I recently watched The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
In this episode, Michael Che gave an interview at The Comedy Cellar detailing his start in comedy. Like many of us, it started with an open mic (a drunken one at that) which later progressed into opening for Tracy Morgan early on in his career. Che had a good set that night (or so he thought) and was later approached by Morgan and essentially given a crash course on emceeing a show.
Che recounts the moment:
“...he’s literally schooling me on how to emcee a show in real time...he told me everything I did, and everything I needed to do, and it was kind of the coolest advice because it was real. He wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, he was trying to make me a better comic and it meant a lot.”
This part caught my attention because of the element of criticism. Criticism is a common part of any industry, but especially in entertainment. However, I have seen a growing trend with comics, new and seasoned, that criticism is seen as a bad thing and not heeded as an opportunity to grow.
Here are my thoughts.
The industry is full of criticism.
As artists, we are inherently more sensitive, but just because we are more sensitive doesn’t mean that we are exempt from reality.
As a comic and producer, I often rotate between both mindsets: business and artistic. I’m by no means the greatest comic of all time, but in terms of casting for shows, I do have to critique tapes on a regular basis. Even if I’m not casting at the moment, comics will still ask me to analyze their set and I’m often met with resistance when I give critiques. First off, if you ask someone for a critique don’t get upset if it’s not what you want to hear. You’re going to be told harsh things...not just about your stand-up, but your brand in general. That’s basically the industry: being told what you have to do for your comedy brand to align with other brands. You’re going to experience this at all levels, whether it’s in a club or a major network.
Resisting criticism only hurts your potential.
For some, the criticism might be to slow down. For others, it might be to stop holding back. One of the best criticisms I ever received was to move around and up my energy. That’s actually what turned me into a different comic. At the artistic level, it’s a bit easier to give critiques where people can make changes or try things out. Sometimes a criticism or advice doesn’t work for a particular person, but when it comes to the business side it is a much more intense arena.
Think about the coveted late night spot. According to some comics, your set goes through rounds of changes, even the day of. These changes aren’t even about you, it’s about satisfying network standards. If you resisted such critiques and changes, you likely wouldn’t get asked back.
That’s the sentiment throughout the industry; at the end of the day, it’s about business and criticism is essential to maintaining certain standards. Learn to get comfortable with criticism, especially if you want your career to thrive.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!