Now, there's a question.
The answer of course totally depends on the person who's answering. And quite rightly, your most typical answers will be those that include things like sitting for exams or reaching for extraordinary heights in sports. For those of us who have never reached the higher echelons of academia, we always marvel at folk with double doctorates and so on. And what about those folk who have scaled the peaks of large mountains? We just look on and shudder at the thought of braving the elements at such an extreme level.
Indeed, the title can provoke 101 genuine responses, and that's precisely why I've posed the question here because, in my later life, I embarked upon a hobby that seemingly broke most of the rules I'd been living by. One of them, most notably, was 'practice makes perfect.
Before I reveal what this extraordinary pastime is, let me state a few points that I'm sure will get you brain going -
We can all agree, that if you revise your textbooks, you stand a much better chance of acing an exam. By the same token, if you practice taking free kicks, your football goal scoring ratio will more than likely improve. However, most of us are destined to never become Einstein or David Beckham respectively, but the point I'm making I think is clear.
Imagine then, that scientific or mathematical observations were subject to human emotion. What if 1 plus 1 = 3 in certain situations? And if Mr Beckham is taking a free-kick, but there's a headwind of 50km rushing toward him, would he have been so effectual?
In the first case, we can easily dismiss such a thought, by stating the classic, 'facts care zero for your feelings'. Though in today's cancel culture, you can see that we're trodding a mighty fine line. And football is rarely played in blustery conditions, and when it is, free kicks are treated with utmost care.
So, when do emotions and environments most drastically affect reality as we know it?
Ladies & gentlemen, I present to you, the art of stand-up comedy.
And I know what you're immediately thinking; practice does make perfect for any comic. Yes, it does... but not always! And before I'd ever gotten involved in the local comedy scene, I would never have imagined that such a thing could be remotely possible.
You see, what happens to many wannabe comedians, is that we learn by watching others. We craft new jokes, and with our 'experience' and passionate influences, we try to make people laugh. However, I have seen many promising comedians get sidetracked by styles that do not actually fit their character. So with practice, comes greater imperfection.
And woe betides any comic that dares to offer constructive criticism to a fellow partner in crime. Unless invited to do so, this is a subject that requires the most careful of approaches.
Beyond practicing the wrong thing, and nobody being able to tell you that, how exactly is the comic to improve? This is where talent takes over. Self-reflection, and watching recordings of oneself can reveal where you're going wrong, but again, many comics don't know how to recognise what is right in front of them. So over time, they get increasingly worse. This I believe is the single greatest reason why so many comedians give up quite early in the game; they practice, but see very little progress. In fact, they often see deterioration as mentioned above.
There is however a remedy to this, and I'll get to that later.
I've touched on the practice of beginners working on the wrong things in regards to stand-up comedy routines. Not having just this to contend with, you also have audiences and environments.
A practice known as, 'reading the audience' has saved many a routine for many comics. I'm not particularly good at this, but a simple example that even I can get right is adjusting your material accordingly if performing to a local or international audience. But sometimes you may not know this beforehand, so you need to switch on the night itself, that's why having plenty of material in your mental locker is quite essential.
Then, there's architecture. Yes, that's right. The design and layout of a room can inspire an audience toward laughter. Low ceilings and dark rooms can very much help the burgeoning comic. Wooden furniture with alcohol on offer are all good. Large glass windows and ultra-modern environments are not so good. The more underground looking, the better.
I've seen reputable comics die when the room just wasn't designed to be conducive to comedy.
Of course, when you've become famous, and people know who you are, a large auditorium will pose no threat. STILL, you can see performances online of reputable comics with varying levels of laughter at different venues – check the layouts – these often make the difference.
So, with all these obstacles, how can any new talent get around? The best answer I have is to make friends with other comics of all levels, and do not (at any cost) have an ego. Be prepared to listen and take on board criticism. Always be true to yourself, and tell jokes that you would laugh at. Give yourself 5 years. If you still fail after doing all of this, then maybe professional stand up comedy isn't for you. And like so many of us, maybe amateur-hobby or semi-professional is fine.
I've had some bad nights on stage. I've also had some amazing ones, sometimes being touted as the best on the card that night. So after all said and done, practice can make perfect in the realm of joke-telling... but only if you know WHAT to practice, and you genuinely know what your own personal PERFECTION would be.