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LM: #268: Good is not the goal

June 17 2024 – 10:00am

Recently, I did my first set of open-mic stand-up comedy.

I had fantasized about doing it for years and had always found a way to talk myself out of it. But given all I write about creativity, I could no longer stand the feeling of hypocrisy for not following this creative whim.

As I searched myself, I found an irrational desire standing in the way of actually doing it: I wanted to be good.

I realized I had pictured my first stand-up set going a lot like the specials of my favorite comedians. Which is ridiculous.

I know from listening to interviews of hundreds of comedians that it takes at least ten years of consistent practice to be good at stand-up comedy. Twenty to be great. And by the time I see a comedian’s special, they’ve spent a year or two testing the material hundreds of times.

I don’t see being a stand-up comedian in my future. I would hate the lifestyle, and in any case, I live in a non-English-speaking country, where there are almost no opportunities to perform in English – and even then it would be an hour drive away. There are simply no ways for me to get in the reps it would take to be good.

But just because you can’t be good at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Even if you don’t do well at, say, stand-up comedy, it doesn’t mean you won’t learn from the experience: about writing, performance, fear, and creativity.

So while I was in some U.S. city recently, I put together a five-minute set, and performed at an open mic. I didn’t tell anyone I was going, and I used a stage name.

How did it go? It doesn’t matter. Good is not the goal.

Aphorism: “Make an effort. Just pure, stupid, ‘No idea what I’m doing here,’ effort…. Swing the bat and pray is not a bad approach to a lot of things.” —Jerry Seinfeld

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