5 Biggest Obstacles in getting into Comedy.

Comedy is hard and unforgiving

Patton Oswalt, master of joke writing
Patton Oswalt, master of joke writing

Doing any form of comedy is hard. If you're a funny person, you can always make people at a party laugh, it's easy to do. However, transferring that to stage is very tricky. This fact alone ends up deterring a lot of people from pursuing it after their first few times on stage. But, if you know some of what you're up against before you ever even try, then you'll be ahead of the game.

The list of obstacles I'm going to give you is not necessarily fact nor is it proven for every person. I'm sure that you all know each person's life and obstacles and successes are relative to that one person; no one journey is the exact same as another. With that caveat out and in the open, allow me to give you what I believe to be common obstacles, based on my own experience, from doing stand up comedy.

1. You don't make any money. There is NOT a lot of money to be had in stand up until you become a superstar. Up to that point, after a few years of doing stand up and making all of the connections you can touring all over the country, then MAYBE you'll make enough to support yourself solely from doing stand up. However, the people able to do this are few and far between and are 100% dedicated to the art and craft of stand up SO much that being poor doesn't matter to them.

2. Stand-Up comedy can be VERY discouraging. As I mentioned above, you're a funny person. You make people at parties fall down laughing all around you. The bodies of convulsing laughers are left in your wake wherever you may venture. However, turn that joke about dogs and peanut butter into a stand-up joke and tell it naturally to a crowd of 25 people in a smokey bar where people showed up for beer, not for you: discouraging. This is one of the biggest hurdles. Your friends laugh at you, strangers may not. And then you go home and beat the hell out of yourself because you're not actually a funny person and you're making a huge mistake and why would you ever think that you could do this...
I just want to die...
You can't let this defeat you. You have to realize that you're not up there to make the audience laugh, you're up there because you enjoy telling jokes. This was one of the biggest breakthroughs I had when I was doing stand-up. It was the most liberating feeling to try a new joke and get no laughs and for me to NOT care. I just enjoyed telling the joke.

The fact of the matter is that every audience is going to be different. Every time you get on stage it's going to be different. You're different, they're different, it's a holiday, it's late at night, it's early at night. All of these are factors that impact the outcome of your performance and the ability of the audience to laugh at you. With so much both against you and for you, all at the same time, how can you EVER really blame yourself fully?

3. Stand-Up is both rehearsed. I think this is a hard thing for new stand-ups to swallow. Almost all stand-up is rehearsed. R.E.H.E.A.R.S.E.D. The stand-ups you see on TV, they have done those jokes, in that order for years. They're not coming up with new material off the cuff, they just have it down SO well that it comes across that way. They have their set so rehearsed that many times, if they stumble over a word, it's on purpose. Because one time they accidentally did that at a show and it got such a huge response that they decided to incorporate it into their act.

Maybe a better way to state the above reason is that successful Stand-up comedians have been doing stand up for SO long, that they've discovered their on-stage persona and are now, therefore, comfortable on stage. So, they can memorize their set and repeat these same lines over and over and over again but, they know their selves so well, that it seems as if they're interacting with you naturally, as if they are at a party, just shooting the shit with you. This is one of the hardest things to conquer because there is no way to conquer it except to get up on stage, at an open mic, a few times a week, and just slowly and naturally become comfortable delivering the jokes as "you". This is the reason I stopped doing stand-up, I became frustrated at my inability to fully be myself on stage. I was comfortable being on stage, but not being myself, and there's a difference.

4. Stand-up requires improvisation. I know I said above that Stand-up requires rehearsal, and it does; however, an unfortunate but awesome thing about stand-up is that sometimes there are douchebags in the audience that LOVE to yell out their opinions. You can not ignore them, because the audience WANTS you to dress them down. The audience is BEGGING you to make fun of them, dying to hear you put them in your place and defend yourself. If you FAIL to do this, they turn on you. They won't believe you're worth listening to. The illusion that you're all at a party and the comedian is a good friend of yours just making you laugh, that illusion is shattered if you can't address a heckler. So, you have to be able to improvise and accommodate the situation.

I was doing a set at the Comedy Store and a GIANT black man stood up and yelled out, "Napoleon Dynamite!" Now, I was not doing a joke about Napoleon, I was doing a joke about my home state of Texas. However, you can't let that hang there, you have to address this giant man-baby or risk losing the audience. My solution, I just stared at him. I turned away from the entire audience and stared at him, mouth agape, until every last person was laughing. And then I asked him what he meant and why he was so stupid to confuse a movie character with a U.S. State. And THEN, I asked the audience if they'd like to hear my next joke told as Napoleon Dynamite, which, of course, they did. SO, that's what I did. And they laughed. It's a very tough juggling act to keep the ball of being yourself but telling memorized pre-written content in an off-the-cuff manner all while being prepared to improvise to A-holes in the audience. THIS fact can be a deterrent and is one of the biggest reasons people never even get on stage. 

5. Writing jokes can be hard. Writing jokes in your voice and then rehearsing them and getting them out the way you heard it in your head...that's a skill that takes time to hone. So, perhaps the better reason to put here is that writing jokes takes patience. Maybe better than that, getting laughs on jokes that you are trying to write takes patience.

You may write a joke, rehearse it in your mirror, feel confident with it and then hit an open mic and get no laughter. So, then, back to the drawing board. Why didn't this "funny" joke get any laughs? And then you notice that you didn't exaggerate the joke enough, of you missed a beat, or you escalated the joke poorly. OR, perhaps it was in your performance and you have to revamp your delivery. I have friends that have been trying the same joke for over a year, but it's changed SO much over time that it's almost not the same joke. It's gotten better each time it's told because each performance informs their writing. It's almost like going in to a lab and testing out formulas until you get it write. I believe it was Feynmann that said something to the effect of, "A genius is someone that's made all the mistakes". I'm sure I'm getting that quote wrong and anyone reading this, if you know the quote, please correct me. However, for our purposes here, "A comedic genius is someone that's told their joke all the wrong ways."

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