Let's stop the excuses and start getting shit done.
Published in January 2018 | by Free Standup NYC
Article by staff writer: Andrew Ian Bayroff
“...Any fool with steady hands and a working set of lungs can build up a house of cards
and then blow it down, but it takes a genius to make people laugh.”
Truer words have never been spoken, rather, written.
Stand up is as real an artform as you will find, one that seemingly has an endless amount of layers. It hands you the opportunity to strip away every layer you own and allows you to become completely naked on stage, bearing your soul for all to see, or, choose to don a character just as easily. To become entirely polar opposite than the daily you, someone who is not weighed down by your thoughts or beliefs. The applause, accolades, handshakes, and smiles are fuel for the soul. Getting booked, writing new jokes, getting to that “next step”, the feeling of having a “perfect” set is unmatched by anything I have encountered. Yet with this intrinsic reward system, stand up can also be horrifically painful, debilitating, and sometimes a lonely craft to pursue. The comments and questions that bounce around in some of our minds haunt us and can lead to extreme situations: “Why her, why him, what about me, why is this material not working?” These are just a taste of some queries that rattle around my head. Comics accept, and on some level, expect and embrace, the hot with the cold, the good with the bad, the ups with the downs. We continuously absorb the downside, because we hope, we believe, the applause is close behind.
Comics are a rare breed, don’t forget that. Most people you meet would shake their head vigorously and slowly back away from you with the look of fear in their eyes at the mere mention of going on stage and making a group of strangers laugh. Sure, they may be able to make Uncle Mike laugh with some family insider jokes about cousin Steve and his failed marriage, but that doesn’t count; the jokes, not the divorce. I’ve seen many people take the stage at an open mic and die a slow death, and this is after boasting they have amazing material. I never wished them to fail, but there’s a science, an approach, to joke writing and delivery. I hope those comics didn’t give up and at least a few more tries. There’s something gratifying, satisfying, joyous, and fulfilling about making a crowd of people you just met moments ago laugh. Truly enjoy themselves, for your entire set, about topics they can either attest to or simply find hilarious.
From nothing comes laughter.
“Stand-up comedy seems like a terrifying thing. Objectively. Before anyone has done it, it seems like one of the most frightening things you could conceive, and there's just no shortcut - you just have to do it.” - John Oliver
George Carlin was notorious for throwing away his material after each HBO comedy special and start anew. Although dramatic, let’s not be afraid to start a new direction for 2018 if the moment calls for it. Leave the premises, jokes, and narrative threads that aren’t clicking (just yet), and experiment. Pick a topic and start writing. Don’t worry about being funny, just write. We sometimes we find ourselves in ruts, a comedy pothole, and we’re not even aware of it. I sometimes live weeks on end inside the same comedy divot, not understanding, “What the fuck is going on here? Why is none of this working?” Make your time at mics, bar shows, and club shows count.
That said, let’s also remember comedy is not just about writing jokes. It’s performing, which can be expanded to a near bottomless choice of possibilities. I’m a staunch advocate of the Comedy Periphery: projects outside the realm of just shows. Meaning, we all need to augment and supplement our comedy career with what’s available, this can be through current technology, a partnership, or simply putting pen to paper. In 2018, dedicate yourself to add just two of the below to your comedy resume:
Road work to other cities/countries
Let’s be honest, performing and trying to get passed at a club is great exposure, but it can be a slow, arduous process, and you’re usually limited to whoever is watching you. Is the booker/owner present? Is the host paying attention? Is it a produced or house show? Clubs shows are amazing, and bar shows are freeing. But for true, ever-expanding exposure and attention, start creating, distributing, and uploading your own content consistently to the web, and you’ll have more eyeballs on you than you could ever imagine. Between Instagram, Twitter, Blogs, Vlogs, Facebook, personal websites, and the proper about of SEO (Site Engine Optimization), you’ll find a new, untapped market for people that have no idea you are their new favorite comic. Then again, Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube, so, I guess the web can work against humanity from time to time. But I digress...
“There's a lot of guys up there who like wearing a suit or try doing jokes that they think
will play to a certain crowd, or maybe get them corporate work. I've always written jokes
that I would want to hear. So, I'm trying to entertain myself more than anything.”
Trying to find your voice, and your “angle”, is a difficult task for some new comics. Hell, there are seasoned comics that are still searching for their keel on stage. Personally, I try not to write jokes that “just” get laughs on stage. I write, like Mr. Jefferies states, material that is true to me, that I find fun and interesting, offer a glimpse into the comic on stage, and hopefully, fingers crossed, the audience will follow me down the rabbit hole.
When you start writing you have to go with your gut, your experiences. Period. If you’re 19-year old male and all you know is masturbating, The Fast and The Furious, and your teachers, then go for it. For now, that’s what you know and what you feel comfortable writing about. You’ll grow and expand your experiences, and your material will (hopefully) mature. Now, if you also want to cater to the lowest common denominator and codify your material into surface level premises and punchlines, then cool, do that too. However, if you chose to pave your career with basic, cliche material, that doesn't showcase you as a performer, mature writing and delivery, please don’t be shocked when you don’t move passed local bar shows and open mics. That said, you have to start where you feel comfortable. It takes time to find a voice let alone the voice. Your style and what message you want to craft will follow as long as you put in the work.
Don’t forget what you do is difficult, strenuous, debilitating, rewarding, and above all, should be fun. So few people can do what we do, take that with you each and every time you hear your name, take the stage, and grab that mic.
What this all means is that you need to take advantage of this new year! I dare you to accept the opportunities and challenges 2018 has to offer, to build upon what is working, yet at the same time, freely change what hasn't been panning out. This includes your material, methodology, direction, time spent to the craft, or the shows/clubs/people you dedicated your time to, all in an effort to change or improve upon your forward momentum.
I wish everyone an amazing year of comedy!
Mark Anthiony Remirez
"You have to go through the falling down in order to learn to walk. It helps to know that you can survive it. That’s an education in itself."
- Carol Burnett