I recently took a vacation with my family aboard the Carnival Dream cruise ship. One of the trip’s many highlights happened almost nightly, when the four of us made our way to the back of the ship and the Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez. This is a place where passengers can, as the club’s emcee likes to announce, “laugh your aft off.”
I witnessed more live comedy performances in seven nights than I previously had my entire life, and I couldn’t help drawing parallels between sitting down to write and standing up to tell jokes.
Here are three ways writers and comedians are alike:
1. Both take risks every time they put something out there.
How many stones does it take it get up on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers and start making jokes about how your marriage fell apart or why you dropped out of college with just one semester left? Well, the same question applies to writing about the death of your sister for an audience of unknown readers or pitching an idea for a new business startup to a group of skeptical investors. In both cases, though, the reward is worth the risk. Comedians might get some laughs (and probably knowing nods from fellow divorced people and college dropouts, too). Similarly, writers often experience catharsis, professional success or simply the thrill of getting their words out into the world. Few comedians and writers succeed without a willingness to also fail.
2. Both are in search of a reaction, good or bad.
One of the five comedians I saw onboard the Carnival Dream bombed – so much so that he told his bewildered audience that his jokes are like comedy grenades: He throws them, waits a few seconds, and hopes they go off. This guy threw a lot of grenades that didn’t go off. But I give him credit. Writers throw word grenades all the time and wait for a reaction. Regardless of what we write and for whom, we want our words to be read and acted upon. Blog posts and emails often conclude with a call to action, and articles and stories are meant to generate some kind of emotion. In a society that reduces words to emojis, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that words still matter. We just have to find the correct ones to use at any given time.
3. Both never stop creating.
One of the funniest comedians onboard the Carnival Dream was Tim Cavanagh, who offstage carried a black spiral notebook whenever I saw him. I’d like to think he used it to jot down ideas for new bits or make notes about the audience’s reaction to particular jokes. I do something similar using the Evernote app on my iPhone. I’m tapping and dictating blog, article and book ideas all the time — even at stoplights and while I’m in bed. You never know when creativity will hit, so we all need to be prepared.