Want to hear a funny story? Most comedians can enthusiastically attest that one of the best parts of stand-up comedy is NOT what happens on the stage. Ohhh no!! While being on stage is indeed exciting, the absolute BEST part of the show takes place AFTER the show is over!
It’s after the show when comedians bond with one another by telling the most tragic, repulsive, enlightening, heartfelt and hilarious stories ever! A warped camaraderie, if you will. The majority of these stories never make it to the stage because they are usually very personal and embarrassing tales of human life viewed through the eyes of a jokester. Most of these untold stories could be considered as comedy gold, but ask any comedian and they’ll tell you that they are reluctant to work out long-winded material in front of audiences. Why? Because the pressure placed upon comedians by the public to be “on” or consistently funny 24/7 can be immensely intimidating! Even open mic audiences sometimes have a low tolerance for a comedian, especially an unknown one, stumbling their way through a story in an attempt to find the funny in it. Adding to the pressure is the sense of competition amongst fellow comedians. As the saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like the wrath of your comedian friends if you bomb onstage in front of them!” All of the above breeds anxiety within comedians to hit a home run every single time they grab a microphone. So, like clockwork they retreat back to the safety of their comfort zone where the material that is tried and true resides. The most unfortunate part about this is that the probability of growth as a comedian lessens more and more with ever instance of fear of being uncomfortable.
Unbeknownst to most, stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to share a personal story can prove to be therapeutic for both comedians and the audience members. This is because people from all walks of life can share similar life stories. To this end, the very events which a comedian may feel deeply embarrassed to share on stage, may be an experience which an audience member has also faced – giving them both an opportunity to laugh and find humor in life’s little hiccups and absurdities. Aside from the therapeutic factor, adding a personal touch to the any comedic set has an added bonus – it eliminates possible accusations of “joke stealing”!
Ultimately, comedians are expected to be fully committed to their jokes. This requires them to actually buy in to their own material, believing in it and selling it flawlessly to the audience – regardless of how absurd the it may seem. Frankly, the audience can definitely sense if the person on stage is uncommitted, simply going through the motions and regurgitating words they’ve memorized. This can never end well for the comedian who does this, however, if the comedian is recalling one of his or her actual life events, the material flows effortlessly.
With all of the above in mind, unfortunately storytelling intertwined stand-up comedy is becoming a lost art. Today, not many venues offer environments that are conducive to comedians exploring stories from their personal life experiences while on stage. Relapse Theater in Midtown Atlanta, GA., however, comes to mind as one venue that provides a platform for telling a detailed story in front of a live audience. It’s called Backstory. The show is run by creators Lace Larrabee and Ian Aber, both hilarious comedians in their own right and perfect hosts. Each comedian is given time to share an interesting story of their choosing with absolutely no pressure to be funny. I’ve personally been there a few times and have found that regardless of who’s on stage, the funny always reveals itself…and how could it not, with a comedian telling it! This is wonderful idea and tool for comedians to work out all the new material they’ve never had the nerve to try onstage.
Now ask yourself, how different would the greats like Bill Burr, Richard Pryor, Louis CK, or Kevin Harts material be if they couldn’t tell stories about their personal life? Unimaginable, right? All comedians have personal backstories that we tell in private. Why not use them? Comedians spend much of their creative juices trying to generate new ideas resulting in new material when new material is already stored up in their personal accounts of lost loves, missed opportunities, that one tale of survival, that crazy dream, that unexpected encounter and all the other lessons that life has to offer. I hope more venues nationwide recognizes the value of storytelling. Young comedians need it… Hell, we all do!