I recently came across an article from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation discussing comedy and whether it can successfully be taught in a classroom setting.
David Granirer of Langara College in Vancouver believes whole-heartedly that stand-up comedy is something that can be taught and bases his theory off of “technique and formulas” and claims people “build confidence” in his class or “reframe their past experiences in a more positive light.”
Now, I’m all for using stand-up comedy for whatever purpose you may have, but the angle of “teaching” stand-up is something I don’t fully agree with.
Should you take a class? Here are my thoughts.
Real world experience is the strongest approach.
Being a comedian (stand-up especially), is a whole different ball game versus any other artform out there and I often have comedians approach me asking if taking a class would be a good decision. Personally, I have taken a stand-up comedy course and I wouldn’t ever discount what I did take away from it. I had just moved to New York City and didn’t know anything about the comedy scene. I was also looking to build connections with others and it ultimately was part of my personal path in comedy. You can be taught a dance, you can be taught to read lines, but you cannot be taught how to perform your own material. You might be able to take notes, but those notes have to be tailored to your own personal style. That’s why they call it “working out a bit.” It’s because you ultimately have to figure out how to write and perform the bit to the best of YOUR ability. No one can sell the bit, but you, and it’s often just trial and error.
The performer that I was then is COMPLETELY different from what I am today. The comic I am today developed from experience on stage and finding out what works in real time, not in a classroom. Sure, you can be shown techniques on performance, but other elements of stand-up (primarily emotion and personal style) cannot be taught. They have to be embraced.
Look for inspiration, not answers.
Classes for stand-ups are often used inefficiently in my opinion. From experience, I see newbie and some not-so-newbie comics going in thinking they’re going to get all the answers. How do I perform like a stand-up? How do I write this bit so it works? What’s the best writing structure?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
In this industry there’s no one way to do something and performance is no different. That is why we have so many different styles of comedy and no two performers are the same. If there was a one size fits all approach to stand-up, then we’d all be successful and the actual artform would be a bit boring.
I can tell you one thing. If you are looking for a class to teach you how to be a stand-up comedian, you’ll leave feeling empty. These classes should be looked at for inspiration and building potential connections. I knew I wasn’t going to walk out of there and suddenly be one of the greats. Hey, I’m still developing my comedy today, but I knew a class would light a fire to get me inspired to perform and be more aggressive in my approach to stand-up.
Now, I’m not saying to never take a class as there are some great ones on the scene, but if you are looking to find all the answers, you’re going to be given a blunt reality check. These classes should be approached realistically because at the end of the day, it’s you who has to figure out your own performance, not an instructor.
What are your opinions on teaching stand-up? Comment below and let us know your thoughts!