How Your Comfort Zone Is Hurting Your Comedy

I have heard comics that haven’t been doing it that long, talk about how they will only go to certain places because the reception is better.  I will tell you why that is a terrible idea.

Most of the time, you hear this from comedians that haven’t been doing it that long and obviously haven’t been getting paid much to perform comedy.  The reasons these comedians want to only perform in front of favorable crowds are many.  Confidence is the biggest reason.  It builds up your confidence to be in front of only audiences that like you before you uttered a word.  The problem with that is you have no real idea if what you are saying is really funny, or the result of an “easy” crowd.  If the demographic of the audience swings in your favor, you could be allowed to do things on stage that other audiences may not accept.  If you tell a lot of jokes about weed in front of a crowd of weed lovers, they may love the material no matter how much it really sucks. This may be great for your ego, but not for your growth as a comedian.

If it isn’t confidence that drives younger comics to certain rooms, then its content.  A lot of younger comics are into certain material that may not ring true in certain places. So they go to the places where they can say what they want.  Here is the issue with that:  How do you grow?  If you are a young comedian, you haven’t figured out what you really want to do on stage.  If you are already pigeon holing yourself into “shock comedian” then it could be hard to get out of that when you ultimately decide that wasn’t working for you.  I know a comedian that was as profane as he could be on stage.  He was so bad he had to put on his own shows because no one would hire him.  After about 4 years of that, his material started to change.  I asked him if it was an attempt to get more work and he told me that it was just a natural progression, that the older he got, the way he saw the world changed.  He was still not getting the work he should though because he spent so long clinging to what he thought was his “stuff”.  Don’t limit yourself before you get a chance to grow.

One of the laziest reasons I have seen for why a comedian won’t do a certain room is because the room in question is “harder”.  In Spokane we have a couple of stages like that.  We have the Checkerboard, which is sparse on some nights, and we have Chan’s that has an older, more rowdy, audience.  Comics will avoid these rooms like the plague.  The reason is they are not willing to try to work for that laugh.  Every town has rooms that are great and some that are a little rougher.  The thing is, the rougher rooms help make the easy rooms even easier.  It helps you navigate a crowd and figure out what works most of the time and what doesn’t.  It helps you develop a backbone.  If you bomb in a bad room it brings to light what needs work in your act.  Is it too wordy?  Are you too profane?  Do you need to act out some bits more?  Tough rooms help you see that.

When young comedians ask me what I think they should be doing, I tell them they should be writing what they think is funny at that time and to get to as many stages as possible.  That way you can speed up your growth as a comedian, and you can learn how to tackle many different environments.  If you want to only perform in front of an “alt” crowd, or a “redneck” crowd then I guess go for that.  The thing is that if you are looking to comedy as a career you will not be given your choice of venue very often.  You will have to do a cleaner show and you will have to do a bar and you will have to do a theater.  Do you want to cut out potential money because you wanted to keep your ego in check?

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