Authenticity and Comedy

Posted on 31 July 2013

When I was a child my family moved around every three years. My father was ahead of the curve when it came to people giving themselves promotions by regularly changing jobs and usually locations.

My brother, sister, and I didn’t mind the moves so much as trying to fit in at new schools. One small town in which we landed it made no difference what I did, I was branded an outsider and therefore a target for class bullying. It was a miserable time in my life.

One piece of freedom the experience gave me came in an “ah-ha” moment: “If kids will tease me no matter what I do—then I can do anything!” When I looked at a piece of clothing for instance, I didn’t have to be concerned about whether or not the other kids would like it, they wouldn’t. I only needed to think about what I liked.

Now this freedom can be used constructively or destructively. I am completely aware of how being forced into isolation can potentially radicalise a person. “You will judge me whether or not I do good or bad. So, I might as well vent my anger and do bad.” I watched some kids take this direction. Many kids wanted this kind of freedom, not all of them were angry enough, brave enough, or lonely enough to strike out in this fashion.

I was largely uninterested in the destructive path, because it didn’t buy me much. So, I made friends with the librarian and hid in the library, where I would read, and write bad poetry and Narnia fan-fiction. I also drew funny cartoon panels that were published by the local newspaper.

Though I wouldn’t wish this kind of experience on any one, it did teach me to think and see in ways that are important for creating both good art and good comedy. You aren’t going to stand out as a performer unless you know who you are as distinct from everyone else. You have to be authentically yourself.

If you are a follower, you will always be waiting for someone else to make a move. Your work will always be measured by the yardstick of better works, rather than on its own merits. You are unlikely to make bold, original, and memorable choices. There’s nothing wrong with building on others works, but you have to bring something new and fresh to the mix. People still have to recognise your voice blending coherently with the other artists.

You exercise your authentic self every time you are aware you like something, simply because you do. You don’t like a piece of comedy just because your friends liked it, but because you made a personal discovery. It gave you a belly laugh and you are passionate about that experience. So much so, you don’t even care what anyone else thinks, but you are happy to share the passion. You are also keen to know why and how it made you laugh. You feel the need to understand how you can create this experience yourself. You can only press yourself so far in this direction, if you haven’t had a genuine connection with the material.

Authenticity is not the same thing as snobbery and more closely allies itself with geekiness. To like something simply because culture has deemed it great is hollow. To express disdain for something simply because it is exceptionally popular is a political move. You have the right to be disinterested in something because it does nothing for you, even though the rest of the world is falling over itself to get onboard the magic. But it is also legitimate to like something despite its popularity without a trace of irony. You like what you like because you like it. You are uninterested because you are uninterested. No other reasons need to be given.

This is all about finding the strength to validate and stand by your individuality: your tastes, your joys, your vision. If you want to be a success, that strength needs to come from love. If you are merely different because you hate the world and everyone in it, how far do you think that will get you? Some people will reflect the hate, many more will steer clear.

But if you have a big love for what you are doing, for the material you have found and developed, because it touches you personally and you want to share the joy—yes, you will be heard and you will be remembered. Authenticity validates not only you, but every person in your audience who yearns for self acceptance.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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