Ah, December - the month when we are supposed to enjoy the holiday season and start making our vision boards for the next year. Oh, all the things you were looking forward to in 2020, all the comedy festivals you hoped to perform at, clubs to pass at, shows to get booked on, auditions to nail, albums to release, late-night TV appearances to strive for and places to travel to. Everything has been taken away from you leaving you with an N95 mask to cover your disappointing face.
In the wake of so much change and uncertainty, everyone is taken to their knees by something and many people just throw themselves pity parties on a daily basis. In such a state it’s hard to imagine making plans and setting comedy goals for the next year, but I’m here to tell you that, despite the chaos, there are still some achievable goals you can look forward to accomplishing next year that can very much help your career, even if we don’t know when will comedy clubs reopen in all major cities, bookings and attendance resume at full capacity, and opportunities for stage time resurface again. I strongly believe that good preparation and the right mindset are the most important when turning things around and I hope that this simple guide will inspire you to incorporate some new habits into your life and motivate you to start the next year productive and optimistic.
Enforce Time Blocking
Time Blocking is a great method to utilize when trying to improve your focus and avoid stress caused by multitasking. It’s basically a block of time you set up in advance to specifically focus on finishing one or a group of tasks during a day and it’s widely used by most successful people, in and out of the world of comedy.
Let's say, your macro goal for 2021 is to complete writing your 1-hour special. In order to achieve that you know you have to write jokes (micro goal). To effectively do that you have to set up a block of writing time each day. It can be 30 minutes, 1 hour, or more but the important thing is that during that time you need to focus ONLY on that one thing. Put away your phone, take a break from social media, lock yourself in the room, and dedicate that time just to write new jokes or edit old ones. You can spend each day working on a different joke. Even if it’s a one-liner, use that time and try to stretch your creative muscle and extend the joke, it doesn't matter if you will end up using it or not. Think of it this way, if you commit each day to a different joke you can have hundreds of new and edited bits by the end of the year, which is plenty of material to help you build your special/album. Start small and just do it for 1 month first and at the end take a day to see what you worked on in the past month and connect jokes that might go well together. You have to start small and build it from there but the goal is to teach yourself time management so you always have a daily time slot dedicated to comedy.
Develop Don’t Hate, Congratulate Mentality
Stand-up comedy requires you to do a lot of things by yourself - you write, direct, produce and perform your set which is, essentially a one-man show. Having creative independence can be a wonderful thing but is also training you to think just for yourself and see everything and everyone as an obstacle and competition. You can easily get anxious, overwhelmed with imposter syndrome, tracing your steps, and wondering what you missed that someone got the opportunity over you. This is very common for performers as stand up comedy as an art form really doesn’t have a blueprint, it’s hard to be taught, figure out what truly works, and generate (rapid) success and it’s therefore filled with frustrations.
One of the things that can hurt comedians and they are not even aware of that is their inability to celebrate someone else’s success. The majority sees it as unnecessary and they really don’t feel like they can benefit from it, but I respectfully disagree. You see, comedy is such a competitive industry that we often forget that we all started pretty much the same way, in the same dingy basements, and worked tirelessly day and night to accomplish our comedy dreams, so when one of us gains some success make sure to congratulate. Don’t get jealous, get inspired. People who gained some success usually face criticism because people don’t let them just enjoy it, there are always negative comments about how that person didn’t deserve it. We all heard it from pros who felt that on their skin multiple times - people like to build you up so they can tear you down. Don’t be someone who will go around being bitter. There are no two comics with identical careers.
Study successful comics, ask for advice, they might be open to sharing their contacts and their knowledge and you can learn how to build and expand your circle of influence. It’s a true game-changer. If people see your positive attitude and how you carry yourself around your competition they are more likely to be open to working with you and inviting you to participate in projects and events that can launch your own career. Most professional comics will tell you that most of their opportunities and work came from other comics so what you give is what you get. One thing I want to mention is don't try to fake your way to successful people, and suddenly try to befriend them if you are not being genuine. It will only backfire and they will sense your intentions. You can admire them from afar. This is about being respectful and mature, giving credit where credit is due, and get inspired to do better for yourself. There will always be comics who are considered better than you, even when you get to the top, there will always be someone with who you will try to compete with. In all honesty, the only person you are competing with is yourself. Make peace with that. This has been such a hard year that anyone who accomplished anything comedy related deserves some praise, so make sure you give them some love.
