Reasons to Take Stand Up Comedy Classes
By Greg Dean
Article first appeared in the magazine The Comic Bible
I’ve been teaching stand up comedy classes in Los Angeles for thirty years, so I’ve heard every reason and/or excuse for not taking my stand up comedy classes. Most what I am battling is ignorance, but also stupidity. The ignorance is for me to overcome – to get the message about my comedy techniques out into the public – so that comedians can make an informed decision about whether or not what I have to offer is going to help them in their comedy career. On the other hand, the stupidity is self-imposed by those who refuse new information no matter how useful. I can do something about ignorance with this series of articles. Stupidity? That is out of my hands.
Fear has a powerful affect on how people make decisions. As anyone who has faced the dragon of stand up comedy knows that if the audience laughs…you live…if they don’t laugh…you burn. What I would like to do with this article is to layout what I believe to be some of the most powerful benefits of participating in professional stand up comedy classes as a means of preparing to face the dragon. Fear has two basic roots: one, facing the unknown and two, feeling unprepared. In order to make it easier to face the dragon these two rudimentary fears must be addressed.
Facing The Unknown
Stand up comedy classes are very useful tools that allows a comic to get on stage – first in front of a class, and later in front of a friendly audience – to slay a baby dragon. Gaining the familiarity of performing for several weeks in front of others in the stand up comedy classes gives a student some information about what it’s like to perform in front of an audience. Of course, it’s not the “real thing,” but it can take the edge off of what, up to now, has been a completely unknown dragon and transforms it into a somewhat unknown dragon. To help you face the unknown, make sure the stand up comedy classes offer:
A Safe Place to Be Bad. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. That is to say, anything you don’t know how to do, you will be bad at it, until you’ve done it enough to get better. You must have a place you can feel comfortable failing. Learning to be funny has a massive failure rate. In practice, you will learn what does and doesn’t work. Mostly what you will learn though is what doesn’t work. A good stand up comedy teacher must create an environment in the stand up comedy classes where students feel that they can take risks and won’t be put down or humiliated. The comedy teacher must foster this safe atmosphere, and require this kind of support from all the students in the stand up comedy classes. In my stand up comedy classes, the bigger the risk the more kudos received. I believe that a student will learn more by going outside the box, than staying inside the box…because in comedy…there is no box.
Being with Others Interested in Stand-up Comedy. Stand up comedy classes assembles a group of people with the same agenda. When you are with others who are on the same journey, you don’t feel so alone. Having people around who share the same interests and are facing the same fears helps us face our fears because they become shared experiences. Another benefit is that there have been hundreds of life-long friendships and dozens of marriages that began in my stand up comedy classes. Good stand up comedy classes create community.
A Comedy Teacher Who Understands the Journey. There are few things to help one face a fear better than a comedy teacher who knows his or her subject. I have taken so many students through the process of knowing nothing about stand up comedy to becoming seasoned performers that I am rarely surprised anymore. The common challenges that most students go through are routine for a good comedy teacher. It may be unknown to the student, but if the comedy teacher has guided hundreds if not thousands of students to a successful outcome, they will have a much better perspective of what it takes to guide the next student on that same journey. I’ve heard all of the disparaging remarks that can be made about a stand up comedy teacher. Some of them are well founded because there are plenty of bad comedy teachers with good intentions. However, there are good comedy teachers also. Now we’re back to the “ignorance or stupidity lesson.” One must judge each comedy teacher on his or her individual merits. There are some excellent comedy teachers and some horrible ones. But if you lump all comedy teachers together because you are ignorant of what they have to offer… that makes you stupid. Be open to the real information about a stand up comedy teacher has to offer, who knows…you just might learn something.
The second reason for fear is feeling unprepared. Having the confidence that you are well prepared goes a very long way to quelling the fear of doing stand up comedy. Since there is a mystical aura around being funny – “You’ve got it or you don’t.” – many people don’t understand that there is a great deal that anyone can learn about crafting and performing of stand up comedy. Here are a few ways stand up comedy classes can help you to be prepared:
The Discipline of Being Prepared for Class. Why is it that actors, even famous ones, when they are not working are always in an acting class? Part of the discipline of stand up comedy classes is having a weekly ritual of going to a location where you are expected to be prepared. When you participate in stand up comedy classes you have a weekly goal of doing your show. Also, since you’ve paid some money you will be more prepared because you want to get your money’s worth. Stand up comedy classes also spurs one on because no one wants to fall behind his or her peers. There’s nothing worse than starting off with a group of people and discover that they are out performing and making money and you’re still at the open mikes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard students tell me, “I’m going to take some time off from my stand up comedy classes and do some writing.” They come back to my stand up comedy classes two years later having done nothing. They haven’t written. They haven’t performed. If they’d stayed in my stand up comedy classes, they would have had enough material to be an Opener or even a Feature performer in a nightclub. Being in stand up comedy classes promotes discipline – discipline toward developing your stand up comedy career.
