Overcoming the "Ivory Tower" in art and Trolling a Bartender

How do you make people give a shit about art?

Put more delicately: In making art, especially anything performative, it can be all too easy to get locked into the echo chamber of your community. How can you break out of this? How can you engage the "civilian" community?

I can only speak to my experience in a 4-year conservatory-style theater program, BUT: when you only make work that is for your community, or presented to your community, it creates a kind of safety net. In the context of a school, where the point is to learn, this is generally a good thing. To get better at art (or most things, I imagine) you need to risk failing, and overcome your fear of failure.

However, this can also become your Achilles Heel, because over time you begin to make assumptions about what an audience knows about the form/craft/culture of the art, and also about the world in general. That's why actors can pour their soul into a production of a play that the paying public won't get jazzed for. It's the litmus test of "who cares?"

I think it takes a fair bit of self-awareness to overcome this. And I think this is especially true for comedians, who live in a world that's half performance and half conversation.

I got into a conversation with a bartender and some patrons before an open mic last night. It was about the difference between East Coast and West Coast rap. I actually don't know a lot about the distinctions, and the bartender wouldn't believe it. He kept asking if I was "Trolling" him, which I was not. Eventually he got somewhat upset that I wouldn't admit to trolling him.

This lead me to an important but unexplored realization about the way I come off to people: when I ask earnest questions about things as a well-spoken young person in a metropolitan area, it comes off as if I'm bullshitting. It comes off as disingenuous. Can you imagine a worse feeling to have about a person trying to tell you jokes?

More thoughts on this later, and another comedian interview coming soon!

-Jon

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