One thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt:
Folks will only struggle as a comedian for so long before that adventure falls into “too hard” category and toss it aside. That’s too bad because most people have more than enough comedy talent to make good headway as a comedian.
So a question that some may ask is “Are new comedians predisposed to struggle needlessly?”
Knowing what I know now, I would have to say with few exceptions that they probably are.
Now before I jump into why I think that way, please note that stand-up comedy is a challenging endeavor – certainly much more so than meets the eye for the casual observer. However, I also believe that there are a number of significant obstacles that are actually self-generated.
Let me give you an example of what I am referring to. Let’s assume that two guys are in a competition to see who can play a 12 string guitar the best. One guy has a guitar with 12 strings. The other guy has a guitar with 1 string. Who would you predict to win?
While that may seem like a ridiculously easy choice to make, it actually represents figuratively what most new comedians do, which is reach for the 12 string guitar with one string. Why? It’s actually because of what appears to be rock solid logic – gathered from books, online research and watching TV.
Most people who make the decision to take a stab at stand-up comedy watch or read interviews online of professional comedians. Those comedians talk about jokes and bits they “wrote”. Stand-up comedy books can provide some painfully boring and sometimes incomprehensible means for “writing” jokes and other comedy material.
Everyone knows what “writing” is – it’s something that they learned how to do in school from a a very young age and continue to do throughout life. It’s a process of putting pen to paper or using a computer to use words and sentences to create paragraphs of opinions, ideas, information, etc.
Since most people are familiar with the process of writing, logically it should only take a few specific “writing techniques” in order for someone to be able to “write” funny jokes. That is if they even need that sort of thing at all, since their friends and family regular comment on how funny they are.
So armed with some jokes that they wrote and having had their friends read them to make sure those jokes were funny, they hit the stand-up comedy stage and start telling the jokes they wrote. And most of the time…
The audience simply sits there without laughing, much like the folks who are waiting at the DMV to get their driver’s license.
For some, it only takes one experience like that to keep a person from trying stand-up again. For others, it may take a half a dozen times of little or no audience laughter before they throw in towel. Still others are hell bent on continuing on no matter what, an resort to relying almost exclusively on blind trial error to eke out a joke here and there that works.
Now you might be saying to yourself that what I have described happens only to people who don’t really have comedy talent. And again I would say based on years of experience that MOST people have all the comedy talent they need to do well as a comedian.
Some could say that the people I am describing simply weren’t smart enough for stand-up comedy. With a few very rare exceptions, most of the people that I met during my stand-up comedy career were very smart.
So what gives? What gives is the predisposition of the new comedian to figuratively grab the 12 string guitar with only one string. In other words, they make what appears to be a solid and logical decision to try to “write” their way to being funny on stage, usually resulting in a less than optimal outcome (translation: they suck horribly on stage).
Here are some questions and comments that may help explain why the typical “joke writing” logic doesn’t produce the laughter results new comedians want:
Is there a difference between writing and talking? Considering that we don’t take a single class in school to learn how to talk (I’m not talking about speech class) but take years to learn how to “write”, I would say yes there is a significant difference between the two. Yet this doesn’t usually warrant any consideration in the process of “writing” stand-up comedy material.
Do comedians read their act to audiences? Do audiences read a comedians act? Seems kind of odd that neither of these scenarios happens since the focus seems to lie squarely on “writing” (which is to produce material that is designed by years of training to be read as opposed to being spoken).
Exception: Speeches can be read by the presenter and generate laughs. However rarely if ever does a speaker who is reading speeches ever attain the intensity and frequency of laughter professional comedians have proven they can generate.
When someone makes friends, family members or coworkers laugh, is it just the words alone that cause that to occur?
Let me ask this in a different way…
The last time you made someone laugh, did you stop during the conversation to “write” a humorous response then hand it to them to read? Is that what caused them to laugh?
Despite these observable occurrences (or absence of such) that are contradictory to the process of “writing” comedy material as it is perceived by most new comedians…
The vast majority of new comedians will still grab the guitar with just one string (figuratively speaking) because they are conditioned like one of Pavlov’s dogs to do so.
I know because I was one of those new comedians and let me tell you – sucking on stage and getting little or no laughs is not fun. I was predisposed to fail and nothing I did seemed to help the situation.
How anyone approaches their stand-up comedy adventure is strictly up to them. But if you want some additional details about the information I that provided in this article, you might want to check out the 5 free stand-up comedy lessons available now (no email address required for access).