Train operator Chiltern Railways is hiring two comedy experts to teach its staff how to be comedians. And I can honestly say without laughing that I think it’s a good idea to bring a lighter tone to our commutes.
Chiltern Railways is getting Green Wing writer Richard Preddy and Tony ‘Baldrick’ Robinson to teach train staff to be funny.
My first reaction was, ‘dear Lord’. Not everyone’s a comedian and I have to admit, I’m still scarred by Robinson’s ‘hilarious’ performance in a safety video for the Ministry of Defence, which could be described as groan inducing at best.
Guard against stress
But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Preddy stresses that ‘we aren’t trying to turn everyone into a comedian’, instead, it’s based on the idea that ‘comedy can help to alleviate [commuting] stress’.
I like this philosophy. Research shows that the words used can have a big effect on an audience, so delivering news in words that’ll make an impatient commuter audience more receptive seems like a good idea.
However, when people take on a job such as train guard, even the funniest person can become over-serious and, instead of relating to passengers, end up using generic, distant language.
But why does it happen? Apparently, it’s because many roles come with an expectation of how to behave. Think of greeters in shops who are bubbly regardless of how they feel, or how surly a bailiff can be.
A welcome change
I think that training staff to break this mental block and be more human is a good thing. The guards can’t control the problems they’re announcing but, as the saying goes, ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it’.
Some examples of phrases the comedy duo are giving to staff include:
‘If you’ve just bumped into someone who you barely know, you now have one hour and 30 minutes of awkward small talk.’
So if this comedy message gives the opportunity for an ice-breaker with a stranger you couldn’t mind talking to, where’s the harm in that?
You’ve got my attention
I’ve been commuting in London for far too long and have heard everything from weary drivers; ‘I’ve no idea why we’re being held here ladies and gents, your guess is as good as mine’, to matronly ones; ‘Yes, the lady holding the doors in the last carriage, everyone is waiting for you’, to the wistful; “Have a safe journey, God bless on this lovely day’.
Have you heard any out-of-the-ordinary train announcements? Do you think it’s a good idea for train staff to be taught to deliver more ‘human’ messages or should they keep it to minimum?