Is "you're a good writer" really a compliment to a standup?

A few times in the past month I've had comics say to me after a set: "You're a really good writer." And while I want to take that as a compliment, there's something in my head that's thinking, "So what you're really saying is: 'You're not much of a performer.'"

So it was funny to read this interview between Todd Barry and musician Nick Lowe and read this bit from Todd:

Usually, for a comedian, if they say he’s a good writer, it’s sort of a backhanded compliment. Like it usually means shitty performer, but not that they wouldn’t also compliment a good comedian on his writing. I think I do get complimented on my writing, but if they just go, “Heyyy, good writing,” that’s a little jab.

I'm sure the opposite is true too. When people tell a comic, "Wow, you really have an amazing energy onstage!"...that guy prob sits around thinking, "Damn, my jokes aren't very good, are they?"

In truth, I don't mind the backhandedness of the good writing thing. First of all, at least something is good. And second, I really dig comics like Birbigs or CK who don't even seem like they're performing at all. They just seem like they're talking to you the way a normal person does. The performance is there, but you feel like it's almost hidden rather than being hit over the head with it.


myq said...

Hey Matt, this blog post has an amazing energy to it.

Hank in Chicago said...

It's like saying an ugly chick has a good personality. You only say that if that's the only nice thing you can say about her. But it doesn't mean a chick with a good personality can't also be hot. It's somewhat rare but it's nice when it happens. Hot chicks are usually bitchy or boring or won't sleep with me.

I would be complimented if someone told me I was a good writer. As usual it depends on how much I respect the judgment of that person.

And I agree; you held the microphone really well during that post.

myq said...

Hank, you're a beautiful chick with an ugly personality.

And certainly, back to the topic, it can depend on the context and tone of the statement, and the motivation of the person saying it.

Someone could legitimately be very impressed with your writing, and have nothing bad to say about your performing, it's just that your writing was so great that it impressed them to the point where that's what they had to mention.

Or certainly, it could be that the writing was just good in comparison to the shitty performing, and they had to give you A compliment, ANY compliment, and certainly they didn't want to tell you that you were a good COMEDIAN, so they give you "comedian minus performer."

So it depends on how good you actually are AND how sincere the complimenter is, to determine what the compliment means.

Matt, your post also has a nice personality.

soce said...

When I first began performing my hippety hoppety music in the city, a decently well-established rapper came up to me and said, "Your beats are fire [ie they sound really good], but your flow is totally whack [ie it sounds terrible]."

I dunno.. I think I would've been happier if he had simply said, "Your beats are fire"!

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