A Great Question From A Professional Musician About Becoming A Comedian

question about becoming a comedianHere’s an interesting comment I received with a great question at the end of the comment that I felt compelled to answer…

I’ve been a singer in a band for the last five years, played hundreds of gigs, in front of some pretty big audiences.

I rarely get properly nervous and any nerves I do get are usually a due to potential equipment failure, rather than a lack of faith in our ability.

After the bands next album, I’m thinking of trying my hand at stand up comedy. I have written comedy (though nowhere near the level I have in music) but never performed comedy.

I am not the most confident person when talking to people who don’t ‘get me’.

However, those who do, seem to think I’m really funny and people have said that I remind them of Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble. I’ve begun to gather together some ideas, and I think I can make a good stand up set – at least as good as some of the stand ups I’ve seen on TV.

I’m wondering, just how difficult is stand-up comedy? And does anybody have experience of how it compares to singing in a band?

Here’s my reply:

The question of whether stand-up comedy is difficult or not is relative — meaning to say — is it difficult as compared to what?

So in order to answer your question, I will compare it with playing in a band.

Most people who embark on a journey to play music professionally first have to learn how to play music in some form or fashion, much like learning the alphabet, then putting letters together to form words, then using those words to form sentences.

In other words, for the vast majority of people — they simply don’t pick up a musical instrument and begin playing at a professional level right from the start (it does happen but it is rare).

With music, a measure of physical skill is needed to master the instrument being played in order to produce pro level music.

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Then there is the challenge of producing “original” music given the use and coordination of the musical instruments involved in order to produce the desired “sound”.

Stand-up comedy is quite a bit different from this regard:

The sense of humor and resulting comedy talent a person uses to express their sense of humor is developed naturally as a result of countless interpersonal interactions with others.

In other words, it is not formally “learned” like playing music (or writing for that matter).

The physical component of comedy (the non-verbal expression aspect) is also naturally learned during the development of a person’s natural sense of humor and the way they express that sense of humor.

So what can make stand-up comedy “easier” is that unlike with music and the path to mastering an instrument to produce that music, a person’s comedy talent and skill is already developed and ready to use at a high level in a very short period of time.

What puts stand-up comedy into the “exceeding difficult” category is directly related to commonplace and almost universally accepted misconceptions, such as:

Misconception: You need to learn to develop the talent necessary to cause audiences to laugh loud and frequently during a stand-up comedy performance.

Comedy talent simply cannot be learned, just like you can’t learn to grow taller.

Most people who embark on taking a shot at stand-up comedy already have all the comedy talent they are going to have (or need) to do well on stage as a comedian.

The reality of the situation is that a comedian needs to learn how to select, structure and professional deliver the comedy talent they already have in the “tightest package” possible.

This can absolutely be learned along with gathering the stage experience needed to slay an audience.

Misconception: Writing and talking are exactly the same and are universally interchangeable to produce the desired laughter results.

While stand-up comedy material should be written down as a map for editing, refining and tightening that material — that is a completely different approach than attempting to use a literary style approach to fabricate “jokes” out of thin air (which is hugely flawed on a number of levels).

Misconception: Stand-up comedy material that will generate big laughs is solely dependent upon words and the structure of those words.

There’s not a guitarist on the planet who would attempt to produce pro level music for an audience using a guitar with just one string.

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Yet this is exactly what most new comedians attempt to do (figuratively speaking) in stand-up comedy, focusing solely on the “words” being used without regard to any other critical non-verbal communication attributes that significantly impact the words being used.

One attribute that both music and stand-up comedy have (on a pro level) is the mandatory requirement for extensive advanced preparation (commonly referred to as rehearsal) in order to deliver the highest level entertainment product possible.

This is motivation and discipline related aspect of entertainment as opposed to a talent related aspect.

But unlike most musicians, the vast majority of new comedians seriously drop the ball in this regard. You need only suffer through any comedy open mic night anywhere on the planet to see this for yourself.

So let’s go back to the original question you asked:

Is stand-up comedy difficult?

Here’s what I will tell you:

Trying to produce a high quality entertainment product for audience consumption is challenging and requires a measure of discipline, work and dedication whether it be as a musician or a comedian.

But relatively speaking, stand-up comedy has the potential to be a far easier and faster path to follow provided a talented person is armed with the right information on how to use, apply and deliver the comedy talent that they already have at their disposal to begin with.

3 Replies to “A Great Question From A Professional Musician About Becoming A Comedian”

  1. I believe you need “something to say” (i.e., an actual message that you really believe in) rather than merely jokes to tell. The confidence you are seeking will then be in your message itself and not in your ability to entertain, so then you won’t feel that you are under the microscope of a critical audience. When I use humour in public speaking, I focus more on my message than on the humour, which (hopefully) is a natural part of how you think and communicate anyway.

  2. Any kind of performing is a bonus. It gets you used to being in front of a crowd. Acting in a play is a great experience, especially if it’s a comedy. If you follow the rules of theater (speak loud and clear, let the laughter die down before continuing your lines, etc.), it will certainly help. But acting in a play, playing/singing in a band, teaching (standing in front of a group of people for a certain amount of time), can only help you so much.

    It’s like a person who cooks for a family of five people. Does that nightly experience prepare you to be a Master Chef who cooks gourmet meals for hundreds of people every night? In some ways, yes. In other ways, not really. They are two different things.

    My experience acting in plays, or singing in a choir, or being a public speaker (pastor) has only helped so much in my stand-up comedy pursuit. Steve’s course has helped me a lot. Plus, it’s just getting up on stage and doing it. (“it” = a well rehearsed act! Not just winging it!) Then analyzing what worked and what didn’t. It’s figuring out how you make people laugh in real life and how to tap into that on the stage!

  3. I’ve taught for years and years, I’ve done a lot of public speaking, and I was already comfortable in front of a crowd, with a microphone in my hand. And it shows on my first open mic. But comedic delivery really is more complicated than just telling jokes. I’ve got a ways to go.

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