According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to master a particular task. I recently discovered the power of preparation and the meaning behind that philosophy while working on my routine for the showcase at iO. While I was nowhere near 10,000 hours in preparation, I do understand the idea of relentless rehearsal. I repeat, RELENTLESS REHEARSAL. That’s what occurred in the past few weeks regarding my preparation for the showcase. For those in the comedy community, when I say ‘showcase’ you know exactly what I’m referring to. For others, this showcase is phase 1 in the process of auditioning for Saturday Night Live. You audition for Charna Halpern at iO doing your best 5 minute routine. It’s your 5 minutes and you can do with it what you please. Basically, you want to highlight your ability to do impersonations as well as your ability to write and perform comical characters. After this first round, the list of people is slimmed down to another short list of people who get to audition for Lorne Michaels and other members of the SNL staff when they visit Chicago during the summer. From there (or from what I’ve heard), if they like you they fly you out to New York where you audition on the NBC stage. After that audition and an interview with Lorne, you find out if you’re going to be a new member of the cast, the writing staff….or if you’re going back home.
For starters, let’s talk about the process. 5 minutes on stage can either feel like an eternity or not enough time at all. It all depends on how prepared you are. When I first secured a spot to audition, I was absolutely TERRIFIED. It was butterflies in my stomach galore. I’d never performed solo material before nor had I ever taken a class on how to do solo material nor did I even know where to start. The only thing I knew was that I needed to get started. Whatever that meant. I wrote down impersonations I could do. I wrote down impersonations people said they thought I could do. I wrote down characters I had done in improv shows that had gotten laughs. I wrote down different scenarios and potential ways to introduce those characters. I wrote down different locations to put these characters in. Writing. Lots and lots of writing. Then and probably prematurely, editing. Lots and lots of editing. I say prematurely because I was editing characters and their lines before knowing anything about them. In my opinion, you shouldn’t start editing before you get all of your ideas out on paper. I know that now. Instead, for example, write a one or two page monologue for a particular character before you slim it down to 1 or 2 lines in your routine. 20/20 hindsight, This entire process FLEW BY. When you’re anxious for an upcoming event or performance, days pass by like minutes.
Mindset. There is also a mental preparation that needs to take place throughout this process. I would say this is probably the most important aspect of all. For me, the best method was going into this with no expectation. My focus was not on the result (getting to the next phase to get on Saturday Night Live), but instead on the action of putting on a good performance showing people what I had created. Had I thought ‘this is my big break’ it would have completely altered the way I practiced and the way I performed. More importantly, that thought process would impact how I felt about the entire process. If I thought about this as ‘this is it’ and I don’t make it to the next phase then according to that mindset, this entire process would have been a failure. However, it wouldn’t have been a failure at all because I learned a lot doing this. Instinctively, we typically look at things two ways. Winning or Losing. Success or Failure. However, it’s not always that black and white. For example, I may not get on Saturday Night Live due to my audition and I could consider that a failure, but I learned how to create a solo routine, performed a solo routine, and the entire process of doing so reinforced my belief that hard work pays off, which I consider a success. It’s all about how you look at it. It reminds me of that scene in Rudy when he tells the janitor that he quit the football team because he didn’t make the dress list. The janitor reminds him, in a tough love kind of way, of how far he’s come and how much he’s accomplished highlighting all the successes he sees compared to the failure that Rudy does.
During this process, I didn’t perform my routine or do any solo performance whatsoever until the night of the show. Obviously, that’s not the best approach because you want to practice your material in front of an audience to figure out what works and what doesn’t beforehand. I didn’t do that. Mainly because I never did this before so the 25 days I had to prepare was spent writing material rather than performing in front of a live audience. Sure, you could make the case that I should have been doing this a long time ago, but solo was never really a focus of mine. With no solo shows under my belt or scheduled, I practiced in front of friends and family. I loved testing out characters for them. Sometimes they didn’t even realize I was doing it. My girlfriend had heard every character in the book before I finalized my routine. She also helped keep me motivated on characters I felt so-so on telling me that I just needed to keep at it. For that, I am immensely grateful. My family, the same thing. They listened to me do impressions and based on their laughs and facial reactions I knew one of three things: keep it, work it, or rid it. Either keep it because it was strong, work on it because…well it needed work, or get rid of it because it just plain sucked.
