Writing is no joke. It’s a difficult process that can take years to hone. Writing is more than just putting pen to paper (or typing in your Google Docs) and jotting down words. It’s about finding your voice and ensuring you convey your points eloquently. For comics, it’s even more difficult because we have a strategic goal with our writing: making people laugh. Doing that involves writing in a way that fits our personal style and covering topics that make sense for our brand. For the stage, it also involves executing the performance in a way that we feel works for us.
In the quest to find your voice and develop your stand-up, one of the common pitfalls many comics face is the dreaded copycat. We often at times look to others for inspiration whether it’s our comedy peers or prominent stand-ups to find a foundation that inspires us; however, if you aren’t careful it can form itself into an obvious copycat and you may not even realize it.
So how do we negate from this so we can find our authentic voice?
Here are some strategies that I have found work.
Figure out exactly what you're looking for when you seek inspiration.
First and foremost, I’m not claiming we shouldn’t look at others for inspiration. Seeing what others do can help inspire something in us that we never even knew was there.
What I am saying is to find specific elements of others performances that catches your attention. For example, one comic I have been looking at recently is Chris D’Elia. D’Elia is a very animated comic on stage and definitely has a presence.
What I cover for topics and my style is completely different, however, there are certain elements of his performance that I’ve practiced to challenge myself such as how animated he is on stage. Personally, I will probably never be as animated as him. He’s at 100% the entire time (check out Chris D’Elia: Man on Fire on NetFlix) and doing the same thing wouldn’t work for me. However, I have found a way to up my energy at certain moments where it calls and turns on the animation. Someone told me it looks like “I’m losing my shit” when I step out of my reserved nature which apparently works for me.
If you see something and alter it to where it works for you that is much better to try to master someone else’s performance.
Don’t try and be like someone else.
The clear signs of a copycat are when you can see elements of someone else’s performance or writing that match too precisely. For example, I saw a comic not too long ago that had clear copycat elements of Rodney Dangerfield. Dangerfield was the “Prince of One-Liners” and that was primarily his entire performance. This comic made it clear he was trying to be another Rodney Dangerfield and when you do something that is so clear to someone else’s brand like their style and execution, it’s a clear copy.
Sure, doing that might work for a little while, but it’ll eventually come back to bite you because it’ll register as already being done.
Audiences are smart, and they can figure things out. It all goes back to authenticity and copycat performances will always register as inauthentic.
Draw from your own personal truth.
Comedic honesty isn’t necessarily about facts, but more so our truth and how we feel about something. You believe in what you say and don’t hold back.
One thing I have learned is that no one has a monopoly on a topic, but it’s how you form your thoughts on that topic that makes the difference. If you’re exploring something like dating apps (one of the most overdone topics in comedy), it’s fine to talk about it but come at it with a fresh perspective so you’ll have a better chance at achieving originality. If you can’t find a fresh perspective, then perhaps it’s not worth exploring at the moment? Your call, but remember that less than fresh perspectives will always be boring.
Regardless of your comedic style, you never want to be a copycat. Obviously, there are more blatant methods, but all are ultimately a waste of time, and it will take away from what you really can be as a comic.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!