Last week a friend of mine, comic Scott Long, ran a comedy class in Muncie, IN. I asked him if I could sit in on the class, and he graciously said yes on one condition: that I tell my story of how I got into standup. I jumped at the chance.
You might wonder why I'd do that—want to attend a comedy class, that is. I'm a full-time comic, right? Don't I know everything I need to? The answer is a patent no. I knew enough to get where I'm at. That's not nearly enough for me...
I make it a point to learn something every time I go to work. While I'm not interested in teaching comedy (at least not right now) I personally know two comics who regularly write things a young comedian, or someone interested in being a comic, will absolutely benefit from reading: Scott Long and Ward Anderson.
I heard a quote in high school. Charlie Parker (the legendary jazz saxophonist) said, “You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” Now... the way I heard it initially was, “Learn your instrument. Then Learn the music. Then forget all that bullshit and just play.” Same thing, just maybe a little more punchy. And just as true.
I want to learn as much about how other people do comedy as I can, and I don't want to waste my time on armchair comedians or wannabes. The most important thing I ever learned in college was from my poetry teacher Tom Thornburg, who said (and I brutally paraphrase, here): “If you want to make money at doing something, don't take advice from someone who doesn't make money doing it.” And then he showed us the poetry books he'd published and talked about the ones coming up. He walked the walk.
Scott makes money doing comedy. He writes sketches for Frank Caliendo for FOX's NFL pregame shows. Take a second and check out his credentials. He's not fabulously wealthy, or even famous for it. But he's a dynamic stage presence and a class act, and he knows his shit.
Here's the link to the first blog I ever read from Scott. It resonated with me, and helped set the tone for my future trips. It's not advice on being funny; it's advice on how to survive on the road and still make a profit. Read this one, and then go back and read the rest. You will learn something.
Ward has a different comedy pedigree, being a best-selling author and award-winning director in addition to being a comedian. Naturally, his blog takes a different approach. He writes a lot of entertaining stuff, occasionally dropping an entry on the business, but is nonetheless worth reading and learning from. In this entry, he discusses 5 things every young comedian should know.
And (because I'd probably get lynched by flaming comments if I didn't mention this, and at the least would be negligent) you should listen to the WTF podcast by comedian Marc Maron. While I've never met or worked with Mr. Maron, interspersed in his conversations with famous and/or talented comedians, in between the flippant jokes, reminiscences, and occasional vitriol, you'll gain a definitive insight on the business and craft of comedy. This is probably the most valuable resource for insight into the workings of the comedy world...
There. I've officially passed the buck (and definitely for the better.) Class dismissed.