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IAm Michael Lynn

Blogs Michael J. Lynn, CIA, CRMA, CPA May 22, 2024

Mike Lynn performed stand-up comedy in the late 1980s and early 1990s at the legendary Comic Strip comedy club in New York and Stand Up NY on Broadway. 

I have a very creative side — drawing, painting, and making people laugh. So, when I decided to major in accounting, that surprised my friends. The stereotypical CPA was not me, but financial success and working in a top profession would make my immigrant parents proud. Plus, the core courses came easy to me.   

My first job was at EY, with a clear career path. I enjoyed improving risk-based audit approaches, beyond just checking boxes. But after seven years there, I was proudest of the appreciation and laughs I got “roasting” colleagues at going-away parties or emceeing award ceremonies at golf outings.   

From Humor to Stand-Up

When I moved into internal auditing, I had more personal time. I focused on my two young sons and even took art classes. A colleague (quite funny herself) registered for a “history of baseball” class, aiming to meet men (she was 31, divorced and looking to meet Mr. Right — again). She asked me if that sounded like a good idea. I said, “Are you looking to meet nerds? Let me see that course catalogue.” I was delighted to find a class on improvisation and suggested we both take it.    

Our first assignment was a 5-minute routine on any topic. Mine was very well received. A week later, a classmate suggested I enter a national contest for the Funniest Accountant in America being held at the Comic Strip in New York. I submitted a tape and was selected to compete.    

It was late 1988, and stand-up comedy was in vogue. The contestants were all accountants, so I figured I had a chance, as I avoided using accounting jokes. My instincts were right, and I won the contest with all my own material! It felt great to be recognized but more so that the judges thought my material was original.  

I was invited back to compete the next year and things got even better. The manager of The Comic Strip, the renowned Lucien Hold who discovered Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld, suggested I perform some open mic nights there, an invitation-only opportunity. He thought I was good enough to give me an unsolicited chance, and that may be my biggest accomplishment and fondest memory.  

Until then, I had performed my routine in large venues to over 200 people, but it was in competitions or social events. This was my first time performing for a much smaller, “paying audience” and early in the week. It was a very different feel, and I sensed immediately I needed to “work” the tables and ad-lib more.   

Ironically, I knew I could ad-lib, but I was not mentally prepared to do that and quickly decided to stick to my set routine. While I got some decent laughs, it paled compared to performing for a larger audience. I regretted not interacting more with the tables, and my dreams were deflated.     

To really hone my craft, I needed to practice in small venues, several times a week, and for a few months. Concurrently, I started traveling internationally for work, and we had our third son. Fatherhood and work had to be my priorities, so I eventually decided to postpone my stand-up comedy ambitions and fill my creative needs in other ways.   

Comedy writing was an easier outlet, and I almost got Paramount to buy a “spec script” for the TV show, “Cheers,” but that’s another story!   

Humor and the Business World 

At work, I found that being able to use humor differentiated me and could even motivate people. Clients were more welcoming, my teams less stressed, and even executive committees enjoyed a good laugh now and then and paid more attention to my perspective.   

Throughout my career, finding the right level of humor has been a real unifier, even in different cultures. As an expat in Paris or London or while visiting global operational units, I found making people laugh and breaking the “auditor” stereotype made me more welcome. Some of my best audiences were colleagues in Japan, Australia, Italy, and France — I even made a few Germans laugh.   

Life Lessons Learned

Now at the twilight of my career, I have more time for comedy, and I’m even developing a course on “using humor in business” (self-deprecation always works, as well as spouse jokes).

If you enjoy auditing, but sometimes look for more meaning, don’t sacrifice your hidden talents or dreams. Carve time outside of work for what you are missing. I treasure my career in internal auditing, but I may not have survived or enjoyed the journey quite so much if I were unable to break through stereotypes and get a few laughs along the way — both within and outside of work!

Michael J. Lynn, CIA, CRMA, CPA

Michael Lynn is a member of The IIA’s North American Board, a member of the IIA–New York Chapter, an adjunct professor at St. John’s University, and owner of ARGO Consulting.