Make Me Laugh: Comeback Edition

In Life on March 31, 2011 by thebetweenthoughts

“Why are you doing comedy?”

Two minutes into my set (and 1.5 jokes in), the intermediate comedy class instructor asked me this question.  A life on stage trains a comedian to be quick on their feet and to react to any disturbance in their act with poise, wit and grace.  So obviously, my answer to her interruption was, “I have no idea.”

I honestly have no clue as to why I do stand-up comedy (and yes, we’ll loosely define sporadic shows over the course of two and a half years as “doing stand-up comedy”).  I enjoy the adulation.  I enjoy telling absurdly subversive jokes.  I enjoy making people laugh at subjects that normally fill them with guilt.  But is this enjoyment enough of a reason to be on stage?

I started taking this intermediate class a few weeks ago and one of the points that has come up is the concept of “addressing the truth.”  Comedy is all about shedding light on truths that, when taken out of context and intensely scrutinized, are absolutely absurd.  Truth is the basis of all comedy.  And when truths about the comedian are not directly addressed upfront, the audience will distrust the performance and never engage in the comedy.  The example my instructor brought up was that an attractive female comedian in a tight dress would need to address the fact that all the men in the audience want to sleep with her and all of the women in the audience hate her.  If she neglects to do this, the audience will never accept her.  (Remember, my instructor’s example…not mine.)  Comedians are allowed to tell the truth and to share their complaints about the world because of the vulnerabilities they show at the beginning of their routines.  If you’re not able to bring the audience to your side in the first joke, it doesn’t matter how funny you are for the rest of your set.  The audience is checked out.  For me, the instructor pointed out that I seem to have everything together.  I look intelligent.  I look like I have money.  I look…like someone who shouldn’t be complaining about anything.

I was taken aback (and obviously flattered) because I had never thought of myself in that light.  By virtue of being an Asian male in a culture that generally marginalizes us, I thought that I had every right to complain.  I didn’t realize that I needed to make my vulnerabilities more explicit.  Maybe this is why I feel oddly disengaged at times when I’m on stage.  Even when I’m getting laughs, there is still a disconnect between myself and the audience.

This goes back to the question posed at the beginning of the post – “Why are you doing comedy?”

I have no financial interest in this craft.  I am interested in the craft, purely from an artistic (and yes, I know how pretentious that sounds) point of view.  But if all comedians have some pain or insecurity in their lives that needs to be expressed on stage as comedy, what are mine?  What screwed up emotional trauma needs to be tapped into and shared with the audience?  Where are the holes in my heart that can only be filled with laughter (from others)?  Am I too well-adjusted to succeed at comedy?

My comedy is built on the premise that I’m better than you are (I’ve always been an elitist at heart).  It’s a completely unfounded arrogance – an arrogance that  has been carefully crafted over the years after a childhood of self-esteem issues.  I thought that self-confidence was what a comedian needed to succeed.  Apparently, it’s the exact opposite.

Am I a comedian or just someone who tells jokes on stage?

Maybe that’s the truth I need to address the most.



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