Conventional wisdom tells us the comedy business is for outgoing people, people who like to laugh and be around others who laugh, people who are the life of the party.
If you’re an introvert, you may recoil at the idea of going to a party at all.
Yet you have this burning desire to create comedy, and perhaps turn that into a career.
You still can. A lot of people do. Many comedy professionals consider themselves to be awkward in social situations. And there are more self-professed introverts in the comedy business than you might realize. In fact, being introverted is just the beginning. Some of the most successful people in comedy consider themselves to be reclusive, bipolar, on the autism spectrum, or depressed.
Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Conan O’Brien, Ellen DeGeneres, Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright and Richard Pryor are just a few famous comedians who are or were introverts. The list of behind-the-scenes writers and other comedy professionals who are introverts is probably even longer. It might be easier to make a list of the comedy professionals who aren’t introverts.
So, just because you don’t like groups or prefer to be alone doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in comedy. In fact, being an introvert might even be an advantage. Introverts can find it easier to hunker down and write, whereas extroverts might be more inclined to visit with friends or go out on the town.
Being an introvert is so common in comedy that if you’re looking for a job in the business, most of the people who hire writers, for example, are well aware that introverts often make good comedy writers, and if they figure out you’re an introvert, it certainly not count against you.
One area that might be a struggle for you is at least appearing as though you possess the social graces. You need these to succeed in comedy. People in show business like to work with people they like, and people will like you more—even if you’re an introvert—if you’re at the very least polite, considerate, and free-flowing with positive things to say.
So, if you struggle with being socially adept, that’s something to practice.
When it comes to the specific area in comedy you want to succeed in, you can chose the medium that suits your level of introvertedness.
Stand-up, improv, and acting are the most people-centered outlets in comedy.
Comic acting is probably the most social. It’s difficult to be an introvert on a movie or TV set. It’s typically a tight-knit group of people, and as a performer you’re going to be surrounded by people constantly: co-stars, makeup and hair people, script supervisors, producers, the director…
Stand-up comedy is slightly less interactive. Yes, there are club owners and bookers to interact with, and the audience will often want to talk to you before and after a show, but Jerry Seinfeld has explained that while actually performing standup on stage, the introvert is in a safe place. You’re not interacting with people up there. You’re alone under the lights, just talking to yourself in a way, with the audience often shrouded in darkness.
But some are even uncomfortable on stage. Mitch Hedberg was so uncomfortable he wore sunglasses curing his performances, and avoided maning eye contact with the audience.
If standup sounds like too much interaction for you, there are other outlets you can pursue.
You can create youtube videos in solitude or with a threadbare crew. This is an established outlet to succeed in comedy. Clay Weiner made videos with just one other actor, and parlayed his success into a career directing funny TV commercials. Bo Burnham posted videos of parody songs he recorded alone in his room that led to a contract with Comedy Central.
If you do street art, you can chose when and how to interact with people, and you can defy social norms as much as you want, thus avoiding a lot of the pitfalls of being awkward with others.
Bill Murray has taken this route. His primary medium now is the street, surprising people with unexpected real-life interactions. This is a great way to control the amount and number of social interactions you experience. You can make money doing it either by putting out your hat after your performance, or posting videos of your stunts on youtube, which can build your platform. Check out some of Conner O’Malley’s gonzo videos to see this tactic in action. His antics landed him a writing job on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
But if you don’t want to go outside and interact with anyone, you can stay home and keep your interactions to a minimum. Just pursue work as a freelance writer. You might have to talk to an editor on the phone once in a while, but that’s about all. And if you work your way up to writing books with traditional publishers, you might have to talk to an agent. A good agent, however, will understand that you’re an introvert, and will spare you from additional meetings with publishers or publicity teams. National Lampoon co-founder Henry Beard took this route after leaving the magazine.
If you want to eliminate even more people from your life, write books and self-publish them on amazon. Build your author platform by being active on social media — that’s important if you plan to make money at it. Blog as often as you can, and build a mailing list. You can do all this without ever interacting with another soul in real life.
You can also animate cartoons or be a cartoonist. These are notoriously solitary professions a lot of introverts gravitate to.
Some introverts go through life wishing they could be extroverts, assuming that life would be so much easier if they loved being around other people. But I don’t buy that.
Being an introvert can be just as rewarding as being an extrovert. It can be fun and fulfilling. You can spend your time thinking, being introspective, and doing your own thing. While the rest of the world is out hooting and hollering at the bars, you can be succeeding in comedy all day and then taking a break to binge on Netflix at night. What could be sweeter than that?