There are a lot of great posts and articles out there about things seasoned comedians have learned to help those who are newer to the form. I won’t repeat them here because a three-second Google search will do a much better job for you than I will.
I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you my Comedy No-Nos – those things that I have learned not to do or do differently as I embark on this weird, twisted journey.
Note: These are just my opinions. Nothing here is based in fact. Everything here could easily be qualified as being more indicative of some hidden self esteem problem than anything else which is fine because that’s probably true. However, for what it’s worth, these are the things I am committed to not doing anymore or rethinking if I do still engage. Take a look, and by all means – let me know what you think.
1. The Lure of Facebook
I am actually not a “Facebook person.” The only reason I joined Facebook was as an early suggestion to do so as a way to network, see what comedic opportunities there are and learn more about the industry.
While I think this was a good and noble suggestion, all the positive reasons to join Facebook have been overshadowed by a sinking feeling that I am definitely, without a doubt, the only living person to ever have stood in front of a microphone who has not opened for somebody big, played at a major venue, won a competition, starred in a movie, produced a one-man show or started his own talent night.
Rather than take in all this information as a way to further network, which I try to do from time to time, I feel more like I did in seventh grade after learning that everyone else was in the basement playing “Three Minutes in the Closet” while I was upstairs grabbing more cheese doodles and Sunny-D.
2. True Comedians Have No Limits
There are different schools of thoughts on this and I have listened to famous comedians that I respect wax prolific about the virtues of having no boundaries if one is to remain true to the form.
I get it. I also would like to stay married, not compromise future adult relationships with my children, keep a few friends, allow my parents to maintain a modicum of respect for me and not feel like I have to qualify every guilty pleasure I share in front of strangers every time I do it. I am an open book but for those I care about, I have learned that I might have to just settle for the Cliff Notes version once in a while.
3. Comedy School
Now before I get a host of emails as to why I am disparaging the whole art form of comedy by insinuating that one can master this without learning from the pros, let me just say – I don’t disagree with you. There are just many ways to get that education.
For me, comedy school turned out to be a no no. I took an “intermediate comedy class” only to have to explain myself to the teacher as to why I was “that bad” on my own volition. It was horrible – at one point, I was asked to do something that was my “safety” routine; something I could always rely on. After this exercise, I spent a month questioning my whole act and feeling as if I had no talent whatsoever.
I think Comedy School is a no-no if you are not clear on what it is you want to get out of it. This was my fault. I went in with one expectation and never really communicated it well enough to get out what I had hoped.
4. Differentiating between the “Comedy You” and the “Regular You”
Boy, did I learn this one the hard way. Whereas a lot of comedians rely on the people closest to them – friends, family, acquaintances – to get the word out, pump them up, come to shows and generally find interest in their comedic endeavors, I went the total opposite direction. For a long time, I did everything I could to not perform for or otherwise let on to family and friends what I was doing.
Why? Embarrassment. I held off until I felt that I would be “good enough” to be able to ward off any thinking that they might have that “Marc has really lost his mind this time.” Guess what? I lost my marbles a long time ago!
The only reason my parents found out was because I posted a video to a YouTube channel for a booker to see, not realizing that it was a channel my parents subscribed to years earlier. Turns out that family and friends have been my biggest supporters. (And the readers let out a collective “duh”.) I still can’t bring myself to ask them to go to bringer shows though it may happen one day.
5. The Open Mic
There isn’t a comic alive who doesn’t reference the importance of “hitting as many open mics” as possible. I understand this completely. The hours and hours of practice and filming and rewriting in my basement can’t make up for trying out new routines with a live audience.
The thing is that not all open mics are created equal. It was so refreshing to hear a very successful comedian in a recent class he spoke to explain that these open mics are not great determinants of how good of a comedian you are – for a lot of obvious reasons. Often, most of the audience members are other comics just focused on their routines and getting their time.
That being said, I think there is tremendous value in open mics and when you find the ones that provide a great network, honest feedback and a welcoming environment to master the craft, don’t let it go. But scouring Facebook for a list of every open mic available to you so you can practice is not the best use of your limited time, if you ask me (which you didn’t).
I am not opposed to open mics but just feel that they are all not created equally. I think that in terms of securing stage time, the networking part is really important; getting a group of other comedians that you can grow with, help you know which mics are constructive, rooms that are good to try and get time in, maybe even thinking of starting your own monthly mic. Having someone to meet with on a regular basis and work on writing, feedback and provide a sympathetic ear is also very helpful.