You Get More Comfortable on Stage:
Improv Forces You to Think Funny:
Act Like you Care:
Learn Something From Others:
Off the Cuff:
Tonight I performed some bits that I’ve been working on and that I performed this past Saturday–and I’m thrilled with how it went. No, I didn’t kill. But to me that doesn’t matter.
When I watched the video of my Saturday set and saw myself perform, the biggest note I made was to improve my delivery. I got a lot of laughs on Saturday; that’s good. My delivery, though, makes me hesitant to share any of it. (I still will though.) I stumbled through a couple of words (literally skipped four words in a sentence at one point, and kept going), I rushed through some parts, and I didn’t have much inflection in my voice.
Going into tonight’s set, my goal was to not do any of that. I didn’t capture any video, but I did record the audio. I hardly made any of those mistakes; I sounded a lot better—like I’ve been doing this for awhile.
I added some new parts to the jokes I told on Saturday, and not all of them got a lot of laughs, and not all of them got laughs at all. One bit I told got dead silence, but on the recording I could hear one guy cackling loudly and to me that makes a joke worth it. I’d rather have one person love a joke than have a lot of people sort of like it, just a little bit.
I was especially pleased since I bombed horribly a week ago at the same venue (more on that in a future post). The second bit I did (first on my setlist) was the one I failed at last Thursday, although it’s a completely different bit than it was a week ago.
Another nice thing is that I don’t have to wonder if it’s my delivery when I listen to the recording again and hear silence. It’s my word choice, and all I have to do now is figure out if the audience doesn’t follow or it’s just not funny.
I decided to play the Powerball this past Saturday. And while, yeah, I did hope to win, I understood that I probably wasn’t going to win. I’d have better luck with Comcast customer service than I would with the lottery, but that didn’t stop me from playing.
I played because it was something a lot of people were doing and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be able to talk to other people and be able to say, “Yeah, I didn’t win either.” It’s a shared experience.
As it turns out, shared experiences can make good comedy—especially when you don’t win the jackpot. After spending 100 bucks for 50 chances to win, I was able to match three of the “powerball” numbers. That was good enough to net me a prize of 12 dollars.
Where does the comedy come into all of this? First of all, the shared experience means that others can relate to my struggle. There’s nothing worse than getting on stage, telling a joke, and having the audience look at you with a blank stare because they can’t relate and don’t understand what you’re talking about. I can go on stage, say “hey, I played the Powerball on Saturday,” and people will think hey, me too!
The next part can get tricky: Now it’s time to find the humor in the situation. Not winning the jackpot actually helps my cause. Numerous stories about people winning the lottery show that other people can be resentful of lottery winners, so we don’t have “our millions” working against us. That is good. We lost; we share the audience’s frustration.
So where is the humor? I start by looking for what was odd about my playing the lottery. First, we have the 12 dollar payout—not exactly the 900 million. The contrast is a good jumping off point, and there is more than one direction to go with this: I could be overly proud of my winnings, I could decide to invest the 10 dollars I get after tax, I could contact the local news organizations and ask if they want to interview me.
The next thing is spending 100 bucks on 50 chances to win. Why did I spend so much? To get better odds. Really? The odds of winning the jackpot is about 1:300,000,000—so 50 tickets increased my odds to about 1:6,000,000. Oh, yeah, those odds are so much better…
There’s also the really long line I waited in to buy my tickets. (Everyone else and their mothers were buying Powerball tickets as well.) There isn’t necessarily humor in that without doing some digging, but I do know that no one won the jackpot, which means convenience store employees are sputtering various curse words to themselves. The contrast between the optimistic customers and the jaded employees is a good place to look for humor.
If you take anything away from this post, take away one humble man’s opinion that sometimes you’ve gotta live a little and share experiences that other people are going through. Share in other people’s struggles and you’ll find possibility for humor, which is it’s own reward.
I wrote last week that I wanted to go to the local comedy writers group since I thought it would help me find some different venues to perform at. Well, tonight was the night! I went to my first group meeting.
It was a great experience. I know I wrote that I thought the number one thing was finding other venues to perform at and not my material. Well, I decided to pick the brains of the other members on a bit that has been frustrating me for some time. I’ve had many personal brainstorming sessions, and I’ve come up with next to nothing to show for it.
In about ten minutes, the other writers in the group had some great ideas for me to work with. It was very eye opening. I knew there had to be a wealth of material there somewhere–there just had to be. And it’s one thing to see a pro comic performing their bit. Yeah, you know they put in a lot of time and effort, but it’s completely different when you take your material–something you’ve been digging into and have found nothing–and see all the comedic potential it actually has. I was afraid the bit was a lost cause. Not anymore.
I think what helped so much was that I’ve only been exposed to how I perceive my bit. I’m writing about my father, who was a gym teacher, waking my sister and I up very early to go running in the morning while school was out for the summer. My reaction had been something along the lines of, “I’d have rather have had a vacation.”
When I shared the idea with the group, they made the connection of my father teaching gym and making my sister and me run in the morning. I also found out they didn’t have the same experience in gym class (I always liked it); they hated gym class. It gave them a very different perspective, and I realized the audience will probably have this perspective as well. I hated getting up early in the morning myself, but it hadn’t occurred to me to make the connection to the audience’s potential hatred of gym class.
And as far as different places to show my work, there’s already an opportunity. The organizers of the group want comics to come up with sketch ideas. Then the comics will come up with their ideas, comics will act out the skits, and the skits will be taped. This is going to be very cool.
There’s a local comedy writers group that I haven’t gone to in over a year. I stopped going mostly because it’s about an hour away from where I’m living and it starts at a time that would keep me from doing anything else that evening. Those aren’t good reasons, I know, but I convinced myself that I was better off writing my own material.
I changed my mind after this past Sunday.
I have gotten halfway decent at writing my own jokes, but while I could get better, that has nothing to do with it. This past Sunday I got invited to an art festival called Artomatic that was being held in Hyattsville, MD.
Sunday night was comedy night, and the girl who invited me figured that since I’m a comic, I’d enjoy watching the other comics. I did. But I also left there wishing I had performed as well.
I’ve gotten to a point where I enjoy myself on stage: I have material that I know works and I’m comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. So far all of my performances have been at open mics. (Some call themselves “shows,” but that’s a subject for another post.) Like any comic, I’d like to do some paid gigs. Performing at festivals would be good stepping stone to achieve that end, right? I think so.
Anyway, While I was watching the comics, I noticed someone toward the front of the crowd; it was a guy who helps run the comedy writers group. I realized that if I had been going regularly, I’d have known about this event. And I figure that if I start going I will learn about other events I can perform at.
The possibility of getting paid perform sometime in the future seems like a huge upside for my comedy career. The downside? The downside is that I won’t be able to do anything else Monday night. So basically all I have to do is plan ahead so there isn’t anything else that I have to do Monday nights. Seems like a no-brainer to me.