To express your real sense of humor on a stand-up comedy stage, you have to be funny in the same way that you’ve been funny all your life. In my experience I’ve found improper rehearsal to be the number one factor that causes people to lose touch with their natural sense of humor.
For instance, if you rehearse by pacing back and forth, looking at the ground and trying to remember what you’re supposed to say next, then you’ll perform pacing back and forth, staring at the ground, and still trying to remember what you’re supposed to say next.
Conversely, if you rehearse a joke as if it were something that really happened to you, pretending that you’re relating to an audience and having fun with your material, then you’ll perform as if the material really happened to you, you’ll relate to the audience, and you’ll have fun.
When you rehearse material in a different manner than you want to perform it is an error I often refer to as the “Milkman Syndrome.” This name was inspired by a student in my advanced class who had a good sense of humor but would forget everything he’d rehearsed whenever he did his show.
I asked him if he was rehearsing his show at home, and he assured me that he was. When I asked for more details about his rehearsal process, he informed me that he was a milkman and would rehearse while driving between stops.
When I heard that it was immediately clear to me what the problem was. I asked the student to get back on stage, sit on the stool and pretend to drive his milk truck. Though a little embarrassed, he acquiesced to my bizarre request. To his and the entire classes amazement, as soon as he assumed the same body position he’d been in while rehearsing, he remembered his show perfectly.
The lesson here is that since the performance state mimics the rehearsal state, it’s extremely important to use a rehearsal process that will bring forth your natural state of being funny.
Your creative self wants to do what’s natural and your fearful side wants to control and not make mistakes. Oh you will make mistakes. Suck it up and be playful and turn it into something funny. But if you’re too bust just going onto the next thing your rehearsed, then you continue moving through the show just saying what your rehearsed. If you can remember it.
You’re better off winging it, then being restricted by memorized words and stilted body language because that’s the way you rehearsed. At least you’ll be yourself with your normal sense of humor and personality.
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