Monday, March 07, 2005

In which I suddenly become reflective

So, I'm currently trying to find my stand-up comedy "voice" - that is, I'm trying harder to just be myself when I'm performing stand-up. Why is this difficult? Well, my original comedy roots are in sketch and improv comedy, artforms that rely on diverse characters and varying points of views. But stand-up is far more individual and intimate. And revealing. Audiences can sense fear. They can also sense trepidation and uncertainty, despite strong material. On the flipside, a strong personality and a confident attitude can sell a mediocre joke and win over the audience, despite lackluster punchlines. And with the amount of time I've spent on writing bits, I feel like I need to invest some more time focusing on performing the bits.

The writing and the performing of jokes are two completely different beasts. Many a stand-up comic will tell you that when responding to a heckler, quickly and succinctly rattling off a put-down will get a big laugh from the audience, even if it's a standard one-liner. It's the speed of the delivery and the quick-thinking of the comic that's rewarded, not necessarily the eloquence of the phrase. It's here that a comic's abilities as a performer shine. Likewise, a comic's delivery can elevate even the lamest of jokes to the heights of hilarity (I'm slipping dangerously over into New Yorker territory here, with the pithy comments). Think of Chris Rock or Lewis Black. Sure, the material's great, but it's their stage presence that really makes them stand out. Sam Kinison had some great quotes, but would they have been nearly as powerful - or as funny - had they not come from the chubby dude in a trenchcoat and cap unleashing his wit in primal screams?

Which brings me back to me and my stage persona. Lately, I've been wanting to cut loose more onstage, but once I get in front of the mike, I feel like I'm very guarded and almost nervous. I'm almost relying solely on the strength of the material, and the performance aspect is taking a backseat. This isn't always the case - in rooms where I'm comfortable, I feel much more confident in myself, and I think it shows. For me, I think the trick is being able to maintain that confidence no matter where I'm performing.

So, that's my goal. To gain more confidence and to be more comfortable just being myself onstage. Because I think I can be a pretty funny guy. And once I'm able to just let go and be myself, the material becomes fresher and easier to generate, I become more relaxed and the audience becomes more engaged.

Why is it that just being ourselves is sometimes the hardest thing to do?