Comedy is a job, even if you’re just getting paid in beers. It is also very social, especially when you’re getting paid in beers. The boundaries between personal and professional relationships are complex and much like comedy itself, highly subjective. What you think is friendly might be business to someone else and vice versa. This concept is something that I really struggled with my first year and still messes with me now. Stand-up differs most from other types of comedy in that it is an individual form. In improv and sketch your comedy relies heavily on collaboration and trust in others. In these forms, the group mind thrives and in my experience, it lends itself to closer relationships. Stand-up is much more isolated. You spend a lot of time with other performers but you don’t necessarily spend it together. Writing is done by yourself, performing is done by yourself and the goals you have are ultimately, for yourself. I’m not saying there is no community in stand-up, because there is and I have been very lucky to be part of it, but there is a little bit of a disconnect. You can spend hours a week talking to someone at mics and shows but have no idea who that person is when they aren’t a comedian. You definitely will make close friends in this industry, but most of the people you meet are just going to be colleagues.
When I started doing stand-up I felt very aware of how little I knew my peers. For a long time it felt like everyone was friends except for me. It took me months to process the work friend-personal friend dynamic, mostly because of the weird blur between the two in comedy. Like in any other part of life, I think social media puts a filter on the relationships you form. It’s easy to feel like everyone is buddies but you when you constantly see a feed of group photos and statuses tagging friends.
On the flip-side, I think it’s easier for performers to take relationships for granted. When you see people night after night for open-mics, writing groups and shows, friendship can start to feel kind of assumed. I think the quantity of time we spend with each other starts to replace quality and we reach out to each other a little less than we would if we were “regular” people.
I had to learn to make the conscious effort to reach out to the people in comedy that I care about and not worry so much about all the people I wasn’t close with. Just because you don’t hang out all the time doesn’t mean another comic doesn’t respect what you do, you’re just co-workers and that is okay.
A lot of comedy can feel like it is contingent on making friends with the right people and I won’t deny that friends book friends sometimes, but in the end being funny is what is going to matter the most. To anyone that is feeling like they are being held back by not being “in” with the right people, I have two suggestions:
Be pleasant and present. This is the attitude that will attract friends and make you someone people want to work with, like I said when I talked about the best way to get booked.
Say hi to new people. Remember how awkward you felt the first couple times you showed up to a mic without knowing anyone? For all your know, your newest lifelong friend is going to be on that open mic list, so make the effort to acknowledge faces you haven’t seen before and engage with others. Your friendly face could give someone new the courage to keep trying.
- Don’t measure yourself as a comedian against how many drinking buddies you have. Being popular isn’t the same as being good at your job and being good at your job might not always make you popular.