‘In San Francisco, humour is very PC now’

Wild Geese: Author, speaker and entrepreneur David Nihill is the founder of the FunnyBizz conference

From Firhouse to San Francisco, David Nihill's career has seen him work in 12 countries and learn several languages along the way.

Although he began his studies in mechanical engineering at Tallaght IT in 2001, Nihill decided to to switch to commerce in UCD. Upon completion of his BComm, he went on to do a masters in International Business Management in 2004.

"I decided to go to the US on the Enterprise Ireland graduate programme, which allowed me to get a diplomatic visa. There were numerous options and opportunities for graduates at that time."

His first job involved organising a visit for then president Mary McAleese to Seattle and Vancouver in 2005.


“I also worked with early stage companies developing US-focused marketing strategies and building new distribution channels.”

But Nihill soon got itchy feet and they took him to the Caribbean to work on a whale shark research boat.

"I kind of blagged it. I didn't have much experience, but there are worse jobs than bringing tourists to and from the Bay Islands off Honduras. "

Back on dry land, Nihill took a job in mergers and acquisitions with PricewaterhouseCooper in Bogota, Colombia in 2007. "It was great because it came with free Spanish lessons," he recalls.

A position as director of operations and development with private education company Education First followed.

“It’s the largest private education company in the world and I either led or participated in troubleshooting, business development, expansion, acquisition and marketing.”

He worked in the US, the UK, the UAE, Brazil and China on contracts with the Hult Business School, the world's largest graduate business school and an affiliate of EF.

Along the way, Nihill picked up Chinese and Portuguese, building up an impressive portfolio of languages.

“I was in San Francisco in 2013 looking after the construction of a new head office campus and language centre facilities for the Hult Business School, when I decided to stay in the Bay Area.”

Public speakers

His career took an unexpected turn, when he was organising a charity event for spinal causes for a friend.

“Like many people, I hated the idea of getting up on stage and talking in front of a crowd, let alone be funny, but I knew that I’d have to do it.”

So to prepare himself, he studied comedians and how they captivated an audience.

“Comedians are the best public speakers in the world. The brain doesn’t pay attention to boring things, and good comedians, know it’s not just in the delivery, but the content and technique too.”

Not wanting to shy from his obligations, Nihill embraced his fears of public speaking and embarked on a one-year crash course in stand-up comedy.

He was so empowered after overcoming stage fright, that he wrote a book – Do You Talk Funny? –to teach others how to learn the key principles of stand-up comedy and to apply them to speaking engagements and presentations.

“At first I self published, but then the book was picked up by a publisher,” he says.

“In San Francisco, there are a lot of charismatic speakers, especially the big tech players, and they all use comedy, but not everyone is a natural. In fact, lots of presentations are pretty dull, so I wanted to teach people that you can bring humour into any speech or presentation. It’s never out of place.”

Not content with just publishing a book about comedy, Nihill launched FunnyBizz, a community “where business meets humour to help rid the world of boring content” in 2014.

He also created the FunnyBizz conference in San Francisco.

“We bring leading thinkers from the seemingly disparate worlds of comedy and business together to help the world stop synergising its value adds and learn to find it’s funny.”

Nihill says Irish people are naturally funnier, because they have great content – an imperative factor in engaging an audience.

“In San Francisco, humour is very PC now. People don’t really mingle in pubs or clubs anymore,” Nihill says. “Connections, be they work-related or otherwise, occur outdoors when people go rollerblading, kitesurfing, hiking or skiing,’ he says.

When he first moved to San Francisco, he couldn’t get over the fact that people rang each other at 7am on a Saturday morning to go kitesurfing.

“But now I’m the dude who calls people at 7am to go kitesurfing on a Saturday morning – under the Golden Gate bridge.”

Foreign voices

If you’re Irish and you want to do business, sports is a good place to start, he suggests.

“I do miss things about Ireland when I’m here. I like the idea that there are so many nationalities in Ireland now, you hear so many foreign voices. I love hearing the sounds of different languages when I’m out and about.”

But Nihill says, San Francisco is the land of milk and honey.

“Its great. There’s a great Irish community here still and I’m going to get them together for an Irish comedy show I’m organising this year.”

Nihill says, the city is always open for business regardless, if you have the right idea and attitude, despite visa restrictions.

“The tech scene is dynamic and if you want to work for it, San Francisco has more opportunities than anywhere. But when it comes to renting, have a plan when you come over. The rental market makes Ireland look cheap.”