The 10 Questions Everyone Asks Standup Comedians
I have a weird job. Most of the time, people I encounter have never met a comedian before. Folks have lots of questions for me. They’re usually the same ten questions/ demands. In case you were ever curious, here are the most common inquiries, complete with (what I think are) helpful answers.
I have ordered the questions from most reasonable to most annoying.
Do you write your own routines?
I do! Most people get into comedy because they like both writing and being onstage. I will run new jokes by comedian friends for advice, but taking jokes from anywhere else is considered very unprofessional. Sometimes very famous or successful comics will pay other writers to help them generate material. That’s okay. Otherwise, we write our own stuff.
Where do you get your material?
I write about my life experiences and things that interest me. If an unusual set of circumstances arises or I learn something that I can’t stop thinking about, chances are I’ll try to write a joke about it.
What happens if they don’t laugh?
Bombing is inevitable. Everyone has sets that don’t go well. The first few times it feels really bad. Like that nightmare where you are taking a test, and it’s all in Sanskrit type bad. You feel unprepared and confused.
“Why aren’t these jokes working?” you think. “They killed last night!”
Your mouth gets dry. The rest of you gets sweaty. You start talking faster. Time slows down. You hear the growing murmur of the discontented crowd.
“I’ve lost them,” you think. You mumble through the rest of your act and get offstage. By turns, you hate yourself and the crowd.
Now that I have more experience onstage, I don’t get so panicky. I will adjust the type of material I’m doing or try to engage the crowd directly. If none of that works, I just detach and watch myself bomb from outside my body. Then I leave and eat pizza and try to do better next time.
How do you deal with hecklers?
Real, mean spirited hecklers are not as common as people think. Most people come to a comedy show to enjoy it rather than destroy it from the inside. More often than not, if someone is yelling things during a show, that person is drunk and
- Doesn’t realize how loud he/ she is being while talking to a friend. Or…
- Is just vocally enjoying the show and doesn’t understand that it’s disruptive.
In those cases, you can usually just politely ask the offender to be a little quieter for the sake of the show.
Someone intentionally trying to throw off the comic onstage is much rarer. Usually a good comedy venue will quietly talk to the heckler so as not to derail the entire performance. Otherwise, I just have to be funnier or louder than the heckler and then feel frustrated for the rest of the night that I had to deal with a jerk. Just like at any job where jerks go.
But aren’t hecklers helping the show?
No. No more than I would be helping a production of Romeo and Juliet by shouting:
“What light through yonder window breaks? What the hell are you talking about?”
The person onstage generally has a pretty good idea of how the show is supposed to go. “Speak when spoken to,” is a good rule of thumb for audience members.
Do you hate Dane Cook?
Certainly not. Dane Cook is not my favorite comedian, but he is a really dynamic performer and a genuinely funny guy. Other people may have different feelings, but there’s no across-the-board animosity toward him.
The one time I met Dane, he was very nice. I told him I used to be a teacher in his hometown of Arlington, Massachusetts. All of my coworkers, knowing I was starting comedy, would ask me if I knew that Dane Cook grew up there.
“That’s funny,” Dane said. “When I started comedy, people would say, ‘Arlington? Did you know Olympia Dukakis is from there?’”
Say something funny.
Asking me to tell you a joke when we meet is like finding out someone is a doctor and then showing them a rash and asking, “Does this look okay to you?” And if you’re the kind of person who does that, stop it.
I would love for you to see my comedy, but not on an airplane or at a Halloween party. It’s really weird to just start reciting my act out of context. Believe me, I tried the first several times people asked me. I got a lot of blank stares and aborted conversations.
Have I seen you in something?
Probably not. If you had, wouldn’t you remember? Usually, when people ask me this question, I tell them that I was the star of a short-lived sitcom called Frasier.
You make a living at this?
Yikes. That’s a little personal. It’s probably the touchiest thing you can ask anyone in the arts, too, which is not a great way to converse with someone you just met.
“You’re an accountant? Does that bore you to tears?”
“You work at McDonald’s? Why didn’t you go to college?”
“You work in the church? Have you ever… you know?”
Are you going to write a joke about me?
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