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Maybe You’re Just Not Good Enough

January 20, 2013

I write a lot of inspirational stuff on Connected Comedy designed to encourage comics at all levels to think about what’s possible in their careers and to understand that your fate really is in your own hands these days.

This is not going to be one of those posts.

Instead, I want to explain why it’s just as important to be a realist as it is an idealist.

While I firmly believe you should constantly experiment with different forms of comedy, marketing, and approaches to build an audience and further your career, you also need to be honest with yourself.

If you’re doing all these things and they’re not working, if you’re not making any progress despite your hard work, then you need to face another possibility – maybe you’re just not good enough.

I know that probably hurts to read and hurts even more to think about, but it’s important to allow yourself to consider that possibility. Maybe your jokes, your live performance, your videos, your podcast, or whatever else you’re creating just isn’t good enough to catch on with potential fans.

Great content can’t succeed without great marketing, but it’s also true that great marketing can’t succeed without great content. So no matter how much you listen to my advice and no matter how much work you put into trying to attract a fanbase, if your content (online or on stage) isn’t good enough, you will fail.

But the point of this article isn’t to depress you and it’s not to convince you that you need to give up if you’re not good enough.

The point is that you need to honestly assess your comedic talent and recognize that the reasons things aren’t clicking for you may have more to do with your skills than your lack of marketing prowess. And if that’s the case, you need to focus your efforts on figuring out how to get better as a comedian (or blogger, podcaster, video creator, writer, etc.).

You don’t need to give up on learning how to use social media and all the things I preach about to attract new fans, but you need to understand that none of it will work if you don’t have the quality content to back it up.

I can teach you how to get people to see your videos, to visit your website, or to come to your show, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to like what they see. That’s up to you to deliver and if you do, then all the stuff I discuss will pay big dividends.

So what should you do if you’re not good enough? The simple answer is get better – but of course, that’s not that simple. But it’s also not impossible.

You can always get better with work and I hope you come away from this article understanding that.

But if you can’t be honest enough with yourself to realize that you’re not good enough and you’re wondering why none of the things I discuss are working for you? Well, then you’ve got a bigger problem.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Canney January 20, 2013 at 7:52 am

Great topic and right on target. I’ve worked with many that say you don’t have to be funny to make it and I disagree, pleasing the people you’re supposed to be entertaining should be the most important thing with any comedian. I wish I could email this article to a few “comics” I know.

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Gregory McDivitt January 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I hate to say it…but you didn’t really say what needs to be said. There are literally thousands of people who consider themselves to be comedians in this country who simply aren’t funny, and never will be funny. They don’t need to hear that they should just keep working at it. That’s the last thing they should do. What they should do is face the fact that they’re simply not nearly as funny as they think they are, and quit. As in get out of the business. For good. Period.

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Gregory McDivitt January 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm

This was painting with too broad of a brush. There aren’t “thousands” of comedians in the business who aren’t funny, and I shouldn’t have said that. Most of the people who aren’t funny at all never advance beyond open mic nights. Audiences know what to expect at open mic nights, and if they don’t mind watching, more power to the aspiring comics who won’t give up.

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Ty Davis January 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Heavy hitting stuff.

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Robert January 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I think one reason you have a lot of comics who aren’t good enough but continue doing it is because they never got up the courage to take their mediocre or plain bad material to a place like New York or L.A. where it’s up against quality material and a much more discerning audience.

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Jordan Cooper January 20, 2013 at 7:28 pm

+1 on this, Robert. Many comics don’t strive to get better because they haven’t seen, experienced or put themselves up against what truly is the standard of ‘killer’ material.

I don’t think this necessarily comes down to making ‘the move’, but is a byproduct of comics who simply aren’t students of the craft and passionate about the art of stand-up. Those that actually are usually don’t have these issues.

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Ryan Shores January 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm

also, you have to remember that there are comics (yes, in L.A. too) that simply hear laughs that ARENT there. i have seen people have BRUTAL sets and walk off with a victory fist and tell me how they CRUSHED it. it goes BEYOND not being honest with one’s self and boarders on dilusion. also, some guys take the pleasantry “nice set” too seriously. “dude, all the comics tell me ‘nice set’ when im done! i must be amazing!!!”

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Jordan Cooper January 29, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Absolutely agree. As I usually say:

A bad comic gets off of stage after bombing and pats himself on the back over the one joke that got a laugh.

A good comic gets off of stage after killing and beats himself up over the one joke that didn’t get a laugh.

