Comedy (and Life) Lessons Learned from GROUNDHOG DAY
I recently took a gig in Woodstock, Illinois which is one of the filming locations of one of my favorite movies of all time- Groundhog Day. After walking the streets of Woodstock like a geeky tourist, I recorded this video blog about why I like the movie GROUNDHOG DAY so much and what I learned from the movie that I apply to my stand-up comedy.
For example, as a comedian I repeat a lot of the same material night after night. Bits that start out kind of shaky, maybe just a general premise with comedy potential lots of times turn into signature bits, maybe even the best part of my set. How does this happen? Through constant repetition. Just like in Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character had to endure and re-live the same day over and over again, eventually finding the little tiny improvements that over time added up, resulting in a kick-ass dude who gets the girl.
It’s interesting how the movie parallels with comedy. In the movie, Bill Murray will ALWAYS wake up the next day in the same bed re-living the same day. Even if he gets busted robbing the bank or drives off a cliff or electrocutes himself with a toaster in the bathtub, he wakes up the next day. There are no other rules or consequences. Performing comedy is very similar in that no matter what you do or how well you do, the crowd loves you or hates you, a standing ovation or total bomb, it doesn’t matter. You wake up the next day, hit the road and do it all again.
Once Bill Murray discovers this, he goes through the entire spectrum using his power for
good and evil. He becomes gluttonous, he commits acts of thievery, he uses trickery and manipulation to try to get laid. He goes through a series of trying to kill himself. Eventually, he saves the kid who fell out of the tree. He feeds the homeless and helps the elderly. And he winds up becoming an AMAZING guy that everybody in town loves.
That feels very much like life on the road as a comedian. This traveling troubadour lifestyle will take you down a wild rabbit-hole that will have you on top of the world one day and wanting to end it all the next. What keeps me from getting bored, burned out, and bitter is dedication to daily 1% tweaks, the little adjustments I can make to the act, the experimenting, the new places and people, and sharing those experiences.
Focusing on constant little tweaks over time adds up to a kick-ass comedy routine.
A lot of times comedians are repeating material over and over and over, and the art is in making that material sound like it’s the first time you’re saying it. One of the reasons I do a lot of improvisation in my shows is to break the pattern of monotonous delivery. Because I’m improvising and speaking off the the top of my head so much, when I deliver more scripted and polished material, it sounds very natural and just as extemporaneous.
And even though I’ve delivered that material A BILLION times before, every show I still make it a point to give it at least a tiny tweak… just a little something different every time. Maybe even take it in a weird direction and the push the limits of the audience.
Watching Groundhog Day reminds me of that stuff. It reminds me that pretty much every day is the same. Most people drag their asses through the same daily rituals and routines, hoping for the best but without much deliberate focus on making the tiny improvements that over time add up.
Listening to same garbage on the radio or TV, kids usually complaining about the same shit every day… etc, etc. You can probably predict this stuff the same way I can the same way Bill Murray could in Groundhog Day. So you know what’s going to happen, get proactive and strategic about it.
I know that pretty much every show, some drunk asshole is going to yell something at me and interrupt my flow. Or a tray of drinks will get dropped. Or a shot will brought to the stage completely distracting from the big pay off to the story I’ve spent 5 minutes building up. In any case, I can predict it, and so I’m prepared. There’s no reason to get angry. Unless it’s a calculated move because the drunk asshole is constantly disrupting the show, and you can’t let it continue.
Knowing every show is pretty much the same as it was the night before, going in I try to consider what are the little improvements I can make. I try do the same thing in my day to day life. Always asking what’s the 1% tweak I can apply today that will add up to something amazing in the long term.
If you like these random rants from the road as I travel between gigs, hit the SUBSCRIBE button at http://youtube.com/thebarcomic