April 15, 2011 Nick Moore
I’ve been doing standup since, I think it was 2004.
Four Helpful Tips For Being A Stand-Up Comedian
Here are four helpful tips that I’ve compiled, to aid you, dear reader, in your quest to attempt to perfect what I assume is just the most recent in a series of failed pipe dreams for you.
Tip # 1: Be An Alcoholic With Attention Deficit Disorder
Most professional stand-ups have taken the time to cultivate both of these productive qualities. “Attention deficit disorder” is really just a fancy name for being bored by school. Since, as we all know, school is actually very boring, having attention deficit disorder is just the first step to the brutal honesty required of a good stand-up comedian.
My brother, the stand-up comedian Ben Moore, once opined that humor is simply the product of getting bored with the sentence that you are saying, before you’ve even finished saying it. Or, as Groucho Marx once observed, “All of my friends have had enemies, and all of my friends have had enemas, but when it comes to the enema of my enemy—oh, look: a pizza!”
Alcoholism probably doesn’t so much help you to be funny, as just being unhappy does. But alcoholism comes in handy while you’re busy being unhappy. It’s an added bonus. Sort of like that powder that they throw on you in jail.
Tip # 2: You Are The Joke
This brings us to an important distinction: comic actors get laughs by portraying characters whose flaws are exposed by the writing. Stand-up comics, on the other hand, traditionally, get laughs by exposing their actual personal flaws, by being brutally honest about what is really wrong with them. (e.g. Jon Stewart embarrasses himself; Stephen Colbert embarrasses his character.) Richard Pryor wouldn’t have had so many things to bravely find the humor in if he hadn’t been so screwed up. Of course, we laugh because, to some degree, we, the viewer, have the same problems. But, the comic has it worse, or will be more honest about it, or both.
I confess that I violate this rule. Like some other acts at stand-up clubs, I actually think of myself as playing a character. (He’s a poet, who doesn’t realize that his poems suck, and he’s always bitching about his girlfriend, who he can’t manage to stay together with.) Even so, my character’s problems are usually based on, and/or are exaggerations of, things that really bother me about myself. Or used to.
It’s true that stand-ups often appear to be making fun of traits in others, as opposed to traits in themselves. But even here, I think we are laughing, not at the offending third party, but at the comic’s own frustration, because we share it.
Tip # 3: Be Uncomfortable On Stage
My idea about stand-up comics is that they are writers who have hired themselves to act because nobody else will do it. Some people see stand-up as a way to have the experience of being on stage. These people are better suited to being actors. The reason to do stand-up is because you like writing jokes, and you want your jokes to be heard. I think of writers as introverts. I think of the domain of extroverts to be acting. So I see stand-up as the place where introverts go to act like extroverts, for the sake of their art. When I see someone who is coming from acting, and trying to do stand-up, I always look to see if, before going up for the first time, they appear to be about to involuntarily evacuate the contents of their bowels into their pants. If they do, then I’ll wink to myself, and I’ll whisper, “they just might make it.” (YouTube-search for the very first Conan O’Brien appearance as a late-night host, if you want to see what evacuating into one’s pants looks like on network television.)
Tip # 4: Be Born Funny
All the famous funny people, to whom I’ve seen the question directed, say that you are born a comedian or not. Though having an unhappy childhood certainly seems to help. Maybe the thing is, we all have had unhappy childhoods, but some of us react by writing jokes, and some of us react by laughing.
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