by Matt Holmes
Comedy has always had a tradition of education. It could be informal advice, taking someone under your wing, or a formal series of classes, workshops, and speeches. People transition from beginners learning the ropes to experts who can pass down their wisdom.
As comedians progress in their career, they might find themselves taking on titles like teacher, instructor, director, coach, adviser, guru, guide, lecturer, team captain, or mentor. When you teach something, you learn more about it yourself; you have to know the subject comprehensively to enlighten someone else.
- Regrettably, there’s little training for comedy educators. There are some models for curriculum and resources, but the focus tends to be on what’s being taught, not how to teach it.
- Also regrettably, the world of comedy can be somewhat segregated, and people can struggle as much with how they fit in as how they get funny.
Here are some tips for creating the right atmosphere for those in your tutelage, highlighting issues of diversity.
by Matt Holmes
In an HBO comedy special called Talking Funny, Ricky Gervais welcomed Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K. for a discussion. The topic of “premise” came up, and they cited its importance. They highlighted that Chris Rock will be blatant about it, even literally saying the premise and repeating it again and again to punctuate his point.
Rock says that if it’s not working, it’s not working because the audience doesn’t understand the premise. Perhaps the difference between a real pro and an amateur hack is the talent, time, effort, and finesse involved in crafting a clear premise.
You have to have some kind of premise to play. A good comedian will let everybody know what it is that we’re talking about. It could be acted out scenically with characters or told as a story through observations or monologues. It could be a topic explored from different angles. It could be a running gag. It could be another scenario that serves as another example.
In comedy, the premise answers the question, “What’s the point?” It’s what you “get.” It’s why I should pay attention. It’s what helps you do more on the joke, what helps your scene partners build on it, what helps you fine-tune it.
If it’s not clear (for you and for the people watching you), it’s going to be harder than it should be. It can be easy and fun, but you have to have some kind of premise to play.