Eliminating My Comfort Zone to Enhance Creativity Through Stand Up Comedy

Why I do unpaid stand up comedy. … by Joey Jordan

I was leery when first asked to write about my random comedy shows and how they help me with creative thinking. Leery about delving into a topic that was both beyond my pay grade and knowledge base. I’m kidding, of course, writers don’t get paid. I am slightly afraid, however, at making grandiose statements about the creative process and which activities inform what – having only recently surpassed my first anniversary in the creative field.

That being said, my convictions are firmly held, so I will oblige in laying them out to dry.

My first foray into stand up comedy was the result of fate, so to speak. A competition of comics was being held in Charleston, South Carolina, the charming and inexhaustible little city where I attended college. Upon deciding that the 1k grand prize was mine for the taking, I started writing jokes and told my then rather large circle of friends of the occasion. Well, turned out the contest didn’t have any more open spots. But it became clear that I had unintentionally amassed a small gathering of fans. And they wanted comedy, dammit. The contest soon appeared to be irrelevant.

I went to a local bar and persuaded them to let me set up shop; speakers, a mic, a friend of mine DJ’ing with a bunch of chairs set up. The first time I did comedy was in front of over 100 people and lasted just shy of half an hour. Impressive, apparently, from what I’ve heard. Yet the gluttonous amount of bourbon I consumed deserves most of the credit. I’ve since done four shows of similar caliber, and learned volumes from a sober perspective.

Yet this piece is neither about my road to comedy nor subsequent undertakings. But rather how they (positively) shaped my creative thinking. And one thing I can say with certainty about standup, at least personally, is that it puts me outside my comfort zone. A practice that lends itself to a plethora of insights about the human condition, invaluable glimpses at our nature that otherwise would have transpired unobserved or never transpired at all.  A notion that has since been vindicated from creatives much senior than I. And I’m not speaking about the audience, their reactions, nor anything else external that may happen, but rather how you react to the situation. How it makes you feel. Because it doesn’t matter how you get there, what truly matters is how you respond.

And when I say it doesn’t matter how you get there, it really doesn’t. A creative guru of mine once told me about much more esoteric and deliberate ways than standup that he used to get outside the comfort zone; standing in an elevator facing the wrong direction, engaging strangers on the bus, sitting down next to a homeless man, going on long walks at night, etc. How any of these things could possibly enlighten the creative process is understandably perplexing. Yet the creative process is hardly understood. Where do my creative thoughts come from? From inside my head? Well my mind certainly isn’t restricted to the confines of my skull, so where exactly? If we draw creative insight at least to some degree from an external source, then what are the barriers that inhibit this transaction?

This is how the conversation about creativity and how to maximize it quickly digresses into quasi-scientific and almost new age speculation, and hence the original skepticism. Yet I believe it’s safe to say that breaching from normality, however that may be, can only help. Because despite not being entirely clear on which mindsets are ideal for creative expression, there are states of mind that are assuredly detrimental. Fear, namely. Fear of making something that no one loves. Anxiety over how you’ll be perceived. Stress and self doubt. These are the things that are more or less universally accepted as deleterious to creativity. Things you get one step closer at mastering every time you leave your comfort zone.

My experiences with standup, as well with other unorthodox comfort zone-exercises mentioned above, have forever altered the lens in which I view creative thought. The crushing insecurity that arose deep within me when imminently delivering thirty minutes of comedy – sober, mind you – cannot be overstated. Perhaps from a seasoned comic, who has worked and earned his way up from five minutes, who has chiseled his act into a finely tuned machine, may see things differently. But from my point of view, every single time I’ve done comedy has been spaced out by months or even years, with never a joke told twice. Each time the potential of falling flat on my face in front of a large group of my peers was very real.

What I gained from these ventures was the experience of having that fear live inside me, and how to handle it. That believing in yourself and the work you’ve done is the strongest weapon against insecurity and its ancillary emotions. That the self confidence which is brutally necessary to succeed is predicated on you not being afraid to fail. Because fail you will, and often. But what matters more is your willing and active participation in that instrumental circle of development.

Insecurities become crystal clear. Suppressed doubts come boiling to the surface. It doesn’t matter if it’s embarking on an ambitious project, a solo trip to the woods, or an annual stand up comedy show, it pays to venture out onto the limb in the creative field. Dare I say it’s worth it regardless. There is simply much to learn, about oneself and hence everyone else, when you willingly tread into a vulnerable situation. The only thing we can ask of ourselves is to be keen observers, to come away with new understandings each time we delve into the unknown.

What’s that you say? More creativity? Here: The Art of the Six Second Video and How Vine’s Unknown Celebrities are Absolutely Killing It. 

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