The arc of a comedy career and the difference between impersonating/being a comedian

Chatted with another comic recently about how family is often considered the best thing to focus on first for material. That's stuff that will always be unique to you, good for TV sets, etc.

Jon Stewart recently sat down with Terry Gross and offered up similar thoughts.

A comedian's first 15 minutes is typically about his life. Your first joke is usually who you are. "I'm a Jew who was raised in New Jersey" joke. And then you work through your family and you basically go through your entire history with them. And you sit and stare at them but they're not doing much. So you have to then spread out.

So your next jokes usually come from where you go on the road. So I've taken my act about being a Jew from New Jersey to Tennessee. Want to hear about Tennessee? And that's your next act. Your next act is about your life as a comedian.

And then when that's exhausted, you tend to turn your vision to the world. And that becomes your tableau for your career.

Of course, if you're an observational comic or do a character or whatever, it's a different path.

Stewart also mentioned what he learned doing the final set at 2am at The Cellar every night:

I learned the difference between impersonating a comedian and being a comedian. And that was my break, learning how to be authentic. Not to the audience, but to myself. I developed a baseline of not only confidence, but insecurity. I knew how bad I was and I knew how good I was.

Reminds me of Woody Allen's idea of being a funny person, not having funny material.

1 comment:

Abbi Crutchfield said...

I'm afraid to know how bad I am and how good I am. I like living under the delusion of endless possibilities.

Secondly, I'd like to fast forward to talking about my vision of the world, but I'd worry about sounding like a blowhard. I have this theory that you're only allowed to have concrete opinions about the human existence when you've experienced life long enough. No one wants to hear Justin Bieber's thoughts on politics, race and poverty, because it's through the lens of a View-Master.

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