Monday, 10 February 2014

What I do

Sometimes, I get the feeling that some comedians think that they have magic powers.

This is understandable. After all, with just their own of ideas, words and movements they are able to make hundreds of strangers make involuntary noises.  Most comedians have developed this skill without any kind of formal training. There is no 'certificate'.  The usual way to develop this 'power' is that someone has a desire to try stand-up comedy, they try it, they like it, they stick with it.  The learning is all 'on the job' and individual.

This feeds into the widely held (and, in my opinion, false) belief that the ability to perform stand-up comedy is something which you are born with. If you are religious, then you could attribute it to a gift from the all powerful creator, if you are not, then perhaps it's some kind of evolved trait for which only the lucky chosen few have the mutated gene (science is yet to locate such a gene).

This is hooey. Stand-up is such a contrived 'craft', that although some people are born (or are brought up to have) more confidence, more charisma and/or an ability to see the world differently from others - stand-ups aren't born.  If this was so, then every comedian would be as good as they'd ever be at their first gig. This is demonstrably not the case.  Some people have a head start, and everyone progresses at different rates, but the ability to perform stand-up effectively is a learnt trait.  

If something can be learnt, then it stands to reason that it can be taught.

I, for the want of a better word, 'teach' stand-up to participants of courses and workshops, in addition to my work as a stand-up comedian. We who fulfill this role (for which there is demand) are occasionally sneered upon by other stand-up comedians, who view us as snake-oil salesmen, conning a paying customer into believing that there's some magical elixir that can turn them into white hot balls of pure entertainment.

We don't, and there isn't.

I can't speak for every stand-up course that exists, I can only defend my own based on facts, I'm sure some are better than others - but as all courses tend to get lumped together when being criticised, this argument is my defense of courses as a whole - with examples from my own experience.

I am completely upfront with all my course participants about what the course can do for them (show them how to think creatively, give them confidence etc) and what it can't (make them funny).  The people who sign up for stand-up courses usually already have a sense of humour, and anyone with a sense of humour and a willingness to put the work in can turn this trait into a stand-up act.

I am honest about my standing within the comedy world. I think my comedy anoraking and interest in the mechanics is a more important qualification than any gigs I may or may not have done.  I have never closed the Comedy Store, but then I'm not teaching people to close the Comedy Store. I'm showing them how to put together their first 5 minutes, and then how to get up and actually do it. I believe I am qualified to do that.

A comedian who I admire posted a sarcastic comment on social media recently about how 'all the best comedians teach courses'. As much as this comedian makes me laugh, I am stunned that it has not occurred to them that perhaps performing stand-up as an individual and teaching may be different, if not mutually exclusive, talents.

Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were all mediocre-at-best footballers; Pele, Bobby Moore and Diego Maradonna were mediocre-at-best managers. (Obviously, Franz Beckebauer ruins this analogy.)

I find showing 'the secrets' of stand-up to others to be an incredibly fulfilling experience. In 3 and a half years, I'm yet to hear a complaint from any course participant, and I've been overwhelmed by the kind compliments course alumni pay me.

Most of the people who do the courses I run, aren't particularly interested in becoming stand-ups themselves, rather they want to learn new skills that they can use in their real lives.

A few former course attendees are doing ok, gong show wins here and there, some getting a bit of paid work, but to me the 'success' stories are the woman who got a promotion, because she used some of the skills she'd learnt on the course when she gave a presentation in the interview, or the guy who took his new found confidence and went off to New York to study with the Upright Citizen's Brigade.

The truth is more nuanced than 'comedy courses = bad'.

No comments:

Post a Comment