Comedy is a powerful form of storytelling. Whether it’s a viral spoof video, a sketch on SNL or a new 'bit' from Louis CK, the many forms of comedy can entertain, surprise and evoke emotions that make stories memorable and share-worthy. Mill MCR Operator Tim Snook shares his experience with comedy through discovering improv, the value of bombing and his evolution into stand-up comedy.
While studying at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, Tim Snook would work “crappy jobs” in between classes and listen to Adam Corrolla’s podcasts - a guy who got his start as part of an improv group. Corrolla's stories influenced Tim to agree to join an improv class not knowing how much he’d end up enjoying it.
Improv (or Improvisational Comedy for the long-winded) is a form of live theatre in which elements of a story are created in the moment. Performers usually work off a predetermined structure and collaborate, or riff off audience suggestions. Because of the live interactive element, each show is unique and completely reliant on the artists and the content they come up with on the fly, creating a "group storytelling" experience.
From Improv to Stand-Up
Fast-forward to the present where you can find Tim performing regular stand-up comedy routines in Hollywood. He shares, “When I first got to LA, I signed up for the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) class. From here, a group of six of us broke off to form our own which we took to small indie shows and toured around. It was great but, as life inevitably went on, the group shrunk until I was on my own and trying standup.”
Most stand-up comedy consists of a collection of funny stories, short jokes or one-liners that make up a regular routine. Storytelling is incorporated as a powerful technique to build momentum within a set, holding the audience’s attention, creating slight tension and building toward a lol-inducing punch line.
The Art of the Bomb
And like any art form, comedy is a craft that requires practice and a bit of brutal failure to improve - often in front of a live audience of complete strangers. Comedians are regularly testing, tweaking and refining their act based on audience "feedback."
Tim shares his personal cringe-worthy experience:
“My first standup was monumentally bad. I hated it. It was terrifying. The worst thing for any standup is when it gets awkward – when there’s a deafening silence and you see people checking their phones. I decided to stick with improv as, at the time, it was a lot easier being part of a group and constructing something as a team. Being part of an improv group gives you the chance to test things out with less fear as there’s a group of you to go down if it bombs.
When a joke bombs, that’s how you learn – learning that if something is really bad, it’s not going to get better!
When a joke bombs, that’s how you learn – learning that if something is really bad, it’s not going to get better! I audio record everything so I can hear everything from audience reaction to my own intonation. I want to know how I told a joke differently from the last time. And it’s all about keeping it up because performing standup sporadically just doesn’t work for me. You have to do it often enough to learn, form a pace and keep it up.”
From the everyday to the monumental, life can provide an endless supply of joke-inspiration. Tim's approach to writing content explores both life and improv randomness with a bit of influence by some of comedy's greats:
“I write everything down in my iPhone notes that I find funny, ironic or just interesting. From here, I might explore something in written form which helps me understand what is / could be funny and see if there’s a punch line in there. Other times, I’ll go to using a random word generator. This stems from my improv background where, if we were cold, someone would say a word that we’d all work from. It was often pretty funny where you could end up, and trying to track how you’d even got from A to B.”
“When it comes to inspiration, I’ve always been a huge Chris Farley fan. I’d perform to my three younger brothers at my dad’s house, impersonating my favorite comedians. It was purely physical theatre - jumping around as a kid. And that was where I got the performance bug, I guess. Bill Burr is one of my favorite joke tellers, whilst Louis CK is great at stand-up and is doing seriously well. They’ve shaped my ideas of modern comedy more than anyone.”