When I'm on stage I always try to be myself. Although that definition is constantly evolving, I speak in a manner I normally do, follow thought trails I've had, and tell jokes that I think are funny. It feels natural, but being yourself can be a bit of a double edged sword. On nights you crush it's very validating and good for the soul. The nights that don't go so well, well they feel bad mkay? You're essentially being rejected by a group of strangers (in front of yours peers). Remember that embarrassing thing you did way back when? Now imagine you just told that story to a group of 40 and they didn't react the way you wanted them to. The average person would need to binge some Brené Brown tedtalks, but as a comedian you have to shake it off because there's the next show to think about.
Some comics choose to circumnavigate this feeling by performing as a character. Instead of relying on jokes for laughs, their act is the joke. Their sets are filled with weird outfits, catch phrases, anti-jokes, uncomfortable moments, and not usually funny. (Oh and by the way - STOP SAYING THE ERIC AND ANDRE SHOW IS COMEDIC GENUIS, if you think that then we're not friends..but I digress.) I do see the appeal though, it gives you permission to try something that's a bit weird, and the rejection no longer feels personal because it isn't. There's less risk involved. You aren't being you.
A couple weeks ago I did the closest thing to character comedy. As part of a tribute show I impersonated Anthony Jeselnik (most comedian's wet dream, so be jealous..) Anthony has made a career out of telling offensive jokes with a twist. What separates him from the pack is his uncharacteristically high ego, confidence, and the ability to write AND deliver damn good jokes... As I imagined performing as someone else lowered the stakes, I cared a lot less, and at times I even felt like I was Anthony. It wasn't perfect by any means (I should've practiced more) but overall it was a really fun night.
I did a quick comparison of some qualities during a typical night performing as myself vs. one night as Anthony. And a clip! (Sorry not sorry for the bad audio, it was LOUD in the room so you should have been there!)
I'm glad I tried this. Stepping into Anthony's shoes gave me some insight into my own style and how I'd like to grow. Here's to higher confidence levels, caring a bit less, and writing better jokes!
Last Wednesday night was special. Not only was the comedy tribute show an unpredictable success (and I had fun doing it!) But it was also my 100th comedy show I produced under the Sidley Standup umbrella. That’s 100 nights of comedy that I’ve booked, promoted, physically set up, and performed on (minus a few cases). I’m proud of myself for reaching this milestone, and tired enough that I'm thinking about crawling back into bed.
Since piloting this idea last November there's been a ton of ups and downs (as one would expect). A lot of bizarre things have happened (stay tuned for future posts) but along the way I've learned a lot about myself, my expectations, and the industry. A mix of my observations and insight:
Will this newest step be the final answer? I don't know, but its at least the answer for now. You can only play the cards you have in your hand, so I'm excited to see where these cards take me.
I’m rather uncomfortable with the act of self-promotion. There’s something about it that feels so dirty. I was okay with selling my improv comedy because I was promoting the unit, the team, the squad, but just me? Convincing people that I’m worth their time and money, that my entertainment measures real value. I know I believe it to some degree. I like my comedy, other people do too. I’ve gotten good at consistently making audiences laugh, and I regularly reach out to bookers to get on their shows. Oh and if you’re a booker reading this, please put me on your God Damn Show(s). But I digress...
This discomfort around self promotion may come as a surprise as I’ve been blasting myself all over social media for the past three years. I guess everyone has their own idea of what's acceptable. For me, posts were fine, casual conversations were fine, but anything beyond that was a big no-no. I’ve shot myself in the foot by not having a website (until now!) A few veteran comics have told me to get my act together, but I’m honestly not in love with the content I have. None of my better shows (nor amazing ones) seem to get recorded. I remember this one time I was so pumped coming off stage and my friend literally said, “I missed recording your set while flirting with this girl.” Crushing. This other time I was using my go-pro and instead of filming my set I took 250+ pictures. But that seems to be par for the course..
Everyone has their own approach for handling new and uncomfortable things. My gf for example takes baby steps. She will dip the tiniest part of her pinky toe into something new, pull back, evaluate, then decide to quit, or try again with a slightly bigger toe. I’m not one of those people. I sit there looking at the water, imagining what could be underneath, alternating between feeling waves of fear and excitement. But after three years I’ve finally jumped in screaming at the top of my lungs! Here’s to hoping I float, and there are no sharks in the water.