Lessons from Stand Up
As many of you probably know, in Summer 2016, I decided to join a Second City stand-up class. I’ve always loved watching comedy and felt this was a real exciting challenge.
I’d done a lot of improv and enjoyed it tremendously, so it shouldn’t be too different…right?
I was wrong.
The thing about stand up is that it is like 180 degree shift from improv – it’s prepared material told on stage by yourself to an audience that may or may not ‘get’ you right from the beginning. With improv, there’s an element of team spirit, the ability to switch gears if things aren’t working for the audience and the chance to ‘tap out’ if need be. It’s also not as much of a memory game.
Outside of learning that it is a more challenging endeavour than I expected, I also learned some other life lessons. Of course! I’d like to share some with you…
I owe Russel Peters an apology
When I first heard of Russel Peters, I was amazed by the guy – hysterically funny, pushing the envelope and an Indo-Canadian like me. I hadn’t heard the kind of racial, racy jokes he made and found him edgy and fresh.
Then I started to really dislike him. He kept making those same Indian jokes over and over, and it started to sound cheesy. He relied too strongly on the fact he was a Desi, and when he started starring in awful films like 2011’s Happy New year, I told everyone I could that the man had sold out, that all he does is make Indian jokes and bank on the Indian accent and that if he was really funny – he would not need to make race-based jokes at all.
Since then, many comics since then have been making race-based jokes and I have judged them as well.
After my first experience in stand up though, I’ve definitely had to take back some of them fightin’ words…because guess what? The grand majority of my jokes were race-based!
They came out of the wazoo and seemed to write themselves. The fact is, things like race form a huge part of who we are, and it’s the easiest and most relatable thing out there for many of us. When I was writing my jokes, these seemed to ‘need’ to come out. I made loving fun of my aunt and dad’s accents, spoke about racism from Indians and even broached ancient Indian religion.
While I still believe Russell could, by now, just chill on the race jokes, I totally get where him and all other comics are coming from when they make racial jokes – it’s a familiar and authentic place to pull from, and as long as it’s not hateful, it’s perfectly a-ok.
Ride, don’t hide from, the awkward waves
When my jokes weren’t going over well with the audience, like maybe they didn’t laugh much at the parts I’d been banking on, my nerves went all over the place.
I wanted to hide, so I’d speed my speech and nervously laugh and try my best to move on too quickly.
However, after watching that clip it becomes apparent to me that if I’d just ridden the wave of awkwardness it would have been much better.
I’ve seen plenty of comics do this – they make a joke and it doesn’t hit well with the audience, then they just stand there with their hands on their hips and a wry expression, and maybe elaborate on the joke a little. Somehow their confidence in their own awkwardness ends up winning a ton of points.
It’s a lesson for life – the more we can ride the waves of unpleasantness, the better off we’ll all be.
You’re not that slick
I’ll be the first to admit that when watching this clip, there is a bit of a cringe factor.
The jokes are pretty mediocre and like I mentioned before, my nervous laughter and inability to handle silence is pretty off-putting.
What’s worse, though, is the three or four times I peek at my hand quickly, as if I believe no one can see me.
It’s like that Friends scene, where Joey performs his magic trick for his friends, and :
Joey: All right, all right, all right, all right, all right, you really wanna know how I did it, I’ll show ya. When you handed me back the card, what you didn’t see was, I looked at it so fast that it was invisible to the naked eye. (picks up a card and quickly looks at it) I just did it. (does it again) I just did it, again. Here, I’ll slow it down so that you guys can see it. (looks and the card in slow motion)
Clearly, I had written some of my material on my hand in an effort not to forget my jokes. Unfortunately, though, this didn’t really help me. I should’ve realized it’s far better for me to just go with the flow and say whatever jokes I remember. Relying on my hand made my memory actually worse in the end. It also looked silly as well, because it was so darn obvious to anyone who had eyes.
These are just a few of the lessons I learned from this experience overall – the last one being try some new things!!! You’ll learn so much more about yourself.