Surviving Comedy: Gain A Thicker Skin
This industry is harsh. Plain and simple.
It’s the kind of business that doesn’t care if you’re not feeling good one day, someone hurt your feelings, or you think you aren’t getting the recognition you deserve. It only cares that you deliver and if you cannot deliver it moves on to the next thing.
In many senses, it’s interesting to know that an industry that relies so much on consumer emotion is a bit cold and more than cutthroat for those on the inside.
I have written a lot in the past about ego and how it affects your career and I stand by those articles. Ego is something that can be beneficial, but it can also slow you down if you’re not careful. It can play into our sensitivities and makes us more insecure to where everything bothers us.
It’s commonly reiterated that those attempting to create a career as a comedian need to “gain a thick skin” and this cannot be truer.
Here’s what I have learned.
It’s about business first.
Being in this industry teaches you a lot and the greatest lesson to learn is it’s a business first. A club show (like our Gotham show) is probably the ideal example for this notion because club shows are produced in a way where the intent is to make money. Forget about free bar shows, open mics, etc. because the club show is a real industry experience. Production, in general, entails a lot of work behind the scenes just for that ninety-minute show: casting, design, promotion, operational tasks, etc.
It can almost make your head explode if you think about it, but clubs have to operate in a way that will ensure they make money. Even with something as mundane as marketing a club show, a producer has to take into account many things even for casting a comic: is this person marketable? Where would they fit on a lineup? Is this person ready? It’s more than just a producer saying “oh, I like this comic as a person.” Believe me, there have been tons of people I like personality-wise, but it’s difficult to fit them into a lineup and my main reasoning is usually current readiness. If that hurts feelings then so be it, but comedy is NOT a charity or a sorority/fraternity. It’s a business and understanding comedy as a business will help negate from the hurt feelings.
Every art form is meant to be judged.
Comedy is one of the hardest art forms out there. People like to compare it to acting, but it’s just not the same thing. In acting, people aren’t allowed to talk to from the audience and your set is not a script that you can adlib if need be. It’s you by yourself with your thoughts and opinions and you have a limited time to make people like you or at least be on board with what you have to say.
I read an article from Vox featuring Chris Gethard. This particular article covered “offensive” comedy and how its presence has always a lightning rod to the artform.
I am a firm believer that comics do have a right to say whatever they want on that stage and no one can stop you from saying it, however, many comics today are fighting against responses they don’t like. If you can’t take the heat then maybe not play in the kitchen?
As a comic, you have to be willing to take on any response whether it’s positive or negative. If it’s positive then great, but if it’s negative then appreciate that as well.
At the very least you’ve achieved polarity with a negative response. You should be more worried if there is no response.
When it boils down to it, ego is the main culprit for sensitivity.
We get it. You’re a comedian who believes in your art. Join the tens of thousands in New York alone who grind it out for their art every day. However, once you gain an understanding of comedy as an industry that’s always moving forward (with or without you) you’ll learn to sell yourself in a way that appeals to industry standards.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!