The idea for this book literally fell off a shelf when I was searching through a dozen disorganized notebooks for the seed of a joke I wanted to expand upon. Instead, I found nearly a hundred pages of scribblings from various weekly stand-up comedy workshops I had participated in over a two-year period at Yuk Yuk’s Komedy Kabaret in Calgary.
I sat down and started rereading those notes (anything to avoid shovelling the walk again) and in the reading found something deeper than “what to do or not do on and off stage and around the clubs”. In this unexpected place, I found reminders of the belief systems I have held ﬁrm since my days as a Wolf Cub chanting “I will DIB DIB DIB, we will DOB DOB DOB — I will do my best, we will do our best.”
None of what I’ve quoted or written here is new. It’s all been drifting around since the ﬁrst mentor told the ﬁrst acolyte “Don’t ﬂing dung at the audience”, but I wanted to share here not just what I’ve learned about stand-up comedy, but how the simple words of men and women whose goal is to earn a little money making the world laugh, can speak to everyone.
And so, I give you the words shared with me by my comic friends, associates, mentors and passing comedy acquaintances, along with my own thoughts on the universality of it all. With it all comes my hope that this little book helps shine a little more light on the one thing we all have in common — our search for Success.
Working stand-up comics — these are the men and women who live and work in the trench-deep world of Bates Motels, road-houses, broken-down rental cars, super-sized greasy pub food and sometimes a variety of mood-altering substances best not detailed here.
Young, old, male, female, straight, gay, they all have one thing in common — they live for the laughter. Working comics don’t do it to become rich, they do it because NOT doing it would be worse than death. The rules are the same for all comics — from the open-mic amateur nights with three-minute sets where there’s more alcohol and dope than courage or talent, to the one-nighters in biker bars lost in the middle of no-GPS territory, to the festival competitions and,
ﬁnally, to headlining in Vegas between seasons six and seven of their own sitcom.
To not know the rules is to court disaster or failure or life as an accountant (been there, done that, bought the abacus). Like anything else in life, you have to know the rules so you can know which ones to break and which ones to bend.
In stand-up comedy the breakable rules are the Performance Rules like:
- don’t use props
- don’t do Jack Nicholson impressions
- a joke has a beginning, a middle and an end — and a tag and a tag and a tag.
These are the rules comics shouldn’t break until they have the stage-presence, the self-conﬁdence and the EXPERIENCE to know how to break them in just the right way.
But the unbreakable rules… these are the ones in which the wording is speciﬁc to the comedy industry and yet their meanings are so universal that at the heart of them are inviolable truths that, when applied to life, work & play, ensure that you won’t have to ﬁnd Success — it will ﬁnd you. They’re the little bits of wisdom dispensed by those who’ve worked their way up and earned their place in whatever pecking order they’re in.
Finally, if you ever get a chance to see any of the hilarious contributors to this project, grab those tickets and take that table right up front, because there’s nothing better than laughter, not even sex (although my ex might argue that laughter during sex was the best of all, but I can’t take intentional credit for that).
And so let’s get the show on the road:
“You only hold your breath underwater.”
Be ‘cautiously optimistic’. Keep writing, keep selling, keep loving, keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, because if you do Something Great and then just hold your breath, waiting for Success to see you and wave and come over to hang out, you’ll be disappointed — repeatedly. Have hope and have dreams, but have just a little bit of cynicism to keep you grounded and keep you WORKING for your goal.
Until next week…
Ciao for now,
All words and images here are Copyright Tim Reynolds.