Comedy Advice I’ve Learned The Hard Way
–By Jan McInnis, Comedian and Keynote Speaker
While giving a commencement speech at a college graduation, Steve Jobs said something that has become one of my favorite quotations (I’m paraphrasing): Life does not make sense until you look at it backwards.
How true! And as a comedian who got her start 20 years ago in comedy clubs, I’ve spent some time looking back at all of the unsolicited advice, opinions and comments people have expressed to me over the years. And what’s funny is I’ve found some gems that, though awful at first glance, turned out to guide my career (and life!) because I really listened to what the person was saying. Now that I make my living doing humor keynotes and comedy shows for associations and corporations, it’s fun to look back on the comedy club wisdom and what I learned from it.
“You ain’t got any of them ‘thinkin’ jokes,’ do ya?” This was not so much a question as a warning, and it came from a bar owner who apparently was afraid that his crowd would go “a-thinkin.” (And maybe realize they shouldn’t be sitting in a bar every night?) Back in my early years of comedy, we comics did bar gigs – called “one-nighters” – to fill in the financial gaps when we weren’t booked in comedy clubs. The crowds at these gigs were rough not only because a lot of the patrons had begun drinking at noon, but sometimes the bar owner didn’t even tell the people there was going to be a comedy show. He’d just turn off the Monday night football game and send the comic up! Isn’t that a great idea? NOT!
What I learned: Stick to my goals. I’d like to say my “thinkin’ jokes” gig was a hit, but it wasn’t; they wanted dirtier humor. That 30 minutes on that stage felt like three hours but by sticking to my guns and not changing my act for those types of groups, I eventually found my niche in the association and corporate convention arena. If I had changed my act to pander to that crowd, I’d still be doing bar gigs.
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