Pillar of Uniqueness
The Pillar of Effectiveness is about being able to compete with others and get laughs. The second pillar, the Pillar of Uniqueness, is about breaking out of the competitive mindset and drawing humor from your unique personality.
If you ask someone what they wanted in a new cell phone in 2010, they’d give you very predictable answers: lighter, wider, a better screen, a better battery, etc. What they would never have said is that they wanted a fingerprint sensor or an eye scanner (or anything unique). But once they saw those things, their desires changed. They gave up what they thought they wanted for what they now see they can have.
This is how the then-unknown Woody Allen was able to succeed against one of the most successful comedians of all time, Bob Hope. Once audiences saw personality being injected into a performance, they realized they could have something new… something unique. It no longer mattered how good Bob Hope’s jokes were because Woody Allen was so different. One comedian’s success didn’t effect the other. But Woody Allen took only a small step forward.
Allen and Cosby had only dipped their toe in the pool. In the 1970’s, comedians like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Steve Martin, and Andy Kaufman would do a full-on cannonball. For the first time in comedy history, personality and uniqueness played the dominant role in a comedian’s success, not effectiveness. Comedy became edgy and full of personality. Effectiveness was an afterthought. Comedians were so wildly successful during this time that the 70’s is known as The Golden Age of Comedy.
When you play your own game, it no longer matters how funny another comedian is, because you’re playing different games. Think about it: it’s almost impossible to compare Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chapelle in any meaningful way. The two are playing by wildly different rules. The success of one doesn’t affect the other. This doesn’t just work for A-list comedians like Seinfeld and Chapelle. It works for open mic, semi-pro, and professional comedians as well. Audiences have always, and will always, value uniqueness.
This is the complete opposite mindset of most open-mic comedians. They’re constantly worried because there are only so many spots on great shows. When you fail to differentiate yourself as a comedian, it results in more competition. If you’re not unique in “how” you deliver your material (personality) than you’d better have amazing content. If you’re competing on “what” you say, the odds aren’t in your favor. This is why so few joke writers are able to rise to the top of the industry (and even they tend to have a lot of personality mixed into the jokes). Joke writer’s are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to uniqueness and ability to connect with the audience. They’re like a desperate man… hoping a canned pick-up line is going to woo the girl at the bar.
So what’s the main source of uniqueness? It shouldn’t surprise you. Successful comedians tap into their full personality to become unique. And when you’re not hiding behind overly structured setups and punchlines, tapping into your personality is really quite easy. The only reason stage persona and authenticity are confusing topics for new comedians is because they’re being taught to use jokes that strip away personality. Personality was never a confusing subject for you when using your natural sense of humor. If stage persona confuses you, you’re doing it all wrong.
Comedians don’t need more personality. They just need to stop covering up the personality they already have. It’s something you lose, not something you gain. Comedians that ooze personality aren’t any crazier or different than you or me. They simply allow their complete, quirky selves to come through.
We’re all incredibly unique. The question is only whether we show that uniqueness or if we show the “socialized” side of our personality – the one that’s safe. You almost certainly have a person or group of people that you already act crazy/silly around. Being a great comedian is about sharing that person, the real you. The “you” that you allow yourself to be when you’re around your closest friends. If you learn how to consistently tap that person than you won’t need me or anyone else to guide you.
The most unique comedian who has ever lived was Andy Kaufman… The King of Practical Jokes. He loved practical jokes so much that decades after his death, people still aren’t entirely sure that he actually died. When he was diagnosed with cancer, the tabloids refused to cover the story because Kaufman had fooled them so many times in the past. Kaufman was the first and last of his kind. You can get a good feel from Kaufman’s uniqueness by watching the movie Man On The Moon staring Jim Carrey.
In one bit, Kaufman eats a bowl of ice-cream on stage and keeps the audience laughing throughout without saying a word. The genius of this bit begins when he turns on a small radio on the table. The microphone picks up the sounds in the room and then plays it through the speaker a few seconds later. The laughter starts very small, but then grows rapidly as the audience realizes what’s happening. Each time the speaker plays the audience’s laugh back to them it causes the audience to laugh again. The audience was literally laughing at itself while Kaufman ate ice cream.
When you inject uniqueness and personality into your performances, you’re no longer competing with what jokes you have, but how you’re telling them. And that means you no longer need to worry (or even care) what other comedians are doing. That’s true from the top to the bottom of the industry.