Aziz Ansari

Finding Your Comedic Voice

A couple nights ago during a really lovely dinner discussion about the art of writing and comedy, I was asked, “Do you think you know what your comedic voice is?” I sat there, took a bite of a deliciously cheesy slice of pizza, and savored the question, hoping I might find an answer somehow stashed away in those folds of gooey mozzarella—obviously implanted there just for me by the comedy writing pizza gods. My response, “I think I’m still in the process of finding it. It’s probs evolving every day.” And yes, I probs actually said the word “probs” out loud, because I am a noob who sometimes uses text-worthy abbreviations, like “probs,” in real life conversation. (*Challenge: how many times can I use “probs” during the course of this blog post?). But, I digress. My answer, the use of “probs” excluded, is fairly typical of many budding writers, comedians, or really anyone else in the beginning stages of paving their way in a creative field.

Jedi Jon

As much as I would love for a hooded and robed Jon Stewart to swoop down and bestow upon me a pen powered by The Force and say, “Boom, here’s your comedic voice! You’re a Jedi writer now, Lauren. Do or do not there is no try! ...Btw, write funny things, and don’t f*** up by crossing over to the dark side yo,” I’m pretty sure that’s probs not going to happen...probs not anytime soon at least. In the meantime, when it comes to my comedic voice, I’m still finding and figuring things out. The voice-finding quest is a noble and dogged pursuit that involves a lifelong process of constant grooming and weeding and improving your body of creative work. Think a lot of sweat, a lot of love, and a lot of time, caffeinated late nights, and unyielding dedication all in the name of comedy.

Perhaps we should backtrack a bit here, though. Before we dive any further into this blog post, it might be helpful for me to explain what I mean when I talk about “voice.” “Voice” is one of those weird intangible, amorphous concepts that creatives of long long ago probs came up with to confuse and challenge the hell out of creatives of the here and now. No not really, but it is a concept that is hard to accurately pin down and describe. Many have tried and their efforts have all been valiant, but it’s difficult to put into words what exactly is one’s comedic voice. (Not to be confused with “style,” which we’ll save for a later blog post. Also not to be confused with  a popular TV singing competition with some serious bromantic undertones from judges Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, which we will also save for a later... probs much later... post.)  

Oscar WildeAllow me to attempt to define this thing. Voice is the zing, the oomph, the little secret spice, the x-factor if you will, that brings your work to life and makes it uniquely your own. It’s the way you put your words together and the unique way you view the world around you (please see the amazing quote by playwright Oscar Wilde for a much more eloquent way of describing this). In the literary sphere, for example, J.K. Rowling’s unique worldview is one of love conquering all, magic existing all around us, and Dobby being a free house elf because socks. J.R.R. Tolkien’s worldview suggests that a hero’s journey is never made alone, and if elves and dwarves can set aside their differences to fight an army of orcs, so can the rest of us. And George R.R. Martin’s unique outlook on the world tells us that good guys can be killed off, bad guys can sit on an iron throne, and badass ladies can ride dragons and be faceless assassins and do several other badass things because they’re cool like that, also boobs. Voice is essentially the thing that makes a person go, “Whoa, this couldn’t have been written by anybody else out there but you. Dope!”

So how does one go about finding a voice then? Well, the answer isn’t some grand mystery locked away in a magic box along with the secrets of the universe. It’s fairly straightforward stuff. First and foremost, practice! Practice, practice, practice, and practice some more. For comedy writers, that probs means spending day after day, year after year, writing everything and anything down–even the most absolute suckage from the depths of your brain space—as much as you can. Write it all down. Start embracing the hand cramps and the wrist pains, a.k.a. your writer battle scars that show you’ve put in the practice time. The more you write and put your ideas out there...or do whatever creative thing it is that you do, you eventually fall into a groove and learn what feels comfortable to you, what your strengths are, what you’re passionate about, and where your niche in the comedy world may be.

This brings me to the next point. Finding your comedic voice is a lengthy process that involves becoming more comfortable with the voice you already have. Yeah, you, you reading this, you already have a voice. Who would’ve guessed it, right?! It’s the voice in your head, the voice that makes you different from everyone else around you, and it’s the same voice that at some point has probs made someone think you’re a weirdo or wonder where you come up with all your wacky ideas. It’s who you are as a human. And boy is it beautiful! When finding our comedic voice, we’re really just taking what’s already there and polishing it up a bit and then putting it out into the world more visibly.

