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What it's like to be a stand-up comedian

January 13, 2014, 1:23 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 1013

By kareezafelarca

Jared Volle has been an improvisational comedian since 6th grade and a stand-up comedian since 2005. He has a very wide range of interests outside of comedy, creativity being the biggest influence. He spent years studying creativity and psychology to understand what makes great art. He originally began studying it just so he could develop material, both of higher quality and quantity. Jared is  extremely creative. Not just in the normal sense that a comedian is creative, but in a wide variety of fields. He constantly have 3 or 4 side projects other than comedy. He is currently getting his Master’s in Creativity and Innovation, and teaching creativity classes at Colorado Free University.

 

When Jared started out performing improvisational comedy, he and his brother were obsessed with Who’s Line is it Anyway? His brother once brought home a book on how to perform improv and they learned together, performing in front of their mother in their living room. They had so much fun. It was the first thing that he and his brother really bonded over something.

He joined the improv team when getting into high school. Jared was in his junior year when he started considering stand-up comedy. Our artist couldn’t find an improv troupe that was as obsessed as he was, and since he wasn’t 19 years old yet, he couldn’t go to The Second City (an improvisational comedy enterprise). He  wrote his first set and emailed it to a producer. Unfortunately, Jaerd underestimated how difficult the learning curve of comedy could be when he was just starting out.

“I bombed on stage for the first time in my life. I also experienced stage fright for the first time in my life. I remember going home and lying in bed wondering what happened. I resolved to not quit until I had a decent set. I performed several more times, each time making a lot of progress until I realized that I was actually writing and performing for its own sake. I took a semester off college and moved to Los Angeles, where I took some stand-up comedy classes and immersed myself in the comedy culture. My first night out there I met a show producer who put me on and I killed for the first time ever. The funny thing was, my set went wrong mid-way through and I started improvising with the audience members. The improvisations got more laughs than my stupid jokes. After that, I knew I wanted to pursue comedy as a career”, he said.

Comedians like Eddie Izzard had become a huge inspiration to Jared. In fact, Eddie Izzard’s DVD “Dressed to Kill” was the comedy that he was watching as a frustrated improvisational comedian in college when he decided to give stand-up a shot. Another huge influence on him was Richard Jeni.  Jared had never seen a comedian with material so spot-on as Jeni's. After Jared got frustrated with the “rules” of comedy, Richard became his main inspiration. He studied every show that Richard had done. He watched clips of Jeni hundreds of times, trying to pick out new techniques to be he used. Personalities like Steve Martin and Kyle Cease had also motivated Jsred to be a better comedian.

Jared considers stage fright as one of the obstacles that he has had to face. He was using a “script” when he started performing stand-up. He had every word placed exactly as he wanted it to be. As an economics major, he had a very strong analytical background. Jared loves numbers. He had convinced himself that there was a specific ratio of practice hours to performance time that would guarantee he would flawlessly perform when the pressure was on. He had also reasoned that if he could meet this goal, he would never have stage fright because of having been so prepared.

“I remember having a spreadsheet listing how long I’d practiced my set. For brand every new 5 minute set, I practiced over 75 hours. It was ridiculous.  I put so much pressure on myself to get every single word correct along with a perfect pause, vocal inflection, gesture, etc. It was just too much. There was no way I could possibly repeat that many words perfectly for so long while the pressure was on. So I freaked out. In fact, it became a regular occurrence for me to sit backstage and think about all the possible ways I could bail on the show. My desire for having 100% control over the material and the audience’s response caused me to lose all control. When something went wrong on stage, I instantly reverted back to improv. For some reason, I never made the connection that improving on stage was when I was having the most fun. My stage fright continued for several years. I kept reasoning that I’d grow out of it if I kept practicing, but it didn’t go away. I was repeating the same exact mistakes over and over again.”

The worse part was he actually thought that the huge amount of time he was spending practicing was helping. He even tried a hypnosis tape at one point. Nothing changed until he gave up control on stage. He became absolutely okay with anything that might happen. He  accepted his lack of control and his career has never been the same since.

 

Today, he could be midway through a conversation with someone when he would hear his name called out by the emcee [Master of Ceremonies]. He'll simply then walk out on the stage as if nothing was happening. With how his career started off, he never had thought that he would get to that point. In fact, at one point he started testing just how far he could take it. He would  go on stage without preparing a set and just see what would happen.

