Bit By Bit

I’ve got a new favorite catchphrase – “Just do your bits” – and it comes from a fascinating profile of the comedian and actress Maria Bamford that appeared in the current New York Times Magazine.

Among its many insights, the article offers a behind-the-scenes view of the amount of labor – surprising, no doubt, to the casually curious observer – that goes into the crafting of a successful performance.

Each “bit” in Maria’s comedy performance is painstakingly crafted through thoughtful development and testing.

That means that, even if the prospect of performance is frightening and overwhelming for her, she knows that if she just does her bits – each one in its turn, each one the product of a meticulous process – the chances are good that she’ll connect successfully with her audience.

This one, and then, when it’s time, the next one. Each one with integrity, duly delineated and differentiated from its predecessor.

Just do your bits.

Bits, beats, dings, phrases – different people use different words, but they’re all meant to identify and describe a single act, a single statement, the smallest unit of emotional and intellectual transaction possible. When it’s broken down into small parts, a large, complex task is less intimidating. It’s like the old riddle: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

The extra added advantage is that working this way results in performances that are articulated and nuanced in a way that mimics the subtle and delicate arrangement of details in life. For the singing actor, that’s what it’s all about.