Originality and Points of Recognition

Posted on 27 October 2011

I love being an original thinker. I love coming up with unique ideas that are funny, have artistic merit, or are technically or socially beneficial. During the dotcom era I had a couple of my ideas stolen. I learned early on that people, who have to steal ideas, aren’t going very far. I could always come up with more ideas. The idea thiefs only had stolen ideas, and usually didn’t know how to implement them to ensure their success.

In the arts many people want to distinguish themselves as mavericks and heroes of originality. It’s an extension of “the chosen one” mythology. Often when they hear of someone doing something similar to their own creative thoughts, they become angry or upset. They don’t understand that skill and artisty in execution are more than three quarters of any creative product. Several people could be working on precisely the same idea. The one who best communicates that idea to their audience wins. However, if they all do a superb job, usually people are thrilled at being able to extend their enjoyment. The Twilight book series didn’t suffer as a vampire story because of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s pre-existence, quite the reverse.

When you are just starting out in comedy you have to make some compromises on the behalf of your audience. I am not talking about compromises to artistic integrity, just being flexible enough to include your audience in a show’s creation. Absolute originality is not going to serve you. You need points of recognition to hook your audience.


If you are already an A-list comedian, then you are the point of recognition for your audience. Your show can be outrageously original and because people trust you to be entertaining, they will purchase tickets. Of course then you have to deliver. Reputations have been lost when in the name of originality performers forget their audience.

Associating with the Great

Associating with the great is an easy call for gaining attention. Almost too easy. I used to judge for a literary award and if a book was based on Shakespeare, it made no difference what the quality of storytelling was like, it went into the finalist list. I have to admit, this made me mad. The judges were not relying on their own considered opinion, but upon a cultural determination of greatness, which was then transferred to the authors whether or not they had earned it.

However, if a comedian puts in the work and gives us a fresh perspective on well-loved stories and personalities, I’m as keen as the next person to give their show a looksy. I have seen shows humorously covering The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Thunderbirds. I have seen hilarious impersonations of Abba, the Goons, and The Queen of England.

This material works best for both the beginner comedian and the seasoned veteran. The beginner gets a leg up using the well-worn. A seasoned veteran brings love and insight to their portrayals of creative heroes.

Subject Matter

Subject matter is a regularly used point of recognition. Make a show about football and you will have many footy fans turn up, whether or not they know anything about you. A show about dogs will certainly draw in the dog-lovers, it also will provide a commonality of experience that makes it very easy to tell certain sorts of jokes. You simply have to say the words, “stepping in poo”, with a pained look and people will burst into laughter…they’ve all done it.

Some subjects sit on the edge. Tripod could successfully perform a show about Dungeons & Dragons, because people already know them. Others using similar material will attract a small dedicated audience, but the geek appeal may only go so far.

Completely original subjects done by unknown artists probably shouldn’t open at a big comedy festival. The Melbourne Comedy Festival last year had over 300 shows. People will scan through the festival guide and bypass the unfamiliar: too much competition to even bother spending the time and money. The people who go to fringe festivals are willing to do more experimenting. If you start there and develop good word of mouth, by the end of the festival you could be enjoying a full-house. This freshly minted reputation can then be carried with you to the comedy festival. Claudia O’Doherty did this with her show Monster of the Deep: 3D and Telia Neville in While I’m Away.

Word of mouth is your most potent point of recognition. Though you can achieve it virally, you will only sustain that point if you nurture and build your reputation through regular contact with people. This can be achieved using YouTube, FaceBook, street performance, open mic nights, fringe festivals, etc.

Certainly, marketing and publicity can go a fair way in making you a recognisable commodity. Even then, it will give your posters extra mnemonic energy if your face is then associated with the well-liked and familiar. In the meantime learn to be at peace sharing in your culture’s passions, while mixing it up with your creative genius. Your time of utter originality will come.

Peace and kindness,


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