On The 10-Year-Rule in Stand-up Comedy

First – Some Backstory / Our Story So Far:

So, previously, I have posted on The 10-Year Rule in Creativity…

(see bold below, i.e., posts #7 and #8)

  1. StoryAlity #6 – What is Creativity and How Does It Work?
  2. StoryAlity #6B – Flow Theory, Creativity and Happiness
  3. StoryAlity #7 – On “the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  4. StoryAlity #8 – More on the 10-Year Rule” and Creativity
  5. StoryAlity #9 – How To Be More Creative

e.g. And if you haven’t read posts #7 and #8 first yet – then – here is `the nub of it’ – i.e., this is what the scientific study of creativity since 1950 tells us:

`Creative achievement presumes that the creator acquires the knowledge and skills necessary to produce world-class work in the chosen domain of achievement. Typically it takes about a full decade of deliberate practice and learning before reaching the point that you can start producing masterworks. This is the so-called “10-year rule.”’

(Simonton 2011: 119)

That quote is from this excellent book:

Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (Simonton 2011)

And so, let’s look at stand-up comedy.

Q: Why?

A: Because it’s fun. And, funny.

Q: Shouldn’t we be… working?

A: Stand-up comedy is work. You can get paid for it. Have you tried it? (It’s hard. But, it gets easier for some. 🙂

Q: What’s this got to do with anything?

A: Well for example, stand-up comic (Australian) Paul Hogan was in the top 23 Return on Investment movie, Crocodile Dundee (1986). See below, there’s a picture which proves it.

Australian Movies and the Top 23 RoI Movies

Q; Why is that relevant to: anything?

A: Because my (2016) PhD thesis was on creativity, narrative, and filmmaking patterns in the top 20 RoI and bottom 20 RoI movies. And, it’s connected / related to: all that. And a lot of the top 20 RoI movies are comedy movies.

And, mainly because I didn’t get to write very much in the PhD Thesis about the #23 movie, Crocodile Dundee (even though it’s interesting – for lots of reasons) – and, I had some things I really want you to know about it. So I’m saying them now.

Ok so here goes… something.

Observation soon reveals that: guys like Bill Hicks, Louis CK, Doug Stanhope, Daniel Tosh, Jim Carrey and Paul Hogan (just to name a few random examples that spring to mind) didn’t `start out’ as comedy geniuses… And I can empirically prove it, with supporting evidence.

It took them about ten – or sometimes, even twenty – years of practice (hard work) in their cultural creative domain (the domain of stand-up comedy). Paul

Paul Hogan for example had successful TV comedy career before he made Crocodile Dundee (1986). During that time he developed a `feel for the game’ of screen comedy…

So let’s do a quick `Before-and-After’ comparison, on a few of these stand-up comics, just to prove my point about the ten-year rule in creativity – even though, it’s still true, whether I try and prove it, or not.

i.e. If something is empirically-true, it doesn’t really matter who says it, or who doesn’t say it – it’s still true either way… (That’s how facts and empirical evidence and science, works. We are not `living in a post-truth world’, and, some things are empirically true and not “relatively true” – it’s mainly just that “Donald Trump is a lying sack of sh*t”, Louis CK, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, 2017). To wit:

And now – also for the purpose of scholarly academic study, let’s look at Louis CK earlier in his career (2004):

(NOTE: Strong Language & Potentially Offensive Concepts & PTSD Trigger warnings – but all very very funny – and edgy. And, if you don’t think it’s funny, who knows, maybe you have brain-damage – or were born without a sense of humour – which is, actually: brain damage). …Well – unless these are indeed Strong Language &/or Potentially Offensive Concepts &/or PTSD Triggers, in your specific case, but, this is the problem with communication. The Universe is basically trying to kill us all, that’s: How Evolution Works. (And the Universe, doesn’t care who it offends.) Still, it’s great to be alive. (Well, unless in your case, it isn’t.) See: Gaia is a Tough Bitch for more.

Anyway so here comes a “Before & After” comparison of: some comedians, at work.

Now let’s look even earlier at some Louis CK stand-up. Keep bearing in mind, the “ten-year-rule” in creativity (Hayes 1989, Simonton 2011, etc). This was Louis CK in 1988:

Ok now let’s look at some recent Doug Stanhope stand-up:

And now some early Doug Stanhope: (keep thinking of `the ten-year-rule’, please)

And now some early Bill Hicks: (remember, Bill started doing standup VERY EARLY in life)

And some later Bill Hicks: (remember, the ten-year-rule. Did I mention that yet?)

