comedy, work ethic had to become a priority. It was no longer a good quality to have as an employee. It was eat or starve. I chose to eat.

I am still someone who is not naturally organized and at times, still struggle with focus. Over time I’ve created systems and strategies to help overcome these weaknesses so I can move forward. Ignoring your weaknesses vs. addressing them is like treading water vs. swimming. Some people consider treading water to be swimming. You’re in the water, making waves, and not dying. Not dying is not swimming, though. Swimming moves you forward. It takes you somewhere. I work hard and deal with my weaknesses so I can swim and not simply tread water.

Hard work also allows you to be ready for opportunities. I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe that everyone will have unexpected opportunities come their way. You will either see an opportunity and be prepared to take advantage of it, or you will miss the opportunity because you weren’t listening, weren’t hungry enough, or weren’t prepared to move on it. In twenty years as a comedian, I have both missed and grabbed hold of some incredible opportunities.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Two bad recommendations I’ve come across are 1) Get an agent as soon as possible, and 2) bend over backward for the client to get the work.

1) I believe agents and managers can be of value. Especially when you’re at a point in your career when having someone else manage the details is worth the investment. I have great relationships with several agents and value what they do. I think there is danger, however, in entering an exclusive agent contract too soon in your career. There is incredible value in learning all sides of the entertainment business, from promoting yourself to finding leads and negotiating contracts. No one will be more passionate about promoting your act, building your business, and serving the client than you are. When you’re motivated and hungry, the last thing you want to do is sit around and wait for the phone to ring. It’s your livelihood. Your shot. Don’t hand off control to someone else too quickly.

2) In regard to serving clients, I’m ALL ABOUT exceptional customer service and exceeding expectations. That said, having a little backbone is an important part of that process. Early in my career, I was a jellyfish. No backbone. I slept on couches, missed meals, and had my stuff chewed up by a client’s dogs, (while I was sleeping on his couch). I would say, “don’t worry about it” when the client neglected to have the tech required in our rider. I was grateful to have the work, wanted to be easy to work with, and not cause problems. The thing is, when you are tired, hungry, smell like a dog, and don’t have an adequate sound system, the performance is going to suffer. I learned over time that having a backbone and taking a stand when needed is a key part of creating excellent events. It also shows support for your team, respect for your craft, and ownership of the audience’s experience. An added benefit is, the more you care about the excellence of your product, the more respect, and credibility you gain from clients. Turns out my efforts to be over accommodating were working against me, not helping me. Today, I’m still easy to work with, more like a pet rock than a rock band. I’m still grateful for every opportunity I get to take the stage. I also have enough backbone to ensure my team and I will consistently create an exceptional experience for our clients and their audiences.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

One of the hardest times to work through has been this past year. I was heading into 2020 looking forward to my best year yet. The events were lined up and on the books. I was looking forward to some wonderful opportunities to inspire and impact others.

Then the pandemic hit and the world shut down. I was overseas working madly to rebook canceled flights and find a path home. I felt like an action hero running full out across a suspension bridge as the ropes snapped behind me and the bridge began to collapse. Once home, the gigs began to fall like the steps on that bridge. It was so disheartening. I didn’t want to check my email or answer my phone as over the next month, all my events were canceled or postponed indefinitely. Zero events left in 2020 with no real indication of if or when they would be back.

It took a real mental and emotional toll on me. Suddenly, by no fault of my own, I had lost the ability to provide for my family, do I what I love, and impact others. While I tried to keep a strong front I was reeling on the inside. I surprised myself when I broke down and cried in the middle of a podcast interview. We had been talking about my career and how I love making others laugh and impacting their work. Then the host asked, “So, do you miss it?” And I lost it. Brokedown and wept. His question hit me like a brick to the face and I went down. I hadn’t realized the extent of how this whole mess had affected me. Once I had pulled myself together his next question was, “So…can I use that?” Love it! Got to respect him for that.

As I worked through my feelings of hopelessness, fear, and anger I knew I had to gain perspective, see opportunity, and move forward. Perspective meant seeing things accurately. In truth, what I had lost, income and opportunity, was nothing compared to what I still had. My faith was unshakable. So was the love of my family. We were all healthy at a time when many were not. I was blown away by the care and generosity of my friends. Real relationships are often proven and strengthened during hard times. Gaining perspective also meant changing helpless to helpful. I began to look for ways to be more involved in making an impact at home and with others around me.

Finding opportunity meant being aware of what was in front of me and being ready to take advantage of it. I used the time at home to connect with my wife and family in new, deeper ways. There was one moment I’ll never forget when we were all at the dinner table laughing together and it hit me—I was supposed to be speaking in Houston tonight. If I had, I would be missing this priceless opportunity to be in the moment with my family. Trusting there will be other opportunities to speak in Houston, I decided to invest more heavily in the opportunities in front of me.

Lastly, I decided to move forward. I had been treading water and it was time to swim. It occurred to me that 20 years of performing improv had set me up to thrive in my current situation. Improv, in essence, is moving forward without a script. Adapting to constant change. Working with others to create something excellent. When my head was buried in the sand of frustration I missed the real opportunity in front of me. I had neglected to take the skills I had honed on stage and use them to move forward in fresh ways in real life. So I pivoted from waiting to working. Instead of remaining stalled by my lack of expertise in all things technical, I partnered with a production company that is excellent where I am not. Now we’re both benefiting and creating excellence once again through virtual and hybrid events.

In the end, I’m coming out of 2020 a better friend, father, and husband. My faith is stronger than ever and connected more deeply with my wife and kids. I’ve found new ways to impact others and move forward. While I’m grateful for the new perspectives, opportunities, and paths forward that this pandemic has given me, let’s get one thing straight. I cannot wait to be in front of a live audience again. When the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready, and be even better equipped to entertain, inspire and impact.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

Love the people. It’s become kind of a mantra for me.

