Vanity Fair has an excerpt from Alec Baldwin’s memoir “Nevertheless,” in which he says something so true, but rarely said, about the difference between doing comedy and creating comedy:
Whenever anyone told me I was funny, I was reminded of when people in high school tell someone that he can hit a fastball or shoot a basketball well. Then he gets to college and everyone is big and fast and strong. After that, if he turns professional, everyone around him seems inhuman. They’re the biggest, fastest, and strongest. That’s what Saturday Night Live was like for me. The worst idea the writers there came up with was funnier than the best thing I could think up. My definition of funny changed while working with them. If people think I can say a line in a way that gets a laugh, I’ll take it. But I’m not funny. The SNL writers are funny. Tina Fey is funny. Conan O’Brien is funny. You’re only funny if you can write the material. What I do is acting.
That’s a wonderful thing to remember any time you watch anyone performing material they didn’t write. It’s why no actor playing a standup comedian can be as good as a great comic doing their own material. There have been plenty of amazing singers in history, but the ones who can write and perform the songs are my favorites. Even Meryl Streep, as superlative as she is at portraying any number of remarkable characters, couldn’t do much unless someone else put those words in her mouth.