If You Want to be a Comic, Be a Philosopher

George Carlin If you read the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) blog, it’s probably safe to assume that you’re into this stuff. You look forward to every practice, class, and performance with giddy anticipation. If you could, you’d probably even do this for a living. Most of us are smart enough to know that comedy as a full-time career isn’t the highest percentage choice.

And it’s not as though had we known at age 16 that we would develop a passion for comedy we could have been taking the right standardized tests and applying to universities. Improv and stand-up classes at places like DCH are the closest things we have to a technical school for comedians. Only experience can truly make you better at an art form.

However, academia is not entirely secular for members of our religion. Comedians tend to punch up at institutions — and higher education is one of the most pompous — but any field of study that challenges you to be a better thinker will ultimately bolster the quality of your comedy.

When I was in my fifth and final year of college, I took a philosophy course because I had to. A friend endorsed the Intro to Social and Political Philosophy class taught by a particularly engaging teacher. Pre-college instruction, philosophy seemed to me like a convoluted world of high diction and pedantic pontificating. I still kind of feel that way after taking the course, but the nuggets panned by my professor were eye-opening. I’ll spare you my hot takes on John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hobbes, but analyzing the works of these writers changed the way I looked at the world. Verbosity notwithstanding, it also improved my writing.

Comedy and curiosity go hand-in-hand. Observing the world around you and asking “why?” is the root of many comedic premises, but it also helps you evaluate your own behavior. In class, we would build rational cases for why philosophers’ arguments were or were not strong. I realized over the course of the semester that while we may agree with an idea about the way things should be, we often work counter to that end. That’s comedy in a nutshell: Calling attention to, or even trying to rationalize, irrational behavior.

No matter your medium, as a comedian, you comment on the human condition. Because most comedians acknowledge the grandiose difficulty involved in trying to surmise the meaning of existence, they are self-aware. This makes comedians more accessible than, if not more reliable than, philosophers.

Look at the stand-ups who were able to achieve both critical and commercial success. Comedians like Pryor, Carlin, and more recently, Louis C.K., are essentially contemporary philosophers. They use punchlines instead of a works-cited page, so we enjoy listening to their albums more than trying to dissect a Jean-Jacques Rousseau essay.

Sometimes when writing this blog, I feel like I’m talking at, or even condescending to, my audience. If I didn’t come across to you that way before, now that I bring this up perhaps my writing will be forever artificially inseminated with the tone I was seeking to avoid. The neuroses that would cause me to stop and include this paragraph are the same neuroses that allow me to practice comedy. I’m insecure. I place too much value in others’ esteem of myself and the end products/reception of my work, rather than the quality of said work. But I believe that acknowledging flaws improves your self-awareness and makes you a better comedian.

Philosophers try to rationalize the workings of the world and their place within it. Audiences respond to honesty. There’s nothing more honest than someone just trying to figure things out.

Danny Neely is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. He works part time at a bakery and another part of  the time as a freelance writer. You can see him perform as a member of Big Turtle, Clover, Coiffelganger, Empty Inside, and Warm Milk.

(Image: Thought Catalog/Creative Commons)