Last month I saw three shows. One was a series of sketch comedies, another one an improv show, and the last one was a stand-up show. Out of a total of 29 performers in the three shows, the vast majority of them were wearing tennis shoes, jeans, and t-shirts while on stage. Okay - so what?
Years ago, when I was in an improv workshop with Robin Williams (before he got famous), one of the things that set him apart - along with his quick mind - was that he dressed to express his playfulness. While the rest of us wore the usual jeans, t-shirts and regular tennis shoes, on any given night Robin might show up in red tennis shoes, yellow socks, bright blue pants, a vibrantly stripped shirt, and paisley suspenders. This not only made him stand out, but more importantly, it gave the audience a key to his persona, and made him memorable, before he had even opened his mouth.
When everyone is dressed the same, what feels to the performers like individual casualness, ends up coming across as a uniform, striping the uniqueness from themselves and the characters they're portraying. Yes, I know the audience is supposed to suspend reality, but watching someone playing the President of the United States, or a collage dean, while wearing dirty tennis shoes and torn jeans makes us work awfully hard at it. If you know you’re going to be playing these types of roles in a sketch show, why not at least wear some dressy pants and a nice shirt and jacket? And you can make them your own - they could be any color or style to suit your personality.
Show us who you are - capture your persona. Every now and then at a stand-up comedy show, I’ll see a male performer wearing a suit and tie, or a female wearing an interesting dress, and right away they get my attention. Of course they have to deliver the goods, but if they do, they’re going to be remembered more clearly, and for longer, than if they were wearing the same old jeans and t-shirt.
Imagine this: A couple of weeks after a group of friends see a sketch, improv, or stand-up comedy show, one of the friends says, “Hey do you remember that guy in the show who was so funny? You know – the guy wearing jeans and a t-shirt?” And his friends are trying to figure out which one he's talking about. “You mean the guy with the long brown hair?” “No, you know, the guy with the …. He was talking about cats or something …?” So they're all trying to figure out which guy he's talking about, right? Now imagine the friend saying, “Hey, you remember the funny guy wearing the red bow tie?” Now, everybody remembers just who he is talking about! And – if they see that guy in another show a few months later, and he's wearing his red bow tie – they are going to be anticipating that he's going to be funny, before he even says his first line!
So, ask yourself, do you want to be remembered by the people in the audience? Audiences that may include casting directors, producers, and/or writers? You might think that all you have to do is be a good performer - and that's a big part of it, of course - but there are so many people, and videos, and shows that are competing for our attention, that we really do have to stand out a bit. Of course what you wear, like what Robin Williams wore, should be a part of you or at least part of your stage persona, not just something you throw on in order to be noticed.
And how do you find the right clothes to fit your persona? Experiment. Are you a wacky type? A serious, angry type? A droll, low-key type? As you experiment with clothes, you may even find that they help bring out certain traits in you – traits that will be remembered long after the audience has left the building.
Happy New Year!