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How To Be A Comedian
You don't need to be funny to learn from the stand-up community.
“The whole objective of comedy is to be yourself, and the closer you get to that, the funnier you will be.”
— Jerry Seinfeld
One of the most innovative and entertaining shows to appear in recent times is Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.
As the title suggests, each episode features Seinfeld picking up a well-known comedian from their house and taking them to a nearby coffee shop.
Predictably, hilarity ensues, but the show’s most enlightening snippets are when the comics get deep into the artistry of stand-up — often workshopping jokes with each other in real-time.
The craftsmanship required to sculpt one joke, let alone a whole hour-long show, is mind boggling. Each syllable is analyzed and tested, with an inflection often the difference between a joke working or flopping.
The physical environment is also heavily choreographed and used in the storytelling; the microphone stand, the water bottle, the lone stool sitting in the middle of the stage.
Those comedians lucky enough to land their own Netflix special spend months, sometimes years practicing in smaller clubs before moving to the big stage.
Comedians don’t look like athletes, but they sure as hell work as hard as them.
And as coaches, we can learn a lot from how diligently they prepare their communication.
My admiration for comedians doesn’t stop at the intricacies of their performance.
Their respect and support for each other is unlike any other group I’ve observed.
In general, comics refuse to denounce each other even if they disagree on the taste of a joke or the delivery of it. ‘I admire them for trying it,’ is the most common response you’ll hear when one stand-up appraises another’s performance.
Each and every comedian knows precisely how difficult it is to stand up there and have the spotlight on them — a phenomenon that mirrors the understanding shared by head coaches. The world is different when that spotlight is on you, and until you’ve been up there for yourself, it’s impossible to fully comprehend how it feels.
My ultimate appreciation for comedians, though, is reserved for their unrelenting desire to push boundaries. Whether it’s broaching taboo topics, blistering social commentary, or merely a reminder to laugh and not take ourselves too seriously, stand-ups often have the unenviable position of pushing our collective consciousness forward.
In our own way, coaches can be like that too.
We can be brave in the face of The Tough Stuff and enact the change we seek in the world. In the face of job uncertainty, public criticism, and lack of understanding, we must be emboldened to go against popular narratives within the game and bring our unique vision to life.
Too often, change-making coaches get to the top and become crippled with fear, believing they need to win a championship to ‘earn the right’ to push the game forward.
If this is you, I’d urge you to think of the comedians. They don’t book a spot on The Tonight Show and then wonder if they’ve earned the right to tell a risky joke.