February 28, 2010
Stress relief: Seattle resident Bill Bernat's one-man show pokes fun at job stress
Like almost every employee who’s turned in a timecard, Bill Bernat knows about workplace stress. During the first three days at what turned out to be his most stressful job, as a database manager for a dot-com, the one person he supervised quit “because his doctor said the stress was too intense.”
Bernat has a less-stressful job as a Web publisher these days, so he can laugh about his old job now. And he wants others to laugh with him. Seattle resident Bernat has turned job-stress research, his years of workplace angst and his longtime experience as a comedy writer and performer into a monthly show at the JewelBox Theater.
“That’s kind of my angle,” Bernat says of his “Job Stress Comedy Seminar.” “I can’t actually cure your job stress, but I can help you laugh.”
Job Stress Comedy Seminar
8 p.m. March 5 at the JewelBox Theater at the Rendezvous, 2322 Second Ave., Seattle. Additional dates and more info at jobstresscomedy.com.
Making light of job stress has a universal appeal, Bernat says, but some subjects are just too painful to touch. “I haven’t really grappled with the harshness of being laid off and looking for work,” he says. “I feel bad for people who have to do that, and I’m a little bit hesitant to make light of that.”
The workplace, however, offers a wealth of material. “There are so many things about the office that people really identify with, and that makes it easier to find funny stuff,” Bernat says. “The basic corporate culture -- the things we do, the way we react -- is silly.”
Bernat actually is getting semiserious about the silly stuff: He’s partnering with a psychologist, Dr. Bonny Shapin, to write a book on the topic. She’ll provide facts and advice, and he’ll fling the funny.
The root cause of job stress is typically interpersonal relationships, Bernat says. “You’re just dealing with human nature, only the difference is that in your regular life you can choose who you hang out with. At work, you’ve got to stay with those people unless you’re willing to leave the job, which, especially in these times, is not a realistic option.”
Money magazine and payscale.com teamed up in October to offer this list of the 10 least-stressful jobs:
1. Education/training consultant
2. Physical therapist
3. College professor
4. Software developer
5. Technical writer
6. Telecommunications network engineer
7. Speech-language pathologist
8. Software architect
9. Occupational therapist
10. Civil engineer
The most important interpersonal relationship at work is the one with the boss, he says. “They have the power to make your life good or bad in terms of how clearly they are laying out what you need to do to succeed in your job.”
Bernat has no complaints about his current boss — she was even at his debut job-stress show last August. “She was happy with it,” he says.
He’s hoping audiences will like the show, too. “I have not had any reports of people being stressed out by it, but I have had several reports of it de-stressing people.”
Bernat performed a version of the show in August to a sold-out audience at the JewelBox. He’s tweaked it to punch up the bits that worked, such as mock HR announcements and e-mail etiquette tips from Darth Vader.
He also introduces a parallel universe where people need job stress to survive. Its superheroes include the Meanderer, who has the power to conduct five minutes’ worth of important company business in two 90-minute meetings.
“There’s a lot of energy from me and a lot of different tones and voices that I’ll take, but it really is one guy with a mic (and) PowerPoint,” says Bernat.
He bills himself as a “microvational” speaker. “I actually have a little bit to offer, but I’m not quite an expert. So I thought, ‘Microvational speaker is good, because then I could say that I will motivate people -- but only a little bit.’”
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