Whether you’re stressed about money, politics, or Deborah from work, we all have things weighing on our minds. Luckily, humor can be a defense and coping mechanism. It’s a healthy psychological way to process trauma, release tension, and relieve pain and frustration. Laughter is the best medicine and standup comedy is an art form that blends the profound truths of the human experience with frank honesty, vulnerability, and jokes.
So why not make it work for you? You may not be rushing to perform at your local open mic or comedy club anytime soon, but here are some helpful secrets of standup comedy you can incorporate in your life.
1. Pivot your perspective.
It’s easy to forget we write our own destiny. So much of comedy is reworking the world around you to add levity and make others laugh. Comedians look at pop culture from a new perspective or use a blown out metaphor to laugh at the ridiculousness of the mundane. I tell my standup students all the time, it’s important to pivot your perspective. You can change a powerless situation to one of strength, but it’s all in how you look at it. Onstage, comedians turn their oppressors, agitations, and abusers into the butt of the joke. Not only can you do that but in doing so you disempower that negativity. You can heal that anger, sadness, and resentment when you pivot your perspective. Everyone has feelings. Everyone has a mom. Many of our negative experiences are due, in some part, to emotional clutter from our past that we must let go of. After all, only you have the power to let things affect you.
2. Fake it until you make it.
Standup comedy is literally the process of faking it until you make it. Even if I’m dying inside, I’ll get onstage and make people laugh. I’ve done a show after a funeral, but just because I was sad didn’t mean I had to stay that way. Showing up for an audience reminds us we have to show up for ourselves. Putting on a happy jovial face helps us be happy and jovial. Bad things happen all the time. However, staying in that pain and negativity doesn’t help. Don’t get me wrong, feel your feelings, but we are shaping our lives in the present and bemoaning the past is not helping us push forward. Sometimes just being breezy and upbeat helps attract more breezy and upbeat people and experiences.
3. Become Mistress of the Dark.
It’s no secret that Cassandra Peterson has made bank as Elvira Mistress of the Dark. Sure, there’s her natural endowments, but what makes Elvira so timeless and lovable is she laughs at the darkness. Her quick wit and penchant for puns is how she rose to the rank of Mistress. Balancing humor with darkness is key. There are tons of things we cannot control. Yet we can control how we respond. So much of standup comedy is developing the quickness to deflect negativity so it doesn’t take hold. It’s about taking the darkest parts of us and finding a way to let it all go by laughing at it. Levity is very important because it doesn’t just lighten your mood it lightens your soul.
4. Be grateful.
Health and family are things that are easy to be grateful for, but some experiences can be a touch harder to spin. In my standup career, I reached a point where the weird things that happened to me became exciting. I valued every dramatic interaction and over-the-top moment from the universe. So many of us want to star in television series and movies but ignore the unique experiences in our everyday lives. Call it free acting classes and role research. Your worst gripe of the moment could be the story you tell at every future dinner party. That insane interaction could be an anecdote you use with casting directors. Today’s pain could be tomorrow’s progress. At its core, it’s about being grateful and present for every second of your life.
5. Be ready.
A way with words is a gift. A sharp wit is your greatest weapon. Being able to verbally eviscerate someone in a socially appropriate way can shut down any conflict. But who needs weapons? Many sharpen their wit being teased on the playground or navigating critical parents. The lesson we can take however is what makes many standup comics so successful. It’s about being ready. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. Always being present and ready to add levity, a laugh, and a comeback is a great asset that can bring more light into your life. Or at least it can help you get people off your back.
6. When in doubt call it out.
We can all tell when the tension is so thick you can’t even cut it with a chainsaw. Yet, so often we allow ourselves to remain uncomfortable. Standup comedy galvanized me to be that voice. Jokes help release all of that tension. Not only does it help you feel better, but it also helps so many people suffering in silence. Why not be the person who helps release all that tension?
7. Process everything.
We can't all afford therapy. We can’t all find people willing to hold space for our feelings, issues, and problems. With standup, people are dying for you to bare your soul, but just make it funny. Standup comedy gives you the opportunity to turn your worst nightmares and most terrifying traumas into gold. Your emotional trash can be turned into treasure. The work to reframe it and make it palatable to an audience is the same work that helps you deal with your issues. That skill is invaluable because not everyone can give you free therapy, but everyone can empathize and maybe even help you deal with, and maybe even enjoy, the things that happen. You can help not just heal yourself but give the audience a bit of healing too. As we open up about our feelings we give those around us the chance to connect with their feelings. That venting can figuratively, and sometimes literally, exorcise demons.
Not everyone has the makings of a standup comedian, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the artform. Comedy is just as timeless as drama. Actors can often forget drama has a twin. So here’s to laughing your way to a better life.
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