My childhood dream was to be a standup comedian! [applause, deep bow, "Thank you very much!"] That’s my one joke standup routine. This has turned out to be more wishful thinking than a passionate motivated pursuit. I’ve watched my share of standup comics doing their thing, especially during my high school and college years. My favorites are the likes of Robin Williams, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld. Even Bill Cosby. Tim Allen not so much.
During my recent air travel on direcTV-equipped jetBlue, I got to see biographical sketches of Chris Rock (on Headliners and Legends[!?]) and Tim Allen (on Inside the Actor’s Studio), and Bill Cosby in action. I’d seen Robin and Seinfeld live and in person, plus watched Seinfeld’s Comedian and his TV show too. Both their comedy routines and life stories mesmerize me.
But could I tell you even one of their jokes? Nope! While regular visitors here can see that I take in tons of data along the lines of demographic tidbits and internet innovation, I’m not known for delivering compelling keynotes and impromptu speeches.
Here’s what I love about stand up comedians (and wish I could do it more naturally and easily):
- quick wit and keen observations:: I can do observation to some degree, but these standups can see hilarious moments of humor amidst every day stuff, and draw from their vast life experiences while thinking on their feet, some more than others. Granted, a standup comedy routine is well-practiced, honed, and retold many times to perfection, but these guys can also go for quite a while with no prepared materials, especially Robin Williams. I’d seen him do it time and again, even at the Google CES keynote. My liability: I don’t like to practice (telling the same thing over and over without losing enthusiasm, like it was the first time), I have a slow wit and dry sense of humor I’m told, and I can’t remember storytelling details. Or, as my old friend used to tell a story about joke-telling at a country club, some people just can’t tell jokes! It’s delivery, and it’s timing.
- confidence & no fear:: When doing standup in a room of adversaries challenging you to make them laugh, that’s plain intimidating. This isn’t to say that they don’t have fears and anxieties, but they hide it well enough and have enough bravado to get past it, as to appear and feel bold and confident to deliver the goods. Or, simply, they don’t take themselves so seriously. And then, for jokes that bomb, s/he’s gotta have nerves of steel to be resilient and bounce back. I trip myself up, feeling embarrassed and oversensitive about every reaction, feeling, and comment; more like Barney Fife (hmm, maybe I should just let my nervousness show more?). I don’t think anyone can be confident by pretending to be some character without being themselves and drawing from their life experiences. Recently I’ve read that these anxious feelings may never go away, so rely on tried-and-true techniques.
- audience response:: This isn’t so much about the comedian, but the reaction they can get from the audience. Not so much the applause, I like it when people respond to what I have to offer, but find that what I have is more of niche market thing that only conoisseurs appreciate and not the masses. I think I can come to terms with this one easier than the others.
I’d like to get to the place where I can just let myself go, speak (and write) an uninhibited voice, ranting and raving with my opinions and observations, and cut the self-editing and moderation. Not that’d I’d do a standup routine, but that I’d be more free and bold. One day, I’ll just have to take the plunge and go to comedy school and give it a shot! You can laugh at me or with me, long as you laugh