The question I get asked most frequently from comics is, "How can I stop people from stealing my material?"
Last time I was asked, it was from someone who didn't even have an act yet. No joke!
This wanna-be comic was wondering -- if he did write jokes, and did get up onstage, how would his soon to be written material be protected?
I understand his concern. We comedians work hard to get material. We write joke ideas on little scraps of paper all day long, we agonize over whether "carrot" or "zucchini" is a funnier vegetable, and we become enraged at the thought of someone stealing our precious material.
What he's not paying enough attention to is something a lot more important. Comedians don't become famous because they have a few good lines.
Your real ticket to fame is your persona.
Your persona is a lot more than just your material. It's the sum of your topics, your energy, your point of view, your delivery and your look. Your persona is your brand. If your brand is strong, people will respond to it no matter how much your act changes over time. Best of all, unlike words, you are own your brand -- so nobody can ever steal it.
People go to Vegas to see Jerry Seinfeld -- not his act.
Jerry became famous to the world for his hit TV show. But to comedians, he was already a legend for his joke writing. For starters, he was known for actually doing what other comics know they should do but don't: Jerry wrote every day for at least an hour. He set a timer every morning and kept writing until it buzzed. What's more, his jokes were universally considered near perfect. They had strong premises, detailed observations, and brilliant punch lines. By the time he had been in comedy 22 years, he had put together one of the strongest acts in the business. Then he did something most comedians would consider unthinkable: he threw his act away and started over, as documented in the 2002 movie Comedian.
Did throwing his act away stop people from packing rooms to watch him perform? Not a bit. Jerry still sells out venues with his brand-new act. That's because people want to see Jerry Seinfeld. They want to hear him relate his unique point of view in his distinctive way.
Same thing with Jeff Foxworthy, Chris Rock, Kathy Griffin, or Larry the Cable Guy -- they have become a brand. So, Jerry Seinfeld doesn't have to worry about someone copying his jokes. What he gives an audience in a performance is much more than just a collection of random punch lines. And no one else can deliver Jerry's routine in quite the same way. That's what people are willing to pay for.
Make a list of successful comics and you might find that they all have a very distinct persona that can be described in a few words. Now do the same for yourself. What is your unique persona? Can you reduce it to a tag Line like the phrase "Domestic Goddess" that Rosanne Barr used to describe herself?
Give it a shot. It's a lot easier to know what to write ... when you figure out who you really are! And let me know if you need assistance with a consultation.