Stand-Up Comedy and Acting
by Phil O'Hearn
Sometimes I do things backwards. I've been a stage actor for over twenty-five years. But when I moved to Austin a couple of years ago, I decided to try something different: stand-up comedy. A lot of comics become actors. But seldom do actors become comics.
I moved to Texas because my wife got a job with Dell. Guess you could say I'm a trophy husband. I've lived here several times before. Texas leads the nation in capital punishment. I think we should change the state motto to: "Don't Mess with Texas...'Cause We'll Kill Ya!" Austin is not a typical Texas town. Austin is unique because of the arts and the high-tech industry. Everything around here is dot-this and dot-that. I think O dot Henry was ahead of his time here.
I'm relatively old to take-up comedy. Tell you how old I am, the other day I was watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island. I've always debated the merits of Mary Ann and Ginger but now Mrs. Howell is in the mix. But whatever the age, I think almost any actor can perform stand-up comedy. The hard part is writing your own material. There is no rulebook for comics, but the biggest unwritten rule is: Don't be a Hack. If it's not your own, don't do it.
Comparing and contrasting stand-up with acting deserves a lot of exploration. On the contrast side: actors collaborate; comics go it alone. Comics aren't nearly as sociable as actors. In true stand-up, there is no ensemble. And all comics are basically competing against each other for the same job. The biggest difference between comedy and acting, however, is there is no wall separating the audience from the performer. The audience is part of the performance. Heckling is not nearly as common as the audience turning a monologue into a dialogue. Audience members will respond. They will speak. They will answer questions. They will comment on the performer's commentary. And that is very different from acting. The comic must react verbally with the audience.
The similarities between stand-up comedy and acting are noteworthy. Both are forms of one-to-many communication, and both require the performer to appear to be in the moment, giving the appearance of "the first time." And as the comic must listen and respond to the audience, the actor must listen and respond to the acting partner.
I'm planning to continue performing comedy and hopefully it will help me improve as an actor. I'm not a leading man type (any more). I recently played a ghost for the Break Away Productions documentary Ghost Explorers. So, I'm not only playing old people, I'm playing dead old people. And currently I am playing the role of an older bum in Sparadigm's production of Severance. This is a role I got when I auditioned without my teeth. I wear dentures, but filmmakers seem to prefer me without them. Concerning bums, I recently saw a homeless man and I gave him some advice. I told him to think outside the box. And boy did he have some advice for me!
Besides performing comedy as plain Phil, I'm the only comic in town who performs as a character: Skeeter, the balding toothless Alabama redneck.
Yes, my hair is relocating. I'm not losing my hair. It's just descending, heading south. The top of my head is quite thin, but my back has a wealth of follicles. I'm not sure where this hair migration will end. I suppose that if I live long enough, eventually, my feet will be so furry that I won't have to wear socks. It will be like wearing a couple of cats on my feet.
And I have lots of cat jokes. But since this is my initial submission, I will conclude.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about crossing over to the stand-up side. The Velveeta Room has open mike. And Cap City Comedy Club has open mike and Sam Cox's Comedy Gym. The Comedy Gym is a workshop. And Comedy Gym Showcases are a couple of Monday nights each month in front of a good audience.