If you want to move along quickly in your stand-up comedy adventures, it is critical that you are able to recognize and identify the difference between actionable stand-up comedy information and academic information that has no real actionable value.
Let me get straight to the point:
If you are not able to differentiate between stand-up comedy information that is academic (informational and NOT actionable) and information that is actually actionable, you are at a HUGE disadvantage right from the get go.
You might as well try to eat soup with a toothpick too because…
You will have just about as much success with that as you will trying to produce stand-up comedy material that will actually get laughs.
One of the things that new comedians are not aware of is that there is a substantial amount of academic information about developing a stand-up comedy act that is misrepresented as actionable information.
Let me set up a similar scenario that you can easily wrap your head around to illustrate what I am trying to explain. Then I will apply the example in this scenario to stand-up comedy.
Assume for a minute that you are preparing to drive a car for the very first time (for some reading this, driving a car for the first time may have been a very long time ago – so just bear with me).
I am tasked with preparing you to drive a car for the very first time. So in order to prepare you to drive a car, I provide you with these definitions:
- Steering wheel: The device used to guide a vehicle in the direction the driver wishes to go.
- Gas pedal: The foot device use to accelerate a vehicle to the proper speed.
- Brake pedal: The foot device used to slow or stop a vehicle.
After providing those definitions, I then provide you numerous photo examples of a variety of steering wheels, gas pedals and brake pedals from a number of different types of cars.
Assuming that you have never driven an automobile before in your life, and given what I provided in the way of “instruction”, answer these questions for yourself:
- Would any of this information help you actually drive a car with any measure of skill?
- Would you have great confidence in driving a vehicle in congested city traffic or on the freeway?
- Would you have great confidence in driving at all given the “instruction” I provided?
The answer is overwhelming NO to those questions and here’s why:
What I have provided in the way of information about driving a car is academic in nature, best suited for identification purposes and little more.
But when it comes to the part where you are ready to get behind the wheel and actually drive a car…
It should be painfully obvious that some detailed, actionable information (the step-by-step instructions on how to actually drive a car) are needed before you were to embark upon driving a car for the very first time.
As a matter of fact I would be willing to bet that if you were to attempt to drive a car for the very first time given only the “instruction” that I have described above – even though you may have watched others do it skillfully for YEARS without ever having been behind the wheel of a car as a driver…
There’s a very good chance that:
- You not only wouldn’t have much confidence in your driving ability and…
- There’s an increased likelihood that you could experience a mishap behind the wheel.
Now while the scenario that I have just presented is hugely unrealistic, it accurately describes the type of stand-up comedy information comedians try to work with to get the laughter results they want on stage.
Let me explain exactly what I mean…
Virtually EVERY stand-up comedy book, class or workshop that you may choose invest in focuses on:
- Set-up lines: The informational part of a joke.
- Punchlines: The funny part of a joke.
- Tag line: An additional punchline which follows an initial punchline.
Then after that, example after example of stand-up comedy material from a variety of experienced and successful comedians is provided to illustrate this seemingly “valuable” and actionable information.
Then the reader (or student) is wished the very best in their stand-up comedy adventures and sent on their merry way to get big laughs on stage with their stand-up comedy adventures.
So what’s the problem you say? Well, there’s a number issues, if you ask yourself these questions:
- How does this information help you in ANY way develop and deliver a stand-up routine that will actually get laughs?
- What is a punchline and how are they generated, relative to you, the way you speak, your demeanor, etc.?
- How does studying the lines or bits on paper that another comedian performed in their own style, manner or speaking, delivery, etc. help you to develop your own unique stand-up comedy material that actually works on stage?
Hint: There’s much more to stand-up comedy material that actually works than mere words on paper.
Allow me to approach from a little different perspective:
Let’s assume that your teenage son or daughter reaches the age where they can legally drive a vehicle.
To prepare them to hit the road, would you:
- Give them definitions of a steering wheel, gas pedal and brake pedal, then…
- Show them pictures of a variety of steering wheels, gas pedals and brake pedals from different cars, then…
- Toss them the keys to the family car and wish them the best in their driving adventures?
Seems kind of ridiculous, huh?
But that is EXACTLY the sort of thing that happens every single day in the world of stand-up comedy when it comes to the information provided on how to develop and deliver a stand-up comedy routine.
Don’t get me wrong – there is certainly some value in what I am describing as “academic” information. There are certain types of academic information that can have a great influence on how you approach, manage and conduct your stand-up comedy undertakings.
But I think it is also very important to know the difference between academic information and actionable information.
Otherwise you can end up spending your valuable time trying to make “academic” information work as if it were actionable – which can be an overwhelmingly frustrating waste of time.
The big secret to determining the difference between academic and actionable information is to ask yourself two simple questions when you are presented with stand-up comedy information:
- How will this information help me to develop and deliver a stand-up comedy act that works for ME to get big and frequent laughs on stage?
- How will this information help me reach my stand-up comedy dreams and goals?
If the answer to those two questions is “It doesn’t” or “I don’t see how it can”, then the information you are trying to use most likely falls into the “nice to know” category (if it doesn’t really need to be in the wastebasket).