I love stand-up comedy. Recently, I had the privilege of attending live performances by two great comedians, Greg Giraldo and Chelsea Handler. Both comedians kept me laughing constantly during each of their hour-long sets. They both were masters at exposing their own vulnerabilities and truly making it feel like they were just having a friendly conversation with the audience. While the comedians clearly had some scripted material, it was their ability to improv and roll with the punches that truly showed their greatness.
After watching these two stars in action, I realize why stand-up has historically been a great way to break into acting. Performing stand-up comedy is clearly difficult. Rising to the top of the comedy industry requires tenacity, luck and tons of talent. But there is no doubt that mastering stand-up comedy can lead to success as an actor. Stand-up comics are masters of stage presence. Even without an agent or leading roles on their resume, successful comics can build up their reputation within the entertainment industry.
Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne Barr, Bill Cosby and Ray Romano are just a few examples of comics who have transitioned into sitcom stars. These comics have mastered the ability to NOT act. Whether they are on stage or on screen they always look like real people with real vulnerabilities having real conversations.
Of course, there are plenty of successful actors who are not good at stand-up comedy. But I believe that all actors can learn from stand-up comics. And anyone who is serious about acting should study and excel at improv.