The “delete” button is the most important button on your key board.
Often less is more. Simple is best.
By cutting stuff out, the things that remain have more impact.
I’ve learnt this from putting the finishing touches to my Edinburgh show. I’ve had to cut jokes that work, jokes that I like because they don’t fit into the show. Perversely by losing the laughs I have made the show better.
Delete is the hardest button to press, so get help doing it: get notes from a director (like I did), do a draft and give it to someone else to edit. Other people have a distance from your work that you cannot have. They can give you rude truths that you might not see, or choose to ignore because you don’t what to throttle your baby.
I’ve not just cut jokes but also simplified the message. You can say too much, diluting each message, and also confusing the piece. By saying everything you say nothing.
The takeaway: your editing is as important as your writing.
Another part of the power of delete is your decision when to jettison a creative project, an idea, a joke. You should be ruthless in what you cull from your output. By getting stuff that is crap off the slate you have more time to come up with something better. Don’t waste time on something that is average: kill it and come up with something else. When a joke I do dies at a new material gig I don’t view that as a creative failure, I view that as a creative victory: I know that joke is rubbish. I can let it go and try a different one. People are slow to chuck stuff they have made away, but they are just slowing up their progress. Put yourself under pressure to produce.
1. Be prolific.
2. Be ruthless. Delete your way to excellence.
You shouldn’t just delete stuff that isn’t working. Delete stuff that is working brilliantly after a set cut off point. Create a creative obis to force yourself to come up with something new. You only get better by practicing, by raising your bar, by putting yourself under pressure. How do you put yourself under pressure? Take away the comfort zone of your body of work, prove yourself all over again. Louis CK was meandering along, an average club act, but got massive by deciding to turn over an hour long show every year. At the end of the year he throws it away and starts from scratch again, working up stuff in low level clubs. He is like an open-mic guy again, and his bravery is rewarded: he gets better and better.
That’s why I chose to do my first solo show this year. I was totally unprepared in terms of material and skill-set in September 2011, I knew that if I wasn’t ready it was going to be a month of embarrassment. So I have got myself ready. Other comics say “I’m going to wait till I’m ready”. How about forcing yourself to be ready? If your ambition was to be physically strong, you wouldn’t say “I’m going to wait until my strength gradually improves naturally” you would get in the gym and do weights that were too heavy for you until the muscle got bigger.
That’s enough preaching. My show better be good after that!
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