My parents were so proud when I graduated college. They asked me what I was going to do with my life now. I replied I was going to be a rock star. They had a laugh. “Well, what are you going to have as a fall back, in case being a rock star doesn’t work out for you?” I said I was going to be a comedian. They laughed so hard I knew at that moment I was destined for wealth and glory…
Musician and Comedian are probably the two most desired performance arts that people would want to be (up there is also movie star and most likely now, reality TV star). In my opinion the two art forms are most sought after because they both allow artistic expression while connecting to an audience. Stand up comedians rely almost entirely on the audience. Is a joke funny if no one is there to laugh at it? Stand up comedy is probably the only art form where an audience is a necessity. Similarly, musicians thrive off of an audience’s energy in order to put on a good show but do not rely on an audience to get better at their craft. From my experience it is more fun to play a song for no one than to tell a joke to yourself.
Music is there for you no matter what kind of mood you are in and a good joke can relate to your life and allow you to laugh at your own flaws and problems. Some even compare stand up to jazz. Both require improvisational skills and an acute sense of the other elements occurring, such as the audience’s involvement, during a performance. Both artists can take a song or a joke that they have played or told a hundred times and make it feel spontaneous and personal to their audience. I think that is what makes comedy and live music so special; those magic moments of improvisation usually go completely unnoticed.
Sure, many similarities can be found in the actual performance of music and comedy, but what is it that makes someone want to be a comedian or a musician? In many cases it probably has to do with a need for attention or a desire to be cool and innovative. For me it was to get the attention of all the girls I was too shy to talk to. But why couldn’t you have done something more practical to get the attention of those you liked you may ask? How about just talking to them? Maybe buy them a card and some chocolates? I don’t know. Because I thought it would be easier to dedicate years of my life to getting good at the two crafts which are nearly impossible to master or be commercially successful in. At first when I started doing stand up I thought that embarrassing myself in front of a large group of people would make embarrassing myself in front of one girl easier to deal with. I thought music would be able to express what I couldn’t say with words.
After years of countless comedy and music open mics I’ve come to the conclusion that most comics and musicians have some screws loose. You have to be a little crazy to get up on a stage in front of people who don’t know you and think they will care about anything you have to say. It’s a good kind of crazy (most of the time) and I believe in order to be a great artist it’s a necessary to see the world differently than others. Being able to express your views and change others’ perspectives on the world is a great gift and is the reason people cherish these art forms so much. Dave Chappelle changed the way I looked at Sesame Street just like The Beatles changed the way I looked at walruses, or love or whatever. I think us comedians and musicians do it to try and gain some societal acceptance or maybe just acceptance of ourselves. Whatever it is, it’s the crazy that the world needs to keep people laughing and dancing and keep everyone from going insane.
From my experience, anyone can be a musician. Music is theoretical and is based in mathematics. Anyone can learn the basics. Sit down for a half hour everyday and practice piano or guitar and you will be able to play at least one song in a few weeks. Want to impress a girl? All you need to know is three chords and let Dave Matthews’ lyrics do the rest. Want to write your own song? Rearrange the three chords you know and you are Bob Dylan. With the exception of the larger instruments, you can practice music anywhere. Your couch, the park, dorm room.. I learned how to play “Santeria” on the toilet. In no time at all you will be playing at coffee houses, restaurants, quads or any of the other million places that have music open mics.
There are tons of funny people out there. Not everyone can be a comedian. Yes, there are certain formulas to writing a joke and technically speaking anyone can write a joke. What separates the comedians from the funny people is delivery. How many times has someone tried to tell you a Mitch Hedberg joke only to follow up with “it’s a lot funnier when he says it”? It’s because it is a lot funnier when he says it. It’s been said it takes 10 years for a comedian to get good. Some jokes take years to find the perfect wording or cadence or timing or hand gestures or facial expressions. For an aspiring comedian you probably have a few days a week that you get 5 minutes of stage time at a pizza place in front of a crowd of other tired, angry comedians to try and figure it all out.
Trying to be a comedian is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. No one tells you how to get yourself out there, stage time is hard to come by, and more often than not you are bombing. Music is fun and really requires the smallest amount of dedication. So for all those who enjoy music and comedy please continue to support these arts. For those out there like myself chasing their dreams, keep doing it and good luck. See you at the unemployment office.