Lessons That Can Be Learnt From Observing Stand-Up Comics

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Image Credit: Shepherd Express

Ladies and Gentlemen, I love comedy.

Some of you might be wondering why I needed to proclaim this to the world at large. Pretty much everyone loves comedy. Even the most depressed, dreary and the psychopathic find solace in comedy. It’s the panacea, the wonder drug for a lot of our ailments, that couldn’t be cured by the millions of prescription drugs that get shoved down our throats. It’s one of the few things that unite mankind, no matter what the circumstances be.

While stand-up comedy has been around for a long time in countries like America, stand-up comedy as a profession started gaining steam only about 7 or so years ago in India. It’s come to the point where we now have a show on Amazon Prime that crowns the best up and coming comic in India, called Comicstaan. Some of the big guns can hold shows in USA, Singapore etc, where tickets to their shows get sold out, and they also hold shows in India, where again, tickets to their shows get sold out.

Of course, it’s a known fact that making people laugh is the most hardest thing to do, so making a profession out of that and being famous at it, has been a thing of wonder to me and still remains that, to this day. Of course, it’s also a known fact that you can learn stuff from pretty much anything, if you squint your eyes hard enough. After returning from a stand-up comedy binge, I wanted to write an article about it so much that I didn’t have the patience to research some movies, with which I wanted to base this post’s title on, as I had done for my last two posts. (If you didn’t get the title from the last two posts, one is based on Dr. Strangelove and the other is ripped off from The Theory of Everything, and I shamelessly plugged those posts as well. Do give them a read).

Right, now that I got that out of the way….

Life Can And Will Screw You, So Laugh It Off

This is something I’ve seen and heard from a bunch of stand-up comedians. “We are here to laugh at our lives, people!!“, they would announce with glee unbound, as they proceed to make fun of some unfortunate soul in the audience or at their own lives. Most of them find humor even in the most depressing or painful of situations, like losing the 25th job interview or when a loved one decides to leave you, making a string of jokes about how they screwed up during a crucial stage in that interview. It’s in those moments that something in me was re-affirmed like an etching on a stone tablet.

Life is too important to be taken seriously.

They don’t say without reason that life is like a roller coaster. You have your blinding ups, your depressing downs, the time in the middle that constitutes most of our life, the fights, the failures, the victories, the fight-backs, the heartbreaks…….Life is just too vast and varied for us to be living through it with a stoicism that would surprise even the monks of years past. Sometimes, you might feel like life has singled you out for some experiment on mental torture, which I can assure you, that a lot of people must also be thinking. Not so, dear reader. Laugh at your failures, live out your life to the fullest, love like there’s no tomorrow. If you can’t find the humor in your personal game of Life, who else is going to?

Besides, just because most of these tell jokes doesn’t mean their lives are all sunshine and rainbows either. Some of them suffer from acute depression, but somehow, they find the strength to make jokes at their own expense and make people happy, even in the face of all that. At least to me, that takes some serious strength, a guy who can descend into doom and gloom at any failure. Not to say that you shouldn’t regret failure, but how about not regretting it every living minute? How about dusting it off and looking forward to the horizon? Take your failures and regrets with a dash of levity.

Life won’t wait and weep at your plight. It has better stuff to care about.

Own The Stage Like A Boss

You want a brutal crash course on warding off stage fright? Just start off as a stand-up comic.

Imagine it, it’s just you and a big audience in front of you, waiting for you to fire off jokes at a rapid rate, like a sub-machine gun on steroids. You screw up and the crowd will boo and jeer at you, or it will just decide to stay silent, which I can tell you is even more painful than the booing and jeering. At least you know that you are so bad that the audience is pissed. Unlike those ToastMasters clubs which offer constructive criticism even when you screw up so bad, the audience of a comedy show will crucify you without even a sliver of mercy at the slightest screw-up. Unlike those TED talks and your corporate presentations, you don’t have a big projection screen or a bunch of slides to hide behind, and you can’t drone on a monotone, since nothing will piss off the audience wanting to see a lively comedy show more than a monotone.

Just you, the audience and your jokes. Scary, innit?

