I didn’t know how to title this week’s article. ‘Pushing The Envelope’, ‘Straddling The Edge’, ‘Don’t Be A Huge Douche’. All those titles were on the table, so I guess when you get to the end of this you can just mentally implant the proper title yourself. Hey, sometimes I can’t do all the work for you.
What I wanted to talk about was comedy as activism. Where the jokes lead to an opinion that seeks to educate as much as entertain. There are many great comedians that have made a living doing just that. George Carlin, Bill Hicks, and Chris Rock are just a few of the comedians that embraced telling you their opinions as funny as possible. People like to hold these comedians up (especially Carlin and Hicks) as the pinnacle of this type of comedy and try to emulate them. Instead of getting the rave reviews that Carlin and Hicks got they get walk outs and silence. Why? Let’s discuss the process.
When many comics start performing for the first time, they have a tendency to do what their favorite comedian does. It’s like watching kids on the play ground do what their favorite athlete does. The thing is they have not gone through the years of perfecting the method in which to pull off that type of comedy effectively. What they tend to forget is that they are seeing the end result of years of trying to find their niche in the comedy world. George Carlin was not that type of comedian when he first started. He was a hippie dippie guy that did impressions and stuff. It was after many years of comedy that he found that voice and polished it with years of road work. You are a 20 something that is still on their parent’s insurance. You have some work to do.
There are barriers to doing this kind of comedy. If you are in your 20s and trying to do this no one is going to listen. Why? Because you don’t look convincing. Now, go back and look at Carlin and Hicks. What is the one thing they both share? They both look like life took a dump on them. You can’t walk up on stage in a polo and slacks and talk about how the banks are destroying America. You look like the banker! When an audience is looking at your performance they are looking at every inch even if they don’t know they are. Now, this hits a snag when you think about Chris Rock. He usually wears a suit when he is up there so how can he get away with it. Well, that is because the audience that sees him knows more of him then just what they see that one night. He has been in movies and has done other stuff so they take that image of Rock with them. You don’t have that cache.
Now, that isn’t the only thing holding you back. You have to think of how you are going to deliver you message. You just got started doing comedy. You don’t really have an act. You are still trying to figure out what works. So it may not be a great idea to start off your set talking about the ills of the world. See, Hicks and Carlin both worked hard as hell on perfecting the best way to tell what they wanted without alienating the audience. You can’t just walk up there and say, “You are all assholes!” and expect everyone to just go with it. Remember, to you this is your calling, to others this is their Thursday night out. You still have to entertain. That is what a lot of comedians tend to forget. If you are just pushing your anti-GMO message without a lick of funny then you are not a comedian you are the crazy uncle at the cook-out that no one wants to sit near. Your job, no matter what you feel, is to be funny. You have to find what makes you funny before you start pushing…the envelope (cue credits). A lot of comics forget that and they walk off the stage after a terrible set saying the audience wasn’t ready for their message. Maybe, or it is just as likely that you just screamed and berated a group of people for 5 minutes with nothing funny.
When I first started doing comedy, I wanted to be just like Chris Rock. Talk about the shadiness of the world while making people laugh. I learned very quickly that you have to have a ratio to make such things work. You can’t just preach and then move on to the next subject. You have to ensure that it is funny enough for the audience to swallow or they could turn on you. It is like giving medicine to a dog. Wrap it up in some ham and it goes down no problem.
I hope I didn’t discourage anyone from trying to do as the greats we talked about. That is not the intention of the article. The article, like everything I write, is just trying to give you one message. Be funny. If you can accomplish that everything else will likely fall into place.