Until a few years ago, I felt the need to constantly ‘prove’ that I’m a comedian. I would force myself to network with strangers, spend more time chilling with other comics, and keep myself on a ‘comedic high’. But I found that over time, long shows became tiring, green rooms made me cranky, and I would sneak out the back door to avoid post-show meet-and-greets with fans. Turns out I’m an introvert.
There are two kinds of people—extroverts, who gain their energy from other people; and introverts, who recharge by being alone. If you are an introverted standup comedian in an extroverted world, here are some things you can do to make the most of your abilities and reduce the strain on your nervous system.
1. Get some alone time
A post show adrenaline high is quite common for comedians. The energy is amazing and you’re tripping wires on hormones you didn’t know your body can generate! But sometimes, you find yourself knackered, yawning, and quoting Taylor Swift break up lyrics just to get out of a conversation. That may be a sure sign that your introverted butt needs to split-lickety. The peer pressure to stay out longer can be strong, but don’t get sucked into the dark side! Introverts can feel weary after excessive interaction, and would do best to spend alone time to recharge. Getting your solo time to read a book or listen to music to unwind can do wonderful things for your mood and set you up quite nicely for the next day’s work.
Writing alone comes naturally to introverts and is usually the best way to create strong and insightful bits. However, during a pandemic, you may want to create a small writing group of like-minded people to work with in silence. I have personally found the ‘Library effect’ to be quite effective in moving forward with your work.
2. Rehearse before you reach the venue
While this is a good rule for all comedians, rehearsing before you reach the venue is particularly helpful for introverts. Distractions like kitchen noises, chatty green rooms and last-minute show production panic can make the venues a difficult place to rehearse your set. Rehearsing before you reach the venue allows you to save most of your mind-space to manage the venue stressors, especially if you’ve already had a full working day at your day job. I myself have stayed an extra 20 minutes inside my car just to rehearse my set before I walk into the Wicked Witch’s Green Room Castle.
3. Limit green room interaction
Green rooms can generate Tikuji-ni-Wadi levels of fun for comedians given the potential for backstage banter and catch-ups with old friends! However, pre-gig conversations could affect your state of mind and render your day’s preparation futile. For example, you could be rehearsing your set out loud, and another comic may casually suggest a different line or throw in a new concept as a friendly idea. Between green room gossip and last minute new information, pre-gig banter could throw an introvert off merely seconds before they go on stage. It’s best to limit your pre-stage green room time and save all the pitter patter chatter about page 3 and chess openings for after your set. This ensures that your stage time remains pristine and you get the best out of your set, audience and front row.
4. Manage negative feedback
All comedians have learned to grow thicker skins and that’s our superpower! Even so, emotional reactions to negative comments will still surface, and this is especially true for introverts. Sometimes we tend to read negative feedback in the mood that we are in, rather than how it was intended, which throw us into a downward spiral that’s about as healthy as getting back with a toxic ex.
It’s therefore quite useful to decide on a clear policy on dealing with trolls or negative feedback. I, for one, do not even address negative tweets or messages, and only reply to positive comments. Maybe deleting all negative posts on media may work for you. Defining these boundaries and ‘algorithmic rules’ allows you the mental space to do the real work of editing your bit or creating your new show. As Alfred Pennyworth says, “Some people just want to watch the world burn”. It might do you well to have a plan on how to deal with them.
Pro-tip: You can and should take constructive criticism from people who you trust on your terms—i.e. you call the meeting, ask for specific feedback on specific aspects of your set, when you are mentally and emotionally prepared to receive such advice/suggestions.
5. Pace yourself
Multitasking is the whack-a-mole of efficiency—it’s exciting and fun but in the end you leave with a hammer and some holes. I’m a proud single-tasker because I like my tasks the way I like my gulab jamuns—one at a time. In the creation process, we draw into reserves of past experiences that require a certain amount of focus. Use time-blocking (even Elon Musk uses it) to allot meaningful chunks of time to get some writing or rehearsing done.
Introverts also like to take their time with their work. A story or bit often evolves over time. Write it, leave it, come back to it later, maybe after a few weeks or years even. Don’t rush a bit out at the first opportunity you write it. But at the same time, if you think you’re 80% ready, then start testing it on stage, otherwise you risk falling into a perfectionism trap and the bit never sees the light of halogen.
6. Pick your marketing battles
Social media is now a free resource for comedians to proudly display their talents and let people know that they exist. However, for many introverts, getting on social media is more painful than a front row full of garrulous geriatrics. You don’t have to chat with your fans or do a YouTube gaming stream just because everyone else is doing it. Figure out ways to display your work that you can handle without getting stressed out. Even if the world is waiting around for you to do an Insta-live Q&A, you don’t need to pander. I, for one, prefer to pre-write my jokes and let a scheduler app do its magic. There are more creative ways to market yourself that are more suited to you, like writing a column for a comedy publication to inform people about your comedy writing workshop!
We are fortunate to live in an accepting time where we celebrate individuality. So if you’re introverted, own it. The social pressures of the typical extroverted comedian may get to you. In the long run, if you acknowledge your personality, you’ll be happier, achieve more, and honestly, people do learn to respect you for it.
Kunal Rao is a stand up comedian, writer and podcaster. His stand up comedy writing workshop for basic writing techniques is running on 29 November 2020 online. Click here: https://bit.ly/368mF5e
Follow him on social media to get a special discount code.