Opinion: ...Or Maybe Comedy Courses Are Worth Doing

logan murray

So you want to be a comedian? Should you do a comedy course? It’s a question I’m often asked at comedy conferences.

The recent blog post by Jay Islaam questioning the wisdom of doing comedy courses suggested that maybe they are not worth doing. He made some good points, but the answer, however, is not as simple as that. 

You’ve only got to look at the list of big stars who have done comedy courses and workshops to see that there may be a link. Romesh Ranganathan did Jill Edwards' course in Brighton and said this about it: “Jill's advice enabled me to establish myself and move onto the next level. I wouldn't be a professional comic if it wasn't for Jill Edwards.” Jimmy Carr, Hal Cruttenden and Shappi Khorsandi are three other Edwards alumni.

In London people speak of Logan Murray (pictured in action) in reverential tones as the guru of stand-up teaching. Murray has taught Greg Davies and Rhod Gilbert…in fact more household names than you can shake a stick at. His classes at various places, often in conjunction with the Amused Moose Comedy Club, have become the go-to places to unleash that comic genius.

Stage time is important too. But there is not much point having stage time if you don’t know what to do with it. Courses can help to focus your thoughts in a way that standing in front of the mirror cannot ever manage. You might get feedback that you don’t like, as Jay Islaam found, but maybe you need to take that on board.

So what can a comedy course do for you? Well, everything from help you find your voice to help you find your way to the front of the stage. It may seem obvious but actually getting the mic out of the mic stand and standing in the right place does not always come naturally.

Yes, there is the criticism that comedy courses generate comedians with similar styles, but that might be as much to do with trends in comedy as teaching methods. There was a trend a few years back for Stewart Lee soundalikes, but they weren’t learning that on courses, they were just watching too much Stewart Lee.

In fact as much as people criticise courses for delivering cookie cutter comics the best courses and the best teachers can help you to unlock something distinctive about yourself. I certainly don't think a course will stifle originality. Maybe Jay Islaam has something special. One fan on his Facebook page calls him an "outlier", which I think is a compliment. Maybe the courses he has been on have not helped him to develop his particular style, but that doesn't mean courses are bad for everyone. Although some courses are obviously better than others.

It would be easy to argue that there are comedians who went on to become stars without doing stand-up courses. And maybe when Jay Islaam is the name on everyone's lips he can say that courses didn't help him get to where he is. If they aren't working for him maybe that's for him to decide.

Maybe it was a clash between what he wants to get out of comedy courses and the type of courses he did. Maybe they are not for everyone. I don't know what courses he did so I cannot say. But maybe it is worth him noting that there are a lot more performers who would probably not have made it – and certainly not as quickly – without the pointers you get from an experienced teacher. 

 

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