And Bill Burr over the years (1995-2017):

And now look at some early Paul Hogan:

And some more:

And now – the Trailer, for Crocodile Dundee (1986), the top 23 RoI (return-on-investment) movie.

The point is, we see stand-up comedians “succeed” – after about ten years (at least) on average, of internalizing their creative domain, developing a feel for the game (Bourdieu’s habitus) and doing a lot of shows (in crummy bars) and gradually using trial-and-error, in learning (ie Doing: Science!) to develop their skills, material, techniques and routines.

During this process, they find out which jokes “kill” (the audience) and which jokes “corpse” (ie don’t work). They tend to develop a “unique” style, and a schtick (a comedy `voice’). And along the way (over ten or more years, on average), they keep (and, polish) “the good stuff”, and they discard “the not-so-good stuff”.

i.e. They keep the “new and useful” (creative) jokes, or anecdotes, and visual-gags, etc and lose the stuff that doesn’t work (the “old and not funny” stuff.)

Ok now – guess what.

This process (of becoming a successful comedian) is: blind-variation and selective-retention (BVSR), or the evolutionary creative process of: natural selection in bio-culture. (See also D K Simonton‘s excellent research on BVSR, for a lot more on all that!)

i.e. Cultural Evolution. That’s How Creativity Works.

For more see:

  1. StoryAlity #137 – Culturology – and, the CES (Cultural Evolution Society)

And articles like:

Simonton, D. K. (2010). Creative thought as blind-variation and selective-retention: combinatorial models of exceptional creativity. Physics of Life Reviews, 7 (June)(2), 156-179. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2010.02.002

The point is: If you understand how evolution works (in biology, in culture, in bio-culture) then, it makes it easier to do it.

Hey, a question for ya.

Q: What do you get when you cross: a road, with… a chicken?

A: A joke.

(Now, spoken In a Louis CK `Valley-Girl’ accent: “Oh-Em-Gee, that’s just soooo “meta”…”)

Hey – and now guess what else. There’s this:

`The Atomic Playboy and Radiation Romeo’ online comedy-chatbot (Meany 2014)

Which is all about:

`Humour in artificial intelligence agents:  This PhD project is composed of two parts: a creative project; and, an exegesis. The creative project will develop a pair of online chatbots that will interact as ‘comedian’ and ‘straight man’ when a human user delivers a topic. This blog will be used as a journal recording the production process.

[The comedy chatbot is called] The Atomic Playboy and the Radiation Romeo. 

The button below will open a new browser window displaying the Flash interface for Atomic and Romeo (Version 16 with Preloader). You will find a page of introductory text, some instructions and then the interface where you can suggest a topic for conversation. ‘

(Source: Meany 2014, online)

See here, for the PhD about it! `The performance of comedy by artificial intelligence agents’ (Meany 2014).

And – for a whole lot more books and info on all of this great stuff, (and yes it is great), see also:

On Memetics and Cultural Evolution:

  1. StoryAlity #130Why Some Things Are Popular (Velikovsky 2014)
  2. StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle
  3. StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)
  4. StoryAlity #133On the giallo genre
  5. StoryAlity #134The ANZCA2016 Conference
  6. StoryAlity #135PhD Dissertation Addendum
  7. StoryAlity #136Pop Culture in Asia and Oceania (2016)
  8. StoryAlity #137 – Culturology – and, the CES (Cultural Evolution Society)
  9. StoryAlity #138Darwin on the evolution of words and languages
  10. StoryAlity #139On the evolution of Darwin’s `Tree of Life’ Diagram
  11. StoryAlity#140 – The Evolution of the Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988-onwards)

Thanks for reading!

…Thoughts/ Comments / Feedback…?


JT Velikovsky PhD

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/


Meany, M. M. (2014). The performance of comedy by artificial intelligence agents. PhD, Victoria University, Melbourne.

Simonton, D. K. (2011). Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (2010). Creative thought as blind-variation and selective-retention: combinatorial models of exceptional creativity. Physics of Life Reviews, 7 (June)(2), 156-179. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2010.02.002

2 thoughts on “StoryAlity #8B – The 10-Year-Rule in Standup Comedy

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #100A – The 3 Universal Laws of Holon/Partons | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity #160 – Reply to `Why are Australian films now so unpopular?’ | StoryAlity

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