There’s pottery for some and gardening for others, but if your weapons are word, wit, and wicked humor, do we have the hobby for you! Stand-up comedy, the vintage wine of performance arts, reinvented as one of the coolest, most millennial-adored talents ever, is a low-investment but high-thrill hobby, challenging and satisfying in equal measures. Unlike conventional hobbies, a knack for stand-up comedy might be tricky to identify. It involves the unnerving aspect of performance, pitting us against our ingrained fear of public speaking. Or it may not be an inborn talent but born out of a cultivated interest. What’s more, stage fright and fear of criticism might keep us shackled as an audience instead of soaring as a performer, but read on to explore how you can morph from an everyday Joe into a relatable entertainer, living akin to us and yet with a unique take on life’s experiences.
Our mediascape is rife with artists who dabbled in comedy as a hobby before going full-time. ‘The Guardian’ carried a story in 2017 where comics such as Gina Yashere and Ellie Taylor fondly relive their former strait-laced professions when they employed comedy as a means to blow off steam after work. Closer home, Shankar Chugani was enamored with stand-up comedy videos at 20 and challenged himself to tell jokes on stage, shunning nerves and poker faces from the audience. For two years, stand-up remained a hobby until he found his rhythm. Several other comics such as Ricky Gervais and Jim Gaffigan, are quintessential late bloomers, long harboring a flair for comedy while working regular jobs.
At the crux of comedy is figuring out what your groove is. Humor that makes one person yawn can keep others guffawing non-stop, and you might be a total dud at one genre while being a natural at the other. This step is deceptively important – to find your innate comic style. To get started, here are the most ubiquitous genres of comedy:
Whether it’s milk that boils over soon as you look away for a microsecond or your neighbor’s droll work talk on the phone, observational comics live in the details, finding quirks in stuff others pass over. If your jokes make people say, “I never saw it that way!” this might be your niche. And let’s face it, it’s not too shabby to be blessed with the same style as Ellen DeGeneres and Kanan Gill, who are long-standing crowd favorites.
Aggressive Humor (or ‘Roasts’)
Are your favorite friends the kind that can take a disparaging joke? Do you ROFL at having your flaws pointed out and are not hesitant to give back as good as you get? Take a cue from Lisa Minelli and Tanmay Bhat if your material is unforgiving and needs more than just a pinch of salt.
Can you make the most humdrum story sound like a day in the life of ‘Phineas and Ferb’? Do you not tire of regaling the same incident 50 times to different people with tweaks and impressions, chock-full of funny details as though narrating it for the first time? This puts you in the class of Zakir Khan and John Mulaney, whose knack at telling their real-life stories makes them irresistibly engaging.
If you jumped on the ‘Dead Baby’ jokes bandwagon and have been described as being uncomfortably dark more than once, you have a cursed gift of telling jokes people feel bad laughing at. No topic is off-topic, and your observations will make people squirm, then grimace, then think. Don’t think you’re an outcast though; with Sacha Baron Cohen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge doling out dark humor, you’re in wicked good company.
If your instinct is to criticize the powers that be so cleverly that they wouldn’t even understand it, satire is your cup of tea. The world often looks glass-half-empty to you, but satire gives one something to laugh about even in the bleakest of scenarios. With comics such as George Carlin and Vir Das, you can take inspiration from the snarkiest and the funniest and how to make light of our rapidly devolving society.
Fancy yourself a maverick? No one can stop you from inventing a brand-new genre!
To try your hand at painting you’d need brushes, and if you wanted to cook, you’d better sharpen your knives; hence every hobby needs prep. Stand-up is both easier and trickier; all you need is a pen, paper, and truckloads of confidence. Mustering the last one is easier said than done, for public speaking makes mice of all humans. To get over this hurdle, make a game of it. Have your friends over for a comedy night or a friendly roast. This will take the pressure off for you because you are not experimenting with strangers, plus inside jokes always work with a familiar crowd. What’s more – at the end, everyone can provide a little feedback, and you can incorporate that for your next act.
Remember, every artist isn’t Van Gogh, every singer isn’t Sinatra, and they don’t have to be. The word ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin root ‘amare’, which is to do things for the love of them, rather than achieving significant ability. In the same vein, stand-up can help you cultivate an original voice and tell stories engagingly. It can inspire you to be confident before a crowd or more accepting of your own flaws. No matter if people laugh or not, it’s an indulgence to take a much-needed break from the eternal hustle, not to gain epic mastery at, so do not take any criticism to heart. At the end of the day, it’s just a joke.