If you have reviewed any number of articles on this blog then you know that…
I am NOT a fan of what I can only describe as “conventional” approaches to developing and delivering a stand-up comedy routine that will actually work to generate laughs.
However I can say with great confidence that one of my greatest challenges as a stand-up educator has been specifically identifying why I strongly believe that most stand-up comedy resources — whether they be books or live instruction — are essentially worthless to the new comedian who wants to develop a stand-up comedy act that actually gets laughs.
So in this article I am going to make yet another attempt to do so, keeping this one particular aspect in mind:
Every single person who wants to become a comedian wants ACTIONABLE information that they can use and apply as quickly and effectively as possible to develop a stand-up comedy routine that gets the biggest laughs possible when they deliver it on stage.
Instead, they end up getting the process for dissecting a frog.
So let’s see if I can accurately explain why most “conventional” how to information on stand-up comedy fails in a big way…
There was a time when students in a biology class were tasked with dissecting a frog in order to identify various anatomical features (heart, lungs, liver, muscles, etc.).
Note: I suspect there has probably been some political movement for frog rights that has stopped this sort of educational practice. Still, this makes for a great analogy that I am compelled to use for educational purposes.
So here’s the deal:
It doesn’t matter how many times a student dissects and studies the various organs and physical aspects of a particular species of frog. It doesn’t matter how many different species of frog a student dissects and studies.
A student can know every single part of a dissected frog (or wide variety of frogs) and how those parts function better than they know the way home from school.
But no matter how many different frogs a person dissects and studies to understand the most finite details about how the different parts of a frog look and function, there’s still something they cannot do when the dissection process is completed which is:
They can’t bring a frog back to life once it has been dissected.
It would be far easier to unscramble eggs or un-toast toasted bread. Such is the case with most stand-up comedy educational offerings.
To be more clear, a person who wants to become a comedian can:
- Study the parts of a joke (set-up lines, punchlines, tag lines)
- Study joke formulas (similar word and phrasing structures used to generate laughs by other comedians)
- Study multiple examples of stand-up comedy jokes and bits that other comedians used to generate laughs
- Go through countless exercises supposedly designed to demonstrate how to fabricate “funny” from ideas, situations, concepts, etc. on paper that aren’t funny to begin with
And when all is said and done — what does the new comedian have after spending countless hours in this effort to learn how to develop and deliver a stand-up comedy routine that will actually get laughs on stage?
They end up with a dead frog – a stand-up comedy routine that really doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in a blast furnace of getting significant laughs when they take it to the stage.
I tell you this because when I started out as a comedian, I was that ravenous student of the “conventional” methods that all the so-called comedy experts had to offer.
My results? I was also left with a dead frog that I could not bring to life no matter how hard I tried.
Now you might be saying at this point:
“Yeah, yeah. This is all just marketing hype to sell your online course.”
And to that I would reply:
Don’t believe a single word I have said. Get your hands on 4 or 5 of the most popular how to books on stand-up comedy. Study what those have to offer until your nose falls off.
Note: If you get these books used from Amazon, you can get 4 or 5 of them for $30 or less — far less expensive than my online course for sure.
Once you have thoroughly studied any one or more of those resources, make sure that you get on stage and try to deliver a stand-up comedy routine using the information provided in those books (or from instruction provided from stand-up comedy classes for that matter).
But when you end up with a dead frog (a stand-up act that flops), don’t say you weren’t warned in advance.
At this juncture I should also make this perfectly clear:
The authors of stand-up comedy books and the teachers of stand-up comedy classes and workshops have done the very best they can possibly muster when it comes to trying to help others conquer the beast known as stand-up comedy.
I harbor no animus towards these folks and applaud them for trying to tackle what could be considered a very difficult task.
In other words, I need you to know that they are not trying to intentionally mislead anyone in order just to sell a book or a course. They have passion and commitment just as I do when it comes to stand-up comedy.
But the best comparison that I can make in this regard is the correlation with the now defunct medical procedure known as bloodletting.
Bloodletting was an accepted “conventional” medical procedure where a person was drained of “bad blood” in order to help them recover from illness. This procedure was a curative staple of the medical profession for two thousand years until it was discontinued in the 1800’s.
Volumes of information and data were written over hundreds of years about the science (science known at the time) and benefits of bloodletting as a curative measure, even though countless people died because of the procedure. It was a very widely accepted and acclaimed “standard practice” of the medical profession.
Did the practitioners of this process intend harm or malice? Not at all. They were working with the very best information they had at the time to try to help people who were ill.
Such is the case with authors of stand-up comedy how-to information. They have done the best they can with the knowledge and information they have to offer – no matter how many people croak on stage using the “standard and accepted” process that is largely ineffective.
All I can do at this point is hope that it doesn’t take two thousand years for people to realize that no matter how intensely someone dissects and studies a frog, in the end they are still going to end up with a dead frog.
What I can tell you with maximum certainty is this:
Everyone has a unique sense of humor, much like a fingerprint. The real key to success as a comedian is to know how to capture and deliver that already developed sense of humor on stage in the most efficient and effective way possible.
But that is not going to happen quickly, if at all if a new comedian is spinning their wheels trying to dissect somebody else’s frog.
Given a map with the wrong directions makes it difficult, if not impossible to arrive at the desired destination. ~ Anonymous
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