For a comedian, there’s the guaranteed route to laughter. You swear, joke about sex, and score some easy laughs from the audience.
It’s a sure-fire way to success, the get-rich-quick scheme for the aspiring comedian.
It works. Except when it doesn’t. The field of comedians take the easy route to laughter is exceedingly crowded. You may get some laughs from the audience at your local open mike night, but you’re not going to be the next Steve Martin or Chris Rock. Standing out requires forging a new path of comedic innovation.
Consider Jerry Seinfeld.
As Adam Morgan and Mark Barden explain in their insightful book, A Beautiful Constraint, Seinfeld “deliberately denies himself sources of the easiest laughs, such as sex or swearing—or for that matter, any topic people are interested in talking about.”
His comedy, instead, is about the minutiae of life that most of us would find supremely boring. Yet, for Seinfeld, you can find comedy everywhere if you know where to look. Here’s Seinfeld:
“I do a lot of material about the chair. I find the chair very funny. That excites me. No one’s really interested in that—but I’m going to get you interested. It’s the entire basis of my career.”
There’s a more general lesson lurking here for comedians and non-comedians alike. The way to stand out is to reject conventional wisdom. A comedian who jokes about sex is not remarkable. Everyone in the business is doing that.
But a comedian who can do a 15-minute routine about a chair? Now, that’s something to talk about.