You’ve got a comedian friend. You poor thing. You put up with their constant invites to shows in shady neighborhoods at ungodly hours for normal people so you can watch them do the same jokes they’ve been saying for months. You patiently let them go on emotional rampages because they clearly need to practice a new bit on someone and want to test it on you without explicitly asking. You listen to them complain about how they’re broke while paying for an over-priced drink at a comedy club. You diligently “like” their Facebook statuses and follow them on Twitter to stroke their gentle egos. You allow them to ramble on for hours about the minute details of an interaction that they are obviously exaggerating in their own over-active imagination. You tell them they were hilarious and the audience was terrible after they clearly bomb onstage.
On behalf of all comedians everywhere, I thank you for your service.
But also on behalf of all comedians everywhere… please stop asking us to perform for you and your friends at any given situation. Here are just 10 of the thousands of reasons why that is a ridiculous and unfair request.
1. We are not at a comedy club
There is a bit of magic that goes into creating a successful comedy experience. The temperature has to be right (a little cold so you’re awake but not so cold it’s distracting). The ambiance has to be right (a little dark so you don’t feel self-conscious and plenty of booze to go around). The seating has to be right (close to each other- it’s proven to make people laugh more). The sound, stage, hecklers, smell, noises outside- you name it- they all have to be in a perfect (often impossible) synergy with each other so the comedian is the only thing everyone is focusing on. Of course these are never always correct and comedy is often done in a loud back corner without a microphone at 4 pm to a sober lunchtime crowd of hecklers… but at least the comedian usually knows what they’re getting into.
Your dinner party is not the time or place for a stand up routine. It will feel forced. And like I’m trying really hard. And I will be trying hard. Because I will feel on the spot. And I will desperately want you to like my material because you’re all my friends or friends of friends who have been supporting my career. And since nothing else in this environment will be working in my favor… I will likely get little more than chuckles with jokes that get big laughs in the right environment. And everyone will think it’s “adorable that I tried.” And I will be resentful and drink the rest of the available alcohol. And someone will have to drive me home or pay for my uber because we all know I can’t afford it.
Good comedians are excellent at making jokes they’ve been carefully practicing and crafting for months (and years) seem off-the-cuff and natural. It is a skill. But what they are doing is not off the cuff or natural. It is practiced. Just like a duck seeming to glide above water with their feet going crazy below the surface, there is a lot going into a successful comedy show. And none of those factors are likely present at your party.
So please don’t put us all through all that. Please.
2. You all are not a comedy audience
Crowds that gather at comedy clubs are mentally prepared to laugh at stand up comedians telling jokes. What actually happens during the set largely varies. But at least we’re all in agreement about who goes where and who’s supposed to do what.
In a dinner party setting, the roles are not specified and people’s intentions are not so laser-focused. So it’s gonna feel weird for everyone. And, again, does nothing but set the comedian up for failure.
3. It will be awkward for everyone
In case the first two points didn’t make it clear enough, asking your comedian friend to suddenly perform stand up at a party will feel very awkward for everyone involved. Where the comedian stands will be weird. How much people will feel obligated to listen and how many people will actually be listening will be weird. It will be awkward starting and delving into the routine. It will be awkward ending it. Even if you get laughs, it will be awkward reading them like a comedian normally can with an audience. It will be awkward for whoever suggested it if the comedian does poorly (which, as I’ve said before, is likely).
Everything about this will be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Even if the comedian does alright and gets some laughs, it will be awkward trying to get back to the party like it was before.
Comedians often feel awkward interacting normally anyway.
Please don’t add this level of awkwardness to our day. Please.
4. I will feel judged
Doing stand up comedy already requires very thick skin. In a non-comedy-club (or something like it) setting, it will feel even more vulnerable. I’ll want to impress you more because I like you. Or at least probably like someone who likes you because we’re at the same party. And so the stakes are going to be higher for both of us for me to be funny. So I’ll feel judged and inhibited and nervous and it will all go to hell.
Please don’t make me do this. Please.
5. I will hate myself whether or not you laugh
Asking me to perform in this scenario is a lose/lose situation for me. As I’ve already mentioned, I VERY LIKELY will have a hard time getting the hearty guffaws you want and expect from the best comedic performances. But even if by some miracle I get some laughter, I will be disappointed in myself. Performance aside, I will have just spent the past few minutes making this party all about me. And, despite what perhaps the career choice would leave you to believe, not all us comedians are egomaniacs. When you say “dance, money, dance!” we want to please you and so we want to dance. But we will feel like dancing monkeys. And that’s no fun at all.
I love comedy and I come alive when performing. But I cherish the moments when I don’t have to be “on.” I love when I don’t feel the need to entertain. I can just relax and take in all the world has to offer. I can be a normal person at a party hanging out and taking in the sights and sounds. I can have conversations where I am present and listening intensely without any sort of agenda. I can just be me the person, not me the entertainer.
So when the party is transformed to center around me (assuming it’s not a birthday party or something that was already centered around me), I will feel like a real doofus for stealing the limelight. It’s not my time to be “on.” It’s my time to just enjoy and listen to the hilarity of people who have no desire to be onstage despite their fantastic senses of humor. It’s my time to be part of the crowd and just enjoy going with the flow.
