necessary thing that has been a long time in coming. There is no school
to learn the art of stand-up comedy. I've often compared stand-up
comedians to medicine men. Their knowledge was not written down in a
book. They passed their knowledge down from generation to generation,
the rest had to be figured out along the way. That is the way it works
in the world of stand-up comedy.
I've always believed in
sharing what I have learned. I made that attempt with a podcast called
The Mentorist but never felt like I was able to get the message out to
those who really needed it. This group reaches way more comedians than I
ever could and I couldn't be happier to be a part of it.
the subject of what to do about pre-show anxiety came up. There was
much discussion about how to deal with it, some I agreed with, others I
vehemently disagreed with. One of the suggestions that came up was
smoking a little pot.
I can't communicate how much I
disagree with that idea. In fact, I believe that if you need to use anything to get past your anxiety or, as they're called, "pre-show
jitters" you haven't done the work necessary to become a really good
The only way to be on the top of your game
is to be in in the right place mentally and emotionally when you walk
on that stage. Because if you're not, you're going to make a mistake. It
could be slight and mess up only one joke. Or it could be something
huge that ruins your entire set.
So anything that you
"require" to get your head "right" is not a good idea. A stand-up comic needs to
be able to do that on their own, without assistance. I used to like to
listen to a group of 5 songs before I went on stage. This may sound
extreme but I even quit doing that. Not because it had created a
problem, I just didn't want any kind of ritual before a show.
reason is a simple one ... stand-up comedy is an art form that is
totally dependent on the performer. There are no instruments (unless you
bring one with you) or visual aids required. Through the spoken word
you are conveying an idea that has only one purpose, to make someone
laugh; a very specific end result. It has a difficulty level that
exceeds just about everything else. It takes years to master, and the
only way to master it is trial and error.
Not to take
anything away from musicians, but as a comparison; a musician can
practice his song as long as necessary to make sure it is perfectly played. When that same musician decides the time is right to play
that song in front of a crowd it can be done with absolute perfection.
There is no guarantee that the crowd will like it, but you have a better
than average chance that it will be well received. Mostly because
people are conditioned to respond to a song at the end by clapping, and
in truth, are able to recognize (even if on a subconscious level) that a
song was well executed.
Compare that to a joke. You can
practice a joke as long as you like, but technically delivering it
correctly really isn't much help. The audience doesn't recognize if a
joke is structured correctly. They do not recognize that it was
delivered properly, because there is no such thing. A joke is about as
fluid as it gets. The audience will not give you a response just because you did it well. The first time you tell a joke, you're hoping for
is some sort of positive response.
Once you get that response, the
process of honing the joke starts. It's a process that varies; but it
involves figuring out the best way to tell the joke. This involves the
proper cadence, facial expression, voice volume, position on the stage,
how much body motion should be used, where you are looking and a number
of other things that all must combined to make the joke work. The process is literally done by trial and error.
Once the trial and error period is over, a stand-up comedian must then deal with the "audience
component" of a joke. No two audiences are the same. What will work for
one may not work for the next. It is up to the comic to determine what
the audience "vibe" is and then adjust the joke to work with that particular
crowd. This is not done by surveying the room before going on stage. This is done while on stage during the performance. To the point of using the response to material that is done earlier in the
set to decide whether or not the joke should
even be done.
The other component to all this is when
you do the material, it all needs to look like it's coming off the top
of your head. Even though as you tell each joke you are
evaluated how the joke was received and using that information to adjust
upcoming material, as well as editing your set list.
be able to do all this you must have a clear mind and the ability to
focus. You are not going to get that smoking marijuana, having a drink
or doing some sort of drug before a show. All of those things dull your
senses and modify your thought process. The same goes for rituals like
when I was listening to music before the show. I didn't have to, but I
did enjoy it. When I didn't have the chance, it didn't ruin anything for
me, but I did worry that it would eventual it would become too important to miss.
The downside on a ritual is that when it doesn't happen it can ruin
your mood, which will cause you to lose focus.
why it's so important to be in the same mental place every time you
step on stage. Because when you can start from the same place you will
already be well ahead of the game. It allows you to clearly see your
environment and focus on the adjustments you need to make as you perform
It's not easy and it doesn't happen right away. It can be a long journey, but it's well worth the effort.
my case, I am at an absolute calm as I walk on the stage. It gives me a
clarity that is hard to describe. I can only tell you that when I'm
performing I can feel the energy in the room and can use that energy to
guide me through my set. At times I feel superhuman. I am able to react
with very little thought because I do not have anything mentally getting
in the way.
It gives me confidence; which removes fear and anxiety. Truthfully, all I feel is joy in its purest
form. Something that is not easy to find ...