Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Classes, Competitions and Contests

The C words of comedy-- Classes, Competitions and Contests- they're supposed to bring you fame and fortune far sooner than if you had years of stage time, but is that the case? If you go to a comedy club and see "As Seen on Last Comic Standing" you may find yourself watching the middle act, not the headliner. Seems as if the reality of being a comedian who can handle all audiences is an issue for those who shortcut. It's not like karaoke, ala American Idol, where you can practice in front of your bathroom mirror and grandparents. A good comic knows that the audience on Wednesday may rock, and one on Friday may look at you as if you had a penis growing out of your forehead.

The Hollywood dream of comedians finding a producer in the audience worshiping every word, and begging her to write the next major sitcom, is a rare and more often unrealized one. Yet, if you go to the clubs in Los Angeles you'll find a lot of very pretty people ACTING like comedians. Some hire writers. Others creatively borrow from other real writers, and discover that dialing it in isn't working. When they wake up and see that their not getting movie role offers, the clubs have suffered the consequences. No one wants to see unfunny comedy. The glut of comedians in the 80's produced hundreds of dead clubs.

So comics avoided the clubs that seemed to put more prettier-than-life people on mics. They searched for other ways to get noticed. One started a show called "Last Comic Standing" which was supposed to be Real World meets Survivor meets American Idol. Comedians were going to out-funny each other, and get network notice. Well, it sort of backfired when the reality HIT the reality TV circuit- and it was discovered that the networks were pushing judges to select the pretty-made-for-tv-actor-comics over those who had the chops, and the skills, to keep an audience laughing. The show failed comedians the way the comedy clubs in LA were failing- not dealing with the idea that people wanted to laugh with a comedy writer/performer, rather than see an idealized version of what a comedian should be. That fails both the comedian and the audience- and yet thrives because pretty people who fail make great TV.

There is a comedy class in nearly every major city in the United States. Do comedy classes help people? Yes. You will get personalized guidance, and you will get tips on how to handle stage situations from those who have been through the trenches. People who fail at classes are those who assume that material will suddenly appear out of nowhere, who don't put the writing first, and those who assume that fame is part of the comedy equation. It's not. The three parts of comedy are Performance, Writing, Audience Reaction. If you can't ace all three, you will never be a comedian. The classes help in getting people past obstacles involving all three. But, they only work if the performer is willing to put effort into it. The comedian will save months of stage time if s/he immerses into the process rather than just does the class, and nothing else. You have to perform, you have to be on stage, you have to write. And you have to fail.

This is the competition corner of the blog- Competition is great for those who are better performers under pressure. For those who pepper themselves with the tiniest bit of self doubt- you are not someone who will do well in a competitive environment. It only takes one moment of "I wonder if that's working?" to fall flat on your face. If you feel doubt, the audience and judges feel it, too. And, even if you win a competition, you still have to be consistent to get gigs. Some people are great competitors but don't bring the funny EVERY time on stage. To succeed you need that edge- the bookers will see if you aren't getting a response, and you can't rely on one competition to make your career. Yet, that seems to be the option for those who really aren't ready to be career comedians.

The short cuts only work if you have the chops to begin with and certainly only work with those who are going to be putting out the effort well after those experiences end. There are pretty people in comedy. There are mediocre stars. There are those who have taken the shorter routes, but still managed to keep their career going. Dedication to yourself, your idea of funny, and writing will get you farther. The ability for those to appreciate your efforts ensure your comedic future. Quitting doesn't do anything to improve your chances of being the next big star. And, sometimes a shear comprehension of bombing well does.

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