A few months ago, a fellow comedian asked me to perform a set at his CD release party. I declined the offer, giving some vague reason. In fact, I was scared to do the gig.
I was unpleasantly surprised at the fear that his offer evoked in me, and at my succumbing to said fear.
In fact, I was slightly ashamed. What kind of comedian is afraid to perform comedy?
I had spent the last dozen years doing ensemble musical comedy. I had performed on stages all over the country, plus every weekend in Chicago for the past eight years. I had also done solo comedy, but I had stopped performing solo about a year before. And now, even though I was still performing with my ensemble every weekend, I was so far removed from solo work that I was now afraid to do it. I was out of shape. My comedic muscles had atrophied and, now, they languished under the fat of disuse.
Having struggled with weight problems for years, I made a connection here. This moment—of realizing that I was now afraid to perform solo comedy—was like that moment (every few years, unfortunately) when I am at my highest weight and inadvertently catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror (inadvertently, since I avoid looking in the mirror when I’m very overweight). That moment often serves as a turning point for a renewed effort towards physical fitness.
I resolved to get back into performing solo comedy and get myself back into artistic shape.
I made a plan to write 10 jokes every day, and tweet one of them as my “Joke of the Day.” I started in November, and I am still doing it; so I have now written thousands of jokes in the past few months. I will include a few of them scattered throughout this essay.
• The Indian buffet is a great place to pick up chick peas.
• My relationship advice costs nothing. And it’s worth it.
• Never under-estimate the power of the hyphen. For example, in a chicken coop, the chickens are basically slaves. But in a chicken co-op, the chickens jointly own the property.
I teach classes in sketch-comedy writing, and one idea I espouse in my classes is “three inequalities that will increase your creativity.” Here they are:
1. PROCESS > PRODUCT
2. QUANTITY > QUALITY
3. PERSISTENCE > TALENT
In each pair, the first item is something that you (as an artist) have control over, and the second item is something that you do not have control over. So the basic idea is, focus on what you can control, not what you cannot.
I cannot control the product or the quality—in other words, I cannot sit at my desk and decide to write a great joke and then do it. But I can control the process and the quantity—in other words, I can sit at my desk and decide to write 10 jokes. Probably most of them will be duds, but there’s a decent chance that one or two of them will be good.
Similarly, I cannot control my level of talent, but I can control my level of persistence.
• As a teenager I signed a multiple-album deal with Columbia Records. They sent me 12 albums for a penny.
• My worst nightmare at a party is a white guy who knows a lot about India.
• Inconceivably, the pregnancy test turned out negative.
In my previous solo comedy forays, I had focused on musical comedy—playing the piano and guitar and singing songs. I had achieved some success with that, and had worked up to performing 30-minute sets at several venues in Chicago. But anytime I’d tried to do traditional stand-up comedy—just me and a microphone, with no instruments and no singing—I’d bombed nightmarishly.
So now, as I wrote jokes every day, I resolved not only to get back into doing solo comedy, but also to push myself to do traditional stand-up. I started taking a stand-up class, putting jokes together in routines, and getting out to open mics to practice doing comedy without music.
• I have a friend who attended Occidental College. She didn’t mean to.
• The Olympic rings are a Venn diagram on steroids.
• I went to a reverse psychologist. He wouldn’t stop blabbing; but hey, I made 90 bucks.
In this new endeavor to work on non-musical stand-up comedy, I have still experienced my fair share of bombings—including one open mic at which I did so terribly that the host of the show spent several minutes immediately after my set berating me (in jest but …) from the stage. However, I have also tasted a bit of success, including a 10-minute set that went swimmingly.
You know how when you’re at a grocery store and they are giving out free samples of some food and no matter what it is it tastes amazing? Having a bit of success as a stand-up comic is the same way. In a small amount, it tastes amazing. I want more of it.
Admittedly, with the food-sample situation, often when you take the food home and eat some more of it, it doesn’t seem to taste quite as good. I suspect that that’s where the analogy fails—I suspect that larger amounts of success in stand-up comedy are proportionately just as satisfying. I hope to find out.
• After much reflection, I have decided to clean my mirror.
• My doctor said that I need to start watching what I moisturize with. So I’ve switched to I Can’t Believe It’s Not Body Butter.
• I was telling a squirrel about his lunch, but he was in a hurry so he asked me to put it in a nutshell.
Ranjit Souri lives in Chicago.