Yeah, okay, I know, I get it all the time. People ask me, “How do you teach stand-up comedians?”
First, let me make a distinction between the craft of comedy and the art of being funny.
The craft of comedy I can teach you. I can teach you joke structure, joke writing, scene work, and crowd work, “Hello. What’s your name? What do you do for a living?” I can teach you about a joke or routine premise to get the subject clear and define what position you’re taking on it. This lets the audience understand your message.
I can teach that because comedians have been doing that since the beginning of comedians. All of these are underlying skills that can be taught.
So, those are the fundamentals. And they are skills anyone can learn and practice.
Then, there’s the art of being funny. Can’t teach it.
It can only be learned through trial and error. Beginner comedians need to be able to get up and fall down and do it wrong and do it right a whole bunch of time.
A whole bunch of times in a row to figure out their own comedy voice. And they need the freedom to explore safely. I give them a safe environment to be bad, because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly, until they get really, really good.
My approach is a lot like teaching in sports. Take soccer. Anybody can run around on a field and kick a ball and try to block it. But if you want to be a professional soccer player, you need to learn the fundamentals from a coach.
You must learn your footwork and passing and the plays and on and on and on, until your really good at those fundamentals. You’re drilled over and over on those fundamentals. Then a coach puts you on the field to practice those fundamentals to get better at them. The coach is there to encourage you. Picking you up when you fall down and telling you, “It’s okay. You can do this.”
As a matter of fact, I find the people that take the bigger risks and are the worst in the beginning, are the ones that are really good later because they figured out the secret: mostly what you learn is what doesn’t work. And you’ve got to learn to deal with that.
So, my approach is to first teach the fundamentals. Then once you have a grasp of the fundamentals, then I put you on the stage, and I become a coach.
First teach, then coach. That’s how I teach stand-up comedians.
If you have a question, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put “Question” in the subject line.