Take a Night Off

More and more, I’ve been hearing comics crowing about how they get up every night of the week. In cities like New York and LA, it’s common to hear talk about doing 15-20 sets in a week. And my question is, so what?

Don’t misunderstand – there is no substitute for stage time. You need to get on stage a hundred times just to get comfortable. The stage will always be where you learn to be a comedian. But there is such thing as diminished returns. Some comedians go up as often as humanly possible because they’re always working on something. But some comedians rack up “stage time” simply to say they have. Here’s a few reasons that taking a night off can actually help your comedy.

1) Putting in hours doesn’t automatically make you good at something. You also have to put in the right hours. If you go to the gym every day, you’ll probably get in shape – unless you go there, sit around for two hours waiting for your turn, and then lift a very small amount of weight.

2) Is the stage time worthwhile? Not every show can be a packed house on a Saturday night; open mics can be plenty valuable. But there are some that are not. If no one is listening to you at all, wouldn’t you be better served just running through your set at home? Maybe forcing yourself to go there is how you stay disciplined. But if you see that a particular mic is repeatedly a waste of time, stop wasting your time.

3) Are you working on anything? Going up a dozen times to recite the same jokes the same way is pointless. Whether it’s a new joke, a new delivery, or a new order, you need to try something new or you won’t learn anything.

4) You can’t write if you haven’t lived. Have you ever seen a video of a child doing comedy? They have no voice because they haven’t had time to develop insight into the human condition. And if you spend your whole life surrounded by comedy, neither will you. That’s great that you got on stage so much this week. Now, did you experience anything you can write about?

So give yourself permission to take a night off. Go to a ballgame or go out to dinner or just find a cool place in your town where you can walk around and watch people. Go there with someone who isn’t a comedian. Experience heartbreak and joy and anger and happiness. Because then the next time you’re going to hit a bunch of mics, you might actually have something to say.