Gotta input to output

Author David Sedaris in "Here's The Kicker":

I also became a reader around this time, which is so important for a writer. If I read a story in The Atlantic, I would be in a daze afterward. It just meant so much to me. When I later taught writing at the Art Institute, I could very easily spot the students who never read. Their stories would be shit. I would point to their work and then to a published work. I’d ask, “Do you see a difference between these two things?” A lot of students couldn’t see the difference. For them, there was no hope…

I feel similarly about standup. You've got to be a fan to be great at it. I see a lot of aspiring comics at mics and I don't think they really love watching great standup. Maybe they like talking into a mic, but I don't get the feeling they go to shows, listen to albums, obsess over why the greats are great, etc. I don't sense they love this guy or hate that guy or watch YouTube clips or soak in what else is out there.

I feel like you've got to be at least a bit of a student to really excel at any artform. That doesn't mean you should drown in the ideas of others or ape someone else's style. Just saying if ya never input great standup, it's gonna be tough to output it.


Dan Fontaine said...

Totally agree with Matt but couldn't care less about David Sedaris, even if they're saying the same thing.

london calling said...

couldn't agree more .I'm always amazed at the ignorance of newer acts ....they don't seem to be all that interested in the art of stand up and that is why they are usually all sound the same .

If you're a comic you never stop learning ot wanting to learn . If you see a great stand up like patton oswalt it just inspires you more .

mike lawrence said...

The best way to learn has always been, and will always be doing it yourself. You make a mistake, you hate the way you feel after it and you say to yourself "I don't want to have to go through that again, what can I do to change it"? Watching other comics overcome the obstacles you can't yet can help you, but you haven't really learned anything until you overcome them yourself.If I bomb on a show I feel I owe it to myself to see what kills on that show and I learn more from that than any CD or tape could teach me.

Matt Ruby said...

"Watching other comics overcome the obstacles you can't yet can help you, but you haven't really learned anything until you overcome them yourself."

I disagree. You do learn something by seeing how the masters (or very good people) work. Still, I agree getting up yourself is the best way to learn.

myq said...

What about great standups who don't pay attention to the work of other standups?

A couple that I know of--
Carlin is someone who has said he doesn't really pay attention to much other comedy besides the stuff he writes himself.
Mike Birbiglia has also told me that he doesn't watch much else (outside of Pryor and Rock, I believe he's mentioned specifically, as well as SOME others, I'm sure, but as a rule I believe he's said that he prefers to create without having seen too much potential outside influence).

That's not the way I am, or the way it has to be for everyone, obviously, but clearly these guys know what they're doing for themselves.

(And that's not to say that they didn't watch a lot of standup in their earlier, more formative years... I'm sure they did. But Sedaris is pretty far along now as well, so I'm sure he could create great writing at this point even if he stopped reading--but the main thing for him I imagine would be that he ENJOYS reading other great work... It's not necessarily all about growing as an artist, though that can be in there, too.)

Just saying, there are examples of great comedians who don't watch that much comedy. (Not that they WOUDLN'T enjoy watching great comedy, but certainly there are very few absolutes in matters such as these.)

Obviously, we know that to be a great artist, the most important thing has got to be actually creating or performing the art (depending what the art is).

Because if you're not performing standup, you're not a standup.

That said, I enjoy watching/listening to/consuming as much great standup as I can.
As well as some not great standup.

an argument

Matt Ruby said...

"And that's not to say that they didn't watch a lot of standup in their earlier, more formative years.."

Yeah, I think the rules prob change as you evolve and get better. Once you're established you might look inward more for inspiration.

mike lawrence said...

Pryor, Tompkins, Carlin, and other greats are entertaining to watch, and you can learn about the craft of joke telling by watching them, but the conditions they have when they're making those tapes and cds are not the conditions that I'm in or will be in anytime soon. And those audiences know that they're being recorded. I'd rather see someone with no credits or fanbase win over a room full of people who are chatty and disinterested up front . If I could, I'd rather watch a tape of Pryor or Carlin when they were full of potential but still had to struggle.

myq said...

I don't think the initial point was that you should watch FAMOUS comedy, it's that you should watch GREAT comedy.

That certainly could include unknown comics thriving under adverse circumstances.

But obviously the things that you can learn from the greats include more than the conditions their specials are recorded under...
Joke construction and delivery, to name a couple, are significant and can be observed under whatever conditions, thrilled fans or not, no?

soce said...

Yep, I knew that comedy was the field for me, even though I am not a regular standup. All my life, pretty much the only thing I watched on TV was stand-up specials on comedy central, and then when I moved to NYC, I started attending comedy shows all the time.

So I figure even if I never "make it", at least I will have immersed myself in that which I love.

Conversely even though I am a musician, I don't much enjoy going to most music shows.. I often find them to be loud and too lengthy.. Music shows are often 3 to 4 acts at an hour each, so that's 4 to 5 hours total. Comedy shows are like 8 acts and just one hour, so a lot less intense and without the bass and drums that kills my ears--

Moving on/Subscribe to my newsletter

I only post on rare occasions here now. Subscribe to my Rubesletter  (it's at  mattruby.substack.com ) to get jokes, videos, essays, etc...