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October 7, 2014
by Jonathan Diener

I’ve grown up with a mutual admiration for music and comedy. When I’m not listening to music or playing it, I’m probably watching Comedy Central or reading anything that makes me laugh. Maybe I do it to get my mind off of the harsh realities of everyday life or maybe I just need some mental stimulation. Regardless, I don’t think I’m alone when I declare there’s an unspoken bond between musicians and comedians. In fact, I think deep down every musician wants to be a comedian and vice versa. Aside from being entertainers, there’s layers of similarities between the two that I felt could use some exploration.

Crowd Interaction

You can bet it’s a bummer for a punk rock band to play their hearts out to a crowd standing completely still. If they had a crazy circle pit, crowd surfing or stage diving it would feel a lot better. You could gauge the success of a show based on the crowd reaction alone. The same goes for comedians. If you’re telling jokes and you get nothing in return, it probably wasn’t successful unless you’re some kind of Andy Kaufman-level genius. It doesn’t matter how much confidence you have when you’re at the mercy of the crowd in front of you. Sometimes you’ll sell out a show or play to nobody and your entire set energy is reliant on how packed the room is. After all, you’re a performer and your job is to entertain. You should probably have at least one person interested in watching you do your thing. I’ve seen bands and comedians scream at the crowd for looking unenthused or being too far from the stage and it’s sometimes embarrassing. For some reason we always keep coming back and even on the worst days we still love what we do.

Therapeutic Release

There seems to be an underlying theme of sadness in most performance art. I can attest to having more inspiration from digging into the upsetting parts of my life and using music or jokes to help me get over it. It’s the equivalent of writing in a journal or posting on your Facebook feed, but you have a melody or a punchline to hold up an invisible shield to protect you from your audience. Sure, you’ve heard your fair share of sappy tell-all sad songs, but believe it or not, most comedians are going through the same thing. A great sense of humor is usually developed from dealing with insecurities your whole life. People love when they can relate and all you have to do is talk about yourself in a creative way. Even if you don’t care about the people who love what you do, you’re helping yourself. Just like songwriting, you have to be careful to make sure your despair doesn’t overwhelm you and you can be a much happier person after getting it all out. 

Attention

Being in the spotlight is an amazing feeling. You have the satisfaction of looking out at the crowd and knowing they’re all watching you (or their cell phones). Some people were never the best public speakers, but the second you put a microphone in front of them their whole world changes. You get this indescribable power for the first time. I was pretty quiet growing up because I had a hard time articulating and getting my point across. When I was playing in my band for years I had enough tough love from my peers to show me that I’m actually doing something people care about. I gained confidence and instead of dreading being the center of attention, I embraced it. I’m not a selfish person, I just love to feed off of the energy of other people. There are plenty of entertainers who are still introverts, but they’re still putting out albums or comedy specials. For that at least thirty-minute set, you’re someone else and it’s the best feeling imaginable.

Traveling / Touring

Without a television show or major push for an album, you’re nothing unless you tour. Your life turns to traveling with other entertainers playing all over the world and doing the same set night after night. You get used to sleeping on your friends’ floors or the same cheap hotel rooms. Just copy and paste your life into a new city for a month or two. After you’ve done it for a while you start making the really good money, but end up being gone most of the time and not able to spend it the way you’d like. Simply saying the city’s name you’re in gets applause or what we call a “cheap pop.” You count the days until you’re home and then you count the days until you leave again. You’ll probably lose your mind a little bit, but you’ll be able to relate to everyone else sharing your drive for success. The constant traveling is actually creative fuel for stage banter, jokes, songs, etc. After a while you make new friends and fans and wherever you go you feel like you’re not too far from home.

Response To Criticism

The internet is great at making careers, but the little shitheads with their negative comments can really get to you. Everyone always says to never read the comments… but it’s so much fun. After your selective scrolling lets you bathe in praise, you’ll run into a brick wall of haters. Even if they don’t know you, or didn’t fully dig into whatever product you’re showcasing, you are the worst to them. These “trolls” (as the teens call them) will do whatever it takes to get a response out of you. The general public seems to forget that entertainers are people too, and musicians/comedians are more emotionally fucked up than the average person so we’ll tend to pay attention. Sometimes it’s eye-opening to get constructive criticism that helps you realize you’re acting like a pompous dick. The drunk asshole yelling in the back of the crowd will be a reoccurring guest and it’s your job to learn how to deal with him or her. Quick wits and keeping your calm will save you more than you know. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to verbally abuse them from stage when you finally get the chance. Small victories, man.

Making It

You could be scraping by for half of your life and still playing tiny clubs while the acts who opened for you years ago are now massive superstars. It’s the nature of the beast. Maybe your big shot peers watered themselves down to be digested a bit easier by the mainstream audience or it was finally a right place/right time scenario. It’s all cyclical if you really think about it. If you’re an underdog breakout star you’ll have to do whatever it takes to get any kind of longevity for your career. You’ll end up a one hit wonder or The Beatles. The best way to stick out is not by being the best, but being the most YOU you can be. It’s not a gimmick or a shtick, it’s just accentuating the inner you. I’ve seen both comedians and musicians reinvent themselves years down the road and finally be at the peak of their success. Marc Maron seems to be a perfect example of this. Just keep making friends while you can and don’t burn bridges. You’ll most likely cross them again one day.

The world really sucks sometimes and it’s so nice to have distractions. Chill out, man. It’s okay to breathe once in a while and indulge in entertainment. You’re not dumbing yourself down, you’re just relating to someone as regular and as messed up as you are. Comedians and musicians are just regular people who chose an alternative career path and went for it. Both are either living in a tiny messy apartment or a badass MTV Cribs-style home depending where they end up on the entertainment food chain. I sometimes fantasize about walking on stage with just a microphone instead of the hour-long process of loading our band’s van full of gear into the venue. I’m sure comedians think about having other people on stage with them for a change to help divert the attention. We’re really not that different. We just want people to notice… and maybe a nice paycheck once in a while.

Jonathan Diener plays drums in Braidedveins and The Swellers, the latter of whom will be touring the northeast for the final time this November.

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