Comedy has changed drastically in the past ten to twenty years.
Not only has our topics and how we discuss them changed, but even the way we present our own comedy to the public has taken a drastic turn. This follows the trend of instantaneous content thanks to mediums like YouTube, Instagram, etc.
When we only used to have maybe four comedy specials a year to watch, late-night comics were seen on a minimal basis, and you could really only find comics in the clubs, we now have access to a plethora of comedy specials, dozens of weekly late-night performances, and so forth. You name it, it’s out there and easy to find.
While it’s great that comedy has reached a level of acceptance among the masses, there is a major downfall for comedians: oversaturation. Oversaturation has a ton of inherent pitfalls, but for comics, it increases competition (everyone thinks they can be a comic), and it enhances our visibility which can be positive and negative. In the negative context, visibility means we often feel the pressure to watch what we say because sensitivity is at an all-time high.
I learned from a pro comic recently that because of this it’s imperative to push the boundaries.
Here is what I learned.
Pushing the boundaries frees you.
The comic I engaged with is a Canadian transplant and had the chance to develop in Edmonton way before moving to NYC. Not many in NYC know this, but Edmonton was a place where some of the WEIRDEST comics in the industry developed. However, it was weird in a way where these comics pushed every possible boundary from making chainsaw sounds throughout their sets to bringing a baby doll on stage and shushing the audience when they laughed so the baby doll would not be awakened. This particular comic even brushed his nipples on stage with toothpaste “just to get a feel” for this type of no holds barred approach to performance.
The debate came up of people who “do” comedy versus people who “need” comedy. These comics in Edmonton needed comedy in their lives because they had nothing else and it really was interesting to hear how this approach developed this comic into who he is as a performer now. In doing so, there is such a sense of freedom that allows you to really go there with your writing and performance no matter how silly or controversial. No comedian ever became one of the greats by holding back and it really is proof the “Give no fucks” mindset is necessary for comedic development. You should say what you want to say and perform how you want to perform. Just make sure it’s funny and you’ll be golden.
You stand out when you push the boundaries.
From my own personal perspective, so many comics are becoming carbon copies of each other. Not just in writing, but also in how they perform and the archetype they represent.
I ran into another gay male comic on the subway a few months back and the conversation turned to other gay comics and how there is an expectation to only discuss certain things.
For example, I often feel gay comics are either expected to be perverse and promiscuous in their sets or chronically monogamous and always talking about their relationship with no room for anything in between. There’s also this element of being blatantly gay and the undertone of the set is usually “because I’m gay.” NEWSFLASH: Matteo Lane already did that and doing such isn’t pushing boundaries no matter how perverse one can get. It’s meeting an expectation that is already set. This comic and I were even able to name a few comics that when compared they are the exact same comic. The only difference was name and physicality. I’m sure there are situations where other labels create a similar trend, but this makes it even more necessary to step out of the box and carve out your niche. This is extremely relevant to pushing the boundaries and doing things differently. It’s a general branding rule. Your brand will get nowhere if you follow what everyone else is doing because it’s easy. The brands that actually grow and thrive are the ones that fill a gap in the market. Once you create your own trend it’ll eventually catch attention. Sure it might not be overnight, but it’ll build a stronger foundation for people knowing that’s you when you do your thing.
If you push the boundaries, you’ll eventually get somewhere. No one likes a comic who plays it safe and playing it safe will only waste your time.
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