“If there’s anything I do to prepare, it’s to be very observant of the audience and the other comedians. I watch what material comedians use before me and which audience members are the most fun or most drunk. I love opening my show with an inside joke with the audience. I remember one comedian opening up with a joke about how, when he gets nervous, he pictures the audience naked. He then pointed at a female audience member and said “nice.” I got on stage next and high-fived the girl and said “It’s alright, we’re all picturing you naked.” I got about 30 seconds of laughter from that one line. I’ve never had a laugh last that long. In fact, I’m kind of amazed that they did more than chuckle a little. I don’t actually think the line was that funny”, he said.

Jared loves being on stage. His stage fright has completely vanished, and he now finds himself laughing on stage all the time. Not laughing at his own jokes, but just laughing because he's having so much fun with the crowd. There was this time when he got the chance to perform at the Great American Comedy Festival. It was an amazing experience for him. It was a huge contest with 200-250 aspirants, and he only had about 6 minutes on stage. The audience and he were totally in sync. Every joke crushed. Jared allowed himself to feel good about what he had accomplished for the first time.

For him, stand-up comedy is all about connecting with the audience on a deeper level, and it just happen that he is doing it in a funny way. He loves the self-expression that goes with it. He vents out all of his frustrations on stage. The audience really gets to know him as an individual.

 

One of Jared's favorite bits comes from who he is as a person. Releasing it to the audience was cathartic. The bit is about how stressed out he was when he was forced to read out loud in front of the class in high school. He wasn’t expecting too much the first time he put it out on stage. In fact, there was not even a real “punch line” to the joke in a traditional sense. Conventional logic says that the audience shouldn’t have laughed at all. But they did, and they still do… every time. The laugh comes entirely from the audience identifying with Jared's weakness. The joke goes “Reading out loud in high school was some public torture… Going up and down the rows reading some article… nobody had a CLUE what the article was about, cause we were all trying to figure out which paragraph WE were going to get… Right?- So you could practice!” He knew he hit something when the audience started pointing at each other and laughing. They’d never done that with any of his other material. It was only when he brought his weakness into the light that the audience was able to respond to him on a deeper level. They weren’t laughing at his weakness. They were laughing because we are all very much alike. It showed them that they weren't alone. Jared loves that joke because it’s so much deeper than his regular material. The joke isn’t about reading out loud… It’s about the universality of being a human being.

Jared believes that learning stand-up comedy, to some degree, is simply a matter of mechanics. The mechanics are very similar for many different types of comedians, even though stand-up comedy is a creative art form. He believes that there are many factors that go into a great comedy performance, and those factors are learnable.

“I strongly believe that both stand-up comedy, knowledge, and creativity are learnable and improvable skills. The question becomes “Can you teach someone to be funny?” In my experience as a comedy teacher… no. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible. It just means that we don’t yet know how to do it. I think that, given the student has high levels of motivation, it’s absolutely possible to teach them to excel at anything. That’s not something supported by science just yet… it’s just a personal belief. But it’s one that sits well with everything I’ve learned about psychology, creativity, and motivation,” he added.

 

Jared designed programs to help comedians obtain success in comedy. Faster & Funnier is an online stand-up comedy course video series that teaches comedians all the principles of stand-up comedy that he has discovered over the many years he has been studying it. It combines both old-school, word-based techniques with a huge portion of deeper principles. It has only one goal. Take people’s existing knowledge and teach them an entirely new, yet complementary set of skills for their career. As someone that’s driven by increasing the quality of other people’s lives, Jared knew he had to share his ideas with the world.

“It’s all about improving people’s lives. Having an audience member come up after the show and tell you they loved your performance feels good. But it really pales in comparison to when students email me a week after my class and tell me that they have an entirely new perspective on their life. Creativity is that important. And I’ve really taken it on myself to do everything I can to make the world understand that creativity is the key to success in any field”

Stand-up comedy, as an industry, is comprised entirely of self-selected funny people. Jared knows that being funny doesn’t mean he’ll rise to the top, it simply means that he has found an industry that’s right for him. He gives high importance on learning everything about his craft. It takes hard work and effort to develop material that consistently 'destroys' on stage. He also doesn’t accept the current rules of the game. He wants to be highly differentiated as a comedian by being highly creative. Fame in comedy isn’t his goal at all. He does it simply because he is passionate about it. Everything that Jared does aims to improve the quality of people’s lives, whether he does it through his comedy, through developing programs, or through teaching.

 

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