Seeking help for a stuck comedy career

Hi Dave – I’m not so sure stand-up is for me. I think I may be better suited for improv acting such as The Groundlings, Second City, etc… I’ve always been told I’m funny and animated but am not so sure how to focus or direct it. I am interested in the profession / business and think I would enjoy it. However, I feel stuck! How do I know if stand-up is for me? What advice do you have as to getting in touch with my creativity and directing it in the right way / format? Any advice would be very helpful, welcomed and appreciated. Thanks so much. Best – C.H.

I’m not sure!

Hey C.H. – The only way to find out what you’re best suited for, whether it’s stand-up, improvisation or anything for that matter, is to try it. And since a lot of people like the controlled environment of having a safety net, take a class. Check out local improvisation groups and see if they offer classes. Most do. You might really take to it – or you might not.

I know a lot of stand-ups that do both. But most (in my opinion) seem to stick mainly with the one that best suits their creativity and style of humor. In other words, some comics enjoy working with a team while others enjoy flying solo.

Similar to a lot of other creative and professional interests it doesn’t hurt to take a class. A good coach can give you insights into the craft and business aspects. You would also get experience actually doing improvisation or stand-up and can make the decision yourself on whether you’re into it or not.

And if you like it, another plus is that a good class should take time off the learning curve you’d be dealing with if you just went out on your own. Here’s what I mean…

What should I do?

Without ever taking a class you could still audition for an improv group. Your natural talent might be great, but you don’t know the “rules” of improvisation or have had any practice doing some of the standard games. You might learn some of this through the audition experience, but someone else who is already familiar with improvisation would have an edge at the audition.

A class would have prepared you in advance.

The same can be said about stand-up and creative writing. Some comedians have a natural ability to go on stage and be funny. Others have no idea what it’s really like to perform in front of an audience or how to create a comedy set. I’ve seen aspiring comedians come at it from both directions and it can be great fun to watch, pure misery – or a little of both.

For instance:

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When I was managing during the once a month auditions at the NYC Improv all you had to do to get on stage was draw a lottery number. No experience necessary. Usually there would be about 100 aspiring comedians lined up hoping to pick one of the 15 audition spots.

The lucky ones went on stage that night for three minutes.

The comedians with stage experience knew what they would do. It didn’t matter if they had taken a class or not because they had worked out a set in front of an audience prior to their big audition. But others had only thought about it and had never even tried stand-up comedy. They’d had no guidance, coaching or any audience response to learn if their material actually made people laugh. And in both cases, it was always obvious.

Here are two from the “no guidance” category that I’ll never forget…

One woman went on stage with a role of paper. This was the type of roll you’d put in a cash register to print out receipts. She had written jokes on the roll and would simply read them into the microphone. When they received no response from the audience (and none did except groans) she would rip that joke off the roll, toss it on the stage and say, “Well, that didn’t work.” It was misery to watch, but funny to talk about later.

An older guy showed up for his audition with a female mannequin dressed in sexy lingerie. I’m not kidding. He took the mannequin on stage, sat her on a stool and completely ignored it… or her… or whatever you want to call it… while he told a few unfunny jokes. He never referred to the mannequin once. When he was greeted with nothing but weird silence, he put the mannequin under his arm, walked off stage and headed towards Times Square – never to be seen again on the comedy scene.

Once again there were plenty of laughs when he was out of hearing range.

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Would they have done this if they had gone through a class or workshop? Well, you never know. But if they’d had any type of advice or guidance from someone that knows about the business or at least had some prior stage experience they probably would have made better choices about what to do for an important audition.

If you’re “stuck” or unsure about what’s right for you but have a desire to try, then take a class or a workshop to find out. A good one will help you tap into your creativity and give you decent insights into writing, performing and the business. It should also give you a push (kick in the butt) in the right direction to give it a prepared shot. Then you’ll know if it’s right for you. The bottom line is that it can’t hurt.

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