I found myself in need of some cheering up so, in accordance with my ongoing fling with Netflix, I spent a lazy Sunday watching different stand-up comedy specials. Some of the specials I loved, and some I watched for about ten minutes before I decided they weren’t for me. I’ve loved comedians for as long as I can remember. I’m dating myself here as the child of the 1970s I was, but I remember listening to records like Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy, Robin Williams’ Reality, What a Concept, and anything by George Carlin (yup, kids, we had big, round record albums in those days).
No matter which comedian I watched on the stage, microphone in hand, pacing before the audience, saying their witticisms (or not-so-witticisms, but that’s entirely a matter of personal taste), I had a sense that these were people who followed their hearts. Despite family protests, lack of money, difficulty starting their careers, they followed their dreams, and getting started in comedy clubs is not an easy thing to do. To me, the comedians were a lesson about staying true to your vision for yourself no matter what others have to say.
Writing is a tough enough gig, but writing that makes people laugh is especially hard. The ability to write and tell jokes consists of a few different skills. You need to be observant about the world, and you need to be able to share those observations in a way that could only have come from you. Timing is everything in comedy. The way someone tells a joke is as important as the words being said. A comedian needs patience so they don’t speak too quickly and lose that timing. They also need to be able to read their audiences. The way a joke worked last night might not work tonight with this audience. It must be a thrill to get an immediate reaction the way stand-up comics do. That’s one thing novelists don’t experience–immediate reactions.
It’s harder to make people laugh than it is to make people cry. Many people are saddened by the same things—such as death—but our senses of humor are largely dependent on how we’re feeling at any given moment. If we’re having a good day we’re more likely to laugh. If we’re having a bad day we’re more likely not to laugh. Senses of humor are like thumbprints, we each have our own unique version, so for a comedian to be able to get a roomful of strangers to laugh at the same thing at the same time is no small gift.
As I was watching the comedians talk about their families I realized that I have more than enough material about my own family to keep me going from comedy club to comedy club for years. But don’t we all?
Who knows? Maybe in my next life I will come back as a stand-up comedian.
Here are a few of the stand-up comedy specials I enjoyed. If you’re in need of a laugh, try them out:
- Hasan Minhaj—Homecoming King. I’ve loved Hasan on The Daily Show, but I found his special particularly meaningful. It was the right amount of humor and poignancy as he talks about his experiences growing up Muslim in America.
- Jim Gaffigan—yes, I watched all five of his specials. I had never seen his stand-up before, and I loved him. He talks about every day stuff we can all relate to—watching Netflix, eating too much, and being lazy.
- Tracy Morgan—Staying Alive. Beware—this one is pretty raunchy, but it was still great seeing him come back from that horrible crash. It’s Tracy Morgan doing what he does best—make people laugh.