Preparing my routine, one night, I ran through my 5 minutes (introducing and removing different characters) for 5 hours straight. I remember coming home from work and it being 7pm. I put my bag down and immediately started going through my routine and the next thing I knew it was midnight. Hours went by like seconds. I did the same routine so many times that I didn’t think it was funny anymore. Then the second-guessing myself started settling in which meant removing characters and adding/removing lines. The second-guessing part is the worst part because you debate scrapping everything and starting over which halts all progress you’ve made. Not to mention it destroys your confidence. You think “this sucks it’s not funny” and then your motivation goes right out the door. But, the important thing to remember is that you should run it past someone else or test it out in public before scrapping what you already have because that way you’ll know for certain.
The night before the audition, I did my routine again for hours on end, over and over, in my apartment. This time, timing it with my phone. Once again (and too close to the show date I may add) adding and removing characters based on my time length. “Oh this character takes 1 minute to introduce, get rid of it….oh but these two will take 15 seconds and this one will be 2 minutes.” Panic Mode. Finally I made a decision of who I was going to do, what I was going to do, and how I was going it do it. I picked my characters and that was it. No more edits and no more changes. Otherwise, I was going to lose my mind as well as my confidence in my routine. I remember tossing and turning all night long. I kept waking up and thinking about my characters and lines. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night, doing a Christopher Walken impression, and then rolling back over and trying to go to sleep but instead staring at the ceiling.
The day of the audition, I was running through my characters and impersonations over and over throughout the day. I was even running them past co-workers in my free-time at work. I took off early (paid time off) to rush home and work on it some more. I went home and did the routine again for 3 hours straight. A 5 minute routine over and over for 3 hours straight. Once again, timing it and trying to make it as close to 5 minutes as possible. My running order concrete. Nothing changing. A few hours later, it was time for the showcase. Sitting in the greenroom, I felt confident about my routine because I’d practiced over and over and over again, but I was still a bit nervous. Not as nervous as I would have been had I not prepared so thoroughly. I sat there thinking about my lines and staring at my phone with my list of characters on them. Finally, it was my time to go out on stage….
After the audition, when I walked off stage I was a whirlwind of emotions. I was proud of myself for putting in the work to create a solo routine, but I also wasn’t entirely satisfied. I knew that I could have done a better job, but I know that in order to do that I needed more reps. Relentless rehearsal. You can always do a better job…there is always a better to your best. One feeling I didn’t have was a sense of relief. In a way, I was glad it was over because it was something I had been stressed about, but I also look at this whole thing as just beginning. For example, this was one of the ‘10,000’ solo performances I will do in my life.
So what now? Whether I get picked for the next round or not, that’s not the purpose of this blog. I am happy with what I did because I know I tried my absolute hardest. I busted my ass to do what I did and I know that, with anything, if you want to become good at something it takes dedication and drive. The purpose of this post is to put an emphasis on preparation and what I learned throughout the process of preparing and performing in my first ever solo performance. For those who are still going to do the showcase, in my opinion, don’t look at this as “this is my big break”, but instead as it’s just another performance. You shouldn’t be extra motivated to do a good job because it’s ultimately an audition for SNL. Look at it as ‘it’s just another show.’ It’s not about the result or the destination, it’s about the action. The Journey. Put on a good show because you want to put on a good show. Nothing else. You have to put in the hard work, the relentless rehearsal and time commitment, and you have to believe in yourself and your abilities. Pure confidence.
After you’ve done all that, there is no way you can fail.