Comedians on the Creative Process

The creative process is a tricky thing.

Creative Process chart

Illustration by Christoph Niemann

I love this video! Chris Rock, Louis C.K., Jerry Seinfeld and Ricky Gervais gather to talk about their creative process for an hour. Highlight:

Get rid of all your best weapons and then you have to get good.

2 thoughts on “Comedians on the Creative Process

  1. I thought it was so revealing for each of their personality’s, particularly Gervais. He gives off this palpable anxiety about demonstrating that he cares and that he thinks about what it is to be a comedian. I think there’s a chip there that wouldn’t be there if he started out with stand-up instead of with a program. It’s strange when this hits the barrier of other comedians and their lack of desire to appear to be doing the same thing amongst each other.

    I think Louis runs into the same problem discussing his material later. He’s gone through a progression, and he’s had push-back from a portion of his audience, particularly from cultural critics who he has engaged (Emily Nissbaum, Alyssa Rosenberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates). But you see him try to demonstrate that push-back to other comedians, and they stop it dead in its tracks. It’s a balance they’re constantly at between obviously caring about what they do, taking it seriously, and yet not always wanting it to be taken seriously. But it also sheds some light on how in the the community, there is very little space to move on the idea of justifiable comedy outside of the justification being that it gets laughs.

    Likewise, I think for a lot of people, it’s difficulty to engage comedy as a form, to suggest that there is an underlying structure and skill not necessarily bound up in morals or punching in the right direction. So it was good to hear the comics themselves discuss it.

    They found one joke hysterical, which was the “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” revision. And Gervais tried very hard to push them to say they found it funny because of the irony. I liked that the comics pushed back. Because the joke itself is simple, the structure is so well contained, it just fits. I think that discussion was a great demonstration of things that are funny outside of content, particularly how you structure a joke. It’s true for Louis’ joke as well. He opens with a totally reasonable mundane moral statement, then he says something ridiculous or unexpected, and you want him to resolve the issue, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says literally the most basic, wrong thing he can say adding a third surprise. Irrelevant of the content of the joke, that is designed to make you laugh. It’s a trick on your brain that works fairly immediately, before you can even get back to it and fix it.

    • Totally. I think you hit it on the head with them wanting to have it both ways, i.e. “It’s a balance they’re constantly at between obviously caring about what they do, taking it seriously, and yet not always wanting it to be taken seriously.”

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