How should comedians influence you?

As a doorman at the Columbus Funny bone (’00-’02) I saw a lot of comics come through and eventually one became my early influence, Dave Attell.  I didn’t steal any of his material of course, but on a couple of my jokes I tried to use his mannerisms (posture and tone).  It wasn’t until another comic (Josh Sneed) called me out on it that I realized it wasn’t helping my act.  Nothing about me resembled Attell so it made for an awkward mesh.  As mentioned last week, club managers (who you always want to impress) and other comics recognize faults like this and before you know it you have a reputation bordering “hack” …or just dork.

Early on in your career you’ll have at least one or two comics who you idolize so much that they become an influence on your performance.  When I started out a lot of comics had an obvious influence from Bill Hicks and/or George Carlin.  Some of these influences were pretty obvious because beginners would just try to steal their jokes for laughs at open mic night.  In today’s scene, comics like Mitch Headburg are still inspiring weak imitations to even those who never saw him live.

As you mature as a comic and “find your voice” (I hate this phrase too, but it applies) these influences should fade away quite a bit.  Until then, realize what the comics you admire do well and emulate that in your own way.  Observe how clean Brian Regan is and try that for once.  Watch how theatrical some comics like Kevin James make each bit as they act it out.  Try not to pick an energy level which mirrors that of another comic.  The amount of energy you use in your act should be a fairly natural representation of how much energy you communicate with in real life.

I still think there are too many low energy comics out there trying to be Steven Wright.  It might work at your friendly neighborhood open mic, but when you’re performing at a one-nighter in a loud bar where most of the patrons are upset because the bartender had to turn their game off in the 4th quarter because your “little comedy show” is starting, they’re going to jump all over you.  If you want to someday become a professional comic, these one-nighters are where you’re going to pay a lot of your dues (they also help you pay your rent so get used to them.).

The message is that you shouldn’t go out and “pick” a style to do because it takes you further away from finding your voice.  When you’re being funny at work or around friends, that’s who you are.  No one gathers their friends around and tells a funny story by slowing it down or acting like another comic.

I’ve written much more about this topic, including the other way-too-popular style, in my book.  I also address the dozens of other challenges that come along with one-nighters including the gigs that you should never take and the strategy to take on the ones you do.  It’s getting close to printing time and I appreciate all of your support (over 1000 hits in the first month–thank you!).

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