Years ago I was stressed out before a big event. It was a level-up gig for me. I was going to perform and deliver a keynote on improv and leadership to hundreds of successful executives. I was on the phone with my Dad feeling intimidated and overwhelmed. He said, “Andy, just love the people.” What he meant was, forget about who’s in the audience, what they do, where they work, their status, etc. See them simply as other people who may have had a rough week and need a laugh, or are looking for something fresh to inspire them and help them lead others. I had an opportunity, for one hour’s time, to make these people laugh and to impact them. My dad’s comments gave me perspective. I turned my attention from fearing the audience to serving the audience. I killed the presentation and got a standing ovation. Now, “loving the people” is how I operate.

Whatever the work, be speaking, performing, accounting, construction, medicine…it’s done by people. Real people. Imperfect people, like you and me, who live life, find joy and face fears inside and outside of their work. For me, loving people is a way of seeing and treating others. Truly hearing them, and then working to understand their needs and serve them. I try to see each interaction I have with a client, with an audience member, with a CEO, with the AV team, with my rideshare driver, as an opportunity to serve and impact someone.

This mindset has had an enormous impact on my relationships, both personal and professional. People who work with me find I’m genuine, trustworthy, fun to work with and someone who truly cares about excellence. Not because I‘ve learned to slip those buzzwords into conversation, but because it’s the best recipe to serve others and their events. It’s a natural outcome of loving the people. I should also mention that you can’t fake loving people. When someone is artificially attentive or pandering it’s obvious and offensive. Genuinely love the people, wherever you are, and in whatever you do. It will be a difference-maker in how you operate and in the fulfillment you receive from your work.

What is your morning routine?

There is my “at home” routine and my “on the road” routine. At home, I’m up between 5:30 and 7:00 am, depending on what I will be doing that day. I start with coffee and sometimes reading the Bible and praying to focus on myself and align my priorities. Then I work alongside my wife to get the kids up, make them breakfast, make their lunches, and get them off to school. Finally, I head into my home office. I’ll often listen to podcasts while I work. In the evenings, it’s dinner together, some TV together, and then we read Harry Potter or another story as a family. Finally, it’s time to just connect with my wife for a while. I’m in bed by 10:00 or 11:00.

On the road and at events, I’m focused on my work and the clients. My schedule is all over the place, depending on travel, morning or evening keynotes and shows, etc. While traveling or hanging out in hotels I read leadership books and listen to podcasts that inspire and/or teach me. An hour or two before the event I sit down and focus on the client, their specific needs, and how I can best serve the audience. When I arrive at the venue I want to be completely present, ready, and intentional. If my schedule allows, I like to check out something interesting and different in the area I’m staying in. I end the day by checking in with the family via a call or video chat. Then I’ll read some fiction to wind down before falling asleep.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Without a doubt, it’s been starting my day with 15 – 30 minutes of prayer and reading the Bible. This simple act focuses me on what matters, gives me perspective and motivation on how to work and lead my family, and sets the tone for my day. On the days I skip this simple step, I fell off track all day. It’s the difference between driving between the lines–smooth and steady, or driving with one tire on the rumble strip—bumpy and frustrating.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

One of the best strategies I’ve found for my easily distracted brain is writing things down. I know, nothing fresh or mind-blowing here, but it works. When I don’t, I waste so much time trying to remember that thing I was supposed to do or that person I wanted to contact. When I make a list I can forget and move on. My most productive work starts with a prioritized list.

Also, build in permission for yourself to be inspired, taught, and daydream. If my entire week is just plugging through dull work, it’s torture. I like to give myself permission to stop and listen to a podcast and take some notes, read part of a book, or just sit and let my mind rip through ideas. I especially enjoy this last exercise.

As hard as I have to work to stay focused and productive, it’s extremely freeing and gratifying to take some time to just sit and let my mind go. No boundaries, no goals. It’s not a brainstorming session with others. It’s just me, simply letting my mind spin and jump from idea to idea. It’s like free running for your brain. It’s like a chocolate cake following a week of eating Kale and Quinoa. Some of my best ideas have come from this exercise.

Lastly, I like to get moving. Break up the day with a walk, bike ride, or another outside exercise. I’m not a runner or CrossFit animal. I just like to keep moving. It clears my mind and sharpens my focus.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

My top books are:

The Bible – My faith is of utmost importance in my life. I regularly go to this book for wisdom and guidance, to build my character, and to focus on my priorities.

Do Over and Finish, both by Jon Acuff. I love the story, I love comedy, and I love the way Acuff uses these tools to teach us to see ourselves accurately, be great and get things done. I’ve always struggled with organization and procrastination. These books have helped me tremendously. I finally wrote my own book after reading Do-Over.

Leaders Eat Last and The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. An improv show is all about moving forward into the unknown, embracing risk and conflict, and accomplishing more together than you could ever do on your own. Sinek sees leadership the same way. These books are great reminders of how to lead people with purpose, vulnerability, and excellence. I’d perform improv with Simon Sinek any day.

The Harry Potter series. Yes, I’m serious. I’ve been reading the series out loud to my family. As a father of four who normally travels a lot throughout the year, it’s been a fun way to connect with my family and appreciate time at home during the pandemic. I get into it and use different voices for the different characters. Reading together has reminded me how much I value, and have missed, time with my family.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

“A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.” – Simon Sinek

“Safe is good for sidewalks and swimming pools, but life requires risk if we are to get anywhere.” – Simon Sinek

I love thinking of these two quotes in tandem. A team that trusts and supports each other doesn’t fear risk. This is true on stage and in life.