One of my best friends is a comedian. He’s been doing it for close to four years and is relatively successful. He was in a couple of comedy festivals. He produces his own show in New York City. He’s performed at a few colleges. With all that on his resume, you would think that give him a bit of authority on the subject of comedy, yet people constantly go up to him after his shows to tell him jokes that they think he can use. “Why don’t you write a joke about the difference how men and women cheer for football?” I don’t know why everyone thinks they can do comedy—maybe because a good comic makes humor look so natural, people think it’s easy.
But comedy isn’t easy. Stop thinking it is.
Sometimes when I hang out with him, we’ll joke around. I’ve known him my whole life, so I’m completely comfortable making fun of him about how his red-striped GAP sweater makes him look like Freddy Kreuger’s creepy cousin, Kevin Krueger (but he haunts no girls’ dreams). People that meet us for the first time insist that I should give stand-up a go. People assume because I can make a few people laugh at a bar I should go up and attempt to make a room full of 60 people laugh for 10 minutes.
But I can’t. And neither can you. You have to realize there is a difference between being an actual comedian and someone who has a good sense of humor. I’m someone with a good sense of humor, and I’m OK with that. And here are five signs that you’re not as funny as you think you are.
Comedy is Hard
The first reason you’re not as funny as you think you are is, after reading that sub-heading, you totally made a dick joke. Unfortunately, that’s what people view comedy as—nothing but jokes about dicks, drugs, sex, and tits. It’s not. Not even close. Good comedy is social commentary; it’s taking an aspect of society and turning it into a universal truth that makes people laugh as well as think. Just because you made a couple of bad (trust me, I don’t even need to read them to know they were bad) jokes about Ferguson as Facebook statutes that, inexplicably, got some likes doesn’t make you the next Bill Burr.
It’s All in the Family…Guy Effect
This could have easily been dubbed The Dane Cook Effect too, but, for some reason, people think if they just make a random pop culture reference (in their minds, preferably from their childhood), it’s hilarious. It’s not. It takes no real wit whatsoever to call your penis Voltron. In fact, it sullies the good name of a fine cartoon.
This isn’t to be confused with what I call the “Mclovinnnnnnn” effect. Maria Bamford said it best: “I’ll never be as funny as the guy in his office who does a great Chris Rock impression.” Look, just because you can quote Superbad at exactly the right moment in the conversation, that doesn’t make you a comedian. It makes you a parrot. You’re basically stealing material.
Research Says So
Dr. Peter McGraw, in his article The Humor Code, explains “Finally, researching humor is important because it will help us understand why it doesn’t always work. While successful humor leads to myriad benefits, failed humor can be downright destructive, from bruised egos and broken friendships to million-dollar marketing mistakes (think Groupon’s failed Super Bowl commercial). If we can better figure out what makes things funny, we will end up far better equipped to handle it when we don’t get the joke.”
Even the best comedians have had to cultivate their style for years. Chris Rock said it took him several years to write one of his best jokes, the difference between a black guy and a…you know. So we all know what it’s like to tell a bunch of people a joke that completely misses the mark. Now times that by 50, when you have a room full of people who paid to see you make them laugh, and are all staring at you, and you can see why this comedian thing ain’t something you just take up on a whim.
You Think You Could Get Up In Front Of Any Crowd And Make Them Laugh
If you truly believe that comedians don’t work their asses off analyzing every single aspect of a joke, and that you can just walk on stage and crush a set, than you need to send me whatever alcohol you’re drinking, because it sounds like it will get me stupid drunk. My friend constantly texts me, asking, “Which name is funnier, Larry or Pablo?” There is so much thought put into every single line. When a comedian pushes the envelope, he does it consciously; he doesn’t add a tag that’s racist just to piss people off. Comedians are conscious of how everything (presence, gestures, annunciation) all blend together to add up to the audience laughing. They’re not just reposting some meme about Bill Cosby putting roofies in JELL-O.
Feel free to keep quoting Anchorman 2 ad nausea to girls at the bar. Just don’t think you’re a comedian; you’re just some guy whose quoting people that are ten times funnier than you will ever be.