Please don’t take away my “us” time and ask me to turn it into “me” time. I’ll feel like I’ve disappointed you if I don’t or if I’m not funny, and I’ll hate myself if I do. I cannot win. Please don’t make me play.
6. I cannot transform into my stand up persona because you all have spent the past couple hours getting to know a different person
This happened to me not long ago. I was at a party with my then significant other’s friends and family. I was quiet. I didn’t speak much. Not because I was uncomfortable, but because I was enjoying the other people’s conversations. I talked to him sometimes, talked about myself a little, but mostly enjoyed listening and not having to create any sort of entertainment.
As we left, my guy mentioned we were leaving because we had to get to my stand up show. People were suddenly really interested. They either hadn’t known I was a performer or didn’t actually believe I was actively performing or WHATEVER. The point is, they asked me to do some of my set for them right then and there.
Now remember the first part of this story. I spent the whole night in quiet-mode. I actually enjoy being quiet sometimes. I wasn’t “on.” I was very much “off.” I was even being borderline “shy” because I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt anyone.
So I was supposed to immediately snap into my confident, chatty, extroverted, loud-mouthed, highly-physical, high-energy stand up persona and start spouting out jokes right then and there. Aside from all the reasons I just listed above for why this would be a disaster, I especially didn’t want to do this because I wasn’t in the zone. I wasn’t anywhere near the zone. I wasn’t in the headspace. I was in quiet-mode. The performer wasn’t available at the moment. She was taking a nap upstairs to prepare for the later show. And any attempt to suddenly jump into that persona would have felt really forced and I would have had to push myself big time and the change-up would have not only been confusing for everyone, but would have been disastrous (for any reason listed here). She was napping. If I wake her up suddenly, she’ll be all groggy and not make any sense and be confusing and disappointing to everyone.
Please don’t ask the magician to perform tricks when he doesn’t have his special deck of cards available. It won’t be as cool and it’ll make everyone think he’s not as impressive as he actually may be.
In this case, I smiled and kindly declined. Several times. Luckily, I could turn on the charm easily and get out of it without any hurt feelings. In fact, they all began telling each other jokes. Which leads me to…
7. This will lead to utter chaos
Let’s pretend we’re in a fantasy scenario where this went well. Your comedian friend obliged and charismatically did a well-received 5 minute set and found a gracious way to end it.
Wow. Congrats. Mark this day for thou hast seen a miracle.
Now, everyone is going to want to tell their jokes. It happens whether or not the set actually even occurs. The second someone brings up jokes- especially if people have been drinking for a bit- everybody’s gonna wanna try on their old comedy sea legs and tell jokes. And it will turn into chaos. I could go on about the ridiculousness that will likely ensue, but I’ll just leave it to your imagination. You know yourself. And you know your friends. And you know what you all get like when you’re drunk.
8. Nobody will talk to me about anything other than comedy for the rest of the night
As I’ve mentioned before, I cherish my “off” time. I spend so much time thinking, writing, and investing in good comedy performances, I love when I can just relax for an evening. If it comes up that I do comedy- and especially if I do some sort of “performance” everyone is just going to want to talk to me about comedy for the rest of the night. But I don’t want to. I talk comedy all the time. I have comedian friends that I live and breathe comedy with. I analyze it. Spend my free time watching and writing it when I’m not performing it. When I am not in the comedy world, I’d rather not talk about the comedy world. I’d rather talk about the bajillion other things that exist on this planet and I am completely ignorant to.
Please don’t make me have to listen to your joke ideas that I could include in my next set/sketch/improv/screenplay. I’d rather hear about things you’re passionate about and your world and your life and your experiences. That’s MUCH more interesting to me that what you think will make a funny joke. Let’s please keep the conversation about you. Please.
9. You’re not paying me
Bottom line here is, performers should be paid for our work. Sure, it seems like it comes so “naturally,” but good performances are a result of hours and hours of investment of time, energy, and money. Yet it is so undervalued that actors are the only profession that have to have the label “working” in front of it to give it any validity. To ask me to suddenly perform for you without any expectation of compensation is like walking up to a surgeon and being like, “You know how to medicine. I have this tumor. Get rid of it for me.” That sounds absolutely ridiculous because it hasn’t been diagnosed, we’re not in a surgical room, he doesn’t have his tools, and there is no discussion of compensation for the valuable work.
I know comedians aren’t doctors (I’ve dated enough and split the bill to know that…), but what we offer is valuable too. And you’re inherently devaluing it when you ask me to give my services for free. Of course I love laughter and of course I relish in it, but it doesn’t keep my rent paid.
I am daily working toward having my creative work monetarily valued, even if it’s just a little. I, too, am providing a service and spending hours (and thousands) crafting it to perfection. Why shouldn’t I expect the same currency that everyone else gets paid?
Please don’t devalue me or my work by treating it so flippantly. I know you don’t see it that way, but please try to.
10. I don’t want to
In case it isn’t clear enough from the amount of energy and effort I poured into this list, I don’t want to do this. Most comedians will not want to do this. It will shatter our fragile egos and eat away at our soul. I just don’t want to. I promise you… no matter what the scenario is at the party, if it is not a club or a specific venue where people are there to see stand up comedy and know what they are getting into and I am there as a performer who knows what I’m getting into, I don’t want to do my set for you.
Please don’t make us do this. Please.
So don’t take it personally the next time your comedian friend declines performing at your party. Remember: It’s not you. It’s us.