When I talk to comedians about the state of their career and how they can take it to the next level, one of the first things I try to assess is why they’re struggling to get where they want to go.
In many cases, they need a better understanding of how to use all the tools at their disposal to grow their fanbase and further their career – something I’m always happy to help with.
But too often, what they need goes beyond a business and marketing strategy. What they actually need, first and foremost, is to conquer the fear of failure that prevents them from success.
It’s incredibly easy to paralyze your career with your own fear of failure. I see it happen all the time – your fear of failure prevents you from doing the things you ultimately need to do to succeed.
Have you ever heard comics say things like this?
“I don’t write a blog because nobody’s going to read it anyway.”
“I don’t want to put any videos on YouTube, because what if it makes me look bad?”
“I block all the negative comments on my videos and website, because I don’t want other people to see bad things about me.”
“I quit Twitter because it’s too tough to deal with all the haters on there.” (see: Jay Mohr)
“I don’t want to produce my own live show, because what if nobody comes?”
These comments (and countless others like them) are made by people whose fear of failure is dictating their career.
Who cares if “nobody” reads your blog initially? The only way to guarantee that nobody reads your blog is to not write one.
You’re not going to put something you don’t think is funny on YouTube, so why would you let your fear of a negative comment prevent you from sharing material that you truly believe is funny? And can you ever really know if something is funny if you don’t put it out there?
You can never know if a joke actually works until you tell it to a crowd – would you not tell it because you’re afraid people will think you’re bad if you do?
Comedy is inherently subjective – the chances are there will be just as many people that don’t like what you do as there are that enjoy it. Not everybody loves Chris Rock. And not everybody hates Dane Cook.
A fear of failure also extends to the promotion of your creations. The vast majority of comedians I know do little to nothing when it comes to promoting their creations (beyond the occasional Facebook or Twitter update), and they actively try to avoid promoting their work because they mistakenly believe that “promoting” somehow makes them less of an “artist.”
This isn’t remotely true. If you hate promoting yourself and your work it’s not because you’re an artist, it’s because you’re afraid.
When you create something as a comedian, you do so because you believe other people will be entertained by it, will relate to it, or will be engaged by it. You inherently believe that your creations provide value to people.
Therefore, you would think you would want to expose as many people as possible to your creation – not for your own benefit, but for theirs. You created something of value, and you want to share that value with them. This is what promotion is – you just probably don’t think of it that way.
So, assuming you believe your creations have value, then why do you refuse (or avoid) trying to share that value with an audience?
It’s likely because your fear of failure is once again getting in the way.
Do questions like these sound familiar?
“What if people don’t like my video?”
“Won’t I seem like a spammer if I’m promoting my stuff?”
“If it’s good, people will just find it on their own, won’t they?”
“Don’t lots of comics make it without ever promoting their own stuff?”
“Can’t I just be a comedian? Why do I have to be a businessman?”
These questions are excuses to justify not promoting your creations because you’re afraid that people may not enjoy what you created. Sure, not everybody is going to see the value you hoped to create, but it’s likely that some people will – and those are the people you should care about.
You shouldn’t create anything you don’t believe is good. And you shouldn’t be afraid to tell the world about something you created that is good. Because if you don’t work to make sure as many people as possible are exposed to it, you’re not going to have a career.
Don’t let your fear of failure prevent you from having the career you desire. Unfortunately, too many comedians do.
11 thoughts on “The One Fear Every Comedian Needs To Conquer”
I’m 24 and I’ve been doing standup for two years.
I think of it more as fear of success. Comics want to put themselves out there, but I think most have a real respect for the craft and for the amount of time things take. Nobody serious about being a well-known comic wants to pop before they’re ready.
“I don’t want to be a business man,” is not a cop out or an excuse – I’m a comic, and I address my fear of people possibly not liking what I’ve made every time I get on stage. Is that really the fear I need to conquer? Maybe what I’m really saying is, “I know potentially how good this product can be, but I’m not there yet, and I don’t want to be a salesman for something that doesn’t exist.”
I know I’m not ready. I feel like I’m holding back the hardcore marketing stuff…until I know I’m at that stage of my career. Maybe you could write a post about waiting. There are lots of good reasons to not put yourself out there now. Not everyone is Bo Burnham.
Hey Adam, those are fair points – let me clarify a little what I mean.
I would never suggest that anybody put out anything they don’t think is good – I’m more referencing people who are comfortable with where they’re at regarding their skill level but still don’t put anything out there.
Also, what you mention leads to another interesting question – theoretically, you will always be getting better – you’ll be better after 4 years than you are now, and better at 6 years than 4 years, and better at 8 years than 6 years. It’s all an evolution.
But at some point along the way, you have to pull the trigger and start putting stuff out there. It can be easy for people to fall into the trap of waiting to be “better,” because you’ll always be better a year from now than you are now.