Search for Comedy Mentors
If you want to experience success you better get ready to WORK, and if someone’s career really inspired you, or you know of someone who is a good comedy instructor, see if they will be open to mentor you and help you where you need to be. Just don’t expect them to pour all that knowledge for free. If you can’t pay them you have to find a way to be useful to them. Maybe you have a car and can drive them to gigs, help them with their social media content, update their website and edit reels, get the other students to sign up for mentoring, etc. Reach out to people who are doing better than you, learn from them, value their time and knowledge. It can be mutually beneficial.
If you can’t afford a real mentor you can use a virtual one. What I mean by that is choose ONE, AND ONLY ONE professional comedian whose style suits you the most and follow everything they do. Study the way they write and how they break down their bits, there are many videos online where pro comics feature their jokes and share knowledge. Don’t choose more than one comic at a time as that can confuse you and/or leave you overwhelmed due to different writing styles and delivery. Furthermore, don’t copy them, just study the writing process, strategy, and preparation for producing specials, stage presence, handling social media, and what steps they are taking in each phase of their career. This is very similar to what Kevin Hart did, he just followed Eddie Murphy’s career and learned how to transition from standup comedy to acting. Learn from those who want to share, don’t chase those that don’t. In this business, nobody owes you anything and sometimes you have to figure things out on your own. If this is your true passion you will find the time and energy to invest in this process. There are really no shortcuts or magic formulas.
Open Yourself to New Ways of Performing
Virtual shows and outdoor performances have been common in the past several months, it’s basically how we were able to keep stand up comedy alive. There are comics who even filmed their specials in backyards, on rooftops, and in studios in front of green screens. Kudos to those comics for releasing albums during this crazy year. Outdoor comedy is currently not everywhere available and depending on your location, the weather conditions might not make it suitable to run a show outside. We are all hoping that with the vaccine out the spring might give us an opportunity to go out again and try those bits in front of a live audience but in the meantime, you might wanna give it a try and do a virtual show here and there. I know it’s not the same as doing gigs in the clubs but you gotta train your performing muscle somehow. The other option is to perform for a small group of friends and/or family just to test those jokes and see what sticks. The last option is to film yourself practicing bits out loud (I’m sure your roommates will love this, right New Yorkers?) just to be able to see yourself performing new material without notes and make various adjustments. I’m quite aware that these are not popular suggestions but this is the year where we learned how to pull ideas out of our asses to make things work. Be open-minded, you might actually like one of these options and find them helpful.
Plan Finances to Support Your Comeback
This year millions of people have been struggling to provide for themselves and their families and we’ve all been in survival mode since March. Some of you had to leave the big city to move back home with your parents and you are stuck with what to do next. You are eager to come back cause you think that’s your only connection to the comedy world. The truth is you don’t have to live in New York or Los Angeles to have a comedy career. Maybe later, when those cities really fully open for live comedy (which is not going to be before summer, more likely September), but until then work with what you have and save your money honey. See if there’s an opportunity to produce in your hometown where the Covid restrictions are not that brutal. Nobody is expecting your comedy to excel during this pandemic, play it smart. What’s the alternative? Losing your mind over how you're gonna pay for that expensive apartment without a stable job? You can’t have a comeback without having a financial base to lean on, so finding a job and downsizing should be your priority. You can post videos from anywhere, and the change of scenery can really help you gain new perspectives and generate new material.
There are a lot of things that are messed up and out of our control right now, do what you can and set realistic goals that are in the “sweet spot” - if they are too easy you will lose interest, if they are too tough you will give up. Happy Holidays and sleigh the New Year!
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and share your thoughts!