No one told me this when I was your age, and it took a surprisingly long time to figure it out on my own. People would tell me I was funny, but only in the context that I should please now stop. “You’re funny, but can you calm down and finish your dinner?” “Very funny, Mike. Now please sit back down so I can finish teaching the class about polygons.” “Now is not the time for comedy, Mr. Bradecich. Now is the time for communion wafers and penance.”
The adults were right when they told me that I was choosing inappropriate times and places to be funny. What they failed to tell me was when and where it WAS appropriate, which would have been VERY USEFUL INFORMATION.
Think of the funny people you know on TV and in movies and on the internet and in books. ALL of them started off by being funny with their families and friends, and none of them were better at it then than you are now. But they worked at it. They were funny every day in productive and constructive ways, which made them better at it, and now being funny is their job. Which is insane, but in a good way.
WHERE DO I GET MY CHUNK OF THIS “BEING FUNNY” MONEY?
Good question, I commend you for asking. First, start thinking about what kind of funny you are. Are you the one who stands up on your chair in biology and sings “Edelweiss” because you couldn’t think of a reason not to? If so, you’re possibly a performer. Are you the one who tells the loud kid to get up on their chair and sing “Edelwiess?” then sits back and watches with a secret, knowing smile? In that case, you might be a writer. There’s also a distinct possibility that you’re both, and now is certainly not the time to limit yourself.
I’M DEFINITELY A PERFORMER.
Okay, than start performing. Get on Vine and YouTube and sing stupid songs that you make up and do impersonations of your aunts and uncles. Then audition for a show at your local community theater because there’s just no substitute for a live audience and a collaborative environment.
You lucky so-and-so, you live in the internet age. Anytime you want to make something, all you have to do is make it. If you’re VERY LUCKY, the first 100 things you make will be absolutely terrible, and there is no better school in the world than being terrible at something. I’m as old as your parents, and I still strive to do at least one terrible thing every day. It’s getting harder because I’m kind of amazing. But I find a way.
NO, NO, NO, I’M ONE OF THOSE WRITER-TYPES YOU MENTIONED.
Guess what? The advice is basically the same. Start your Tumblr Tumblng, add some nonsense to your blog everyday and tweet twice before lunch. And here’s one for you that also goes back up to the performers: READ/WATCH/CONSUME EVERYTHING. Not just the funny stuff, not just the stuff that’s new and popular right now. Look at Sid Ceasar, read Vonnegut, read “A Confederacy of Dunces” twice, listen to the audiobook of Steve Martin’s book “Born Standing Up,” and check out some YouTube clips of Ed Sullivan and the Smothers Brothers. You know who’s hilarious? Geoffrey Chaucer. You know who might be even funnier than him? Shakespeare. You know who might be funnier still? Anne from “Anne of Green Gables.” Look at all of it, try to figure out why it’s funny, and copy the hell out of it. Steal every slice and sliver of it, and eventually you’ll find the parts of it that speak to you the most. Then you’ll start making stuff that’s purely yours. You’ll have a “voice.” No matter what you do or create or how you do or create it, at some point you have to start figuring out what makes you uniquely you. But right now? Steal, steal, steal (and give credit to the people you’re stealing from.)
I CAN DO IT ALL, WRITE AND PERFORM. I’M REALLY AMAZING.
Okay, calm down Captain Modesty. If you do both, the things you’re interested in (that I kind of didn’t know existed until I was 30) are improv and sketch comedy. You can find an improv class just about anywhere, and you should. If you get out of high school or college and you’re still sure that this is your gig, then it’s time to go to Chicago. You can also go to New York or LA, but don’t. You can, but don’t. Just go to Chicago. Be completely broke while you take classes and see shows and make all of the best friends you’ll have for the rest of your life at Second City, iO, ComedySportz, the Annoyance, and The Chicago Improv Den. THEN you can go to New York or LA and do Groundlings, UCB, whatever you want. Go crazy.
TELL ME SOMETHING ELSE VALUABLE AND DELICIOUS!
Okay! I’m game!
1) You live in the internet age, you can make anything and give it to the world at any given INSTANT. That’s crazy. You know what else is crazy? The trolls. They’re waiting to get you. On your YouTube videos, your Vines, your blogs and your Tumblrs, DON’T LOOK AT THE COMMENTS. You’ll meet plenty of people who can give you worthwhile and valuable feedback, so ignore the trolls. It’s hard, because you really want to read the positive comments from the people who love your stuff, but it’s not worth it. I understand that you’re going to read them anyway, but stop as soon as possible. It will make the air taste better.
2) Be a student. You might want to walk into your level 2 improv class and show everybody all the hilarious crap you learned in level 1. DON’T. Be humble, be a good listener, and try to do what the class is trying to teach you. Any teacher will be more impressed with how much you’re trying to learn than with how much you’re trying to show off what you already know. Remember when I said that now was the time to fail and stink? That’s ten times more true in class. You’re not there to be the funniest one in the room (because you won’t be), you’re there to get better and smarter. This isn’t just an improv thing, this is a life thing. Be a student. You have two ears and one tongue, use your ears twice as much.
3) This is specific to improv but applies everywhere else as well: Be into different stuff. Have a variety of interests. Be really well-versed in biological anthropology or the Crimean War or classical guitar players or Polish Literature or whatever, but don’t make comedy your only thing. It’s easy to let that happen, and there are too many reasons not to let it happen to go into. But if you’re well-rounded, I promise you’ll be a better writer, a better performer, and a better human being. I’m not saying to trudge through five books on motorcycle repair just to be able to drop some knowledge at a party, I’m saying to figure out what else gets you excited and follow it down the rabbit hole. You will never regret it.
I DON’T THINK YOU’RE FUNNY, WHY SHOULD I LISTEN TO YOU?
You shouldn’t. You should go be funny.