How to be a "Natural"

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I own a dog.

(or should that be that the dog owns me?)

I take the mickey out of him a lot (on stage, I get about 5 minutes of material out of him) and joke about the stress he causes me, but he does have one plus…

Walks.

I like walking the dog. As a married father of two young girls, walking the dog is one of the few times in my life when I’m alone.

And I like being alone.

While I’m rambling through the Cheshire countryside with my colossal shitting machine, I can catch up with podcasts, listen to an audiobook, or even work over a creative problem.

After all, wasn’t it Nietzsche who said:

“Only ideas won by walking have any value.”

(It definitely WAS Nietzsche. I know because I Googled it. I think he also said, “Balls. I wish I was called ‘Smith’ – that way, 44-year dipsticks wouldn’t have to google my name every time they nicked my quote.”)

Anyway, walking…

The best thing, aside from the peace and quiet, is that it pretty much guarantees I hit my 10,000 steps a day.

And, even though I love going for a wander, there’s still a 10 step process I have to go through before heading out:

  1. Call the dog.
  2. Grab my coat and walking boots (the countryside in winter does not lend itself to a flimsy pump).
  3. Dump my boots on the doorstep (if I put them on in the house, the wife will remove both of my testicles in a manner that even the 13th century would decree as “needlessly barbaric”).
  4. Grab some doggie bags (for some reason, I always grab five).
  5. Call the dog again because he’s being annoying and lazy, hiding under his covers.
  6. Get my coat on and pop my headphones in.
  7. Shout rude words and run upstairs to grab the dog who’s still pretending not to hear me.
  8. Put the harness on (the dog, not me. I no longer need a harness when walking).
  9. Open the door and put on my boots
  10. Go for the walk!

Even for the things we love to do, we still need a process to make sure we do it right and get the most out of it.

Comedy writing is exactly the same.

Non-comedians imagine that their favourite comedians are born funny – naturally able to see the funny side of anything.

They don’t need to work for it. It’s what they do.

That may be what it looks like, but it’s not the case.

The best comedians work at their material. And, when I say “work“, I mean, they really work at it.

They have a process.

They block off large amounts of time when they’re undisturbed, sat in a room with nothing but a paper and pen (OK, maybe a desk too), working through ideas, trying to make them funny.

They’ll write a joke in the afternoon and hop to a club in the evening to test it out on stage.

(some comics even take their notepad on stage with them to read from)

Not only that but they record their shows, so they can listen to the audience feedback. They’re not only listening to the punchline though. Comics want to know how the audience reacts to the whole joke. So, when they go back to their writing room, they’re analysing…

  • Was the audience intrigued by the setup?
  • Did they care about the topic?
  • Was it relatable to them?

The joke is re-worked over again – the weak parts strengthened (or dropped), unnecessary words removed, a tag is added here…a physical gesture there…

Work, work, work.

And then, the following night, the new version is performed in front of a different audience.

Repeat until Hollywood calls.

There’s a tendency for us to think that, if we’re good at something, it should come naturally. We should be able to do it in our sleep.

“I was born to do this.”

We’re almost embarrassed by the idea of admitting we need a process to do our best work.

Don’t be.

If Chris Rock isn’t afraid of working his process every single night for a year before his Netflix special, neither should you.

LeBron James is one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived, but he still has an incredible work ethic. Before every game, for example, all his teammates get a two-page scouting report. He demands a special four-page one.

The best in the world may make it look effortless but, like Lance Armstrong after one of his “vitamin shots”, they’re peddling like beasts beneath the surface, working the process.

Work it, baby!

Have a great week,

John

P.S. Oh, That thing I teased at the end of my last email?

It’s coming…