Also, I would suggest that if you look at comedy beyond just standup, the only way to really improve is by doing it (just like you have to get on stage a lot to improve at standup).
Your 10th YouTube video will be better than your first. You’ll be better at blogging after you’ve done it for a year. The only way to get good at podcasting is to do a podcast, etc.
Adam I agree with you completely on a personal level. That being said, I’m not sure what market you’re performing in, but from my experience I would have to say, most comics do not have a “real respect” for the craft. I have been very slow to promote myself, producing only what I consider the best content I can before I release it. However, I have had a lot of comics I respect and who have given me advice tell me I should push myself a little more.
I used to say I was “afraid of success” but then I had to examine what I though success was. If you think it’s getting more work than you can handle that is valid. I have been getting spots on better shows and been nervous I couldn’t live up to those expectations. That’s the business of comedy though. It’s just weird because you seem to be defining success through business terms but hoping to achieve it through comedy.
Consider redefining your success through comedy terms. My goal is to perform the type of material I want, and not what the audience thinks they want. This has made me a tad less marketable than my peers up front, but slowly and steadily I’m gaining the upper-hand. But more than that, I am far happier with myself doing it this way.
I have been learning to separate the business side with the art side, and constantly striving to stay ahead in both. It doesn’t make you a poor comedian to try and be a good business man, but being a poor business man can leave you a “poor” comedian.
i agree with Adam i feel that im holding back as far as my standup career, i also feel that is the fear of success and failure, for example, the first few times i did standup i really went “maximum” on stage and really ran the crowd. But when i started to hear really good comments like i was fantastic or i think you can make it i was afraid that i was advancing too fast. i felt if i advance too much i would get arrogant or would run over someones toes….so i held back. after that i had some bad shows here and there so i received fear from the success side and the failure side as well.
Excellent post Josh. Inspiring. Thanks.
Thank you all for your input.
Only recently have I been thinking about “returning” to the stage, re-tooling old material – old to me, anyway – and coming up with some new stuff. This happened after recently seeing a former comedy classmate of mine perform at The Metropolitan Club in NYC.
My last time “up” I froze and that was two years ago last month. I was so humiliated and embarrassed. It’s difficult to return from those feelings of “mea culpa.”
While I’m getting ready to give myself another chance, but I haven’t uploaded any of the material onto YouTube or even started a website. Do you have any suggestions?
One skill we all must master is “getting back up on the horse asap” … there is no failure- only learning opportunities… learning to deal with our expectations and learning to deal with pain- it’s time to bring in reinforcements and switch it up- maybe a class or a friend to come along to something joyful- there’s a whole world out there needing your joy- I had a similiar “setback” and it took me years to get back on the horse… now I get back up within 24 hrs if possible.. just get up there and process yourself and ur “failures” – let the expectations go
Blessings to You!
Good stuff! I can relate; I’m just starting out yet I’m having a blast! Fear is fear and the only way to get over it is to do it, not try it. Fear of failure is something we all deal with in every aspect of life, not just in our comedy.
Again, hammer, meet nailhead.
I believe that you’re pretty dead-on here, except it’s not the fear of failure, it’s not the fear of success, but rather the fear of CHANGE that stops a lot of comics from doing what it takes to become successful. I have a plan (written out, like you suggested) with a timeline (which my wife suggested, and I’m executing that plan (which I committed to.) I’ve got my domain name, with very basic content, I’ve started my twitter feed, I just finished writing out my first 5 video storyboards, and I’m beginning to train myself to follow a daily, yes DAILY schedule of harvesting material, planting material, writing (both public and privately) and networking.
I’ve been paralyzed by my fear of change so much so that I’ve had to slowly incorporate the basic behaviors for success into my psyche, so that as I’m expanding on the functions that will improve me my mind sees these actions as minor, and therefor ‘less-change-like,’ and as such my fear of change is diminished. Like Kat Williams says in one of his behind the scenes cuts from one of his video releases, “I’m doing this TO change everything, my life, my income, my reputation. I’m not trying to stay the same, I want to change everything.” I need to change what I am doing now to change what I do to become more well known.
I’m at the point now where I mentally walk through my plan, and practice a small piece daily. Soon enough, I’ll be working 5% of my waking time on my comedy, then 10%. After all, Albert Einstein posited that if one spends 15 minutes a day on any topic, in a year they will be an expert. I’ve spent my entire life being a failure at most everything I’ve tried to accomplish with little to no effort given, I can’t wait to see the success of 15 minutes a day focusing on my comedy.
Thanks for the great posts, I’m glad I’m ConnectedComedy.
This was an interesting article, and commentary, but I did not see where anyone addressed the real fear of being booed or not receiving laughs while on stage. My first venture was what inspired me to go forward to a comedy club. Five minutes into my same routine in another town, the silence was almost deafening, and then the hecklers started. I wanted to crawl off stage, but I proceeded, and even with the few laughs I received, I felt like this would be my last performance. Unfortunately, it has been.