World of stand up comedy puts a great value on having a strong stage presence and fostering uniqueness. There are so many people who are trying stand up comedy nowadays but the reality is that only a very small percentage of them are truly memorable. It’s not that they are all lacking talent or sense of humor, or even a charisma, they just haven’t totally figured out how to stand out and capture the audience.
In order to get to the bottom of this I’ve decided to do some research about memorable TV characters in sitcoms and see if there’s something there stand up comedians can use to improve their acts. What I discovered was a complete game changer in the form of using your blind spots to develop a comedic character and a stage persona. At first I was totally confused because in all the years of doing stand up I’ve never heard anyone mentioning utilizing your blind spot, let alone that there’s a whole strategy there that can totally transform your act. So let’s get into it.
What is one’s blind spot and how to find it?
In order to define your blind spot you first have to recognize your flaws.
Most comedians focus on their physical flaws and try to utilize them in their act, hence all the jokes about someone's weight, height, facial features, etc. These jokes are great but because so many people have similar physical attributes it’s becoming harder to create something really original and not sound like you are just producing a diluted version of someone else’s joke. You want to expand your range and therefore your focus needs to be on exploring your character flaws. They are the ones that can generate much more material and signal to the audience what type of a comedian you actually are.
Depending on your self awareness, it might be hard for you to detect your major flaws. This is why it’s helpful to ask your close friends or family members about what sticks out the most. Are you too negative, controlling, angry, mean, selfish, sensitive, gossipy, jealous, awkward, aggressive, addictive, promiscous, petty, stingy, spoiled, judgemental, etc.? I’m sure you can point out at least a few character flaws that you noticed about yourself, and if you didn’t you are a narcissist and that’s your flaw.
To help you out here are some examples of famous comedians and their major flaws: Bill Burr (opinionated and angry), Louis CK (judgemental and creepy), Kevin Hart (easily bothered, always a victim), George Carlin (too angry), Ricky Gervais (harsh and insulting), Amy Schumer (amoral and narcissistic), Lewis Black (judgemental and angry), Kathy Griffin (mean and gossipy), Jerry Seinfeld (sensitive about mundane things), Sarah Silverman (selfish and opinionated), Anthony Jeselnik (dark and mean).
The point of this exercise is to explore as many flaws as possible so you can utilize them in your act, so just be real with yourself and dig deep.
Two major things to remember here are that your flaw has to be authentic. It has to come from a real place, it must be true and belivable. Don’t pretend you are someone you are not, the audience will figure it out and your stage persona will lose credibility. The second thing is to exaggerate your flaws to make them absurd, surprising and funny. You are not just temperamental, you are a total lunatic. You are not simply vain, you are a raging narcissist. You don’t have mild trust issues, you are completely paranoid. Think of the way a caricaturist will draw you. If, for example, you have a big mouth he will make that mouth so large it will take half of your face. The same goes for your character flaws - exaggerate to the max. Once you figured out your major flaws it’s time to use it for your blind spot.
Blind spot is basically flaw’s alter ego - a total opposite, where a character fails to recognize that something is weird or strange about him. To you, you seem completely nice, normal and make perfect sense but the audience sees you as a total madman. The reason they find you funny is because you seem completely helpless so they choose to empathize and laugh. A great comedian is playing a crazy person that is not trying to make you laugh, he or she is funny because they are absurd.
Being absurd on stage doesn’t mean that you are like that in real life, but saying “I know I’m irrational but …” will not generate laughter, acting like you are irrational about something will. You are just trying to simulate a crazy person's behavior. You are acting; a bitch doesn’t know she’s a bitch, a moron doesn’t know he’s a moron. As comics we say a lot of things on stage that can make us look crazy, even dangerous. If we were actually like that in real life we would be locked in a looney bin or jail. An audience is aware of that. They don’t go to a comedy club to witness bad behavior, they can see that in real life. They go there to see comedians make fun of it.
How do I best utilize my blind spot?
Blinds spots are used to create dramatic and funny effects. In order to accomplish that you need to have a certain attitude that will match your blind spot. For example, if your flaw is that you are mean and judgemental, your blind spot would be presenting yourself as a really nice person and your attitude will therefore be pleasant and friendly. A character’s blind spot both informs their behavior and makes it difficult, even impossible, for them to see what others around them can see.
