At the time of this writing I am 4 years into stand-up. It’s been a lot of fun and just recently I have felt like I am beginning to ‘get it’. I have a long road ahead of me, but recently have heard from some of the regulars how quickly I’m growing. How each time I’m up there is a huge improvement over the last. It’s great to hear and I know exactly which pieces of advice have had a tangible effect on my act, so I’d like to pass them on to any other young comedians reading this in a similar situation as me. I hope this can help some of you out there. Let’s get onto the list.
1. What’s your job? To make them laugh.
Deceptively simple, but think about why people come to a comedy club. They come to forget about life for an evening. They want to laugh, and that’s it. Once I realized this and stopped putting pressure on myself to write jokes that were “funny, deep and thought provoking” I was able to let go, and my jokes started growing organically. It’s only when you start building a following when people come out because they want to hear your point of view on deeper topics. Until then, they don’t need a joke to check all three boxes, just “funny” is more than enough to send them home happy. Take the pressure off yourself, you’ll feel much better for it.
2 Where the laugh comes from.
This is a big one, and it’s actually salvaged premises I’d been struggling to make work for ages. Exceptions exist, but generally the reason a joke gets a laugh is because the tension has been built up, and then something catches them off guard. This element of surprise can often be the final piece of the puzzle in turning a joke from “good premise” to “solid bit.” If you’ve been doing a joke for a while and it never lands, try looking at the end, and see if you can add more of a twist to it. I’ve also heard this phenomenon referred to as “all premise, no punch.”
3. Be likeable. Smile.
Another simple one, but it’s helped me a lot. As I said earlier, unless they’ve come out specifically to see you or you have an established character who’s a bit of a grump, look like you’re happy to be there. If you don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself, then why should they? They’re going to feed off of your energy. The audience decides in the first 30 seconds whether they like you or not, this can have a huge influence on whether or not they laugh at your jokes. If they like you, they want you to do well. Smile, endear yourself to the audience.
4. The mic is powerful.
Because you’re holding the mic, the audience will do what you tell them to do. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Next time rather than asking an open question like “Any couples in tonight?” which is a yes or no question and gives them the option to just not answer, try telling them what to do, like “Couples make some noise!” or “Couples gimme a show of hands.” and raise your own hand. Monkey see, monkey do. I guarantee you’ll get far better engagement from your audience this way.
5. Don’t be afraid to tap out early.
Your job is to make them laugh, not to finish your script. If you’re doing a 5 minute set and you destroy the room 4 minutes in, take your laugh and get the hell off the stage. Always leave them wanting more. Alternatively, there’s no shame in finishing your set early if it’s not going well. Only you know how long your set was supposed to be. Try to think big picture about the show as a whole. You might be comfortable bombing onstage, but there’s a high chance it’ll kill the mood of the show, putting the host is under more pressure to bring the energy back. This might affect whether or not they bring you back, don’t make the host’s job harder than it already is. Not to mention that to the audience, sitting through a painful 4 minutes is much preferable than sitting through a painful 8. Comparatively a strong 5 is far better than a mediocre 8. No audience member is going to be disappointed when the comedian bombing gets off early. Trust me, we’ve all been there.
That’s it for part 1 of this article, I’m trying to keep these things short and sweet, nothing I hate more than clicking on an article only to see the scroll bar is 2 pixels high. Stay tuned for part 2!