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Mark January 21, 2013 at 1:37 am

Alright, gotta weigh in on this…

I got my first 4-5 years under my belt in St. Louis, MO. Then I moved out to LA, terrified of the fact that I was entering the “Big Times.” There were going to be a lot more comedians and a lot better comedians.

Well, there certainly are a ton more comedians in LA, no doubt about that. As far as better? Your average STL comedian (and I would venture to guess any other medium-sized market city comedian) is much better than your average LA comedian, statistically speaking.

The hardest thing about LA is wading through the sheer mass of comedians, not how good they are.

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Robert January 21, 2013 at 4:16 am

It is true, guys, that there are plenty of good comedians in smaller markets such as St. Louis or, in my case, Philadelphia and Boston. Some comedians may stay in smaller markets out of personal choice. I do admit that my first statement didn’t account for the fact that, in NYC or LA, there are still comedians who aren’t any good.

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Ward Anderson March 5, 2013 at 9:42 am

Let’s not pretend that NYC or LA audiences are oh-so-special and better than the rest of the Continent, please.

There are tons of mediocre comedians in both cities, playing to mediocre audiences, thanks to apathetic club owners…even in those cities.

Hell, half the clubs in NYC are Bringer Shows. And many of the comics there have great 10 minute showcase sets but can’t do a full hour onstage, despite having already done a “Late Show” spot.

We, as comics, always blame the comic. We always go: “Here’s what WE do wrong”, etc.

But let’s not pretend that sometimes people are overlooked because of an over-saturated industry run by people looking to make their jobs the easiest they can. Yeah, some comics are ignored because they aren’t very good. And others because those in charge would rather someone else discover the talent first so that they can latch onto it.

Welcome to the BUSINESS side of show business. The show isn’t nearly as important as the business.

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Mark January 20, 2013 at 5:13 pm

“If you’re sure it’s gonna work, then it’s not art. Then it’s not new, then it’s not innovative.” – Seth Godin

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Gregory McDivitt January 20, 2013 at 6:27 pm

This sounds profound, but is basically nonsense. Godin is good at that. Does anyone really believe that Michelangelo wasn’t sure that the Sistine Chapel paint job was going to work? And who says something has to be innovative to be art, or to be good comedy? Seinfeld certainly didn’t break any new ground with his observational comedy, but he’s always been very funny. The same is true of many other very good comedians.

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Mark January 21, 2013 at 1:42 am

Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s certainly not nonsense. There’s definitely resonance of truth within.

I think he’s trying to say that art/businesses/ideas that really change the game are different, are edgy. True, Seinfeld’s act wasn’t groundbreaking. But the only reason he’s this huge is because was on a hit show that was intensely groundbreaking.

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Gregory McDivitt January 21, 2013 at 7:30 am

No, it’s nonsense. If he meant “art that really changes the game” or avant-garde art, he should have said so. But he said “art.” Avant-garde art isn’t the only kind of art by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it the only good form of art. The idea that any band/comedian/painter who only achieved success because they kept at it for years in the face of disinterest or critical disdain because they believed in what they were producing aren’t artists is just plain silly.

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Gregory McDivitt January 21, 2013 at 7:45 am

Also, Seinfeld was a great show, one of the funniest sitcoms ever, if not the funniest. But intensely groundbreaking? Not hardly. It was a sitcom. That format had been around for 40 years when the show started.

Mark January 21, 2013 at 11:05 am

Give me one other example of Larry David’s unique humor on Seinfeld that is on any other television show prior. That’s what was groundbreaking: a show about nothing.

As far as the “art” to which he was referring, that was the context of that quote. He was talking about game changers. And one could argue that that’s exactly what “creativity” is: creating new things.

Brett Crandall January 21, 2013 at 1:39 am

While I do agree with this article in theory, I have to say that there is always room for improvement.

I’m reading Steve Martin’s book right now and the first half of it is him explaining what he did, how he was not that good (and no not just in hindsight) and how he worked relentlessly to get better. Had he decided back then to give up because people weren’t buying into his act, we’d never have his comedic genius.

