Think about literally any profession or artistic venture (entering a new corporate job, starting out as an actor, trying to go pro with your sport).
What do the environments of each of those spaces have in common?
The competition involved with just starting out.
It seems that no matter where you’re “just starting out,” all the veterans and alphas and top-of-the-food-chain hunters are out for your demise when you first join the team.
What if that wasn’t the case?
Is it even possible, given our ingrained instincts to strive for better? After all, that used to be necessary for survival.
I believe it is possible, and it’s exemplified in a place you may not expect: the world of stand-up comedy.
A world where rookies and veterans are on level ground
Maybe it’s the fact that there’s a huge percentage of depressed / anxious / otherwise-slightly-off-their-rocker people in this crowd.
Maybe it’s the fact these people are highly observant.
Maybe they’re just more pessimistic than the average person.
But stand-up comedy is the only field I’ve ever started out in and received respect as a rookie.
You can see professionals completely eat crap on stage and put themselves down afterwards just as bad as someone who’s one month into their journey.
It still blows my mind to think about, but the simplest little story can capture it all:
As I walked by, we made eye contact, I nodded to him and said “kill it tonight” and kept walking.
It didn’t even register for me that he had absolutely no idea who I was, and I’d acted out of instinct toward him because 1. I recognized him and 2. Behaved as if he were any of my other comic friends before a show.
When I got back to my seat with my actual friends, I told them what just happened and none of them were phased.
All they said was, “Yeah… you’re peers. That’s what you do.”
Why professional comedians stand out
No one’s going to argue the fact that Ari Shaffir is lightyears better than I at comedy. That’s not what this is about.
What this is about is the acknowledgement that we are all striving toward the same, terrifyingly difficult goal: make the audience laugh.
Yeah, people who are as famous as Ari are more likely to succeed at that goal. That’s shown in the fact that they’ve built their livelihood in comedy.
But here’s the key difference: whether you’ve been doing comedy four months or forty years, comics treat one another as equals from the top to the bottom of the ladder.
Sure, there are some big heads in the game — we’re possibly the worst attention-seeking humans out there. But all in all, the core of standup comics are people who know that getting on stage, by yourself, with an audience that probably hates you, isn’t easy.
That camaraderie is unmatched by anything else I’ve ever witnessed as a “newbie” in any other field.
After the show, we got to talk with Ari for a few minutes and he treated us the same then, too. We’re all just comics trying to do the thing and get better at it.
The pressure we put on new people creates a lot of the “new guy” tendencies.
Look at this from your own perspective here: when are you most defensive?
I doubt you thought “oh, that time all my friends were encouraging and supportive of me, even though they were all better at something than I was.”
No, the thought that crept up was likely one of a time when you felt targeted as the odd one out and needed any way to get yourself back “in” with the group.
This is the root of that ingrained need to be better, by the way. Back in those caveman days, being separated from the group would often be a literal death sentence.
We were trained to understand genetically that we need other people to survive for protection from the other animals that would kill us in a second, so being an outsider became a huge fear of ours.
So all that “rookie business” behavior people in most industries complain about? Yeah, you’re not helping the matter by backing the person into a corner when they first show up.
In fact, I’d argue you’re making it 10x worse by alienating them.
What other industries can learn from standup comedians
This isn’t a plea to anyone to treat the new guys like they know everything.
Honestly, you shouldn’t do that. That doesn’t happen in comedy, and the quicker the newcomers to any industry realize they need to shut up and listen much more than try to speak their part, the better.
We can all learn to check out egos.
The key change we can make here, though, is this: don’t treat your new people poorly. You were all there once. And you all have the same goal.
Even if it’s a space less specific than standup comedy — say, a corporate job — you’re all generally working toward a similar goal.
You want to provide for yourself & family, climb the ranks in the company, and stay in good favor with those around you. You want to like your team and be appreciated for your hard work.
Now, how often does that actually happen in this environment?
Or how often can the rookie of a baseball team say he was accepted by the group right away?
The pressure is already on them enough as the new member. They’ve got insecurities about fitting in, learning the new flow of the schedule, possibly adjusting to a new town.
Take the pressure of feeling “less than” away from them. You’d probably be surprised at how much quicker someone who feels comfortable as the new guy will learn their role in the group, versus someone who feels like they need to prove themselves to you constantly.
Without the pressure of fitting in, newcomers can truly work on improving
As a type-A person, starting something new is always terrifying to me. Especially when I know it’s going to involve working with others.
But starting comedy was the single most terrifying and easy thing I’ve ever done. And it’s all thanks to the people in it.
They were encouraging simply because I tried, and though I’m still very new, I keep trying. I wouldn’t have been able to make it even 4 months in if it had been an environment like starting a new job.
Can you imagine going on stage to tell bad jokes, not getting a laugh, then coming off stage to a crew of comedy veterans that just made fun of you to one another behind your back once the initial failure was over?
Sure, we joke around at each other, but at the root of it all it’s because we care about one another and we know that someone as experienced as Ari can still fail up there, too.
Maybe it’s not possible for other industries to embrace this culture for one reason or another. Maybe the unique circumstances of doing comedy are necessary to create this environment.
All I’m asking is that you try. Because there are already so many other things we need to worry about.
Because at the end of the day, this lesson applies outside of the workplace, too.
Because we’re all just people trying to be and do better.
Take the fear of alienation off the table.
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