As a comedian, have you ever been asked to refine your point of view?
Have you ever wondered what your point of view is? Your persona? Your voice?
Or, like me, has a booker said to you, I’m looking for an “internal thru-line, a golden thread of continuity.”
I heard that one from Mark Lonow, former talent coordinator and co-owner of the Improv in L.A., (years ago) immediately after I did an audition that I thought I rocked.
It was disheartening because not only did I not get a spot at the Improv from him, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about!
Two days later I said, “screw that!” I went right to Bud Friedman, (the founder of the Improv), pleaded for an audition and with the same act got booked in Vegas and on T.V.
What is a Point of View?
So what is a point of view? And what does a booker mean when he says he wants to see a stronger one?
A point of view is how you look at the world and the situations around you that you include in your comedy.
Basically answer the question: “Who are you?”
Can you say in a couple of sentences who you are?
Are you a cynic? Do you have a quirky way of looking at life? Do you like to pick out life’s minutia and point out those observations in a funny way? Are you a liberal? A conservative? Gun lover? Trump voter?
You’re point of view doesn’t have to be extreme.
Amy Schumer is known for her subversive feminism and addressing various social issues through a character who is seemingly promiscuous and a little ditsy.
Schumer has described herself as just someone who goes in and out of being an irreverent idiot. (Although I think, and her bank account surely reflects, that she’s more than that).
Bill Burr is a bit of an edgy devil’s advocate. He approaches his comedy by challenging the status quo from a strong male point of view to the point where he appears at times to be misogynistic. But Burr always says “It doesn’t make sense. Somebody explain it.” Then he explains it, usually using analogies while making us think, “Oh I never thought about it that way.”
Larry the Cable Guy (Dan Whitney), is a simple guy, a bit of a buffoon trying to figure out how things work.”
Whitney Cummings is a woman fed up with the bullshit of men and relationships, but still trying figure out how to make relationships work.
When I first started I was just trying to write funny jokes and stories. I did wordplay, paradox and observation like Carlin, but with a strong Seinfeldian voice.
So much so that Seinfeld himself mocked me at a club after I did a set! Lol.
I was getting laughs but I wasn’t sure who I was or how to find myself. Then I got some advice from the most unexpected source…
I met a mobster when I was waiting tables in New York. He was one of my favorite customers. I told him I didn’t know what to be when I was up on stage. He said, “Don’t listen to your heart, it feels too much. Don’t listen to your head, it thinks too much. Listen to your gut, cuz your gut never lies to you.”
Shortly after that, I met George Carlin. He said to me, “take the stuff that drives you absolutely fucking crazy and make it funny.”
That’s when my voice turned more toward a socio-political irreverent style that felt cathartic and real to me.
It felt ‘right’ in my gut, you know?
I loved to watch and read the news and call bullshit. I like to look at the inequalities and the hypocrisies in the world and point them out.
My act evolved toward a message of tolerance of race, gender and sexual preference, but not religion because in my comedic view religion is the reason societies have created a fictitious hierarchy and division in the first place.
Basically I make fun of everyone, but in a way that unites and makes our various idiosyncrasies fun.
How do you define yourself?
How do You Find Your Point of View?
One way to find your point of view or voice is to ask people what they see when they see you.
Another way is to ask yourself how you want people to see you or get in touch with who you are around your friends and start with that.
Another way is to develop a character, refine it and perform material based on that character’s point of view.
For several years, I created a pretty refined character named Charlie Stone. Charlie was a quirky, long-haired surfer-type character. He wasn’t a stoner, because he didn’t do drugs, but he had a stoner approach to his world view…
“This gal comes up to me and says, Dude: are you a Christian? I said, ‘No: I’m a Catho-Christi-Hinuistic-Musli-Morma-Jew: I don’t want to miss out on Heaven cuz of a technicality!'”
Charlie was an interesting experiment. I used to go out on the road and open for me, Jerry Corley as Charlie Stone.
Basically I would wear a wig and these blue-tinted glasses and do 30 minutes as Charlie Stone then change while the emcee was up, come back to the stage as Jerry Corley and do another hour.
The interesting part was that even though my act would do well and many times end in a standing ovation, everyone would come up to me after the show and say, “Where’s Charlie Stone?!”
What I learned from that was that Charlie Stone’s character was so refined that he was memorable.
I’m positive that if I brought Charlie back today, because of the strong, refined character, he would place or win in competitions and book some T.V.
Talent coordinators and bookers often confuse the difference between character, persona, voice and ‘point-of-view.’
But usually what occurs is that if a character is well-defined, the point of view tends to just fall into place within that character.
Some People Say it Takes 7 Years or More to Find Your Persona. Is That True?
One of the reasons it takes people a long time to find their persona or voice is that the first several years of their journey into comedy, they are just trying to figure out how to write a joke and create an act, you know? Make something funny.
As they begin to develop material they begin to realize that some material seems to resonate more with them than other material and they start to focus more on the material that they’re more connected to, which helps to shape their voice.
Bill Burr said he spent the first 5-7 years of his career doing one and two-liner comedy. Then when he started to go up on stage and riff on ideas is when he found more of his cynical voice.”
Anthony Jeselnik said that he started writing comedy by studying Jack Handy’s “Deep Thoughts” from Saturday Night Live. He started writing those down then writing his own. “Then I was up on stage and did a joke that was dark and it got a great response. And I knew that’s where I was going.”
There’s no one way to find your point of view. Just keep cognizant of who you are and what you’re trying to say.
Remember that your character can evolve, develop and change. Allow yourself to explore it. Try different things. Listen to the audience and how they respond, adjust and refine.
And also always, always listen to your heart–wait… your gut.