3 Ways a Comedian can Cope with Criticism

coping with criticism

Comedians are a vulnerable bunch. If pleasing the audience isn’t hard enough, many times we comedians also have to cope with criticism even after we get off the stage.

Sometimes we hear it from club owners or managers. Sometimes we hear it from other comedians and sometimes from an audience member who just watched you and decided that their experience in telemarketing gives them the credentials to bestow on you their expert tips on how you can kill it at your next gig.

“You were crushing it up until that last joke. Just didn’t seem to fit.”
“You’d be funnier if you had fewer F-bombs.”
“You shouldn’t do political material, it makes people uncomfortable.”
“Jokes about rape are inappropriate.”

The list of critique can go on and on.

But before I go off on that, Let’s be clear that there’s a difference between criticism and a note.

Criticism is just when someone offers a critique of what you said or did. A note is also a form of critique, but it also offers a suggestion on what you could possibly do to correct it.

When you’ve been doing this a long time you’ve probably learned how to hit the “off” switch to most of that. But when you’re a new comedian in the business, the criticism can be dejecting and the notes can be overwhelming.

New comedians face this a lot. They’ll have a bunch of people telling them what they need to do to improve a joke or their act.

How do you sort through all of the noise and do what’s right? How do you even know what is right?

Here are some tips for dealing with, understanding and coping with criticism.

  1. Most criticism doesn’t come from a bad place, so first don’t be an asshole about it. Be professional and listen gracefully (or passively). Say, “thank you,” and move on.
  2. There’s no way you can implement every note you receive from everyone into your comedy act. Choose a mentor in your comedic circle (maybe 2), and consider only that advice. It will, first of all, be a lot easier to sort through the notes and secondly if that person is reliable, odds are you’ll get to where you’re going a lot faster.
  3. Sometimes the tips can be something like, you went “too dirty” or “you drop too many F-bombs.” Here’s where it gets tricky. I think you should BE ABLE to work clean. You DON’t HAVE to work clean, but you should be able to. If a booker knows you can work clean it opens up a surprising amount of other opportunities. I’ve been on the road at a club, doing my act. My act can get dirty, but these bookers know that I can work clean. I’ve had club owners book me to do a corporate earlier in the evening, before the show, get back to the club and do the show. A corporate gig can pay me more than the entire week at that club. If I can’t work clean, guess what? I just missed out on a boat load of cash.

Here’s the tricky part. Dropping the f-bomb too much may be an indication that you don’t have any real content or jokes. It also can indicate that you’re lacking an authentic emotional point of view.

On the other hand, it might be what drives your comedic persona. You have to be willing to truly explore your craft and ask whether or not the f-bomb is absolutely necessary to you or if you are using it as a crutch.

If it is something that absolutely drives your persona. If it is inherently who you are, or who your character is then don’t change. Your path to success might be a little longer, but your audience will find you.

I have a student who is a female. She’s smart, she’s attractive, she’s from New York, she was raised by a tough father and she drops the F-bomb. But I also think it fits her persona and her character would be less defined if she didn’t.

She submitted for a comedy competition and the founder of the competition said to me that he likes her, but she uses the f-bomb too much. I told her this and you know what she said?

“That’s fucking ridiculous!”

And she was vehement about it! She went off on a tangent about how sick and tired she is of political correctness and this double standard that men have about women and their comedy.

And she has a point, because the very night that competition founder told me that she uses too many f-bombs, one of the comedians in his competition dropped 47 f-bombs in a 25 minute final round set. He placed third out of 40 in the competition.

So I approached the founder after the competition and said, “that dude used the f-bomb 47 times and he placed third. You need to reconsider whether my student really uses the f-bomb too much or whether you’re just a sexist.”

The following week my student wrote a 6-minute rant about the uses of the word “fuck.” It’s funny, it’s honest and it defines her. So I told her to tighten it, record it on video and submit it back to this comedy festival.

The point is you have to make choices. And if you’re going to make a choice about who you are, then make that choice and don’t apologize for it. In this business you have to learn to develop an unwavering confidence about yourself.

Because no matter what you do, some people will love you and some people will hate you.

And if you go in knowing that dropping the F-bomb limits where you can play and you make that decision anyway, that’s up to you. It’s not the safest choice, but if I wanted to get into this business to be safe, I would’ve been a fucking telemarketer.