Academic by day, comic by night

W. P. Carey finance professor’s comedy hobby makes him a better educator

Man standing in front of a sign that reads "Stir Crazy Comedy Club."

Geoff Smith at the Stir Crazy Comedy Club. Courtesy photo


Geoffrey Smith isn’t joking around about his new hobby this April Fools' Day. 

A clinical professor of finance at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, Smith recently completed an improv class culminating in a showcase for family and friends. Smith was one of eight performers, who called their troupe The Marauders, to perform various improv games during the 90-minute showcase. 

“I could hear people laughing, so I think we did pretty well," Smith said.

Aside from improv serving as a cathartic hobby, the skills Smith gained from the class also helped his teaching.

“Improv has made me a little more entertaining when giving lectures," he said. "You have to listen carefully to your partner when doing improv, and that has helped me be a better listener when students ask questions in class."

Smith became interested in improv 30 years ago while living near a comedy club. He enjoyed attending shows and wanted to take a class, but he was too busy to sign up between work and pursuing his degree. After relocating to Glendale, Arizona, several years ago and discovering the Stir Crazy Comedy Club near his home, Smith couldn’t pass up the opportunity again and enrolled in a stand-up comedy class. 

Smith spends hours each day lecturing hundreds of students as an educator — but that didn’t stop him from experiencing stage fright during his first stand-up class. 

“I was frozen,” Smith said. 

Despite his initial stage fright, his classmates’ encouragement helped Smith build his confidence, and he successfully performed his comedy set during the course’s final showcase. 

Smith says the experience helped him overcome any lingering fear of public speaking and made him less self-conscious about being liked in the classroom.

“Joke writing is hard. You have to be observant to write thoughtful jokes,” Smith said. “Once you've told a few jokes that totally bomb in front of a live audience, the self-consciousness goes away a little because you can't dwell on it.”

Smith says his improv experience has made him more personable in the classroom, and he isn’t the first to pursue comedy to help him excel in his day job: The skills cultivated in improv can help people improve communication, public speaking and presentation skills; boost confidence; and become more adaptable in the workplace.

When Smith isn’t making people laugh or fielding questions about managerial finance from students, he’s publishing academic research. His work has been in Finance Research Letters, Financial Accountability & Management, Financial Review, Journal of Wealth Management and Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting, and his most recent paper, “A New Look at Expected Stock Returns and Volatility,” was published in Critical Finance Review last year. 

Smith says his friends and colleagues are “fascinated” when they find out about his hobby because his academic and comedic personas are so different. Now that he has mastered the basics of improv, Smith is considering performing at local open mic nights to work on his comedy set and improve his physical comedy.

“It’s so much harder than I thought it would be, but it’s a blast,” Smith said. “It’s really fulfilling in all sorts of ways.”

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