Please let the teacher teach

I went to a workshop the other day for stand up comedy. I’ve been becoming obsessed with it lately, and this workshop was just a one-time fundraiser taught by a guy who’s been doing stand up for over 30 years. I was hesitant to sign up at first because I don’t think you can “learn comedy” in a classroom setting, (despite the fact that I’ve literally spent thousands on improv classes…) but I figured even if I learned one thing from this guy, it’d be worth it.

And I was so glad that I went. I learned a lot of things from this seasoned pro. He didn’t treat it like a super-serious class where we all needed to walk out as professional stand up comedians, he basically just talked about the history of stand up in Los Angeles, gave us a ton of helpful industry and technical tips, and discussed how he comes up with and works on his material. It was fan-freaking-tastic.

The only drawback were some of the other people in the class. I do not consider myself an expert by any means at stand up comedy, but I was the only person in the room who even had done open mics, let alone a couple stand up comedy shows. Everyone else seemed to be there to get the courage to start doing open mics, or to hopefully hear that there is some loophole around having to do open mics in order to become a better stand up comedian (hint: Unfortunately, in this day and age…there is NOT. Do open mics. Learn to love their suckiness).

Let me be clear- I’ve got nothing against people who are at different places in their career or what they goals and motivations are for taking any class. We’re all there to learn and make new friends and connections.

My problem comes from people, like the ones in my class, who wasted my and everyone else’s time by arguing with the teacher on minuscule and meaningless points. For example, at one point we all approached the mic and held it as if to start our set. A quirky girl approached it in an odd way. Granted, she was all-around quirky so she wasn’t going to look like your average person no matter how she approached it, but our teacher said he didn’t buy it and had her try it again.

Immediately, several people in my class started arguing with him saying they thought she was funny and quirky and was being true to herself in her approach. Our teacher said he understood that, but his argument was that unless you’ve got a whole set about how quirky you are in place, it’s  a weaker start than the more “average” approach with confidence. And then a small amount of chaos ensued where students were arguing with the teacher about the issue.

Part of me gets it. Comedy and entertainment are arts, not sciences. If you back up any choice you make with total confidence, most audiences will buy it. As one of my favorite improv teachers says, “If you sell it, they will buy it.” I could see how you could think that one man’s opinion of how you walk to the microphone stand is too minuscule and that you didn’t see any problem with it and you should always and completely be true to yourself and audiences will love you. I’m empathetic to that perspective. I get it. And I sort of buy it.

What I don’t get, however, is why a bunch of 20-somethings who’ve never even done three minutes of stand up comedy at an open mic, would waste everyone’s time arguing with a teacher who was already a seasoned vet before they were born. I didn’t pay for this workshop so you could get in an argument on comedy theory or philosophy. I like to discuss those things, but only when it’s two people who have actual performance and life experience under their belt. Besides, you don’t know how to be true to yourself onstage until you’ve spent thousands of hours onstage. Spoiler alert- your stand up persona is not actually you. It’s a persona. So choose wisely.

Eventually, our teacher just shut down the argument by essentially saying, “I hear what you’re saying. And I’m not saying it’s wrong. But I’m just saying, there is a part of me right in my gut that tells me it’s not a great move to make. I can’t give you logic or explain it further than that. That’s just it.” And since you can’t argue with a feeling, the other students shut up. Finally.

My point is, the teacher was there to teach us. If you disagree with him based on a huge amount of your own experience otherwise, then discuss it with him in a productive way or maybe during the break. Don’t waste my time trying to be told your ideas are right. I didn’t pay to listen to you talk. I paid to listen to the pro. Besides, if you really disagree, just don’t do what he says! Like I said, it’s an art not a science- so you could be right. Then again, you could trust that the 30+ year veteran comedian who has stood before crowds of thousands and thousands of people and has thousands of hours of experience might have an idea of how to help you when you’re first starting out. Once you have his experience, you can make up your own rules. Until then, maybe try his out.

You did, after all, pay him to teach you. So shut up. And let the teacher teach.

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