In his book Smartcuts, Shane Snow shares the story of Second City, a school for actors and comedians in Chicago.
As you might expect, the story starts off with a scene where comedians are practicing for an upcoming show, standing on stage, improvising jokes.
What you might not expect is what happens: They bomb. Totally.
Snow explains—in gory detail—the train wreck that happens on stage as comedians drop unfunny, offensive, and just plain bad jokes. No one in the audience laughs; they all hold their collective breath, cringing, hoping for the skit to end.
In case you're wondering, Second City is not just some flophouse for bad comedians. It's one of the world's most famous comedy schools. Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert cut their teeth there.
So, what happened?
What Snow comes to find out is part of the Second City model that produces such incredible comedic talent: It embraces failure—even encourages it.
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