Expanding your horizons and chasing opportunities is very challenging in the comedy industry that is oversaturated, judgemental and underappreciated. In the process of making our own career we often fall short of doing what’s in our best interest and adjusting our perspective can be detrimental to the future of our career.
Here are the most common obstacles that are preventing you from getting to the next level.
Unwillingness to Learn
Just like any other profession, stand up comedy requires a constant improvement and willingness to show up when you don’t want to. Every once in a while you have to ask yourself how long has it been since you proactively learned a new skill pertaining to comedy. Don’t just assume you figured it all out and you just need to hustle. You gotta be open to new experiences and forms of learning comedy through books, podcasts, workshops, and even through watching live shows. One exercise I like to do is to study pro comedians in a sense of what is their strongest quality as a performer and see how I can incorporate that in my act and in my own voice. Storytelling, crowd work, impressions, the way they built their special, how they approach sensitive topics, shift in energy and delivery, etc. - these are all things that can serve as an inspiration and lessons. Just make sure you stay authentic and not work on being someone’s copycat.
When I first started doing comedy I joined a comedy class because I felt that I needed some kind of direction and that’s exactly what I got. Comedy classes are great because they teach you some basics, dos and don’ts and provide that platform that can help you open up and start writing more authentic material. You very quickly become introduced to techniques and the topics that are done to death and learn how to value originality. Really good comedy workshop will also teach you about the business side of the stand up which is super important. Just make sure you ask around and choose the right comedy class because there are many out there that are nothing but an expensive open mic. They just take your money but you really don’t learn much. If you are able to find a mentor or pay for one-on-one classes do it. It might cost you more but having a strong mentor can really help you cut your work in half and save you years of guessing and making mistakes.
Lack of Focus and Patience
Years ago I read an article about how focus is the key to one’s success. It was a study of billionaires that claimed that the majority of people who became exceptionally successful are those who are focused on one thing rather than diversifying their efforts and energy into a lot of things. It struck a chord with me because I would often get involved in several different things at the same time because an opportunity presented itself and, as comics, we often feel we have to react fast and accept everything thrown our way. The reality is you really don’t have to. It is much more useful to create a short, mid and long term plan and accept opportunities based on what you can handle at the moment.
Taking on too much (and too soon) can maken you be involved in everything but not getting anywhere, over-promising and under-delivering and tons of anxiety. It all starts from figuring out what’s most important to you. Finish one project before starting another and pick quality over quantity.
Losing patience while building a comedy career is inevitable. No matter what age you are you’ll always think you didn’t start early enough, you haven’t accomplished enough, and you’ll never be enough. Chances are you are constantly comparing yourself to others and their progress. No wonder so many comedians struggle with depression and anxiety. The reality is there will always be someone who is advancing faster, has more ambition and better circumstances. Losing patience can come from unrealistic expectations and not giving yourself a proper time to develop your set, establish stage persona, grow your following and have a strategy. You are on your own time so please don’t feel discouraged.
This is an industry that can often make you feel helpless and trigger negative thoughts resulting in developing a really bad attitude and eventually making you unbearable to work with. When things are not going your way you might resort to blaming others for your shortcomings. Assigning blame might feel good initially, but it erodes trust and won’t help you grow, as a person and as a perfomer. Comics are often comparing themselves to others and competing with their peers in unhealthy ways. As a producer, I’ve seen comedians resort to different (and often ugly) ways to get noticed. The truth is, we all faced, and will continue to face, rejection and unfairness in this business. It sucks, it really does, and it can be hard to be graceful about every defeat every time. Comedians have egos that are easily bruised and dealing with failures is a challenge on its own.
The thing about comedy is that good news travels fast but bad news travels faster. Same goes for your reputation. No matter how talented you are there are only a few people that will work with your bad attitude, even if you temporarily bring them money, long-term you are a liability. If you always talk bad about other comedians, producers and venues it will reflect on your career. People in this business are very intuitive and have strong instincts, they will recognize when you are being fake, a suck-up or a complete egomaniac.
Instead of being jealous and petty, network and learn from people who are doing it better than you do. Creating a network is like building luck into your life so focus on a productive side of it all and less on creating unnecessary drama.
Fear of Change
Building a comedy career can come with many struggles so when we reach some kind of comfort we tend to stay there for a while. It can feel good to have a sense of balance, control and gratitude. It’s ok to not always struggle and be on your grind. On the other side of the spectrum there are comedians who are always chasing “the next thing” and jumping from project to project without fully committing themselves to anything. This approach is dangerous as well as it can bring stress and instability without any positive and lasting results.
Fear of change goes hand in hand with complacency and is making you keep things the way they are. Such an approach can sabotage you long term and create this narrative that you will only change if you have to, if you fail at something else. Your growth doesn’t have to always come from a failure. The challenge is finding the best time to shake things up a bit in order to progress. Truth of the matter is you will never be fully ready, it’s life, and you have to separate professionalism from perfectionism in order to keep your head in the game. When I started to write this blog I was resisting so much because I wanted it to be perfect. I learned that I just need to start, with whatever I know and have, and just build from there. You might wanna start a podcast, write a script, or produce a show but you feel like you don’t have everything you envisioned to have in order to do it. Just start, I promise you you’ll figure it out. No one had it at 100 with their first anything.
Just like in any other profession, comedians can make honest mistakes that can carry hard-hitting consequences but choosing a growth mindset over a fixed one can be exactly what you need to prevent these mind blocks from holding you back.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
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