Collaboration

Posted on 23 February 2011

Stand-up comedy is a very individual art. One person creates an entire comic world to appeal to a room full of people. Often this is how the performer likes it. And certainly, many well-loved comedians have tread this path. I would strongly suggest forming comic groups, since that is a more sure path to achieve commercial success.

Examples

In Australia The Doug Anthony All-Stars, Lano and Woodley, The Umbilical Brothers, and The Third Degree all made it onto television. In Britain comic teams such as French and Saunders, The Mighty Boosh, The Cambridge Footlights, Mitchell and Webb, The Two Ronnies, etc have had long reaching careers on and off television. It’s worth noting that six out of the thirteen Barry Awards given for outstanding comedy at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival were given to group acts.

Collaboration is no easy thing. Ask anyone who has tried to form a garage band. You have to create a core group of people who take the effort seriously. You have to share a goal and each member must be ready to take responsibility for their role in the group.

Group Structure

Absolute democracy rarely works in a creative group (except in duos). You end up wasting too much time making decisions and some disagreements will be about whose ideas should dominate. Most functioning groups have one person that everyone likes and who is able to negotiate differences. They may or may not be the lead performer, but they will need to be the group leader.

Often they are liked because they are willing to listen and incorporate other people’s ideas into their own, and they are also willing to do the work. However, do not take overmuch advantage of their willingness to shoulder the chores. Everyone has to pitch in. Otherwise, you risk burning out the one person who is holding you together. Be careful of the person who is willing to do work as a way of controlling the group.

Guidelines

Start straight away with guidelines for behaviour in the group. It may seem fascist, but interactions tend to be more peaceful when everyone knows how to behave and what is expected of them. It’s usually better to start with tough guidelines that are applied lightly, rather than loose guidelines that get ignored all together.

Amongst the guidelines you will be setting are: rehearsal times; rostering set-up, take-down, clean-up, and various other chores; constructive criticism; handling of gigs, marketing, and money; how decisions are made; how disagreements are dealt with; and when it is considered legitimate to kick someone out of the group.

I have known groups who have said things like, we don’t need guidelines because we’re all friends. And I have watched many of them fall apart over avoidable disagreements. If you are friends, then you should appreciate the effort to make everything transparent in how your group functions, particularly since you are also in a business relationship and money will become important.

Kicking someone out is also uncomfortable, but it comes up. Avoiding the removal of a difficult member has often caused groups to disintegrate. No one wants to be “mean”, but if the results are everyone resigns, it’s senseless to give the difficult member so much destructive power. If you can point out specifically where they have been breaking the guidelines, you aren’t being “mean”. They knew what was expected of them, it was their responsibility to stay within the guidelines, if they had difficulties with the guidelines then they should have said something. Their removal is just and the consequence of their own behaviour.

Outcomes

Collaboration is something like a marriage: a lot of give and take, but overall it should be fun and fulfilling. A successful group will find that they inspire one another. A successful group will enjoy themselves and thereby be entertaining to watch. Successful groups upon occasion win Barry Awards and get television shows. Give it a try.

Peace and kindness,
Katherine


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