This year has been the year of “get-up and do it” for me, so as a natural play on puns, I decided to do stand-up comedy for the very first time.
I’ve always been funny – or at least that’s what they tell me—and have been meaning to do it ever since I can remember. I competed on my high school forensics team in events called Humorous Interpretation and Creative Storytelling: the former was a scripted 10 minute scene performed with characters I’d had time to practice, the latter was improv and based on prompts I’d pulled out of a hat minutes before presenting. The objective of both was to stand in front of an audience and judges and make them laugh. All I had to do was be witty and hilarious enough to excel to the next round and win the competition…
After a successful run that culminated in State competitions, I told myself and anyone that asked or encouraged me that I was “going to stand-up in college.” Did I? Nope. I did keep my ego satisfied by telling myself not to worry too much – I’d for sure start standup when I moved to LA…
When 2013 arrived, I made the pilgrimage west and quenched my thirst by going to a few comedy shows – but nothing consistent enough for anything to come of it. Once in the audience, I’d catch myself envious of the comedians thinking, “I can do that,” and fantasize about jumping on stage when a slot suddenly opened. But the real punchline was that it took me 2.5 years of living in Los Angeles with my pent-up dreams to finally drag myself to an open-mic and perform a routine.
The changing point and final nudge onto the path that I’ve always wanted to be on came from a variety of sources. Any one of my friends could tell you it’s not that I lacked the balls to perform –put me in any social situation and I’ll break the ice with the ease of a polar bear. In fact, I’d practice my jokes on total strangers anywhere from a party to the check-out stand at Trader Joes. I love being in the spotlight –so why did I shy away from finding one? As someone who prides herself as being a self-starter in other aspects of my life and career, why wasn’t I pursing my passion?
The truth was, I was my own biggest creative roadblock because I was afraid…and admitting that to myself was the challenge. The courage to be creative –whether specific to standup, acting, writing, producing, etc— is the first hurdle to overcome. The second, is getting yourself to a good enough place to where you feel comfortable (ahem, never) jumping into the deep end. For me, it took a lot of soul searching, research, conversations, and finally just making the time to identify and outline my excuses to get to the bottom of it. The vulnerability of going out and sucking was a given, but I forced myself to dig deeper and define the other problems on paper, so that I could be forced to solve them.
I won’t bore you with my issues, but here’s a list of tips and recommendations you can apply to push past your own creative inhibitions, and get yourself to take the plunge. Remember – the work still needs to be done. This will just help you get to a place where you can finally START.
- Set a clear and defined goal to work towards, and give yourself a deadline: I told myself that I wanted to perform at an open mic, and it was going to happen the 3rd week of February. Didn’t matter where it was or if I felt ready enough when the time came. I declared when it would be, and found a list of open mics around LA that I could sign-up the week-of. That way, I couldn’t blame it on something coming up with work because there were SO many places I could choose from. I made it known to the world that it was happening (to give myself a level of accountability) and chose a weekly “joke-writing” day to keep myself on track.
- Employ the Buddy System: I’d always tell myself “I’m only funny in group situations,” until I realized that was bullshit. You’re either funny or you’re not – it’s not a light switch you can turn on and off. However, it does come easier for me to make jokes when others are there and I can bounce it around. Luckily – so did my friend Joe. Together we decided that we were going to meet on Sunday’s to write, and perform the 3rd week of February like I mentioned above. Double-accountability, but double the fun. We’d meet in-person, but check-in throughout the week over text. It’s so much easier to develop ideas, structure, transitions, punchlines and everything else when you’re not alone. Plus, that’s one more person to laugh at your jokes. =)
- Research, research, research: Knowledge is everything. Leading up to my performance, I became a sponge absorbing everything I could about comedy, standup, writing, self-starting, and getting past the creative resistance I’d built up for myself. I started watching Netflix specials and paying attention to how jokes were set-up, how they’d transition, and how they maintained their style throughout the set. I picked up a book, The War of Art, and subscribed to the Tim Ferris Show podcast on iTunes. I talked to coworkers who are in the standup scene and asked for advice. Made friends with people in the scene. I basically pursued the IQ and EQ necessary for standup, and it helped me get excited as opposed to nervous!
With those 3 techniques in hand, I gave myself the tools necessary to start building my dream into reality. I realize that creativity is fun but scary, while failure is frightening but stagnate. It’s easy to dream, but it’s hard to do. When it came down to it, all I needed was to start. I hope you do too.
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