He didn’t use twitter, Facebook, blogs or really any media or advertising. Yes, it was a different time then, however just because you don’t have 5,000 Facebook friends, or 50,000 twitter followers doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It may mean you’re a terrible marketer and self promoter, Like most comics.
I didn’t get into comedy to become a fucking marketing expert. I didn’t get into comedy to book rooms or other acts, and I certainly didn’t get into comedy to take on every possible aspect of my career. That’s called delegation and its been around for years. Millionaires have used delegation over and over and over again. If you don’t know what to do find someone that does.
I got into comedy to make people I don’t know laugh. What you’re saying in this article is essentially false. You’re saying that because I may not be good at one thing, IE getting marketing hits on the internet, that I may not be good at the other IE, comedy. That’s like saying that I’m a terrible race car driver because I don’t know how to service the car. The logic has a huge hole in it and is patently false. I’m not sure what rule of logic this entire line of thinking violates but I’m pretty sure there is at least one if not more.

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Gregory McDivitt January 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm

No, it wasn’t a “show about nothing.” A show about nothing would have been 22 minutes of black screen interrupted by several ads every few minutes. It was the standard sitcom formula of the show’s star(s) getting into and sometimes out of wacky predicaments. That their predicaments/topics/subject matter were sometimes more pedestrian/mundane than other shows doesn’t change the fact that it had stock characters (Everyman | Wacky Neighbor | Born Loser) and standard TV plot formats. Lucille Ball’s conveyor belt shenanigans episode was hardly a “show about something”. Seinfeld was brilliant, but not “intensely groundbreaking.” Talked about masturbation? Pretty sure shows like “Soap” and “Mary Hartmann” went there first. One episode was about Jerry and his date trivializing a movie about the Holocaust? That’s nothing – Hogan’s Heroes spent years trivializing the actual Holocaust.

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Mark January 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I don’t know what you’re fighting for, here. If you want an excuse to put out art that doesn’t push any boundaries, you have my blessing.

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Gregory McDivitt January 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I’m not fighting. I simply pointed out that Seth Godin’s comment is pretty silly, even if it does sound profound. When you crank out the verbiage like Godin does, you’re bound to say some pretty lame stuff from time to time. When did having a civil discussion with someone you disagree with become “fighting”, anyway?

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Ronald Renwick January 21, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Everyone can be good enough. How hard do you want to work for it? The LA and NY thing is bullshit. Sure there is more chance to “be seen” but that’s not everything. If you’re great you can be great no matter where you are. If being the greatest or going for money is what you’re looking for then quit. You will probably never find it. Do it because you love it. Forget the rest.

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The Don Of Comedy January 27, 2013 at 2:32 pm

For me, the art is in the jokes I write. When the audience laughs at the jokes that I made up, that is the payday for me. I do not care about the fame or the money. There is very little room at the top anyway. I do it because I love it and I would do it for free, and I have.

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karen fitzgerald January 28, 2013 at 7:37 am

I’ve had this discussion a few times with friends and then with other comics – Sometimes I am the one asking myself am I good enough, and other times it’s other comics asking if maybe they aren’t…
It is true, not everyone can be funny….well, let me rephrase that, Of course anyone can be funny, anyone can be a baker, a writer and actress or actor….but not everyone can be GREAT at that…..You do have to have reality checks with yourself in comedy and pretty much everything else you do in life….
Appreciate the article Josh – Thanks

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davon magwood January 28, 2013 at 9:06 am

Yeah I like this post. It’s honest, and to the point.

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BATTL January 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Very good read, thanks Josh. You’re perfectly right in saying that great promotion is utterly pointless unless you’ve got a good end product. Then again it worked for Cloverfield. I believe that good work can only be attained through the release of and development of “bad work”. Everyone starts off crap and only will get better through practise. On the subject of “smaller” markets V “bigger” markets, I live in the UK in a place that has no comedy scene. The only way to perform is to travel to “bigger” markets and put yourself up against better performers. I find this easier as when I perform in my home town my bit will normally be tacked into a open mic night where the audience have turned up to see endless covers of Adele songs.

I agree with Mark in that there are more comedians in the “bigger” markets but this merely thins out the quality.

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Corey February 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Great article. Yeah if yous suck, your not getting a youtube vid to go viral, but my question is WHAT DOES MAKE A YOUTUBE VIDEO GO VIRAL? There are now so many really funny videos out there by stand up’s, sketch comedy troups, college humour, classic clips by Cosby, Pryor Eeverybody else) that how the hell does a newer guy possibly do something can can eclipse those pieces of work??? Im not talking about a comic getting 20,000 views, im talking about a comic getting 20 million views. It just seems like at this point there is sooo much competition out there, really funny competition, that quantum leaping these people, and getting everyone to talk about you, seems almost impossible.

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