A common tradition in comedy is when older, more veteran comedians scare younger comedians by telling them how horribly long it takes to really get good and be respected. I’ve heard legends of ’15 years in the game’ before you can actually call yourself a comedian, or that don’t even find your comedic voice until at least 10 years in. So who am I up until that point? Just a confused college student trying to figure out my sexuality?
‘Finding your voice’ can be a perplexing, even frustrating idea to grasp. Find my voice? When did I even lose it? Last I checked, people hear me and respond when I talk. Even if I’m talking just like Daniel Tosh.
It’s true that when we begin comedy, we most often emulate others…whether it be one certain comedian, or a synthesis of many. And as time goes on, we tend to think less about phrasing our words in terms of what we’ve heard before and what we know works, and instead we just start saying things straight from our gut, our heart, or our mind. It can be a long process, of letting go, and finding the confidence and individuality within to do this. But to say our voice was never with us in the first place is a fallacy.
Here’s my theory, thanks for not asking. There’s two things going on here. First of all, we always have our own unique voice within. We just get nerves on stage and focus so much on what we have prepared (our act), that we disconnect from our natural voice, which is always there. The more time we put into our craft, the more comfortable we get, and connect with that voice. Seconldy, as time goes on we grow as a person, so our voice actually becomes more mature (in most cases) and distinguished. The voice I had within me at 23 is not the voice I have now at 29. Thus ‘finding your voice’ to me, is a process of continuously getting more and more connected with the voice you already have, while it simultaneously becomes more refined.
That said, every now and then we will go through a stretch time where we feel very disconnected, like we don’t even have a voice. At the time it just seems so hard to connect back to that feeling of ‘knowing’ your own voice. I’ve been having a period like this recently, where I’ve just been going through the motions. Doing my jokes like words on a page. I think I have this problem more than most comedians. I forget that you have to connect with the audience and be a person. Yikes, can I just hook up a usb to usb and deliver the jokes straight to source? I don’t want to think about changing my intonations or for god sakes making any eye contact. I don’t know how I end up here, but I’ll have the realization some time after the fact. Like, wow, I really wasn’t present during that set. Why am I hiding behind these jokes? What is my voice? I don’t even know who I am anymore!
Then, the most wonderful time of the year blessed me with a cold. Each year around this time the viruses come out with a new release in the cold & flu department, stronger than last years. The virus release of 2013 was super strong, and took down a bunch of us humans. I got a sore throat and stubborn cough, which, after one day, stripped my physical voice away from me. I can barely speak audibly, and have to whisper in order to emit any kind of words. But I have an important show tonight. A show that I was told would have a lot of ‘industry’, at the Soho House on Sunset. I’d never been to or heard of the Soho House, so I assumed, because it was an ‘industry’ show, that it would be more of an alternative show, so the venue would be like a bowling alley, or shack that used to be a farm in the 1980’s. But turns out the Soho House is a private member’s club for people in the film and entertainment industry. It literally was a purely industry show. And in I walk with my sweatshirt from Target, a backpack, and no voice.
I look around and all the people look like they bathe in money. How am I going to relate to them? Fortunately the stage is set up nice, so everyone is focused and attentive. I tell them that I have no voice and will have to whisper, and that it might sound creepy. Knowing that I would be quiet, they listened even harder, which gave me more authority, and the space and time to really make my words clear. And the fact that I had no voice forced me use my physical presence more, through motions and facial expressions. I quickly realize there’s so many more dimensions to comedy than just the words of your jokes. I use my face and body to emote things I would normally just ignore. I remember how powerful my silly faces are. And the crowd is on board with it all. Of course they shudder a little when I say my Palestinian bit, but that’s expected in Hollywood film central.
And though I’m doing the same jokes I’ve been doing, I’m expressing them differently, I’m embodying them. And when you become your jokes, you remember that personal connection that you have to them. At every moment I’m thinking, “Oh! I remember how I was feeling when I wrote this!” What a liberating feeling. It’s like I’m not even working anymore, just speaking my mind. And at that point, I’m no longer a joke machine, but a person. A person with a distinct point of view. And what is that point of view, but my voice. The voice inside, that is. I realize that, with or without sound coming out of my mouth, my voice is always there. But I had to lose the noise coming out of my soundbox to really hear that voice within. Deep, right?
So next time you’re having trouble trying to connect with that voice within, don’t panic…just let someone sneeze in your face.