A lawyer, a physicist, and a stand-up comedian walk into a bar. The three friends plop down on stools and order drinks.
“Hey, Marty,” says the bartender to the lawyer. “How’s your love life?”
“Great, Paul,” says the lawyer. “My wife and I make love every other night.”
“That’s wonderful. How about you, Frank?” Paul asks the physicist.
“Fantastic, Paul,” says the physicist. “My wife and I also make love every other night.”
“Terrific. How about you, Jerry?” Paul asks the stand-up comedian.
“Just awful,” says Jerry. “My wife and I also make love every other night.”
“What’s awful about that?” asks Paul. “Sounds pretty good to me.”
“Oh, no, it’s terrible. I consider it a failure every time I perform for eight minutes without getting a laugh.”
Just the expression every stand-up comedian dreams of seeing in the audience.
Hello? Is this thing on?
What you have just been subjected to is a bad joke. Better get used to them. The world of stand-up comedy is not generally made up of Bill Cosbys and Jerry Seinfelds. The genuinely funny masters of their craft are rare—for the most part, stages across America are littered with rank amateurs delivering cheesy one-liners, telling raunchy jokes that are dirty for the sake of being dirty and not really funny at all, moving about awkwardly on stage, fidgeting with the mic stand, and more or less making everyone in a five-row radius feel extremely uncomfortable.
Not that you can blame aspiring comedians for trying. Who doesn’t love to make other people laugh? And hey, if you can make a living at it, what sweeter way to spend your working hours than standing on a stage, riffing on whatever stuff you find amusing, and being rewarded with a roomful of belly laughs?
Ah, but that scenario is merely the dream. Don’t believe us? Check out an open mic in your area. By the time it’s over, you might even start thinking Kathy Griffin is funny.
The problem is that far more people think they are funny than is actually the case. Your friend who enjoys regaling his houseguests with his Christopher Walken impression? Your older sister who thinks it’s hilarious every time she goes on a rant about men? Yikes…best of luck to both of them. Impressionists are pretty much the lowest totem on the pole, and female comics whose material centers purely around their frustration with the opposite sex are entering well-charted territory, the cliché nature of their act giving comediennes everywhere an undeserved bad rap.
But how can it be? They always make everyone around them laugh!
Yeah, well…people are polite. Your friends and family—it’s their job to laugh at your jokes. Not to mention the fact that many people are simply not very discerning critics of comedy. Perhaps you happen to associate with a group of particularly laugh-inclined individuals. Maybe they take pity on you and force laughter so you don’t feel badly about yourself. Or maybe they’re just laughing because someone else is laughing. The stuff is infectious, you know.
Here’s what you need to know if you are considering a career in comedy—the odds are about 99-1 that you’re going to be miserable. No joke. It’s one of the only careers on the planet where even those who achieve spectacular success are, by and large, depressed. It’s kind of an occupational hazard. No one finds happiness, healthy relationshipsm or a normal childhood humorous. It’s those who are messed up—string of hilariously awful breakups, couple of kids who despise them, food, alcohol or drug addictions—who have a wealth of material they can draw from to paint a vivid, vibrant picture of a human being gone wrong. Many comedians play the sad clown angle. Or the angry clown. Or the irritated clown. But when it comes right down to it—they’re a clown. The type that makes a fool out of himself to get a few cheap laughs, then goes home at night and cries himself to sleep, reaching over to his nightstand every so often for a tissue, into which he can blow his big, red nose.
We'd be crying, too, clown.
As with anything, there are exceptions. Some comics don’t go much into the super-personal situations, preferring instead to offer humorous commentary on everyday stuff (these are known as observational comics). Some actually have healthy personal lives, and can mentally separate what they do for a living from…actually living. But it ain’t the norm.
If you feel you have a calling—that you were put on this Earth with the sole purpose of bringing joy and laughter to others (perhaps even at the expense of your own), then knock yourself out. Maybe you’ll be the next generation’s Richard Pryor or Mitch Hedberg, and we’ll all be glad you left the world such a precious gift. But those guys didn’t have the easiest lives, and you likely won’t be an exception.
Sorry to bring everybody down. And you thought this career was going to be a laugh riot.