Guy Walks into a Bar (a series)
A Guide for Comedians. Stories for Comedy Fans.
Your Voice #8
Throughout the series, I have mentioned “your voice.” To the layperson or a complete novice, you might be thinking that this is a reference to how the sounds you emit when you talk, sounds to others. Still, some might think it is your overall point of view on topics, events, or experiences. Both assessments are partially correct in the arena of material which is spoken on a comedy stage. However, it is also broadly incorrect to believe that “it’s” (“your voice”) a contrived, planned, or conscious decision, and have it end there.
Early on in my career, and for quite some time, I often heard things like, “you’ve got to find your voice.” “He/she has a voice.” No one explains what that means. Probably because it’s more of a visceral happening and the listener giving you that advice or analogy knows how this thing called, “your voice” moves them and uniquely identifies you, but the words for WHY are vague and extremely varied. So, you begin down a path (the wrong one) of listening to your actual voice, which will drive you crazy, as you will constantly be trying to do an impression of yourself on stage. You also implore — which is not so completely useless, we will learn — the process of deciding, “what one stance do I feel about every single thing?” You see how the latter could run you into a brick wall? When you attach one opinion or feeling to every single topic, you could be labeled a fanatic. And fanatic’s have very few friends, except the ones who meet with them at the secret training camps!
A CONSISTENT ATTITUDE IN YOUR ACT (Shtick) CAN BE A VERY STRONG -UNIQUELY IDENTIFYING HOOK — FOR COMEDIANS. However, even those that choose — or more likely gravitate to — this style, have mastered their voice and are multifaceted individuals. If they were not, it would get boring and be transparently fake after about fifteen minutes of their performance. Lewis Black is a perfect example. On the surface, we see the erratic anger that Lewis has perfected when delivering his punchlines. But there are real levels or degrees of that anger, which make him human … believable. As opposed to some copycat-robot, who observed the likes of a Lewis Black, zeroed in on the anger and performs their entire act at one speed. Simply pissed off, in a similar way, about every-single-thing that they are saying. Contrived! Lewis has “a voice” because he is reacting, in his own genuine way (of course largely personified for entertainment value), to the things that he is saying. He’s not a madman yelling at you for an hour about ordinary topics and then topics that he’s truly passionate about, at one set decibel. You laugh because he believes what he is saying, not because he’s showing you, “when I do THIS ACTION — THAT is where you are supposed to laugh!” I hope that is clear … I told you this was tough stuff to explain.
WHAT IS “YOUR VOICE?”
You may find that onstage, sometimes through nervousness, culture, ethnicity, your “funny voice” (what you sound like when you make people laugh) will arise as you do certain characters or characterize your material. It is kind of a natural growth. Yet, as many times as I am told, “that voice you do onstage,” I don’t want to know about it. In fact, in private (or particularly for social media), I cannot replicate it. It is my stage voice, and it came about organically! Howie Mandel once told a delightful story on Howard Stern about his, “What … what?” famous stage inflection. I will paraphrase here; In short, it was born of coincidence and extreme nervousness. He found himself in LA to pick up these puppets that he could not seem to get delivered into Canada (long story). By way of a friend, in LA, he went onstage (I forget which club) while in town. Having never done Stand-Up before and with no prepared act, he basically experienced stage fright. In trying to find his way, and as the audience began laughing at his ineptness (assuming that it was his stage persona) he was literally asking, “What … what?”, as if, what am I doing that’s making you laugh? That is a rare happening, but it stuck, and he made it work by applying it throughout his material later in his career.
If your material is essentially one thread (Political — i.e., Bill Maher … Views on the opposite sex — i.e., Judy Tenuta, etc.) you’re going to acquire that consistent tone of opinion in your material. You will launch from one feeling point of view on all subjects related to those matters. Such Comedians will have also found their voice. The challenge in that style of singular comedy is to write material that fits the brand and keep it believable.
You must own it. If you do not, the audience will smell BS!
Drumroll please -
OK, now the surprise twist, it’s NOT A VOICE AT ALL! Even though it can be your silly sounding stage voice, or your concrete point of view, it is your whole PERSONA (remember that word) and that is why it must be found. It is marrying you — at a party after a few drinks, in a completely safe and friendly environment, being funny — with this guy/gal/them up on stage. Conveying words and actions to perfect strangers which you want them to believe and believe are hysterical. It’s your natural sense of humor. An indication of this is when you say material that IS funny, but you are not as connected to it -vs- material that you simply connect to when you say it. The voice comes from your chest/soul, not your throat. It is some Zen shit and its emergence has no planned arrival date. So, you write some smart stuff, perform it onstage and realize it’s not coming from you. Or you write some dumb shit, perform it, and think, I like this, but it needs to be smarter for me to make it communicable, as well as real to me! When you find the groove of merging words with stage presence, you also discover timing. Don’t get me started on that mystery. In the words of George Burns, “timing is everything and nothing at all!”
· Your Voice (as well as timing) CANNOT be taught!
· Your Voice (as well as timing) CAN be felt!
· You will only know through practice. Live and in the moment. TRUST ME, you will know … in your loins, gut, soul, third eye … just not in the portion of the brain that solves Calculus equations.
· Then, once you master it, you will spend the rest of your career worrying, with each performance, if it will show up again for you tonight!
Note to my readers,
This was quite an analytical piece, selfishly perhaps geared towards Comedians only. So, as a breather from our educational journey, the next issue (2/7/22) will be a 20-minute live audio set of yours truly, performing at the Borgata Hotel Casino, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I figured it was time for a little “humor” … in this newsletter about comedy!