I’ve known Vittorio for over 10 years, and he asked me to discuss what it’s like to be a stand-up comic and deal with the pressure of performing night after night and telling a joke and having it fall flat, no laughter and just the sound of crickets.
In all truth, dealing with poor feedback to my jokes is not all that uncommon. After all, I make jokes to friends and family all day and they often don’t laugh Plus, as an Advertising Copywriter I pitch creative ideas every day, many of them intended to be funny and I often have to deal with a tough room of co-workers and clients.
For me, my “night job” of being a stand-up comic is a relief from the day-to-day pressures of the ad world. Comedy has helped me to perform better at work as well: I’ve learn a lot of presentation skills, writing skills, editing skills, and I’ve also learned that taking a shower and shaving once in a while is a good thing if you’re going to spend time on stage on a regular basis.
Since I began my stand-up career, many people have asked me about my favorite comedians and influences. It’s hard to narrow down the list to just a handful of people but Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, and Mitch Hedberg are three major influences.
Jim Carrey is an inspiration to me because of his life story. He was raised on a trailer park in Canada and his family had little money. His Mom used to make jokes and cheer up the kids to keep their mind off of the family’s financial and health troubles. From a young age, Jim found that comedy can be a great anti-depressant.
That’s what attracts me to performing comedy. I love the fact that I can help people get their minds off of their troubles at least for a few minutes. In dark moments of my own life, I have often found comfort in laughter and I think comedy has serious healing power. A good sense of humor can lower blood pressure, relieve depression and anxiety, and it makes you a lot more fun to hang out with.
From Jerry Seinfeld, I’ve learned a lot about the craft and science of comedy. He is one of the hardest working comics in the industry and loves breaking down the science of comedy on his web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” I especially recommend the episodes with Chris Rock, Howard Stern and Larry David. He talks often about how he misses the days of performing before a small crowd of five or six people. He should come to my club, The Purple Onion, he would love it!
Although comedy is a creative field, there is a lot of left-brained analysis that goes into editing and crafting a comedy act. I graduated from the San Francisco Comedy College where I learned from Greg Dean’s book that every comic should listen to two voices: the creator and the critic. The creator is the playful child inside of you that is constantly telling jokes and stories without a filter. The critic is the analytical adult who constructively criticizes everything the creator says. I think this is a valuable way of thinking for everyone, regardless of profession. By keeping a balance between the left and right brain we can keep our sanity and be at our most productive.
I’d also like to take a moment to mention one of the biggest influences on my comedy and my creative process: Mitch Hedberg. I remember the first time I ever saw him on TV. This shaggy haired guy with sunglasses on, seemingly dying of stage fright stood like a statue and told one hilarious joke after another in his distinctive delivery. He didn’t need to rely on profanity or vulgarity, but instead made some of the most hilarious puns I’d ever heard, and kept it clean the whole time. Tragically, Mitch died of a drug overdose in 2005. But his jokes will live on forever and his legacy will leave a lasting influence on future generations of comics.
I’ve learned so much from these comedians and countless others such as Chris Rock, Melissa McCarthy, and Bill Maher. Not to mention the legendary cartoonist Gary Larson and his comic strip The Far Side. But my first exposure to comedy comes from my dad, who learned from his dad, who learned from his dad.
So in a way, I’m a son of a son of a son of a comedian.
Now that I have a one-year-old son of my own, I’m doing everything I can to make him laugh.
Even if my set at the nightclub bombs terribly, if I can make him laugh in his crib the next morning, then I’ll be a happy man.
After all, comedy is the ultimate anti-depressant.
Justin Kramm is a Senior Copywriter at ATTIK in San Francisco, CA. He performs twice weekly at the Purple Onion. Justin will be performing in Barcelona, Spain in October 2014.
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