I subscribe to just two print magazines:
Inc., because it helps me build my business.
Rolling Stone, because it helps me appear cool in front of my children (although I’m pretty sure I lost that battle at “print magazines”).
Rolling Stone covers music, of course. But there is also, usually, an article about somebody otherwise famous.
Last month’s featured famous person was comedian Chris Rock.
There’s something about stand-up comedy that I find endlessly fascinating. In fact, were I slightly more troubled and considerably funnier, I might have contemplated it as a career choice.
What I like most about stand-up is that it’s done without any partners, background visuals or equipment. It’s just one person and their thoughts, standing there and, if all goes well, making a living.
And so I tend to pay close attention when comedians talk about their craft. How do they come up with the jokes? How do they keep it fresh? How do they try out new material?
That’s why when Chris Rock said this at the bottom of page 34, in response to a question about why he sticks with the same topics year after year, it caught my eye:
“Most singers have, like, three songs, four songs that they keep writing over and over again. If you’re Prince, you might have five or six. So I have four or five jokes.”
Four or five jokes?!
This is a guy who famously begins every tour with completely new material, unlike other comedians who just keep dropping new stuff in and around the long-time favorites.
How is that possible? It’s possible, because he didn’t literally mean “songs” and “jokes.”
He meant themes. The words themselves change, but year after year, he keeps finding new ways to more or less make the same points.
Isn’t that redundant? Absolutely. Absolutely.
But redundancy – or consistency, if you want to think of it in a more positive way – is how you become known for something.
It’s why when I mentioned Chris Rock you might have thought, “I love that guy.” Or, “I hate that guy.”
It’s not the jokes per se; it’s the way he presents himself and delivers them, wrapped around the topics he consistently covers, that determine how likeable, memorable and compelling he is to you.
When it comes to developing your “act” as a professional – whether you are a solo or the head of something bigger – the concept of “four or five jokes” is worth keeping in mind.
Like Chris Rock, you don’t need to keep inventing from scratch. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Having too many themes is going to water down your overall message, preventing people from associating you with any particular point of view.
Does that mean you shouldn’t constantly be working to develop new ways to explain your work and put yourself out into the world?
No. If you didn’t do that it would get boring.
But notice that there is a difference between the underlying themes and the specific words through which you express them.
The themes stay fairly constant; the words keep evolving.
Here’s the bottom line:
One of the concerns my clients have when considering a newsletter, blog, podcast, or any other content format that repeats, is whether or not they can, “keep coming up with new material.”
The good news is, you don’t need an endless supply of new material. Rather, like a great comedian, you need a handful of stuff – your stuff – that you continually mine, reconfigure and reiterate.
Do that long enough and consistently enough and maybe, one day, you too will find yourself on the cover of the Rolling Stone. (Note: Your kids still won’t think you’re cool.)
- Do you remember who sang the 1972 song, “Cover of the Rolling Stone?”
- Watch it here.
- You cheated and googled #1 before you answered, didn’t you?
- All of the above.
- This is starting to get annoying.
- Let’s just stop this nonsense right here.
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