“Just Be Yourself”
If you are a standup comic, others probably have given you this vague advice. During my career, over 100 people have offered me this guidance, including agents, managers, and plumbers, and I have never had a clue what it meant..
“Just be yourself.” What self? The self that gets so tongue tied in meeting new people that I stutter. That self? That would go over great in Vegas. This suggestion is almost as stupid as the “Just have fun,” advice. This was the advice someone gave to me before I went on to do a set at Gotham Comedy Club to a crowd that was so drunk, a woman actually projectile vomited on the comic before me. If I was to be myself and just have fun that night, I have been home in bed.
The truth of it is that when I am being myself, I am having fun. When I am pretending to be something that I’m not, i.e. confident, in charge, and sure of myself, I’m not having fun at all. It takes a lot of energy to put on a mask of what I think I should be like onstage. But how do we get to that place of authenticity?
After 25 years of doing standup I got a comedy coach, Steve North. All these years of coaching others, I never had one myself and it was time. My act was stagnant and my new material was hit and miss. Steve watched some videos of me and identified my “funny part.” It was something I was doing 50% of the time, and I needed to do it 100% of the time. The funny part of me is when I catch myself being phony and self criticize. It sounds like – “It’s hard out there when you’re working full time, it’s hard when you’re raising a family, and apparently, it’s hard out there for a pimp.” After doing so many gigs, I knew where the “funny” was and I was “hitting” it hard. This new way, I catch myself being so serious and mutter the funny part. The less I work the funny part, the bigger my laughs have been. Once identifying my “funny thing that’s me” I found 20 other places in my act that I could add it. My laughs became denser and the response has been incredible – bigger reactions during the show and more referrals after the show.
“Being myself onstage” makes performing so much easier. I don’t feel that I have to go out there and “Wow” an audience. I just have to talk to them – but funny. It’s made me more relaxed and in the moment. And because I’m more relaxed, I am creating new material right onstage. I’m sure this will work for a few months and then I’m going to have to dig deeper still. The great thing about standup is that we’re never done learning stuff. The plumber was right.