But of course, if you look at a stand-up comic, you can’t detect that sliver of fear any way you look at them. Their body language, their confidence, their tone, their mannerisms, as if possessed by the genie from Aladdin, expounding wit and humor to the large crowd, like they were a bunch of potatoes. Fearless, humorous and confident. You can sum up the best stand-up comics in these words. So, if you want to hold your own on a stage, observe them.

Observe how they hold a show on their own. Observe their mannerisms, their language, their timing, their body language. Then, from all those observations, create a stage mannerism that is unique to just you. No one likes a blatant imitator, so observe different people and find something you can work with. Practice in front of a mirror, your friends or preferably, a live audience. Yes, you will be made fun of, but consider those as a learning curve. Even if you don’t feel confident, never show it to the audience. Either make fun of your own lack of confidence, for it can make you endearing or as the common parlance goes, “Fake it till you make it“. This practice also has another meaning, in that you can find out what makes you “You”. To paraphrase a quote from the ad of a malt-based energy drink, “Not the next Einstein, but the first Me

Practice like a beast, and one day, you will be giving off the speech of a generation. The crowd goes nuts, and you will be praised from all quarters of the world. That jolt of confidence you get is unparalleled, let me tell you.

Until you get to that point, observe, practice and talk.

Be Authentic

I did write about this in the last observation, but let me reiterate it all the same. Find out what makes “You” tick. Spend some time in finding out what makes you unique among the denizens of society, so that they would have a reason to invest in your upcoming. While that of course entails having to observe people, never, ever imitate their mannerisms or their lives. In the long run, you will just be considered as a pale imitation of a better act and people will have no reason to keep you in their memory.

This is something I’ve noticed with some stand-up comics as well. One guy here, Alexander Babu, doesn’t actually fire off jokes per second. He loves music, he sings better than most and he wanted to entertain people. He just happens to weave comedy into his act, helping him to create a niche of his own, and earning big bucks in the process. Some guys joke using their life experiences, be it a recent breakup or trying to make it big in the world of stand-up comedy after quitting their job. Some others just find the absurdity and humor in daily life like Jerry Seinfeld, some others joke about their community..The list is endless. Each and every one is done with an sincerity, that endears them to the audience.

That’s how it works in real life too. Just be yourself and don’t try to be someone else. Whether it is being done to impress some crush of yours, a high-end social circle, or your boss for a raise, all it will amount to in the end is a shit ton of exhaustion from having to maintain an act, a weird pain of not being able to express your true self to people, a general feeling of disgust from people who can see through your act and a overpowering feeling of loneliness that will grip your heart like a vice, all because you wanted to be one of the cool kids.

Be yourself and treasure the people and experiences that come with it. It’s just plain exhausting to enact the personality of a fiction that might impress people.

Learn To Tell A Story

We as humans love stories. It’s an undeniable truth of life. Even people who say they don’t like novels or movies don’t actually hate the stories, they just happen to hate the medium through which the story is presented. Even non-fiction talks and books employ a narrative style of presenting information, because not everyone can sit through an IEEE research paper without falling to sleep or coming out without having understood a thing, and because no one would buy their products.

This is one universal lesson that held and still holds true to this day and age. The one that usually holds sway over any number of people is the one who can weave a yarn that can, even if it may be true or not, swoon the crowd and even make your enemies cast doubt over their reasons for holding a grudge against you. This is something that the best stand-up comics do either consciously or unconsciously, weaving a good deal of jokes into what might seem like a random punchline, but is actually a well-formed narrative.

Again, be authentic. Find your own method for narrating your experiences as a tale. Take inspiration from CEOs like Steve Jobs, he might have been a flawed guy, but by god did he know how to hold people’s rapt attention, read books, look up TED talks, and inject your own flavor into the proceedings. You can present it with either an inspirational gusto or a deadpan attitude or in a way where your passion for life is apparent, but not in your face. Find out what way works for you. If you think that you can live through life without mastering this skill, I will say with certainty that life will play a game of whack-a-mole with you without any hesitation.

Be a master story-teller, for it is the story-teller that will control the thoughts and narrative of the people around him.

This is all I have for this week. See you next week, guys.

(If you are new to this blog, I publish articles for self-improvement every Wednesday at 6:00 PM Indian Standard Time. If you like my articles, do subscribe to my blog and if you really like it, do donate via the Paypal widget found below if you feel like it. A man can dream, right?)

Until next time,
An ever improving geek.