Theatre taught me how to take a script, that at first glance looks like the most awkward mish-mash of dialogue and stage directions, and churn it into something that resembles a performance. It taught me that learning the motivation behind a line is just as important as learning the line. It taught me to apply discipline to creativity because just like every other job, theatre has a KPI and it’s as simple as – be ready on opening night. Most of all it taught me that you can scream from the rooftop how much you want to be an actor but you don’t prove it until your standing in a freezing theatre in the middle of winter because we just need to get this right.
Theatre has structure, rules and endless preparation before you get on stage. Stand-up comedy does not.
The first time I tired stand-up I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Soooo you’re saying I can go on stage and say whatever I want? I don’t have to run it past the playwright or a director or anything? I can use a microphone so I don’t even need a vocal warm-up? What. Is. This. Place?! Sure, you have to stay in your time limit and put the microphone back where you found it but really that’s it when it comes to the rules.
It was very strange to suddenly have complete creative control over the content I performed, my own precious 5 little minutes on stage. Never had I had such an opportunity and here comic were treating it like it was common practice. New comics were getting up on stage and reading jokes written on their hands, some were drunk or stoned, some I would have bet my saving account had not said some of their jokes out loud before getting up on stage.
Needless to say I took my material a lil more seriously than that. It was at that point that I really started to consider – what would I like to say to an audience? What topics, jokes and themes communicate who I am as a performer?
My first mistakes in stand-up were to tell stories instead of jokes. Our friends are a forgiving audience and will laugh at a funny little story we tell but a stand-up audience is waiting for a punch line. My second mistake was to over-complicate the joke, put in so much set-up that the audience had gone to sleep by the time I gave them the payoff of a punch line. I cringe at my earliest jokes but I’m pretty sure ten years from now I’ll be cringing at the jokes I’m telling now, so what can you do.
There are skills to be learnt from both mediums but for anyone thinking of making the change, I just say – mind the culture shock as you walk through the door!