Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Should I enroll in a Comedy class?

So I am a naturally academic person. I gravitate towards books and research whenever I approach anything brand new and exotic. When traveling, I refer to map and guidebook. When learning a language, I grab an audiotape and a translation dictionary. When setting the clock on the VCR (do people even use those any more?), I refer to a manual. I want to be able to put it in my own terms, digest it, and act.

...Should I? Shouldn't I? Should I? Shouldn't I?...

Of course, when entering the weird and strange world of standup comedy, I do just that. I run around and gather information (comedy runs, reading "how to" books on comedy, and asking around), and then put all the information together and create my best laid plans.

During my quest, people (beginner comics like myself), say to me:

"Hey, have you ever thought about a comedy class? I took one and it really helped. You ought to consider taking a comedy class."

Now, as academic as I am, I'm still cheap. And with enrolling in a comedy class, I inevitably come face-to-face with a financial decision: Do I want to drop 200? 300? sometimes even 400? clams to hear someone's opinion on comedy and how it should be performed. Financially, there's a lot to lose. They aren't cheap and they don't promise you anything.

Now there are some staunch dissenters in this highly sensitive argument.

People who dissent say pretty much what I say:
- It's expensive.
- It's someone's opinion. A good comparison is that it's like the practicing doctor versus the non-practicing now-administrative doctor. (i.e. Dr. Kelso on NBC's Scrubs.) The latter is out-of-touch and is not as "up" on trends on comedy as say you would be if you just hit the scene on your own.
- You don't get what you need out of the class. You need significant stage time, in front of real audience, not classmates rooting you on.

...The craft is honed on stage....

- With most academic institutions, there's a promise of networking and getting in at places, that someone who didn't pay for the class would not be a privileged to receive. Again, this is the complete opposite in the comedy world. You're goal as a comic is to network and get your face out there. The only way to do this is to go to those open mics.
- The class is just a suspension in time. You, whether or not you take the class, need to get on stage.
- Again, it's someone's opinion on how it should be performed. They are going to cut out and rework ideas that that may in fact be good and fertile, thereby changing your comedy. Let the audience decide not your teacher. And again, you can't learn comedy from the classroom. Comedy is always on stage. The craft is honed on stage.

There two types of classes that people recommend:

- Standup comedy classes
- Improv classes

And surprisingly, it's terribly one-sided. There is a higher percentage of standup comics doing improv than the reverse. The standup comics need the stage time (not necessarily doing their standup act, but being in front of people helps, too.)

The improv artists rarely work alone (unlike standup comics) and so they are less compelled to separate and splinter off like standup comics would. Therefore, improv acts don't really have a need to take a standup class.

Either way there is no substitute for getting on stage. The more often you get on stage, the more likely you will get comfortable. The more comfortable you are on stage the more likely you are "become" your stage persona more easily. And then your jokes begin to flourish--they'll just flow out of you.

Should I? Shouldn't I?
Should I? Shouldn't I?

So far the tally for comedy classes:

Pros: None
Cons: Lots

I rest my case.


Did you enjoy this post? Buy me a warm cup of joe.


MymaniacalMind said...

Lucy, I've actually taken improv classes for over a year and you would not believe how much they help. It is amazing how you learn to hone in on your creative energies and really work on being the best "FUNNY YOU" you can be. I've also applied my knowledge I learned in improv to other areas in my life. I suggest it and I wish you the best of luck! Keep doing your thing :-)

Bone said...

Well I don't know about any of that, but I do have a VCR. And a dual-cassette player.

Good luck :)

Thad Guy said...

I don't know anything about comedy classes. However, as far as quasi-reference books go you might dig "Only Joking" by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves.


The Brown Blogger said...

I've taken both and I tell you as a writer, there is a payoff.

Think of it as an investment in learning the fundementals, you know... Structure. Keep building on what you got.

A foundation is necessary though. Oh, and networking for gigs too.

Me: Second City Chicago - Fall/Spring 04-05

Anonymous said...

I'm not a comedian, but since I'm a writer, I've come across the question of taking classes to "learn" about an art form. I think you should. Here are my responses.

1) I'm sure there are people who still use VCRs, but this is a dying breed. On a side note, standard TVs will be completely disregarded for network viewing in a couple of years as well, as all TV companies have decided to make the move to HDTV the standard viewing measure.

2) Why would the classmates only root you on? This may be different, but in my creative writing workshops, they don't all just say "yeah, it's good, keep writing!" Well, they do, but they point out a million things that are wrong with the story before hand.

3) Yes, it maybe the teacher's opinion. But is the teacher stating this opinion because they themselves have tried their own method and it worked? I'm sure they aren't hired as teachers because they just said they can teach and the school staff took them up on it. They probably have credentials.

Try to looking at the classes as adding to your repetoire of knowledge and wisdom on comedy, not replacing it. Learning other approaches to the craft always helps.

X. Dell said...

Sorry I'm a little late to this thread. But if you've gone this far without a comedy class, you certainly don't need to take one now. While they can help with bookings, and can get you into some nice rooms, you'll probably learn more by throwing yourself into the fire.

After all, you clearly understand the basics of set-punch-roll. There's not much more a comedy class will teach you.

boneman said...

...whether now or earlier doesn't matter with a true learning experience.

Judy Carter, the Comedy Bible

This is a book that stands pretty much on its own, and, she absolutely agrees with you on the bit about performing.
Hey, it's like about ten bucks, has a bunch of jokes in it and, without a doubt, will help you mine for new, original material.

She also has an e-mail thingie set up, but, I dunno how faithful she is to the concept of returning comments because, well, I may have mentioned this earlier, my e-mail thingie is busted here.

But, I got her book, the fourth such book I've ever bought.
Judy Tanuta (sp?) did a great job of helping to find new stuff and develope it, but, my brother borrowed the book and it went away.
Steve Allen had a book out titled as if it would help, but, it didn't. More of a memoir.
I bought a book, purple colored book, that was written well, but seemed more along the line of helping people just talk to groups of people without actually helping with developing good material, how to find places to perform, how to practice, where to practice (Judy Carter is pretty much serious about us getting out and getting on stage at open mics.... Maybe she wants us to really know the feeling of warm liquid running down the leg, I dunno) how to continue getting more material....
Yup, I'm thinking the two gals won THAT contest, but, I've yet to see the Judy Tanuta book again anywhere. I also (if not exclusively) buy books from half-priced book stores.
Drew Carrey
Steve Martin
Dave Barry (who I don't even know)
Alan Alda

OK, it's that word diarhea again....

boneman said...

Oh yeah, one more...
I watch stand-up videos as much as I can, but one of the best was
a documentary on Seinfeld after his show.
He left the show on tv and started developing a whole new show, and this film guy followed him around during a fair amount of the process.
Great flick, and some great words from some high up folks who are just tryin' t'help.

Me? Dang, like I said before, even if I ge3t some material together, the biggest jump, the leap without a bungee cord so to speak, will be dragging my rear end up on stage and doing it.

Here's hoping I make it.
'Course, right now, I don't even have a comedy buddy, yet.