Rachel's weekly investigative column
It's not easy to be a stand-up comedian. We all know that. Most of us would never do it for fear of being shamed off the stage. Even "funny people" can absolutely suck at stand-up. It can be heartbreaking to watch someone whose been acclaimed amongst friends and family for being "the funny one" strut onstage and humiliate his or herself for a full ten minutes with no escape.
Last night, Nicole and I ventured out to a free comedy event in the city and, after sitting through a series of uncomfortable sets (topics ranging from Alzheimers to dead grandmothers to "emotional pornography"), I began to wonder...
This is an investigative column. Week after week, I think I'll attempt to uncover the clues to comedic magic.
My first little discovery comes from Max Schiller who teaches us in his farce "The Arsonists" that the best way to manipulate anyone is to just tell them truth because the truth is so laughable that nobody ever believes it.
I noticed last night that comedians who had based their jokes on fiction were absolutely the least successful. One guy kept referencing women who had hit on him but we it was questionable whether or not he had ever been hit on at all. Once we started doubting his sincerity, we really stiffened and became uncomfortable.
The truth is comical. If we subvert reality and infuse it with ridicule it all of a sudden becomes humorous. Honesty and integrity lead to humour. Sketch comedy is a great example: the closer the source of the sketch is to reality, the more we laugh. We laugh at The Daily Show, Colbert, Newsroom, Nancy Grace (even though she's super serious but it's the funniest thing I've ever seen). Material that "is grounded in a commitment to the facts", as Chris Bliss puts it, gives comedy integrity with still the brilliance of an unexpected twist to make the audience laugh.
American stand-up comedian, Chris Bliss lectures on using the truth to write comedy here: http://www.standupcomedyclinic.com/2419/comedy-is-truth/
Bliss has a whole bunch of formulaic suggestions for why truth is integral to comedy but, I think the main point is that "funny people" shouldn't have to invent comedy, they should be able to see comedy in every day life. In their book "Truth in Comedy" Charna Halpern and Del Close have written that “When we’re relaxing, we don’t have to entertain each other with jokes. And when we’re simply being ourselves up to each other and being honest, we’re usually funniest.”
To prove their point, the funniest comedian in the room last night was some guy, I purposely didn't take anyone's name, but I think this guy was on MTV, he came without material. His entire set was just him having a conversation or mostly a monologue about what he was he thinking in that moment. He was just a "funny guy" and it came through because he was grounding everything in reality.
It seems then, the moral is, if you're funny, just be funny. Don't worry about making things funny, they already are and you already know it because you have a funny point of view. Relax, share your perspective and people will laugh.
The other moral: beware free comedy nights.