Group Writing Opportunities. You don’t have to be in this alone. In my stand up comedy classes, since we are all working from the same comedy techniques and language, a student has fourteen other people pitching jokes for their show. I insist that everyone give solution feedback, which is to say, if you don’t have a joke or can offer a fix…shut up. Above all, what must be avoided is everyone’s opinion about what they think is funny. Everyone’s opinion about what’s funny is simply that… an opinion. Since opinions differ greatly, giving opinions in a group will only create confusion because one joke can receive fifteen different opinions. People get to vote on whether a joke is funny or not with their laughter or lack thereof. To improve a joke the students must understand what a joke is – and that’s where technique comes into play. My Beginner Stand Up Comedy Classes are for everyone because it is all about teaching stand up comedy technique. Once the students are competent with the stand up comedy techniques, they will know how to give useful feedback to other students – because they can identify what is missing and suggest a fix. One more perk of being in stand up comedy classes is joining in study groups. My students are required to attend one study group a week. This has created such good habits that there some on-going study groups that have been running for years. The benefits of being involved with a comedy community go well beyond just the hours spent in the stand up comedy classes. Also, there is no faster way to generate material than group writing. And as everyone knows, you can’t get work without having enough clean material.
Quality Showcases. My stand up comedy classes showcases are truly a great deal of fun. Unlike the open-mike nights that can be very tough. My stand up comedy classes showcases keep the delight in your performing because the audience is made up of friends and relatives of the students in the stand up comedy classes. These are audiences that want everyone to do well – an attitude that is much like the real world of performing in a nightclub. A paying nightclub audience wants the comic to do well because they’ve paid money to laugh and have a good time. Compare this to performing for a room full of other stand up comedians waiting for their turn. Also, I’m proud of the fact that my students have created some of the best venues for performing in Southern Cal. For instance, Dave Reinitz and Barbara Holliday run the two shows – Survival of the Funniest and Uncle Clyde’s Comedy Contest which both offer cash prizes. Also, Scott Everett Berger and Doug Mortenson have a show (not a bringer room) on the first Saturday of every month at the Ramada Inn in Victorville called The Comedy Outpost. They book four to six comics who get from fifteen to thirty minutes of quality performing time. Depending on audience attendance, the comics are paid a nominal fee. The best part of this show is having a place to work on longer sets. These are just two instances where being involved in a comedy community has generated far more than what goes on in the stand up comedy classes. Oh by the way, all of the people I’ve just mentioned are currently in my stand up comedy classes and have been for several years.
Learning Comedy Technique. I’ve left this point for last because this should be the central reason for deciding to take stand up comedy classes. I’ve spent thirty years assembling overall curriclum of technique for teaching stand up comedy classses. Some people even call it the science of comedy. I simply call it the fundeamentals of stand up comedy. If stand up comedy classes don’t teach stand up techniques that everyone can learn, practice, and apply, then all that is left is the teacher’s opinion about what he or she thinks is funny. As I mentioned earlier, learning stand up comedy based on various opinions about what it funny only creates confusion. You already know what you think is funny, so you don’t need a comedy teacher telling you what’s funny or not. What you need is a comedy teacher who will give you tools to help you articulate your sense of humor. If the stand up comedy teacher writes the jokes, edits the material, and constructs the routine, you may be funny in that one show. But when it is time for you to create another show, you won’t know how to do it for yourself because the stand up comedy teacher did it for you. Reportedly, learning stand up comedy techniques will take two to four years off of your development time because you can learn in weeks what it will take you years to discover through experimentation. As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Good stand up comedy classes should emphasis stand up comedy technique, that support a life long stand up comedy career and allow you to buy all the sushi you desire.
What are the reason for taking good stand up comedy classes? Well I believe you will grow and prosper if you learn the stand up comedy techniques of writing, editing, routining, rehearsing, and performing and then practice these techniques in stand up comedy classes which provides a safe place to be bad, surrounded by others with the same interests, with a stand up comedy teacher who understands the journey, in a atmosphere that fosters discipline, with a group who help improve your show, while looking forward to a showcase that is fun, all supported by the solid foundation of stand up comedy technique.
Hopefully this article has answered some of your questions about what good stand up comedy classes have to ofeer and maybe overcome some of your excuses. This is my effort at conquering ignorance…as far as the stupidity…that’s up to you.