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How to Find Your Stand-up Comedy Persona



A key session in my London stand-up comedy course is where we explore your persona (and in the video above you can hear me talking about persona in the class, where I discuss it from the comedy booker's point of view). Finding this persona is key. It’s your on-stage character; a simplified, exaggerated version of yourself. Understanding your persona helps you find the angle you’ll take on any given topic and the kind of jokes and material you’ll write for yourself. In effect you have a character you’re writing for. A character based on your actual self.


In this blog I talk about how we investigate the persona of the course participants and how you can find your own persona. If you're doing this independently, as in the class, the key to it is to get others to feedback to you in the way I describe. It's much easier for others to identify your persona!


I always leave this until late on in the eight week course so that we have seen you on stage a lot in front of the group – and so you have had a chance to try a lot of different things. (My course is highly practical and you are typically up twice per session in front of everyone – I also run it a couple of times a year where I live in Stroud, Gloucestershire by the way).


The way it works is that after you have done your performance for that session, and received feedback on your material, the whole group then feeds back to you on how we perceive your persona. As I say, it’s much easier for outside eyes to see than it is for you to see it yourself. Also where there are a range of views, you get insights into how you’re coming across to different people. Even where there are a number of views we are always able to ultimately arrive at a consensus.


In the class we discuss your persona in these terms:

Status

Archetypes

Likeability


Let’s go through these in turn. And then finally I'll touch on how contrary attitudes can be a key into material that suits your persona.


Status

First of all we feedback to you on your funniest status. In my model of stand-up status you can be:


'high status',

'low status'

or 'audience's mate'.


In high status you look down on the problems of the world and your life (or simply on the audience) from a lofty position of insight and wit (eg Chris Rock). In low status you are put upon by the problems of the world and your life (or by the audience and the performance situation) and are struggling with them (eg Lee Evans and Brian Regan). In audience's mate status you share the problems of the world and of life with the audience, and you laugh at them together. (eg Sarah Millican).


This approach can be finessed by considering a primary and secondary status. Stewart Lee is a high-status comic but, as he says, he is always undermining his status in order to not become objectionable! So he might be looked on as high-status (primary), low-status (secondary). I like to say that the low status comic doesn’t realise what an idiot they are – they are playing dumb. But through their insights into their own failings the high status comic knows what an idiot they are!


I identify Brian Regan as low-status above, and certainly when he acts out himself in various situations he plays the fool, but he is a great friend of his audience so perhaps he could more accurately be described as mate-status (primary) and low-status (secondary). And returning to Sarah Millican, there is certainly a strength and at times fierceness to what she does, so I’d see her as s mate-status (primary), high-status (secondary).


So in the class we give you the two statuses we see you as embodying. This often comes as a surprise – in the last class I did, one of the group was doing a very surreal act and thought primarily that she was low status because she was being so odd. But in fact we reflected back to her that she came across as high-status because of the uncompromising way she did these weird things. She was then able to dress and act accordingly, really embodying the status of her act.


Archetypes

In my book The Director’s Guide to the Art of Stand-up, I discuss how the twelve Jungian archetypes can be keys to your persona. Again, rather than you trying to figure out which archetypes you embody on stage, in the class we all feedback to you.


The Innocent: A simple persona, maybe naïve, could be sweet, perhaps playing with unawareness.


The Regular Person: A relatable character, a normal everyday kind of persona.


The Crusader: Opinionated, wanting to change the world.


The Caregiver: Has concern for the audience and people in their lives and the world.


The Explorer: This could be exploring the world, but also exploring things intellectually, being inquisitive.


The Rebel: Breaks all the rules – could include the rules of stand-up!


The Sensualist: Enjoys the pleasures of the flesh and food and drink.