Stand-Up Comedy Level 1
Earlier this spring, I took the Level 1 Stand-up comedy class at Manhattan Comedy School. The instructions were to come to the first class with two minutes of material to present.
I had a brief moment of panic: I didn’t know the first thing about how to write comedy.
Performing stand-up was a “bucket list” thing: something i always wanted to try. I assumed that in the class, I would learn about how to craft jokes and compose an act.
I assumed wrong. Well, to be fair, my assumptions weren’t entirely wrong.
On the first day of the class, our teacher, comedienne Karen Burgreen said that if she were in charge, she would name the class “Finding Your Voice and Troubleshooting.”
Karen did not teach us how to craft a joke. We did not learn about the rule of threes. What we learned was how to find the funny in our daily life moments and in the world around us and turn them into an act.
Each week, we would gather in a studio rehearsal space 10 blocks north of Times Square. One at a time, each of us would take the mic at the front of the room and deliver a set to the class. Some people had actual jokes. Some had stories. Others had ideas and observations. Nuggets.
After we finished, Karen would give us feedback. She was encouraging. She validated things that worked and told us where we could develop things further.
Along the way, I started to get a sense of my comedic voice.
And somehow, within the container of that class, I put together a 5-minute set that I perform around the city.
Bitten by the bug after our graduation show, I wanted to take my learning deeper and understand how to turn my stories into jokes.
Comedy Writing Bootcamp
Last month, I started a 6-week Comedy Writing Bootcamp with comedian Ross Bennett.
Ross will ask us to repeat one bit over and over. Each time, he will suggest changes that hack away at the fluff until we isolated the core essence of the joke. We are learning how to turn our stories that are funny into jokes.
Now that I’m in the middle of the writing class, I understand why Stand-Up Level 1 is comes before Comedy Writing Boot Camp.
If stand-up level 1 is about Finding Your Voice, then Comedy Writing Boot Camp is about Protecting Your Voice.
To Protect Your Voice, You Must Know Your Voice
Whenever someone tries to edit your work, you want to understand the motives for their changes. Why do they think this will be better? What are they seeing that you’re not seeing?
You also need to fight to protect your voice. Which requires that you know your voice. And you must trust your instincts and deeper knowing about what works. This requires that you be in touch with your intuition and voice of wisdom. Remember that nobody has all the answers – the only way to know what works is to test it.
You need the encouragement to find your voice first before someone tries to pick it apart.
Consequences of Not Knowing Your Voice
If you don’t know your voice, and you don’t know how to listen to your inner wisdom, then you go down one of two paths.
Either you’ll listen to everyone else’s suggestions and try to do things the way other people tell you to do them, or you’ll close off completely to outside opinion because you fear that the outside opinion will disrupt your message.
In the first case, if you’re listening to everyone else, then you will be confused and your message will be muddy — if you deliver it at all.
One consequence of listening to everyone else is that you can get too many conflicting inputs.
In the second case, if you’re closed off to outside opinions, then you miss out on the critiques and distinctions that can help you improve your work and hone your message.
Neither of those situations is very effective to creating brilliant work that makes an impact.
A Third Option
But, of course, there is a third way. When you know your own voice and you can hear the voice of your inner wisdom and trust your intuition, you can remain open to input from people you trust. From a place of being grounded in your intuition, you can determine which suggestions to accept and which to discard.
Knowing your voice and trusting yourself opens you to receiving input and guidance. It gives you a form of freedom: freedom to hear what others say without feeling like you have to accept their input.
All of this boils down to a crucial lesson:
If you want people to hear your voice, you need to listen to yourself first.