Lately, I’ve surrounded myself with a bucket load of comedy in an attempt to excite myself about creative writing again. Jerry Seinfeld with his ‘comedians in cars’ series has been devoured. Maysoon Zayid’s TEDX talk has had a profound effect on me as she talks about palsy holding her back from acting but that comedy was the loophole. That, I can relate to so much you wouldn’t believe, having trained as an actor but having cerebral palsy influence my chances through coordination and balance.
I’ve watched a bucket load of stand-up. And I’ve fallen in love with the Steve Martin book, ‘Born Standing Up’. I can still quote Scrubs line by line and Robin Williams makes me feel less alone. I was crushed when he suicided.
I’m a writer. I soak these things in like a tiny sponge. Part of the reason why I wanted to be an actor as I felt like I could never settle on one career without eventually being bored. So why not play them all?
But there’s something I have found within this study of comedy that may not spur me onto a wonderful new career. But it might help me understand my own writing and how I feel about my projects in general.
Here’s why a combination of a lot of comedy is influencing how I work on commercial and creative writing projects quite dramatically. As told my scrawled out notes from reading and absorbing so many comedians of late
“Comedy is a distortion of something happening. And there is always something happening”
Steve Martin said this in relation to why comedy still works. Creative writers and copywriters need to be keenly aware that there is always something happening. Jokes and writing and ideas have expiry as well.
How freeing is it to know that inspiration is just out the window or in a stained cup on the table? An overheard comment on the bus or a strange way of relating on social media too has influence.
I remember walking into university for my audition and interview.
The creative writing teacher asked, “What is fiction to you?”
I responded, “It’s real life juiced up”.
Why have I worked away from that exploration and into a place where certainty rains on parades as much as it reigns from websites?
When I began freelancing, I wanted to “sit on my bum and write all day.”
I achieved that, but at the cost of the writing I wanted to do. Hanging around with people that care about clicks, money and sign ups twisted where the priorities lay. I cannot even claim that it taught me how to make money for my business because I met most of them after my business was established.
This self-reflection makes me realise that I love marketing and business. I love using my writing super powers to help people. But I also need to get back into my side projects as well. Ones miles away from clicks, fans, sign ups and downloads.
Experimentation shouldn’t be scary, and neither should alleged failure
Jerry Seinfeld pitched a show about nothing that wasn’t really a show about nothing. It was a show about doing a show in a weird way and about observational comedy. He pulls things apart through experimenting and playing and risking rejection by making us think about the obvious deeply.
Steve Martin realised that the tension in the joke was what made people laugh. But that the rhythm of that tension being released cued people as to where to laugh. He once did an entire set, finding that ¾ of it hadn’t attracted a single laugh.
So, he decided to go for a record. In doing so, he also learnt that for his comedy, he didn’t want to relieve the tension and cue the laugh. He wanted to attract organic laughs by never releasing the tension and seeing where the audience put them for themselves.
Experimenting and failing eventually taught Steve Martin the skills that saw him play to tends of thousands of people and become a household name.
Maysoon Zayid wanted to act, got the scholarship to the acting degree because she ticked all the affirmative action boxes in terms of being female, ethnic and having a disability. Or so she quips in her TED talk. But she couldn’t get cast in a role when they did productions. Not even the one where the character has her disability.
She looked around and saw a lot of women and men that didn’t fit in the cookie cutter box still performing despite the barriers. She chose comedy because it was the place she could enter without the barriers like many of her idols.
Maybe she wouldn’t have discovered that path if she hadn’t been willing to experiment and potentially fail. She had to take on the mantle of creative writing to ensure her performance career seemingly due to the stigma surrounding disability. That’s smart. And it’s something I wish I had thought of when I was a teen with mild cerebral palsy and the burning desire to act that failed to move the way directors thought the part needed.
Have a heart and be OK to play with it
The internet has robbed us of something we should cherish- the ability to wear our heart on our sleeves and laugh at ourselves.
Instead, we’re already someone else’s opportunity for rage and ridicule. So, we primp and curate and try to remove the bits the other children won’t enjoy.
Yet, it’s far more attractive to be self-deprecating and vulnerable.
Like Steve Martin said, “the jokes are funniest when played upon oneself” and all 3 of the comedians are proof of that.
A lot of Robin Williams stuff is also proof of that. Look at Williams shows and there is the zany and the crazy. Then it is tempered, full of tenderness and moved towards a story. He’s a master at creative writing because he’s able to project outwards to the strangest of worlds of comedy and come back with some of the most tender theatre finishes you can see in a solo show.
There’s almost a moral at the end of the tale, a note of joy at the journey.
It was Williams heart, not his funny stich, that made him so beloved.
A dash of goofy hopefulness goes a long way in the mix of experimentation. The examination of the world or comedy under lights is under-pinned with real character struggles in Seinfeld. So too is the search for love and to be who you are as a George or a Kramer.
The tension and uncomfortable notions of “what will happen next” and “when will the tension drop” are evidenced deeply in Martin and Williams work that is surrounded by physical comedy and playfulness.
Zayid experiments with people’s uncomfortableness just as much as she does with her body’s own timing to get through a message that is both funny but beautifully tender.
They can play with us because they give us a piece of themselves. We respect that piece and we follow them on the ride they choose because it is vulnerable.
Business is about surety. Creative writing is about story
To go on a journey through comedy is one of rejuvenation and revival for a writer like me. It’s about finding other people that have that strange off-beat mind and are using it well. This is inspiring when sometimes, it can feel all too grey and normal. Especially when writing website copy or marketing works on a regular basis.
Taking the opportunity to refresh by exploring someone else’s prose and thinking is something anyone in business or in love with writing should do.
Thinking outside the box and playing in comic waters certainly helps reboot creativity.