If you were in a room with 20 accomplished comedians and asked the question:
Can stand-up comedy be learned?
I would be willing to bet that half (if not more) of them would say no, stand-up comedy cannot be learned.
And it would be at that point that I would have to respectfully disagree and here’s why:
The question “Can someone learn stand-up comedy?” is not a very good question to begin with and lends itself to a wide variety of potential answers which may or may not be helpful at all depending upon the context in which it is asked and the subsequent answers provided.
So let’s ask a different but related question…
Can someone learn to have comedy talent?
The answer to that question is NO.
The comedy talent anyone has (or lacks) is the result of a multitude of factors – upbringing, social environment, parental sense of humor, etc. These are just a very few of the factors that can influence an individual’s sense of humor development.
An individual’s sense of humor and resulting comedy talent is also the result of countless verbal interactions with literally thousands of people over the course of a persons lifetime.
Psychologists have determined that an individual has the sense of humor (their overall humorous perspective or point of view) by the time they reach the mid teens.
So if someone were asking the question “Can you learn stand-up comedy?” in an attempt to find out if someone can learn to have comedy talent that they don’t already possess, the answer to the question is no.
I should also mention that most people (not all) have all the comedy talent they need to do very well as a comedian if they simply knew how to develop and hone that comedy talent for the stage.
It is interesting to note that those who do have ample comedy talent to entertain audiences usually don’t use and apply the comedy talent they have in a way that is natural for them or in a way that capitalizes on all aspects of the comedy talent that they have.
Instead they try to fabricate scenarios and material that may be funny to an audience. Then they attempt to somehow “write in” the best punchlines that an audience might respond to.
Trying to “write” stand-up comedy material by “plucking funny from out of thin air” is not a natural or efficient application of one’s sense of humor. It certainly is not reflective of how a person developed their sense of humor and comedy talent, which had NOTHING to do with some sort of constant exchange of written notes to communicate with people in person over years and years.
They also tend to be completely unaware that “writing” is an entirely different form of communication than is speaking and expressing oneself. The mental process, execution and intended audience for the “written” word versus the spoken word is completely different.
Couple that with the absence of any sort of emotional or personal connection to fabricated stand-up comedy material — the new comedian greatly reduces their chances of generating laughter when they do hit the stage.
If you doubt what I am telling you in any capacity, simply sit through an entire comedy open mic night.
I’m telling you this from first hand experience. When I started in stand-up comedy, I tried to “write” my way to being funny on stage. The results were horrible (you will find a video of one of my very first awful performances in this Interactive Guide chapter).
And unfortunately, most people who attempt to teach stand-up comedy do so from the perspective that anyone can learn stand-up comedy whether they actually have comedy talent or not, much like anyone can learn to put together a model airplane in a “put peg A into slot B” approach.
That approach might be useful if one is trying to put together a bookshelf, but is not very practical or valuable when it comes to harnessing one’s individual sense of humor for the stand-up comedy arena.
And do let me add that just because an individual can entertain their friends with their sense of humor does not mean that they can entertain an audience of strangers (which is what professional comedians do). Check out this article for more details about what I am talking about.
While it is a little bit different for each individual comedian, stand-up comedy does have an identifiable structure and rhythm.
Professional headline comedians are able to generate an average of 4-6+ laughs per minute (18+ seconds of laughter) when they are performing, regardless of whether they are delivering 1-2 liner jokes or they are delivering topic based stand-up comedy material.
That is something that you can easily verify for yourself.
In order to reach those laughter levels, pro comedians use a minimal number of words to express themselves and use more than words alone to get the laughs they need.
From this perspective, asking the question “Can stand-up comedy be learned?” the answer is yes.
One of the reasons many comedians will tell you that stand-up comedy can’t be learned is because they developed their own stand-up comedy acts based primarily on blind trial and error.
And from that perspective it can be beyond difficult for them to try to explain to another comedian how they develop stand-up comedy that works them.
That’s called learning stand-up comedy the hardest way possible. And that is also one of the reasons I have the utmost respect and admiration for every comedian who has made headway in stand-up comedy.
Just keep this in mind as you explore what’s involved with becoming a comedian:
One of the reasons that this blog exists is to provide some meaningful context to the process of becoming a comedian.
Hopefully with this article, I have provided some insight regarding the question…
Can you learn stand-up comedy? The answer can be yes or no, depending upon the context the answer refers to.
And there is a hard way and a much easier way for a new comedian to capitalize on their already developed sense of humor if they know how to use and apply their talent right from the beginning.