Sunday, November 25, 2018

Don't Do Stand Up, Do Storytelling

If there's one thing I've learned in my six or so months of doing stand up is that everyone wants to be a comedian. Or well, everyone thinks they want to be a comedian. The actual realities of what it takes to get there (and what there entails) are obviously not exactly what people expect. Still, people show up, work up the courage to get onstage and try to find something to talk about.

Now I've seen a lot of people's first sets since I've started, and all I can really offer as far as advice is to do it. You can prepare jokes weeks or even months in advance, or you can just talk about your day. It doesn't really matter, because at the end of the day, you're going to suck. And I don't mean that in a negative way, I mean that in that it's your first time doing something really difficult, not being good at it is to be expected.

Of course, I've heard people get laughs the first time they do it, and if you do, great. But unless your goal was to do it once, you have to back up there until you don't. Until you bomb. Cause that's where comedy really begins. Being in front of an audience that expects to laugh, and not being able to deliver. And trust me I've been there. And I'm not done being there. I don't think I ever will be. It's part of the job.
Ah, stand up comedy. In all its glory.
Hopefully many of you now knowing that, will embrace comedy, and pursue it wholeheartedly. However some of the other people reading this don't exactly want that. You have good jobs, happy social lives, and all the other things that keep you tied to where you are. Besides, you don't really want to bomb, you just want to have fun, make people laugh, and build up some skills and confidence when it comes to public speaking. In which case, I may just have the answer for you: storytelling.

Storytelling is an art that goes back to ancient times, and can be found in nearly all cultures. From the Greek's tales of Achilles, to the English's fables about Beowulf, to your uncle's story of the giant fish he nearly caught, storytelling is in our cultural blood.

Now admittedly, there are a lot less gigs for storytellers, but at the same time, that's not really why you're doing this. You're not doing this to get five minutes in some big club, but to have fun and entertain while pushing yourself in front of others. And storytelling is a great way of doing so.

The reason I advocate for storytelling is because it's a lot easier of a starting point. All you need to do is come up with a something that happened to you that you have talked about. If you can't think of anything, look up prompts, such as at Odyssey Storytelling. Or if you don't want to tell a true story, that's fine too. You can just look up famous stories to practice with.

The difference between storytelling and stand up is that with stand up it's incredibly important to be the person who came up with what it is that you're saying. Even if it's just a dumb fart joke, and even if it's killing, if you didn't come up with it, that's an automatic black mark against you from all the other comedians. But with storytelling, if you were to say tell the story of Jack And The Beanstalk, or The Gift of The Magi (as the leader of my area's local group, Teller of Tales did) than that's perfectly fine, as you're just practicing telling with the story. With comedy, it's essential that you come up with what it is you're saying, as it's part of your voice. But with storytelling, it's more how you say it. The kind of inflections you have, and the way you mix acting out the story with engaging with the audience.
My mom entertaining the folks with her unique style of storytelling.
Another reason I advocate for you doing storytelling is because there's no pressure to be funny. Now that's not saying you can't be funny. After all, I've watched people tell stories that were absolutely hilarious. But the thing is, you don't have to be funny. If you go onstage at a comedy show and are engaging but not funny, the audience will get upset because they came to see a comedy show, and therefore, they expect to laugh. Additionally, it's a lot easier to laugh when you're not expecting to, which unfortunately the name 'stand up comedy' works against. Now this is fine for doing stand up, as it toughens you up and forces you to be funny. (Which is what you're there to do.) But if you just want to entertain and engage without having to put in all the work that doing stand up takes, than I really would recommend doing storytelling. Especially as you might not always want to be funny. Maybe you want to be serious, which is a lot more difficult to do in stand up (not impossible, as comedians like Hannah Gadsby, Dave Chappelle and George Carlin prove) although it takes a great number of years to be able to pull it off in that medium.

The last reason I advocate for doing storytelling is because you can transition it into comedy. A lot of what comedians do is simply tell stories, which you'll be able to do. Additionally, you'll have a better grasp of who you are when it comes to being in front of an audience, and what kind of things you talk about, whether it's your failed love life, your annoying co-workers, or strange historical events that no one pays attention to. Of course, it'll be a shift from one to the other, but you'll have the advantage of more time on stage which means more confidence which allows the whole process to become easier.

In conclusion, stand up is hard and often times frustratingly difficult. If it's your dream, go for it, but don't be surprised when it knocks you on your butt, as that's the nature of the beast. But if you want to just entertain some folks while forcing yourself onto a small stage, than give storytelling a try. It's sort of like a gentle hiking trail as compared to the mountain biking trail that is stand up. They're both a lot of fun, and you can do both, but if you're a little bit older and not really psyched to have to pick  rocks out from in between your teeth after a nasty fall off a steep cliff, than I'd give storytelling a try.

But in the end, it's up to you. This is your story. Now go tell it how you want.

Teller of Tales: (Local group, meets once a month)
http://tellersoftalestucson.com/

Odyssey Stoytelling: (Does a once a month storytelling show about true stories based on a theme)
https://odysseystorytelling.com/

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