The best lesson I learned about perfecting your craft came during a Royal Caribbean Cruise. My family and I enjoyed the evening shows put on after dinner. On one night a comedian, Rondell Sheridan, performed. Rotund with a smile and demeanor that would make you proud to have him as your next door neighbor, Sheridan did a set during the after dinner hour.
There were two other comedian that performed on the cruise. Over the course of the seven days at sea, all three did two sets. One during what I call the family hour since parents and children were in attendance. And the material had to be family friendly. Read funny, but not side splitting. The second was for adults only. This is were the blue material was unleashed and the comedians were supposed to be the most hilarious. Read laughed so hard I wet my pants funny.
I attended both sets of the other two comedians. The bottom line was they were not very funny. Their family hour sets were blah. Their adult sets were profanity laced and seemed more of an excuse to curse up a storm than to tell jokes.
On the night that Sheridan did his family hour set a mother and her approximately twelve year old daughter walked in late and took seats near the front of the stage. Sheridan stopped his planned routine of jokes and began asking the mother and daughter questions. Based on the answers he began riffing. He did what comedians call “writing on stage”, essentially being funny by just talking about random subjects. That hour was the funniest I’d ever experienced. All done with no blue material and no curse words.
What separated Sheridan from the other two? The more I thought about it the more I realized it had to be hard work. Sheridan had to have tried and failed countless times on the comedy stage, but each time learning something from the effort and using the lessons to hone his craft until he was on top of his game. Even then not resting, but continuing to work hard, learning, and getting even better.
The take away message for me is if I’m going to get better as a novelist I’ve got to be like Rondel Sheridan. I’ve got to keep reading and writing regularly. Not being afraid of failure or criticism. Learning and growing.
Most importantly, never giving up.