This is one of my favorite questions to
ask other comics. There is something very special about the drive to
go onto a stage and try to make a room full of strangers laugh and
I’m always curious about what motivates comics to perform. But the main
reason I started asking early on was because I wasn’t sure how I
could define my own reasons.

Before I started performing, the most
common thing I’d heard about standup is that comics get addicted to
laughs, that the first time one goes on stage and makes someone
laugh, it’s like crack, and one has to keep going back for more. But
I never felt that way. Of course I liked making people laugh but I
couldn’t say that was my main reason for performing. At the same
time, I still couldn’t say why I was doing it at all, although I
certainly knew I had to keep doing it.

I’ve asked many people yet never heard
anyone say they were addicted to the laughs, at least not in those
words. Most people just say they perform because it’s fun, or simply
because they love it, but that makes me suspicious. Yes, performing
is fun when it works, but we’re only as good as our last gig, and a
bad gig can drive your mood into the ground for days, or until you
get a better result. Since I don’t know anyone who only kills again
and again, there must be something else that drives us to keep exposing
ourselves to that risk.

“I’ve got something I want to say,”
became my answer for a while, though that didn’t feel 100% for me,
either. Obviously I have things I want to say, but I’m not trying to
lead a revolution. I will, from time to time, espouse something I’m
passionate about, but I can be equally passionate when I mock Swedes
over the existence of banana pizza. Yes, banana pizza is a real

Comedians will often say that making
people laugh is the only true goal of standup, to be achieved by
whatever means necessary. It’s hard to argue with that, and yet I
know I’m a snob about comedy. I set a high standard for myself,
probably too high, but if I don’t like what’s coming out of my mouth,
I don’t feel good when the audience laughs. In fact, just in the
last week I wrote a joke about how women like to change men; it got
an applause break on Saturday and on Sunday, when I bombed, that was
the only joke that got a chuckle. It felt so hack, so unoriginal and
boring, I was annoyed at the crowd for liking it, which was just
projection of being annoyed at myself for saying it.

When I first started performing, within
a few months I’d come up with a solid five minutes of material that
worked every time, and I was doing that same five minutes again and
again. One night, I did my set and the crowd laughed throughout, I
got four applause breaks, they were clearly happy with me, and I
walked off stage feeling like shit, feeling like I needed to throw
out everything I’d done and start anew. Which I did. If it was
laughs I was going for, I would’ve felt great after that set, but it
was something else.

It happens now and then that I perform
in a new club and want to make a good impression, or get the feeling
that the crowd doesn’t want to hear any tough material, and I do my
safest, go-to jokes and do well and feel lousy because I did what
they wanted, not what I wanted. One of those nights, a fellow comic
saw me leave the stage with my head low and he said, “Why feel bad?
You did great, you adapted your material for the crowd!”

“I’m not here for them,” I said,
“they’re here for me.” Could be the most pretentious thing I’ve
ever said and believe me, I know it’s drenched in hubris. But that
is a goal for me, to be able to do whatever I want, wherever I want,
and have it work every time. Unrealistic? Perhaps, but a noble

Not every joke I write is meant to get
a laugh. Some things are meant to get a groan, sometimes I just want
people to like what I’ve said or give them something to think about.
When the crowd reacts the way I thought they would, I feel good, and
the longer I thought about that, I was finally able to define what
drives me.

I want to play the crowd like an
instrument. I write a set, thinking, “They’ll laugh hard at this,
chuckle at that, groan at this, applaud that,” and the audience
reacts exactly as I predicted, exactly how I want them to. That’s
the perfect gig, when the crowd loves what I’m saying as much as I