During my time in both Los Angeles and New York, I’ve met some really talented people. When they hear I do standup, they like clockwork reply “I could never do standup.” But I firmly believe standup comedy is a must-have milestone for any performer. It’s an art form not just about humor. It unites social dynamics, cultural commentary, and personal power. Cultivating the skills it takes to perform standup comedy can make you a more effective communicator, dynamic personality, and just might be the secret to get you booking more!
Here’s how standup comedy can help you with auditions and in your acting career.
1. It makes you more dynamic.
Dynamism is not something you can teach. Also, let’s face it, it’s not a word they often teach. Dynamism is that expansive quality, that star potential, that quality that pulls people’s attention. Standing in front of a room full of strangers and commanding their respect and attention is a lot. Making them laugh is even more challenging. It can be scary. But the process helps you cultivate more of your you-ness. It helps you find that magic ingredient that makes you amazing.
Over time, you hone the skills to disarm, charm, and express yourself in the best possible way. Isn’t that what you’re trying to show casting directors, producers, directors, and hopefully millions of viewers?
2. You learn timing.
Comedic timing is like rhythm. Some people are born with it and some people just do that awkward sway dancing. But it can be learned. Learning to write and perform jokes helps you turn from consumer to product and isn’t that what you’re looking to be? As you hone your sense of humor, you’re more able to play with what you’re given and make more humorous choices.
3. You can sell a line.
Once you learn timing and the importance of punch lines, you learn how to really sell a line. Performing standup comedy may not give you the emotional range of a Julliard-trained actor or the ability to cry on cue, but trust and believe you’ll be able to sell a line. As you learn the rhythm of comedy and how to make your jokes pop, you can deliver your lines more humorously and give them the proper weight in a scene or audition. You’ll also know when and how to throw them away but still be funny about it.
4. You put attention to tension.
At its core, standup comedy is about relieving tension and pain. A room full of people staring at a total stranger sharing their neuroses and personal vulnerabilities is awkward and uncomfortable. That’s why comedians crack jokes. Over time, you learn to ride the tension, ramp it up, and release it. Learning to harness this power gives you the ability to really make an impression. Calling out the discomfort in a room or being able to handle a weird moment in an audition can help you make an impression. After all, casting directors and producers are people too. If you can make someone laugh, they’ll have a positive memory of you.
5. You can be your best self.
Your headshot should be you at your best, but what if you could be the person in that headshot emotionally, socially, and dare I say, artistically? Standup helps you find out who you are—only with tons of strangers! As you shed layers of preconditioned programming and personal judgment, you learn to be a more authentic you. You find a way to laugh at your problems and pain and share that with an audience. Over time, you learn to do that on the fly. In commercial auditions, they want happy, healthy, and funny. They want that aspirational you. Standup gives you the skills and the hours of cultivating that person so you can disarm and charm in an audition.
6. You learn and play with your type.
So much of being an actor is knowing your type. Standup allows you to manipulate that to your advantage and gain more tools for your arsenal. At an audition, they call in someone who looks like a cool mom because they need a cool mom. You’ve got your cool mom headshot so they call you in. But when you go on stage looking like a cool mom, you can also be snarky, dark, edgy, or totally uncool. You can’t do a whole standup set that is all one-note. Learning to play with and subvert expectations gives you a greater awareness of how people see you. As you learn what audiences like and don’t like, you learn more about what you can do.
7. You get out of your comfort zone.
My parting words are if what you want was inside your comfort zone, you’d already have it. Standup forces you to hone the skills to handle being outside your comfort zone. I’ve done standup in a vape store, at a laundromat, and in drag, and those were all booked shows! But being able to be unflappable helps me act like an unflappable person in auditions and social situations. It helps you hone strengths you may have never realized you had and roll with the punchlines.
Standup comedians in the industry have defied the conventions and expectations of a lead. They’ve found a way to channel their ultimate selves and bring that to their characters and you can too.
*This post was originally published on April 15, 2019. It has since been updated.
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