Posted on 13 August 2013
In Zen Buddhist art much is made of the beginner’s mind. The beginner’s mind is one where artists are open to new experiences and are prepared to try new things. The beginner’s mind is not clouded by internal or external judgement. An artist with such a mind will create in the moment, at one with the creation, out of sheer joy. This is the artist’s path to zazen—meditative enlightenment.
What needs to be noted is that beginner’s mind is not the same thing as actually being a beginner. A beginner, because of the purity of their connection to their art, can occasionally produce stunning work. But it’s a hit or miss affair fuelled by beginner’s luck. No one remains a beginner if they wish to continue creating. And if you care about your art, you want it to be consistently good. Hence the need to develop skill along with a “beginner’s” mind.
In comedy a number of comedians get it into their heads that half-baked is funny. Certainly people enjoy a bit of beginner’s charm—a roughness that speaks of enthusiasm. However, the most effective ingenuousness is still practised and the art behind it is invisible. As always the art is in making it look easy, natural.
Understand that it doesn’t take long before audiences start reacting against what from their perspective is a lack of professional skill. Worse is if they feel you aren’t showing them proper respect and giving them less than their time and money’s worth. Half-baked is not enough.
A genuine concern for artists and especially comedians is when you go too far the other direction, when art becomes artifice. You will recognise artifice when an act feels too well-rehearsed, too well calculated. All the right elements are there, but it feels dry and lacking in life. This is death to comedy. At this point a comedian is riding on their reputation, but are unlikely to make any new fans. The show will have a soulless corporate slickness to it.
You cure half-baked with skill. You cure artifice with beginner’s mind. You become and stay good by remaining engaged: loving your art and loving your audience.
When you are putting together your act or your show, take the time to consider the details. Put some thought into your costuming: does it suit your character, the style of your comedy, the material, and does it show respect for your audience? Respect doesn’t necessarily mean wear a suit, but don’t turn up in filthy jeans, reeking of sweat and alcohol. The same goes for your set, props, and marketing material: take some time to ensure they are the best they can be. You may not be able to afford a lot of expensive design, but do what you can to bring in skilled people to help you.
One of the quickest ways to stunt your growth as a performer is jealously hording all the creativity for yourself, rather than focussing on what you do best and allowing others to bring their abilities to your aid. Focus on your comedy, let someone with real graphic and computer skills do your website and posters. Focus on your comedy, let someone else with marketing skills write your press release. Focus on your comedy, let someone else do the stage art direction. When you are beginning it’s not always possible to round up this sort of posse. The best solution is to scale back your vision and have at least a couple reliable friends lending a hand.
Then have fun. Because that’s from where the best beginner’s mind springs.
Peace and kindness,