When should you quit?

So it takes years to get great at standup. But what if you just suck and never get good? How do you know when to hang it up? Do you really want to be the guy who gets up onstage and the younger guys start whispering to each other, "Did you know he's been doing it for 12 years!? And he's doing this same shit show as us."

I've heard comics mention "tests" they need to meet. One is seven years. By seven years in, you need to have either a real TV credit (like a "Live at Gotham") or a big festival spot (e.g. Just For Laughs) or something that shows you're on the crab. (Yeah, it's a Deadliest Catch reference. Sue me.) Another test: If you've been doing it for a while and you haven't killed in the past year, you should quit.

Of course, it all depends what you want to get out of it. As long as you keep getting better and are enjoying it, you might as well keep doing it. If it's just a hobby, go as long as you want.

But there can be a problem if you're one of these tone deaf people who just doesn't get it. You know, the guy who still wants to "make it" but everyone else knows it just ain't gonna happen. Imagine a 300 lb. 50-year old who's convinced he can make the NBA. There's a fine line between "having a dream" and being batfuck delusional.

Reminds me of something I've heard Birbigs talk about before: You have to lie to yourself and be delusional to make it as a standup because you're just not good at first. The problem is a strong sense of self-delusion can make people think they're getting somewhere when they're not.

A related thing I don't get is people who have done standup for a while and aren't getting booked on a lot of real shows but think they're above open mics. If you're so funny, how come you're not getting booked more? And if you're not as funny as you want to be, then why aren't you going to mics more? Bugs me when people think they're "owed" something by how many years they've been doing comedy. Everyone's gotta scratch and claw for it. Maybe you've spent all those years doing it wrong, ya know?


Mike Drucker said...

You should quit stand-up when it becomes less fun and more work.

I don't just mean when it becomes hard. I mean when it becomes a delirious trudge and you think you're owed something and your sets are joyless, you should quit.

The odd thing to me is people who keep doing it and hate the shit out of it. Or who want to be huge but can't stand auditions or going first on a big show or yadda yadda yadda.

Once stand-up becomes another ball and chain in your life, it's time to do something else. Not because you're not good enough, but because you're doing it for the wrong reasons.

No one HAS to do comedy. As important as we'd like to tell ourselves we are, nobody needs a bowl of comedy on the table to feed their kids at night. No one's getting tuberculosis because scientists haven't made a new bacteria-resistant punchline.

So when comedy becomes worse or equal to a 9-5 job, just get a 9-5 job.

Anonymous said...

I always believe in the groundhog laugh principle. If a comedian, regardless of how terrible they are hears one single laugh at a show whether it's of the genuine or pity variety, they will do stand-up at least another six months.

To keep myself from quitting (and I go through tiny bouts of thinking about it at least once a month) I make feasible goals that I think I might be able to accomplish within the year. Things like "Write a joke longer than two minutes" or "do a clean set". I think that if you catch yourself doing things that you know you wouldn't have been able to do previously, then it makes you feel like some progress is being made, even if there's a long way to go. Set challenges for yourself and learn from your mistakes. If you bomb, try not to bomb the same way twice.

Mo Diggs said...

I say quit after seven years of fruitless hard work. I stress hard work. Seven years of going to one mike a week automatically guarantees that you will only do this as a hobby.

I also agree with doing mikes in leu of spots. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (money, health) I am either doing a mike or a show every night.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Drucker-- quit when it stops being fun. Perhaps that is an oversimplification, but I just can't stomach those grizzled, old-timey comedians who act like comedy is somehow their cross to bear. It's comedy- it should be enjoyable to all involved, and when it's not, then what's the point?
-Selena Coppock

Abbi Crutchfield said...

I say quit when you get heckled. Who needs that kind of pressure?

Isn't there a diagram somewhere that shows hard work combined with time and luck yielding success in comedy? Get on it, nerds.

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