As a comedian and a 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu blue belt, I get asked the same question a lot, “What is harder? Performing stand-up comedy or training Jiu-Jitsu?” and the answer is quite simple. They are both easy to start but hard to stay consistent at.
In jiu-jitsu, there is a saying, “Your time on the mat never lies.”, so it’s tough to be a fake black belt in today’s world of the internet because your performance on the mats comes from the years of trial and tribulations that you endured. The same goes with comedy. Even though there are no belt rankings in the art (a potentially hilarious bit, btw), your experience doesn’t lie on stage.
Starting in either art form is terrifying, but the best way to start is just to show up. Personally, going to my first open mic was scarier than going to my first jiu-jitsu class. You walk through the door at a gym knowing that there is a big chance that you’ll get mauled by everyone, but that’s how you learn.
In comedy, on the other hand, it’s pretty hard to check your ego at the door. You are putting your personality out there, and then you are creating a craft that builds around your personality. In jiu-jitsu, you learn the craft before creating a move list of techniques that suit your personality.
Both have the same obstacle when you start, fear of failing. Let’s say you have been telling this one joke that always hits when you are hanging out with your buddies, you write it down, you practice it in front of the mirror, and then you get up on stage and tell this joke, but you bomb. It’s almost like learning a move that you saw on a YouTube tutorial and tapping a white belt, thinking you’ll catch someone during a competition, but you lose horribly.
The best lessons are learned by putting yourself through the fire. It’s also best to keep repeating that same move or that same material until you feel it works or not. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Comedy is the ability to withstand torture.”, and I think that on so many levels in both art forms. I actually prefer to be booed off stage than to be under my coach’s knee on belly, though. I’m sure my sternum prefers it too.
Getting to know your community is also a big part of it. You are only as strong as those around you. Whether it’s the training partners that challenge you daily or the other comics who happen to kill it on stage at the same show you’re on.
But, as much as I love competing. It’s not all about competition. The only competition you should really worry about is yourself. If you put up those roadblocks, it’ll be up to you to break them down later. Having people you can share ideas with is just as important as the people you go over techniques with.
There will be people who will be out for themselves and take advantage of your kindness if you don’t have a good judgment of character, but those are lessons you learn throughout your journey. You would be surprised by how giving people can be when they already reached the goals you want to accomplish.
In the world of jiu-jitsu, there are a lot of black belts who would go out of their way to answer your question until you understand it because it’s the craft that they are passionate about. In the comedy world, some comedians help, but it’s not so common. Paying your dues is different in BJJ because black belts go through so much to get to where they are.
The best places to learn in comedy are the open mics. That’s the mat time. You are with your community, and they give tips to change your material up a bit and help them with theirs. Those are your training partners.
Another thing that I have learned from both is finding your influence. When I started getting into martial arts as a teenager, I looked up to fighters like Urijah Faber, Frankie Edgar, Robson Moura, and Dominick Cruz because they were the smaller fighters and similar to my short guy stature. So, I tried to mimic their style because I felt like that would be best for me.
But, I also try to implement specific techniques from other martial artists that inspire me regularly. It’s the same with comedy. My favorite comedians were Bill Burr, Joe Rogan (of course), George Lopez, Adam Hunter, and Ralphie May. That was the comedy style that inspired me to get on stage, and of course, I mimicked them when I started out.
But now I have my own comedy style. Their subtle influences appear in my set, but I created my own craft from watching the greats and getting to know myself more as a comic.
So just by learning and practicing these art forms, I realized that they are both a form of learning about yourself. Learning about your limits and breaking them. Seeing things that you didn’t know you were afraid of and facing them.
When you think you can’t go another round, but you keep doing it anyway because you’re shaping your mind to get through adversity. When you bomb on stage, and you contemplate getting a regular job, but you know that life is short, and there is more to it than thinking, “What if?”. These art forms are just a daily reminder that it is preparing you for the art of life and knowing that you can take on the challenge. So, in conclusion, most art forms are a lot alike, just a practice of accepting daily challenges to prepare you for life itself.
Gian Carlo is a 10th Planet Blue Belt and a comedian from Puerto Rico. He currently resides in Albuquerque where he trains under “Nasty” Nate Harris, and hosts 2 podcasts (Unemployed Commentators & The Shoot)