Hey Dave – I have a confession to make and was wondering if this is normal or not and if so, how to deal with it? Is there such a thing as having the blues in comedy? I guess you could call it the Comedy Blues. I mean, I’ve been told “no” before and had terrible sets in the past. But I strongly feel it has made me the keen comedian I am today. But still, if I may… help! - A.
Hey A. – Congratulations. You’re a creative artist. And I think you’re riding what comes with the territory – an emotional roller coaster. It can be a series of BIG ups and downs. That’s why a lot of people can’t deal with a career in the arts – whether it’s comedy, humorous speaking, acting, music, writing or too many others to list.
It’s not easy. If it was don’t you think more people would go for it? You have to admit that standing on stage getting laughs, greeting your fans after a show AND getting paid for it is a pretty cool gig. People in the audience see that and quite a few wish they could do it, but are afraid of rejection or looking foolish. But those who actually take a chance and really go for it don’t seem to have much of a choice. It’s what they have to do.
Okay, this might be more motivational today than instructional, but what the heck. I’m a creative guy so follow me on this one…
Let’s relate this to music. A lot of great songs are about HIGHS – while a lot of great songs are about LOWS. Let’s call this latter group blues songs since – (again) what the heck – that’s what they’re called anyway. Basically singin’ the blues is telling listeners nothing worth having or doing seems to come easy. Blues songs are usually about love, money or both – but in our case, let’s relate it to being creative.
To be more specific – going for a career as a comedian or humorous speaker. You want soooo bad to have something good happen, but there are often road blocks. Things never seem to move as fast as you want them to. Yeah, there are big HIGHS to be had – like passing an important audition, getting your first paid gig or winning a contest.
There are also big LOWS when those things don’t happen.
But you know what? Every working comic or speaker will tell you from experience that you’ll hear the word “no” a lot more often than you’ll hear “yes.” Especially in the beginning. It comes with the creative territory.
Do you want to stick around in this crazy biz long enough to (hopefully) have a career? Then you need to develop a thick skin along the way.
Let’s move from music and relate this to sports. The best relief pitchers in baseball are gonna tank (lose) a few games in the last inning during a long season. What makes them great and others basket cases or unemployed are that they can shake off the loss and try to win the next game. It’s a mindset they need to be born with or develop if they want to be successful in a competitive sport.
Being a comedian (we’ll include humorous speakers in this category for now) means you’re a creative artist in a competitive business. You put your creative work and talent on display to be judged by others – such as talent bookers and audiences. Some will like it – others won’t. It’s the nature of the biz. Hopefully your talent and perseverance will eventually lead to more likes than dislikes.
Likes are the highs and dislikes are the lows. The goal is to not get TOO high or TOO low. But it’s not easy when the results are based on your personal talent.
I remember working in NYC and hearing aspiring comics just breaking into the open-mic scene or at their first audition at The Improv saying they plan to have a sitcom within a year. I’m not lying about that – I’m serious and heard it said more than a few times. And I could look at the gang hanging around The NY Improv at that time – comics like Ray Romano, Dave Attell, Brett Butler and Larry David (before they made it) – and knew how hard they had been working at it for years. They didn’t get everything they auditioned for, but they had experienced the highs and the lows. There were no guarantees they would make it – but someone saying “no” wasn’t gonna stop them from continuing.
They were talented (duh!) but hadn’t scored sitcoms within their first year of doing comedy. The new comics at their first open-mics were setting themselves up for disappointment – big lows. They needed to be realistic and understand what to expect:
Comedy HIGHS and Comedy BLUES. It comes with the territory.
And to finish this thought, I don’t remember anyone getting a sitcom within a year of their first open-mic or Improv audition. But I remember the above mentioned comics coming to The Improv every night and paying their dues.
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Which leads me to another thought about riding these highs and lows – it’s called paying your dues. Just about everyone (unless you’re a Kardashian) has to go through it. I can think of at least three comics right now who do a bit called “it’s time to thin the herd,” and that’s how it works. Some people can’t take it and drop out of the biz because they can’t take the lows. Others have no choice and continue – with thicker skin.
But it’s important to realize that just continuing is no guarantee of success. Talent, business, connections and sometimes just plain luck are also involved.
Basically, there’s no straight answer to your question. It is what it is. Sometimes it’s good to take a break and regroup. Other times you put your head down and continue if that’s what you must do. For many creative artists there’s no choice in the matter.
Finally, here’s another creative thought…
Consider bringing these feelings (blues) into your comedy. You don’t have to talk about having “comedy blues” (blues singers go for the sad while comics go for the laughs). This may add a little more emotion and real life into your delivery and material. Audiences can always tell when someone is faking it. They can also tell when they’re really going for it and sharing something real about themselves.
Most good comics and speakers have that ability. They talk from experience because they’ve paid their dues by riding the creative roller coaster.
Remember – it’s a creative art. And being a creative artist is not easy.
Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.
For information about these books, comedy workshops at The Cleveland Improv, and private coaching for comedians and speakers in person, by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com
Copyright 2013 – North Shore Publishing