What A Half-Marathon Taught Me About Comedy
Since moving to NYC and diving into comedy in 2014, summer has always felt like a trying and somewhat tumultuous time for me. This summer was no different. Aside from doing stand-up comedy, producing shows in New York and Philly, writing this blog, working a full-time job, and trying to have some semblance of a life, I decided to take on the challenge of a half-marathon. I’m still not completely sure why I did this, but at its basis I do enjoy a good challenge.
A half-marathon is intense and it’s not only just one event, it’s an experience of many months that will teach you things about yourself you didn’t even know. Additionally, the experience helped me understand things about being a comedian and comedy in general because it gave me a different perspective. Here’s what I learned. Strategy is everything.
Something I’ve learned about newbie runners and comedians is many share one key trait when it comes to executing a plan: they start with the “all-in” approach. “All-in” means you throw yourself into something without a plan. You just do it and go on with it. This tends to focus on volume when it comes to execution (how much can I do?). Initially, going all in will have its benefits, but you can’t sustain it long term. For a runner it may be getting as many miles in as possible; for comedians, it’s writing and getting up on stage as much as possible. You will ultimately burn out if you don’t have a strategy in place. Think about it. I’ve seen new comedians on the scene be everywhere one month and then the next they’ve seemingly vanished. They say “oh I’m taking a break,” “I’m trying to experience life more,” etc. The thing with comedy is our version of “training” is getting up on stage. Taking long breaks because you burned out ruins what you started and you’ll ultimately have to start from square one.
This is why a strategy is so important. When I trained for the half my most effective runs were when I did speedwork. Speedwork is what made the difference to becoming faster and I wouldn’t have been able to perform how I did if I didn’t do that. For comics, you have to treat every stage opportunity like you are trying to improve something. Maybe you’re trying a new act out or you’re trying to perform with higher energy? Whatever it is you have to make some type of gain, not just go through the motions.
Difficulty and gradual growth is the only way you’ll gain anything.
Yeah, it’s unfavorable, but you’ll only learn when you put your time into your craft and things are difficult. That sentiment is true in comedy AND in life.
The best runners are the ones who have put in their time and learned how to properly execute from experience and this can be applied to all areas. This type of experience makes you appreciate things more and ultimately learn how to handle whatever is thrown at you. The industry is full of heartaches that will come your way and someone who is “at the top of their game” and has experienced little difficulty getting there will have a longer and harder fall. This “fall,” whatever the cause, can be more difficult to recover from and continue to gain traction the less experience you have. The comic on the come up who had relatively fast traction has a lot more to learn versus the already established comedian who has learned how to deal with the various pressures of the industry.
Your “personal best” equals your personal career.
The term “personal best” came up a lot on the day of the half-marathon. I ultimately came to realize that it wasn’t a race against others; for the most part, I didn’t know these other people in the race. It was a challenge for me to do the best I could.
We as comedians often build into our minds and in the industry that we are competing against others. This is only true for about 50% of the battle. The other half is us competing against ourselves. Can you do your best and grow from where you currently stand? We often get so wrapped up in the drama that we forget it’s about our personal performance, growth, etc. Very few at the half-marathon were actually competing with the other runners and one even sprained her ankle a quarter-mile in; she was way too worried about others around her that she forgot about herself as the focus. It was symbolic of the notion that you need to worry about yourself in this industry. Being too cognizant of others will only trip you up.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should go out there and run a half marathon. It may not be for you, but there are things in life that’ll give a different perspective and it’s important to take into account what we can learn from other things to apply to our craft.
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