As much as comedians like to say “There’s no one path” and “Don’t ask other comedians for advice, they’ll only tell you how to be like them” everyone sure likes to give out advice. They tend to couch them as Rules, but it’s really just advice.
Much of it is actually solid advice for a newbie… it keeps you from cultivating bad habits and falling into the worst pitfalls of hackery. But we’re artists and artists are meant to break rules!
So here are some “Rules” of comedy that you should consider breaking.
1. Don’t Talk About Your Day Job
The thought behind this rule is, “If you reveal to the audience that you still work a day job, they’ll respect you less as a ‘professional.’” That was probably true before podcasts and blogs and Twitter pulled back the curtain of our glamorous lifestyle, but now dozens or thousands of people have already heard about your shitty day job(s) (and your crazy ex and your herpes). Besides, the audience can relate to your shitty day job! They have shitty jobs, too!
There’s still some value in fudging the time factor and setting it up as “I used to…” but that’s more because it’s an easier device, like how everything in every premise happened to you “the other day”
If You Break It Don’t do that thing everyone does of adding “because this is going so well for me” Now you did just tell them you’re unsuccessful. Explicitly.
2. Don’t Put Videos Up Online Too Soon
Again, there’s a good theory behind this one, in those delusional first few years of comedy, you wanna “get yourself out there” and you for sure shouldn’t. Because the internet is forever and comedians love to hate watch other comedian’s shitty videos. But don’t go so far the other way that you’ve got nothing to send around to festivals and bookers when you’re ready for that. And definitely don’t wait until your manager has been after you for 14 months about getting it together.
If You Break It Don’t read any of the comments on YouTube
3. Always Acknowledge How Weird The Room Is
There’s a fine line between acknowledging what’s happening to put people at ease and totally alienating the 3 people in that bar in Glendale that are actually paying attention to you. Or, in other words, don’t shit on the room. If you were “too good for this” you’d be somewhere else right now.
If You Do Break It Don’t just plow through like you’re in a sold out theater, at least acknowledge it to yourself and adjust accordingly.
4. Make Sure You Say Your Name As You Dismount
This is a weird rule because I can’t figure out who is propagating it. Who told you this? Do you see any of your respected elders doing it? No, because it’s weird. The host is about to say your name again in 30 seconds. And if anyone at this Brooklyn bar was so excited by discovering their new favorite comedian that they missed it, they can ask you or the host afterward or check the show’s Facebook or Twitter.
If You Do Break It Don’t treat this as an If, stop doing that!
5. Don’t talk about Tinder/Hump the Stool/Talk about your period/Read something off your phone as a punchline -
These will all be outdated in the near future (okay, not humping the stool, that’s a timeless hack classic), but you get what I mean.
I mean someone’s gotta have one of the few great, unique takes on their mom joining Facebook and you gotta have some shit to fill out your set on the road.
If You Do Break It Don’t be a hypocrite about it and shit on some other guy doing The Hacky Thing That’s Not The Hacky Thing I Do
And one Rule you should NEVER break is
Don’t Wear Shorts On Stage. Ever. Yes, yes, this is a little sexist. Some guys counter with, “But female comics get to wear skirts and dresses when it’s hot” but that’s almost always a calculated choice in service of a persona or cultivated look. So unless you’re cultivating a persona of “Hey, I just stopped in on my way back from Home Depot and figured I’d try telling a couple jokes for the first time,” DO. NOT. WEAR. SHORTS.