Originality & Creativity In Stand-Up Comedy
Part two of this video blog will discuss…
- Why comedians overestimate their own creativity and originality
- 4 Ways to Increase Your Originality
Why Comedians Overestimate Their Creativity & Originality
Though originality is important, many comedians tend to overestimate how original they are. As an expert in a field, whether it’s in stand-up comedy or another field, you make very fine distinctions. If you’re an expert in stand-up comedy then you’ve been around the industry and you can make very fine distinctions between two comedians. However, audience members are not experts. They’re novices as far as stand-up comedy is concerned. They know what they like, but they don’t necessarily know how to make tiny distinctions between different comedians.
I’m guessing that if you’ve spent a long time around stand-up comedy you can go to an open mic show and you can find different reasons why those comedians are different from one another. That perception is true, they are different, but only to an expert. The audience, as novices, are going to generalize a lot of those idea. An audience may look at a comedian and say “He’s a storyteller” while you’d say “He’s not just a storyteller… he tells his stories from a different perspective, he has a different person… he’s completely different from that storyteller.” But the audience doesn’t perceive those differences because they generalize ideas. They can make very general distinctions, but relative to an expert in stand-up comedy, they’re not going to be able to make those really fine distinctions.
As an expert, we tend to overestimate how original we are because we can see this differentiation. We can see that we’re different from another comedian because I perform my material like this. But what really matters is the audience’s perspective when it comes to originality. You have to look at the audience’s perspective and ask yourself “would an audience member really see me as original?” There’s a strong chance that, unless you’re highly original already, that the audience is generalizing your originality and not viewing you as nearly as creative or original as you perceive yourself to be. If you want to excel in stand-up comedy you have to be original. But it doesn’t matter how original you are to yourself, or even to other comedians. Obviously, it’s nice to be seen as an original to other comedians (it’d open you up to more bookings). But as far as a long-term perspective of growing your fan base is concerned, you really want to make sure that the audience, even with their general knowledge of stand-up comedy can still see you as someone that’s different from everyone else. Different is worth talking about.
4 Steps to Becoming A More Creative and Original Comedian
Take The Audience’s Perspective
You want ot look at your own material from the audience’s perspective and relate it back to the material or performances that other people are doing. If you didn’t have the expertise in stand-up comedy that you do… would you still pick yourself out of a lineup of 20 or 50 comedians? 100? 1000? Imagine a hypothetical where you could watch 1000 comedians on the same show. in a row. If Steve Martin were one of those comedians (in the 1970’s), then it wouldn’t matter how many other comedians you were watching on that night. What comedian is going to really stand out? It’s going to be comedians that were highly original during their performance… comedians like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, and a few others. It doesn’t matter how long the show was because the comedians that you’d remember are the ones that are the most highly original.
You want to look at your material from the audience’s perspective. Even if you didn’t know much about comedy you could still pick out Andy Kaufman from a lineup. You could still pick out Steve Martin from a lineup. They were amazingly original.
This is not to say that you have to be on the extreme of originality. You can be more like Demitri Martin. He was original, but didn’t completely shatter all of the stand up comedy rules. He was moderately original when compared to performers like Steve Martin and Andy Kaufman.
The point is, you want to take a novice’s perspective of stand-up comedy and ask yourself “Would I find me worth talking about? Could I pick myself out of the crowd?”
Don’t Use Step-By-Step Systems For Writing
Whether you’ve taken someone else’s writing course or you’ve developed your own writing system… both won’t benefit you as far as originality is concerned. If you want to be highly original, you have to give yourself the maximum amount of “wiggle room” to be original. You simply can’t do that through using a step-by-step system. The ability to become original comes from that grey area where you can freely explore writing and performing styles that are new and unique.
Layer Complexity Onto Your Material
The first time you write comedy material, it’s going to be very general. You’ll get the main idea across. What great comedians do is take that laugh and build on top of it. More novice comedians will get a laugh and leave it at that. Great comedians take the original laugh and learn how to build on it. They don’t just build on it to get more laughs, even though that is one of the main goals. Obviously, you want to get as much laughter on stage as possible. What they do is layer complexity onto their material. Once you get your general concept for a joke nailed down, you want to start layer these fun, new layers of complexity onto your material.
I like using the analogy of a movie to illustrate this point. A movie isn’t just 90 minutes of giving the facts of a story (“this girl loves this guy, but he loves this girl, etc.). You wouldn’t watch 90 minutes of that. But we will watch 90 minutes of an expert story with lots of layers of compexity. Think about allt he trouble movies go through to create the entire experience. There’s the audio, the videographers, the lighting. All of it is important to the overall experience of the story. You’d never watch a movie that tells you exactly what to expect. One where each character says exactly what they’re thinking. There has to be that complexity that makes audience members want to learn in a know more.
As a comedian you want to develop that complexity in your own material. It’s not just you waying the jokes out loud. You want to build complexity by layering more of your personality into your material… more contextual humor, etc.
Be Original In Both Writing And Performing
Don’t compartmentalize where you’re going to be creative. You want to be creative in your writing, yes, but also in your performing. Look at all the comedians out there that have highly original performance styles. Mitch Hedberg is the perfect example here because he’s both highly original in his performance as well as a one-liner comedian. If there’s any style of comedy where it’s difficult to be highly original… it’s got to be one-liners. There’s so little wiggle room in a one-liner. You have to drop jokes one after the other and get straight to the point. There’s not a lot of time to get your personality into the material. But even so, comedians like Hedberg and Steven Wright are able to develop their own original performance style, even though they’reusing this very contrained style of performing, these one-liners.
In what ways could you be more original as a performer? Can you change up the style of the actual performance in any way (not the writing)? Then also look at your originality in your writing. Not just what subjects am I tackling, but how am I tackling them? Can I tackle this subject from a completely new perspective that’s going to be fun?
So there are four ways you can increase your own originality. I discuss these topics in-depth (and a lot more topics) in the Creativity For Comedians Program. Originality needs to be a FOCUS in your career, not something that would be nice to have.
Learn more about the Creativity For Comedians Program