Reading this interview with Mark Normand, comedian I had not heard of, on Splitsider.

This got my attention:

It’s often said when starting in comedy, you’re doing someone else’s act. What was your style when you first started?

I hate to say it, I was Seinfeld all the way.

“What’s the deal?”

Not really “what’s the deal,” but like, rhythm, and that weird voice thing. I’d have jokes like, “Adult books? Get the movie!” It was so bad that I remember one time I walked on stage in New York and one guy went [Seinfeldbaseline], and it crushed me. It was like a stab in the heart, and after that I was like, “I have to change my ways!” It killed me.

How long did it take, then, to find the voice that you use now?

Phew, a while. It took a meltdown. I had a meltdown in New York at some open mic because I was bombing and bombing for like a year, and eventually I was like, “Fuck you, I can’t take this anymore!” It broke me. But it took that meltdown. And I was fighting against it in my head, like, “Just keep it together buddy, keep it together,” when something had to get out. Then I was finally myself, and that’s what did it.

What was the crowd’s reaction like when you had your meltdown? Were you just like, “Fuck you all?”

Yeah, yeah. I was like, “I’m fucking funny, I hate all of you.” And then they started laughing, like, “All right, this is the real you.” Because crowds don’t want the polish. They want a comic who’s the same guy on and off. That’s the best comics – like, Louis C.K., walking on the stage, doesn’t go, “All right, pick it up, here it comes.” He’s just the same. Even if you see a comic bombing, and he goes, “Well, this is awful,” that gets a laugh. Because that’s the first real thing he’s said.

That last line.  In my experience watching amateur/bad standup this is super true.  In all the best comedy interviews they eventually get to the weird paradox of how hard it is to be honest, how uncomfortable and painful and terrifying it is to find your actual honest self and present it.  The drunkest, dumbest audience in the world can distinguish fakery/honesty in about two seconds.

Cruel twists:

  • the you that you want to be or think you are probably isn’t the you that you are.  Learning that must be crushing/terrifying/impossibly frustrating.
  • if you’re doing standup comedy in the first place, you at the very least have some unresolved tension between the “you” you’re living with and the “you” the world perceives
  • being on stage is so weird and unnatural that achieving the comfort to project your best “you” while standing there will require agonizing failures that will hurt and rattle you and could possibly turn you back on yourself in a way that’ll make you worse at being the best you, in a wrenching spiral!

A long process of reconciling various yous, amazing when achieved.

That painting of commedia dell’Arte is by Karel Dujardin.  Here’s his self-portrait:

 He gets it.

 the young Dujardin went to Italy, and joined the Bentvueghels group of painters in Rome, among whom he was known as “Barba di Becco”, “goat-beard”, or Bokkebaart. Here he encountered his first artistic successes.

(Mark Normand photo from his twitter)

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