Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Important Relationships In Standup Comedy

On a recent episode of The Mentorist v2 I discussed the importance of having a Mentor or a Comedy Buddy. I have come to believe that without one or the other a standup comedian has a much more difficult time becoming the standup they want to be.

Why are these so important? Accurate feedback ... which in my opinion is in short supply. A standup comedian gets a lot of feedback but for the most part it is tainted.

Here's a breakdown of the different categories of feedback:

Audience Response - You would probably think that this is the purest form of feedback, and it probably is. The only problem is that in most cases the standup will taint this one all by himself. That is because even if an audience LOVED everything, the standup knows every mistake he/she made. Or if things didn't go well, the standup makes excuses for why he/she didn't do well; the audience was bad, they had to follow someone that bombed, etc. There are even the select few that are completely clueless to how they were received. I've seen standups bombing on stage, and then coming off and pronouncing that they "killed".

Club Feedback - The problem with club feedback is that there are way too many variables. A club will tell you whatever serves its best interest. They could tell you you just aren't doing well enough to keep you working in a position. An example is a club many times will tell features that they are just not good enough to headline, when in fact they are. Keeping them in the feature slot benefits the club because it has a standup working with a skill level much higher than the slot requires.

The other issue with club feedback is that in order to really know what their feedback means you would have to know the entire roster and how each one of those comics was rated and have a complete understanding of the rating system. I know of one club that actually takes into account the "drink averages" during comedian performances.

Booker Feedback - Booker feedback is probably the worst of all feedback. Most times, bookers have never seen a standup perform beyond a video clip. Or they've heard "something" about a standup. The only real feedback of value to a standup is whether or not they get a booking. In fact, generally beyond getting booked the only feedback you'll get from a booker is negative.

Comedian Feedback - You never know if a feedback from another standup is sincere. Most of what you hear is good job after a set whether you did well of not. After all, no one wants to or feels like they can approach another comic after a show and say "that didn't go well, did it?" When it comes to a standup giving feedback to another standup; just about everyone takes the path of least resistance.

Social Media - For the average standup comic the number of followers a standup has on Facebook, Twitter or whatever doesn't mean much ... until the number gets VERY large. While it's good to have a following, a standup can't assume the feedback they receive from social media is accurate. After all, they're fans, and fans only say nice things. When it comes to negative feedback, it's generally not constructive. It's usually grandiose and done in a hurtful way.

When it comes to feedback only a Mentor or Comedy Buddy is really going to tell you the truth. So what's the difference and which is better? It depends.

Merriam Webster gives this definition for Mentor:
Mentor: someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person

A Mentor can be the difference between success and failure to someone who wants to become a standup comedian. There is so much to learn and so many different approaches to standup comedy, it is easy for an aspiring standup comic to get distracted, and even easier to make bad choices. A Mentor with real experience can help these things.

Most importantly, a Mentor is going to provide valuable feedback that is meant to be productive. There is no questioning the motive behind the feedback. Since there is already a relationship built on mutual respect, the feedback doesn't need to be filtered. It can be accepted for exactly what it is; something to help.

Where a Mentor is someone with more experience, a Comedy Buddy is someone closer to your equal in experience.  I cannot express the importance of having a Comedy Buddy enough.

Merriam Webster has not come up with a definition so here is mine for Comedy Buddy
Comedy Buddy: A standup comedian with similar experience to share ideas and experiences with in an open and honest way.

The difference between a Mentor and Comedy Buddy is that a Comedy Buddy is going to be more of a shared experience. It's two standup comics on a journey together, discovering things as they go. They share what they learn with each other and do so in an open and honest way.

They don't necessarily need to be the greatest of friends, although that frequently is the case. The important thing is that there is mutual respect between them. So that when they communicate with each other about comedy, it is done so with honesty and compassion.

When you ask your Comedy Buddy if a bit you wrote is good, you should be able to expect an honest answer, even if it's not the one you want to hear. Sometimes a standup is so focused on the "idea", that he just can't see where he's going wrong. That's why getting accurate feedback is so important. It helps learn what is really working and that's how a standup gains skill and understanding.

So my advice to any standup who should happen to read this is simple. Don't go it alone, gravitate towards those you admire. Learn from them when you can.

For my more experienced comedy brothers; I would suggest that when you see someone with the fire you had, take a moment to help him/her out. It could make all the difference. Whether or not you had a Mentor when you started, by now you know how important one can be.

Pass along your skill ...

Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992. He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians. He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy. He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew. His web site is Vilmos.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com.vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

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