For years, we have been looking to the horizon for glimpses of a promised land. We all sail towards this promised land on a sinking ship, a hole in the bottom the size of our own self-doubt. Though few to none of us ever reach the promised land, we are always buoyed by the hope that we will get there one day.
The sad truth of the matter is that our ship crashed on the promised land years ago. We’re just too oblivious to realize it. We live in a golden age of comedy, where it is easier than ever before to entertain people. We can write funny tweets on twitter, easily make and edit films and sketches, find a weird venue (bookstore, laundromat) to do a comedy show, waste everyone’s time with our self-aggrandizing blogs…
All of these are free (or close to free) and easy ways to entertain people, and the power of the internet makes our ability to find an audience easier than ever. So what’s the problem with comedy? There are countless comedy boards/forums of people complaining about things that are wrong with comedy. It’s this fog of “industry”, people we blame for the state of comedy, because they will rather promote comedians that have a “buzz” rather than comedians that are “good”. This isn’t to throw all industry under a bus, some of them are actually competent. But many industry members (so-called “gatekeepers”) would rather have their own ego stroked than actually help a comedian.
But the problem is that we’re still thinking with a “we’re adrift at sea” attitude, when we’re actually in a “promised land” world. We fight and scrape to try and get on TV, when fewer and fewer people are consuming television in a traditional way. TV programming was essentially designed as a way to package commercials to people, and the 30 minute sitcom is a dying format. So what we’re fighting for is essentially a way to keep “gatekeepers” relevant.
But they’re not. We’re the ones with talent. We’re the ones capable of creating things. No matter what happens to us, we can always produce something else. And while many of us toil in obscurity now, the more we keep doing great things, the more likely we’ll find an audience that loves what we do and will let us do bigger and better things. Then “gatekeepers” will say, “You’re welcome for what we’ve done for your career”.
But they didn’t do anything! Why do we need “gatekeepers”? I think it’s because it allows us a convenient scapegoat. We get too obsessed over the self-destructive questions:
- Why did he/she get that opportunity?
- Why didn’t I get that opportunity?
- Is there a way I can get a shortcut to success?
Fortunately, we can blame all the ills of the comedy process on these gatekeepers, rather than be self-reflective. I’ve been in Boston performing standup, sketch, and improv for the last 4 years, and if you spoke to anyone in the Boston community, the general consensus is that what I do is mediocre, provided they know who I am. Nevertheless, I think I’m great, though I am constantly passed over for gigs, showcases, and other perceived opportunities and dwell on the self-destructive questions.
Some use this to become bitter and jaded to the comedy world, which is not the way to be. You should look at every missed opportunity as a chance that you can improve yourself. And if you think someone gets an opportunity before they’re ready, you should pity them. The rest of their career path will be trying to fulfill unrealistic expectations, while you missing opportunities continue to have no expectations.
We fall into the trap of placating the powers-that-be, unaware that we need to be placating our peers. We don’t need bookers, agents, managers, they are only tools that facilitate us reaching an audience. And we need to appreciate that it’s only through promoting other comedians do we make comedy better and realize that we’ve reached the promised land. I suggest we all follow these five tenets of comedy to bring us together as a community. Like twigs, we can be easily broken on our own, but held together we are unbreakable.
- Do no thing that will harm the career of another comedian.
- If you see a comedian you like, tell them you like what they do. Also, tell others.
- Be funny. If you don’t get what you want career-wise, you need to work to get funnier.
- You don’t have to like or find every comedian funny. But you should respect them the same as a comedian you do like or find funny.
- If you find certain jokes from a comedian of questionable content, tell them. Comedians trust their peers more than they do the silence of an audience.
There’s also the sixth tenet, which is really a meta-tenet:
6. Only associate with comedians who subscribe to the previous five tenets.
I think if we all subscribe to these five (+1) tenets, I think comedy would be a better place. We can actually enjoy the promised land that we’re already on. I may not be particularly good at comedy, but I believe in its purest form. It is a way for people to feel better about themselves. And in these shitty times, we need more comedians than ever.