So, follow your instincts and do what comes naturally to you! Are you a people watcher who enjoys playing fly on the wall and observing everything going on around you? Try observational humor. Are you filled with a certain level of snark and a panache for the somewhat sick and twisted? Dark comedy may be your thing. Do you get overly excited, like to yell, love food more than life, and often feel like writing in all caps to get your loud excitement across to other people? Perhaps you’re really just Aziz Ansari (Are you Aziz Ansari? Are you?! If so, hit me up later, we got lots to talk about. Please and thank you!). Whatever it is that comes naturally to you, do it and do it hard, baby. Nothing is funnier than a voice coming from a place of honesty and authenticity.

You are your voice. But remember you can’t force it, just like you probs couldn’t force chest hairs to grow or zits to disappear when you were going through puberty. And you can’t grow it artificially, like a scientist can grow freaky test-tube body parts (yeah that’s a thing, read this cray cray article if you don’t believe me). Just give it time and a good dose of practice, and your voice will develop naturally.

Finding your voice is probs important to do at some point along your comedy journey. But don’t be in a rush to do so. Voice can aid in elevating your work and allow you to put a signature, new twist on old ideas. However, when all is said and done, voice isn’t everything. If finding your voice is wracking your brain with anxiety and taking away time from simply putting your ideas out there, then you’re not doing yourself any favors. In the grand scheme of things, your voice is simply one tool among many in a huge tool belt of awesomeness, which you can use to help usher your thoughts out into the wild yonder of creative ideation. It’s not everything, nor is it something to stress about, because eventually your comedic voice will probs find its way to you and then you can watch it continually evolve.  

These things always work out. You’ll see.

If you would like to talk about voice, writing, the general secrets of the universe, or you’re the real Aziz Ansari and saw my message above, please feel free to put something in the comments section below! I know you’re out there Aziz!

*The answer:  15 “probs” (Not counting this one). Any more than that would be one “probs” too many (also, not counting that one either).

Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 3 student. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.

Book Review: "Modern Romance" by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

Modern RomanceAziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance, came out this past Tuesday—something I’ve been anticipating since watching a commercial for the book on YouTube two weeks ago (watch it here). “Hi, my name’s Mike, and if you’re sitting there watching this tape smoking your cigarette, well, hit the fast forward button ‘cause I don’t smoke and I don’t like people who do smoke.” Sold.

Anyway, as Aziz says in the commercial, Modern Romance is not a book of humor essays, but something “much deeper, much more engrossing.” And honestly, it was so gripping that I read most of it on my way to a wedding this past weekend (appropriate, I know). Aziz teamed up with sociologist Eric Klinenberg of NYU to compile a huge body of research, gathering interviews, focus groups, and empirical data from other researchers to analyze love in this technological age. They explore romance in different areas of the world as well as online dating, texting, sexting, the paradox of choice, cheating via technology (shout out to Anthony Weiner!), and much more. Also, there are graphs! Lots of graphs!

Not only is Modern Romance incredibly well researched, as evidenced by the citations at the end of the book, but it is also hilarious. I could only read it in Aziz’s voice: “Unlike phone calls, which bind two people in real-time conversations that require at least some shared interpretation of the situation, communication by text has no predetermined temporal sequencing and lots of room for ambiguity. Did I just use the phrase “predetermined temporal sequencing”? Fuck yeah, I did.” There is room for both academic terminology and jest, which is seriously awesome and doesn’t make the book some droning research paper that no one wants to read.

Admittedly, I felt a bit self-conscious reading this book in public because of big bold letters of things like “ARE WE 'HANGING OUT' OR GOING OUT ON A DATE?” and “THE PROBLEMS WITH ONLINE DATING.” It was like a marquee screaming READ ME! I’m sure someone saw one of these section titles and thought, That poor girl is reading a self help book about romance. I hope she finds someone someday.

It never crossed my mind that I could read this book and it would give me some things to think about in my own dating life, as I was really just interested in the social science of it all, but Modern Romance has given me things to consider. I think so many people should read this book—fans of Aziz, fans of Klinenberg, anyone looking for a lover in this day and age (or just connection in general), pop scientists, Millennials, everyone. Not everyone actually, but still, I really want you to read this book.

Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 3 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she’s a dog person or a cat person.