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Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Young Comic Asks for Guidance

By Jackson Nortyst. Be a sensei, leave some comments for him.

Below are some questions I struggle with as a relatively inexperienced comic and would appreciate perspective of more seasoned and/or funnier performers:

1. How many times do you bomb on a bit, especially one you're proud of or has worked well in the past, before you ditch it?

2. How much of the joke's merit is determined by the crowd and how much is derived from personal pride and amusement in the bit? Is it possible to even separate the two?

3. Does satisfaction with the level of laughter for a bit depend on the venue? Does this fluidity of threshold affect the merit of the joke?

4. When, if ever, do you retire a successful bit?

5. Am I completely over-thinking this?


Jackson Nortyst


Lafayette Wright said...

1. If it doesn't do what u want it to on a consistent basis kick it to the curb. u gotta be a pimp in this game.Don't fall in love with these hoes(jokes).

2. Personal pride and amusement doesn't matter if the crowd isn't laughing. After all you're in it to make people laugh. We've all written bits we really wanted to work that suck. If it doesn't get laughs kick that trick to the curb.


4.When it's on HBO

5.uh...Kick it to the curb?

*I should also mention that I average TWO gigs per year so I definitely know what I'm talking about.

Michael said...

1. Depends on how much I like it and whether it had any chance to succeed. If your best jokes aren't getting laughs the fact that a new joke isn't getting laughs doesn't tell you much about the new joke. I've had jokes that I didn't love and I tried out and they didn't go over so I dropped them. I had other jokes that I liked and they took a good number of tries to get laughs.

2. This is one where I probably disagree with many other people. Obviously you want laughs and you don't want to be in front of people doing a bit where you're the only one having a good time. On the other hand I think an audience can like and appreciate something without giving it a big laugh. If something has other positive characteristics like an insightful point or an engaging narrative that can make it worth keeping even if doesn't get big laughs. Obviously this is risky, and it is important to have a certain amount of humility about this, but as an audience member I know that I can appreciate a joke without laughing out loud.

3. Yes, absolutely. And no respectively.

4. When you don't like doing it anymore or when the audience is likely to have heard it already. Or when the subject matter has gotten tired.

5. Not completely.

Kyle Martin said...

1. A joke that might not work for one person might crush for another just based on delivery, punch lines and tags. Example: on some show (can’t remember) Chris Rock did bits by Stephen Wright and Stephen Wright did Chris Rock’s. Wright doing Rock’s racial bits was hilarious, but Rock doing Wright’s bits just wasn’t as good for some reason. It can never hurt trying the same joke with a different method.
If it worked in the past it means there was something there and you probably need to pin point what that aspect of it was and drop some parts out...unless they were pity laughs. Other times the idea itself might not be relatable to a broad enough audience and it should be dropped.

2. I feel like most everything comes down to laughs however if at the very least it is an entertaining presentation and a little clever it still has some merit. It might be a topic that the entire audience can relate to which helps them come to your side and believe in what your saying which will help strengthen the rest of your set. Unfortunately you also have to have the attitude going into it that it is more of a speech; you’re making a point and don’t have to worry about getting laughs. That can be pretty tough when you’re at the back of a bar filled with 3 people who don’t give a shit. To me a lot of Carlin’s best bits didn’t get huge laughs because it was more like he was giving a speech with a definite point of view, but they were really entertaining.

3. I think you should try a joke at a number of venues and in front of different crowds before you give up on it. And try it when you practiced it before hand and have it down so you can’t chalk it up to just not being prepared. It might just not be funny. However if it funny, has worked, and it doesn’t work in one venue you can probably blame it on the venue. With that being said, it is all one you to make them laugh. You might be able to change the way to tell it from one venue to another. Obviously a crowd full of young people is a lot different than a crowd full of old people, however both crowds can probably relate to a number of the same things and have had a lot of the same experiences in their life. Everyone has had awkward moments, had parents, had family, had a childhood, etc.

4. I think you can stop doing it when you’re sick of it, but still keep it for down the road. As you grow as a comedian you should, in theory, be getting funnier and your writing should improve as well. It never hurts to revisit an old bit that worked, try writing it over or adding on to it.

5. No.

Jackson said...

This is good insight. Thanks everyone.

Mike Blejer said...

One thing Kyle alluded to which I think should be stressed is that you can't really know if the material works or not if you haven't practiced it enough to give it a smooth delivery. Jokes that would otherwise kill can go totally flat with a couple extra uhs or ums (interjections I'm constantly working to eliminate from my speaking), and certainly a word slip up will do it to.

Now of course that doesn't mean you can give yourself a free pass on the writing, but there are a lot of variables when you're up on stage and it's hard to learn about the writing if the delivery isn't there. This is also a really good reason to tape yourself. It's a lot easier to watch yourself on tape and say "oh, in retrospect this probably didn't work because of X" than to do it in the moment, when it'll take you away from what you should be focusing on anyway.

Good luck (but really just work your ass off).