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I really like stand up comedians. Louis C. K, Gabriel Iglesias, Kathleen Madigan, Lewis Black, Patton Oswald. These are all some amazing people in my book. I can’t talk about stand up without mentioning two of my favorites that passed on, of course, Robin Williams and George Carlin. (Quick tip, don’t watch Robin Williams stand up with your kids or parents. NSFW, kids, or your mother in law!)
Stand up has always been something I loved. Like everything else I love, it influences my writing.
As self published writers, we should see the stand up comic as our brother. They’ve got a lot in common with us, and a lot to teach us.
- We’re all trying to get noticed. Whether it’s sweating an open mike night or shouting at people from twitter to go download your newest book, that’s all we’re after. We just want people to look at what we do, and like it. We want fans, basically.
- We all usually start out broke. Most stand up comedians are just like you and me. Working a day job, squeezing in hours to write, scribbling ideas down on paper during a thirty minute lunch break. That’s the life, indi writer or comedian, until you make it big.
- We are all busy. Like stupidly busy. That’s what life is when you’re working two jobs, but you work one for free. Tell me this, have you ever written a blog post on your tablet while grocery shopping with your kids on your day off, hoping you might be able to squeeze an hour in at your desk in between cleaning up the house and doing some laundry just so you’ve got clean undies to wear to work during the coming week? (Guess how my day is going.) Stand up comedians do that too.
- We’re all passionate, though. That’s why we put up with the crazy and the sleepless nights. Because we know what we want, and it’s those big shiny name in lights. Comedians want to be headliners. We want our name on that shiny book cover. We all want to be somebodys. Household names.
- More often than not, though, we’re all just working for experience. We want to say, “Here’s where my work’s been. Here’s who actually paid me a few bucks for something I scribbled on the side of my shopping list.” The credit is more important than the money, every time.
Stand up comics have us beat on a few things, though. After a lifetime of loving them, here’s what I’ve learned from stand up comics.
Say the bad words people tell you not to say if it’s what rings true. Write about the serious stuff, the humiliating stuff, the real life stuff. Write about how you feel about things, even if you don’t think it’s popular. Write about how people actually act, not how we wish they would. Write like your parents will never read it.
Fight through rejection-
You got a rejection letter? Great, that loser in the coffee shop who wears dumb hats didn’t get one, because he didn’t bother to try. Go get another rejection letter, get boo’d off stage somewhere else. Learn from it, and do it again.
Don’t be afraid to go solo-
Because why not? If you try and try and try to get an agent and no one’s biting, what are you losing by self publishing instead? Oh, you might not sell any copies. Are you selling any copies right now, with the book sitting in your desk?
Always have fresh material-
No one would go see Kathleen Madigan if she told the same jokes over and over. People set Carlos Mencia on fire when they found out he was stealing other people’s jokes. Always have something fresh, something new, something that you just finished working on, and now you’re going to write something else.
Handle your hecklers-
Stand up comedians are ready for hecklers. They are so ready for them. And the good ones will rip a heckler apart. They will make lifelong fans out of other people because of what they did to a heckler.
We get hecklers. People who would rather hate on your work than make anything of their own. It’s not a bad idea to have some witty zingers to defuse a situation and make them look stupid. So be ready with some scathing, smart remark for haters, and then move on. (But don’t do that to honest critics. Take good criticisms with humility, and don’t lash back just because you’re pissed.)
Stay clean, and emotionally healthy-
So, we can learn this from our own ranks, but since I mentioned Robin Williams earlier I’ve got to say something about it. Depression is a real thing. I don’t know if writers and comedians suffer from it more than other people, but we hear about it more. I have depression. Some days no one, not even me could tell. Some days nothing is okay, and there is no reason for it, but it’s still not okay. That’s a real illness, and it needs medical care from a professional the same as any other illness.
Stay off drugs, too. I kind of mean that for everybody. July 5th was the three year anniversary of the death of a good friend of mine. He was addicted to drugs, and caught hepatitis from it. It killed him. My daughter’s uncle died because of a compromised immune system due to drug use last year. They both left behind children and friends who miss them every day. Their drug use, in both cases, was largely due to depression that they didn’t have the tools to deal with any other way. If you have a problem, get real help.
Don’t be a Hemingway, don’t be a Robin Williams. Don’t become another famous face on a magazine, dead before your time.
Love what you do, even if you get no love for it-
I’ve never had a bad time writing. If I never get published again, I’ll still write until the day I die. Because I love it, I truly do. Stand up comedians would tell jokes if no one laughed, if no one came to their shows. The best would play to a house of one, and have a great time doing it.