Jerry Seinfeld and Trevor Noah, Live!

No big deal (which usually means it’s a big deal), but in the space of 4 days, I got to see two comedy icons in action: the legendary Jerry Seinfeld and legend-in-making Trevor Noah.

For someone who loves humour, writing and is trying to improve at both, that is definitely a big deal. Why? Because nothing beats seeing two relentless masters of their craft.

Last Friday, I got to see Jerry performing the first show of his 2020 artist residency at the Beacon Theatre, one of his favourite stages to perform at. The next Monday, I got to attend a taping of the hit Daily Show hosted by Trevor Noah. Both of them were finely tuned performers leaving me utterly speechless afterwards.

Let’s start with Jerry Seinfeld - he was a machine.

But instead of being an evil one that used its potentially-all-conquering intelligence for world domination, he decided to use that brain to make jokes instead.

Every line he delivered, every bit, was so deliberate and poised, yet all at once spontaneous and energising. I had probably seen about a quarter of his jokes online already, but these same punchlines landed in a new way that landed just as hard as the first times I heard them. Same joke, told differently, so fresh.

I was witnessing a master of his craft, one who had reached the peak of his powers and could summon any line and bend it his way into a side-splitting joke.

Meanwhile, Trevor Noah?

Damn, this man is polished.

I had seen his stand-up live just a few months ago in Singapore, and obviously he was very comfortable doing that - but the Daily Show taping was something else.

That was watching someone come into his own skin, a person who had fully realised what his strengths are and was pressing all the right buttons on the controls, hitting all the winning combos. The whole time he was hosting the show (a near-hour long process), rather than crumble under the pressure, he was just basking in it.

No mistakes.

He was effortlessly flawless in his deliveries. Every cue and turn on stage, nailed without a hitch. Lines clearly rehearsed, but still told from the heart. Intonations and pronunciations, not a hiccup. And through it all, somehow just remaining wholly personable and sincere - because he was simply comfortable. This was a man who knew what he was doing, and was having fun doing it.

The craft behind their comedy

Mind you, the two are very different types of comedians. Jerry Seinfeld’s the kind of observational funny man who talks about everyday nothings and can somehow turn it into a 10-minute long bit that will have you going, “Oh how did I not notice that!”, and Trevor Noah’s more of a commentator on the state of the world right now that will get you thinking “Tell it like it is!”

Letting those two experiences sink in has really hammered it home for me - these two are so natural at their job now, it’s effortless for them. 

But in reality, it’s not.

I’ve noticed that when people watch comedy, they often simply think, “That was such a hilarious show, that guy is just so funny!” And… that’s it. They leave it at that. That these people are just born naturally funny, that they improvise the jokes fresh out of their brains on stage, and that’s it.

What people don’t realise is these aren’t effortless jobs, that it’s not just funny people going on stage, chatting, having fun and that’s it - job done. No, these are people who are constantly fine-tuning their words and making sure they deliver. Consistently. Constantly. Relentlessly.

The effortless shows they put on? Years of effort behind them. Comedy is a craft (this is not a joke.) You have plenty of comedians out there in the world, millions of them. Even in everyday life, in your usual social circles, you surely have met plenty of funny people. But how many of them actually make it as professional comedians, and are just blockbuster sell-outs once you mention their names? So few.

Staying on top

Even after “making it”, what’s even harder is staying consistently funny and making a steady career out of it at the very top. You’ve seen plenty of comedians tipped for the big time that are proper A-list famous for a year or two - and then they disappear.

But not Jerry Seinfeld or Trevor Noah.

Why?

Because they’re relentless.

(If you haven’t realised by now, I’m being relentless with my usage of the word “relentless”.)

Relentlessly dedicated to their craft and the quality they delivery, even now as the biggest names on the comedy scene. Do a quick Google search on their work ethics, pop up a podcast of their interviews on comedy, YouTube them dissecting its craft, and you’ll see tons of results on how deep they dig into thinking and practising, how hard they work behind the scenes.

Jerry Seinfeld thinks doing standup, even though he enjoys it, sometimes can be torture. The public scrutiny, the emotional risk of bombing, and the need to be fresh… but it’s work he loves and knows needs practising. So he’s decided to just be comfortable with torturing himself, so long as it means perfecting his comedy. He writes every day without fail. He’s performing and filming so many shows at once. He’s been known to have the same jokes in his acts for years, but still he’s always finding a new way to perfect the delivery of these jokes in every way until he can truly feel and say, “It’s done.” Heck, even that level of commitment takes commitment.

As for Trevor? The man’s juggling a global tour and The Daily Show right now, need I say more? Nightly shows while keeping on his toes, for an average Joe that surely blows - but not for Trevor Noah. The man’s just plugging away with a smile on his face, practising and achieving peak flawlessness every night. Put it simply, even Jerry Seinfeld’s complimented how hard-working Trevor is.

If you can be at the top, that’s great. But staying on top like these two have and will?

You’re going to have to be relentless.

(P.S If you made it to the end of this long read, here’s two bonus photos of the iconic restaurant, Tom’s, from the Seinfeld show!)

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