: Andrew George
The most common stereotype for standup comedians is that they are tortured souls or people who are filled with bitterness and do standup comedy as a way to release their anger in a therapeutic way. However, with most modern day comics, this is generally not the case at all. The days of comedians being sad people have been coming to an end with each new batch of comics, who perform for countless reasons other than having unfortunate childhoods.
It is extremely true that standup comedy has the ability to act as a therapeutic agent which can be used as a coping mechanism for those who have gone through, or are currently going through, troubling times. When a comic tells a joke and gets the desired response, laughter, the crowd acknowledges that they too relate to the performer and what they are going through. This sense of validation gives performers way more piece of mind than laying down on a couch while a man in tweed says “go on” could ever provide. An example of this would be if a comedian had a bit on the premise of “fuck that guy”, when the crowd laughs, it feels as if they are all saying, “yeah, fuck that guy!”
Many of today’s top performers do comedy for the pure love of the game and for the gratification that they get from making people laugh. In a recent episode of You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes, Rory Scovel eloquently put into words the way that most comedians feel in social situations by saying that he has to constantly be taking the temperature of everyone in the room, because he feels as if it is his responsibility to make sure that everyone around him is having a good time. This is very apparent in THIS video of Rory regarding how he handeled his show the night of the tragic Aurora movie theater shooting.
Pete responded to Rory's comment by saying that he believed that the anxiety associated with that constant need to keep everyone around him entertained, no matter the situation, was one of the reason that he drank, because it allowed him to temporarily turn off his comedian brain and go into a “civilian state of mind”.
Another stereotype of standup comedians is that they do comedy because they simply cannot do anything else, or as the overused joke says, “I became a comedian because I screwed up one too many job interviews.” This is no longer the case at all. Comedians WANT to do comedy. Many of today’s top performers come from well off families, have a wide set of employable skills, and would be able to succeed in almost anything they attempted, because if comedians have one thing, it’s determination. Plus, a huge part of it is that many comedians have the mentality that if they don’t like something, they are not motivated to pursue it. Eugene Mirman spent his entire high school life in remedial classes because he was bored with the work and just wouldn’t do it, which made his teachers all think he was a little bit slow. Once he found his true passion in standup, he continued to graduate from college, where he got a degree in comedy, which you can totally do apparently. He is now an author and the co-host of the podcast Star Talk with one of the smartest men alive, Neil deGrasse Tyson, where they talk about quantum physics and stuff.
In true Mirman fashion, when he was asked back to his high school years later to deliver the commencement address, he graciously agreed and delivered THIS hilarious speech.
A certain level of intelligence is required in order to be a standup comedian. In order to create, craft, and alter jokes in a way that an audience can find funny, you have to be able to make connections and observations that the average person would not be able to come up with, and then you have to be able to express those ideas in a manner that is conducive to laughter. Before Conan O’Brien became the super comedian that he is today, he was in the top of his class at Harvard. When asked why he chose the school on The WTF Podcast with Marc Maron, Conan said that the thing that attracted him to school was knowing that he would have a chance to be a writer for The Harvard Lampoon, which he then went on to be the editor in chief of for two years.
John Mulaney, also in the SNL writer's club with Conan, was quoted as saying that intelligence plays a huge part in who will and who will not make it in the comedy industry, from both sides. He said that really intelligent people have an advantage because they’re smart enough to create good material and will know what decisions to make in order to further their careers, and that really dumb people have an advantage because they’re too stupid to know when to give up.
After becoming hooked on the art of standup comedy, the rush that a comedian gets from performing a good set becomes addicting. If you’re remotely interested in comedy, which you obviously are if you have made it this far into this post, then you have more than likely already seen Jordan Brady’s documentary I Am Comic (and if you haven’t it’s on Netflix instant). In the film, Rick Shydner is shown as he goes through the process of getting back into performing after years of giving it up. Throughout this process, you see Rick go from being addicted to anti-depressants, to going completely off the medications and using comedy as his only outlet for relieving stress and anxiety. During numerous times in the second half of the documentary, he can be seen in an obvious state of non-drug induced euphoria after getting off stage.
During an episode of the Nerdist Podcast, Jim Gaffigan said that if he didn’t have a family, then he couldn’t care less how much money he made doing standup. He said that what most people don’t understand is that he doesn’t do comedy because it pays well; he does it so that he can sleep at night.
Other than money, which is a dumb reason to get into comedy, girls and fame are the two biggest reasons that a lot of people want to give standup a whirl, which are even dumber reasons. I mean, yeah, sometimes you may get a few of one of those three things, but that is not why people dedicate their lives to standup comedy. They do it because they want and have to do it, just for the sake of doing it. The feeling of winning over an entire room of strangers, getting them on your side, and making them happy in the most pure way is why they are addicted to the art. But it’s not for everyone. You have to have passion, smarts, and the drive needed to keep going. If you don’t have those things, you may just end up looking racist on national TV and have to spend the rest of your life making appearances in Wal-Mart parking lots.