I’ve been approached by a friend of a friend who wants to make his standup debut and wants to pay me to prepare him beforehand. My exact words to him were, “I’ll gladly take your money, but the only way you’ll actually get better at standup is by doing it, and you’re going to suck for a long time.” He was undeterred and the offer stands. Probably for the best as, during our initial meeting, he presented several pages on “olla” and I think I’ve already earned my fee by advising him to throw that away.

The only other time I’ve been paid for this sort of service was at Power Comedy Club. As part of a bachelor party, the groom’s friends arranged for him to do standup for the first time. Fortunately, they give him a few days to prepare, and we sat down together an hour before showtime. He showed me his notes, I suggested ways to structure them, and the result was remarkably positive. Obviously, it helped that he had so many friends in the room and the crowd knew it was his debut.

It’s pretty common for comics to supplement their meager incomes by teaching classes and while it makes sense, it’s always felt a little weird to me. One comic in particular has taught many would-be comics and everyone I’ve spoken to afterwards has the same story- “I told a joke, she told me I should never do it on stage, I did it on stage anyway, it worked great.” Maybe she does this on purpose but I doubt it.

Getting feedback from other comics is extremely important, but the downside is that, more often than not, a comic is telling you how they would do it. Being on stage is your chance to be yourself (if you want) and telling a joke that someone else gave you or, worse, stealing someone else’s material is just karaoke. While some comics write for the crowd, the vast majority of us just say what we think is funny. Sometimes no one else agrees with us, which sucks, but at least we still like it.

I’ve learned over the years to ask comics before offering feedback. People appreciate it less when unwanted suggestions are thrown at them, especially female comics who are given unasked for feedback from men so often it’s a cliché. When I ask comics if they want some feedback, it’s extremely rare that they say no, but I’ve found myself offering less and less often. I think it’s a symptom of the “why bother?” mentality I’ve mentioned in an earlier post.

I think a comedy course can be very helpful, particularly for people who have never been on a stage before. There’s so much to think about beyond your material- how you hold the microphone, stand on stage, where you look, and on and on. You might have a joke that takes ninety seconds to tell that should be cut to thirty and having a pro explain what to cut and why can be beneficial in the beginning.

The problem is that humor is subjective. You can’t be expected to find every joke funny. When I first started, my wife was a great test audience for jokes and has since become a comic herself, which has been very fortunate for me. At the same time, some of my best material began with me testing it in the apartment to a resounding “meh” from her. Believing in it anyway, I either made it better or, sometimes, told it word for word on stage and found a better audience there.

As I help this guy going forward, I’m going to establish some ground rules. In particular, he doesn’t have to accept all my feedback, and if I’m not impressed by something he feels passionate about, he should do it anyway. So, if sometime in the coming months you hear a rookie do five minutes on olla, hey, I did my best.