6 Comedian Resolutions
Posted on 01 January 2015
As a comedian it’s often worthwhile to make new year resolutions in order to break them. I mean, what could be funnier? What could be funnier is resolving to do things that will improve your performance. If you are serious about your career, the following resolutions should help to increase the laughs.
1) I will look after my voice.
Your voice is your most precious tool. Comedians early in their careers may lazily rely on their microphone, thinking all they need are a venue, some fart jokes, and a good set of speakers. The reality is that even good seasoned comedians can end up in the hospital to have nodules removed from their vocal chords. Non-stop talking for an hour, six days a week, for four weeks during festival time without warm-ups can destroy a voice.
Also crucial to your career are annunciation, vocal variation, and projection. People have to understand what you are saying in order to find it funny. A droning voice puts people to sleep: you have to either create variation in tone or variation in pacing, or preferably both, to ensure you are memorable not soporific. You may not always have a microphone when performing to an audience, and even if you do, projection isn’t always about volume. It’s also about engaging all of your audience whether they are in the front or back row. If you are only playing to the front row, become a bartender and tell your jokes there. Necessary to good annunciation, vocal variation, and projection is breath control. Increase your lung capacity and learn how to take and use long deep breaths.
You can find resources online to help with this, if you are self-motivated. Or you can find yourself a good vocal coach.
2) I will make friends with my audience.
I know far too many starting comedians who see the audience as their enemy. They want the fame, they don’t want to have to engage people. That’s a failed career right there.
As a comedian you have to put yourself forward. You have to be willing to expose yourself. You have to trust in the basic goodwill of your audience. You have to actively pursue a friendly relationship with the people within your audience. How do you do that? How do you make friends?
Introduce yourself to your audience. I would say, do away with the hidden voice introduction. Come out and state your name clearly and with pride. Spend some time finding out who your audience is. Ask them questions, talk with them: just make sure you listen and respond directly to their answers. Comment on things you like about them. Be genuinely concerned about their welfare. Show them that you are willing and happy to do your best for them.
At a storytelling gig I noticed some people who looked like hipsters in the audience. I said, “Are you guys hipsters?” At first they looked a little nervous. “Oh I do hope so. You guys are my best audience. I just worry that means I’m not cool yet.” And they were then on my side. Sadly, a couple of comedians who followed me started in on the hipster put down jokes. Who had some lovely bearded gentlemen chatting with them afterwards? You don’t have to be in your twenties to still be the belle of the ball. Just be nice.
3) I will make friends with other comedians.
Comedians come from the most diverse backgrounds of any art I know. Most have no training other than standing in front of a mic until they got it right. As such they often miss opportunities that are available to people who sat in classes. I would say more than half the value of participating in some sort of course is the alliances you form with the other people learning with you. Okay, so you didn’t take a class. You can still take the time to get to know and make friends with the other comedians at open mic nights, at a workshop group, or have a few drinks with performers at a festival.
It’s much easier to get your foot in the door of professional comedy if you share costs and work with another comedian to put a show on some place like the Melbourne Comedy Festival, maybe even the Edinburgh Fringe. Opportunities that don’t suit your friends may get passed your direction. If the opportunity to write for Giggle and Hoot were passed to someone like Dilruk Jayasinha, he might get excited by the offer but not feel it’s really his style and then pass it on to me (if this does happen Dil, I’m right here). Also, comedy is a hard job. It’s good having people who can give you a little advice and commiserate with you when things aren’t going too well.
4) I will watch my expletive to content ratio.
Any filler is bad in any performance. In Australia “um’s” and “ah’s” are often replaced with four-letter words. I will say to young comedians that language used in a mean-spirited fashion will switch off many potential audience members. It’s possible to find people who enjoy that sort of thing, but you will be limiting yourself. But also consider that people paid money to hear you perform. If for an hour show you spent twenty minutes of it swearing, your audience only received thirty to forty minutes of jokes. They may feel they’ve been ripped off by 30%.
If you use blue language, use it sparingly. Then it will act as an intensifier for what you are saying, rather than as distracting noise. If you are concerned about censorship, then please support the George Carlin Freedom of Comic Speech Day on 12 May. I studied Anglo Saxon as part of my English degree at university. We can say “excrement” in “polite” (read upper class) society because it is a Latin word representative of the language used by the conquering Normans in Britain. We can’t say “shit” because it represents the language of a conquered people and the lower classes. I consider our society not caring for the poor, the young, the disabled, and the elderly much more profane than someone pronouncing a few consonants and a vowel.
5) Practise, practise, practise.
This one should be obvious. Go out there and find places where you can trial your material, trial your performance, and learn how to get the laughs. You don’t have to go by usual routes to get this practise. Comedy open mic is one way. You can also join a group like Toastmasters. You can sometimes convince music open mics to let you sneak in. For one year I went around to loads of slam poetry events. Not only did I perform humorous poems, usually people have explanatory introductions to their works and I practised on stage chatter.
I would suggest making out a calendar and filling it up in advance with venues where you have booked yourself to perform, cutting that time out from doing anything else.
6) I will donate some of my time to good causes.
Artists of any sort including comedy are going to have to do a lot free performing before seeing money happen. If you are going to be giving away your time, why not do it for a good cause? Not only are you helping to make the world a better place, you get to practise your performance and build up an audience. To those comedians who have made it, it’s important to give back to the community who have given to you. As I mentioned in a previous article, don’t let yourself be exploited, but some groups are sincere and will be genuinely grateful for your help.
Happy New Year everyone! May your days be happy or at least funny.
Peace and kindness,