Using blind spot means that either you're gonna defend yourself or brag. You are either a victim or a hero. It has a strong narcissistic vibe because you make everything about yourself. It’s borderline sociopathic, especially since you are bragging about something bad, minimizing bad behavior and defending indefensible, but that’s all part of creating that absurd effect that will generate laughter. Main reason people laugh is because of an unexpected twist so your punchline does not have to be believable, just absurd enough to surprise them. You start with the truth (complemented with your flaw) and end with a lie (using your blind spot) which will make your flaws palatable and laughable.
A finishing touch on this strategy is realizing that every comedy character has a certain agenda. No matter what the joke is about, a comedian is trying to make a point and convince the audience that he/she makes perfect sense. Your agenda is actually discovering who you really are and the best comedians in the world never accomplish their agenda.
Kevin Hart will never convince you that he’s always a victim, Anthony Jeselnik will never convince you that he is not dark or arrogant, and Amy Schumer will never convince you that she’s innocent and righteous.
In the beginning of this blog I mentioned TV characters in sitcoms. Take a look at Steve Carell’s character (Michael Scott) in the comedy mockumentary ‘The Office’. Michael Scott is convinced that he’s the empathetic, selfless and the funniest person in the world, and that everyone loves him and considers him the best boss. His major blind spot is that none of that is true. Great characters misinterpret their own actions or the actions of others and as a result, they act in ways that appear to be irrational or self-defeating to everyone except themselves. An audience sees through all of that, they know the truth, the real cause or solution to the character’s predicament, but they choose to empathize with the character and that is what creates comedy. Michael Scott deeply believes in his own explanation of the way things work which is why his character is a comedy gold.
How To Use This Strategy In Joke Writing?
In order to show you this strategy at work, here's a breakdown of my stage persona and a few jokes written by using this strategy.
Comedian: Sonja Savanovic
Flaws: Judgemental, snarky, cold.
Blind spot: Thinks she’s sweet and caring, doesn’t understand she’s harsh and bitchy.
Attitude: Friendly and charming.
Agenda: Convincing you that she’s a nice person and her feelings are normal.
You know, you never really know how you feel about someone until that person is no longer in your life. The other day I was on Facebook and I read this breaking news about a building in Florida that just collapsed and a bunch of people died. It’s horrible, right? And then, I noticed that my ex checked in safe, and I thought to myself… ‘Patience, Sonja, patience!’
Let’s dissect the use of a blind spot in this joke.
First I started my joke by showing you how emotional and caring I am and I’m leading you to believe that I still have so much love for my ex (blind spot). On stage I act soft and concerned, especially when I see that my ex checked in safe (attitude). My blind spot and attitude match. This gets exaggerated at the part when I say ‘...and I thought to myself’ where I make a clutching pearls concerned look and a dramatic pause leading you to think I will say something heartfelt. I end the joke with a twist ‘Patience, Sonja, patience’ which is a surprise that generates laughter (I just showed you my flaw which is being cold and I exaggerated it by taking it to the next level and making myself look petty and vengeful). I failed at my agenda which is to convince you that I’m nice and there’s nothing wrong with these feelings.
I have a friend who thinks that everyone is in love with him. If a woman even makes eye contact with him he immediately thinks she wants him. He recently accused me of having a huge crush on him. Can you believe it? The audacity! The narcissism! So I confronted him ‘Whoa, dude, I only proposed to you twice. Get OVER yourself! … Right, guys?’
In this joke I’m using my flaws as being judgemental and snarky. I’m criticizing my friend and using my blind spot to show that I’m a victim of his narcissism, therefore I’m complaining that he falsely accused me of being in love with him. My attitude is that I’m shocked by his actions and totally innocent. The exaggerated punchline reveals that I’m delusional and absurd and therefore I failed at my agenda to convince you that he’s wrong and I’m right.
The great thing about this process is that you can always explore more and more of your character flaws and slowly incorporate them in your writing. The more honest you are with yourself the more unique and personal your material will be. Sometimes recognizing your flaws can be hard on your ego, but remember that we are comedians, whoever you are and whatever you are feeling there will be someone in the audience that can relate to that, you just need to convey these messages the right way.
If you would like to know more about this approach to comedy writing my recommendation is a book by comedy coach Steve North ‘How to Kill in Comedy’. It will guide you through discovering your own comedic character and joke writing. So give it a go and see where it takes you.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.