Being Good Looking Isn’t Enough

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I was reminded yesterday of what it takes to make a comedian either succeed, or fail on stage.  In my time spent as a client of the Stand-Up Comedy Clinic over the last four years, I’ve got a pretty good idea about this.  I am starting to be able to look at a set and tell why it works, or why it doesn’t.

First though, let’s take a moment to watch this video that points out some basic understandings of audience psychology that some comedians don’t take into consideration.  You can watch it here.

Hmmmm….just realized I may have covered this point back in post #100 or so, but oh well. It’s always a good time for a refresher!

Watch this first Letterman clip from Andrew Norelli here.

Now, watch this clip of Brian Kiley here.

Norelli won a major comedy competition while Kiley was one of Conan’s head writers. Putting that aside for a moment, whose set was funnier? That’s an easy question to answer.

The question most comedians can’t answer is why it was funnier. Allow me to provide some insight.

Brian Kiley’s set is funnier, by a landslide. It’s not even close.

  1. Norelli is good looking. Kiley is the opposite.  Kiley seems comfortable in his own skin, he has a tall, bald and awkward look to him.  But, he is likeable. Ricky Gervais once said he wants to see a guy stumbling, not some good looking guy get up there and not talk about his problems. Kiley is the guy you wanna root for because we, as an audience, can relate to him better.
  2. If the audience likes you, you will get the better laughs.  Two things to watch for in Kiley’s set. First, listen to not only the types of laughs he gets, but how long they go for. He gets more laughs while Norelli got applause breaks. Generally applause breaks will happen if the audience thinks what you did was clever. You can tell the audience likes Kiley, they are rooting for him to succeed (see first video for an explanation), because when he talks about having his first child, the audience applauds to congratulate him, even though it’s really part of the setup for his joke.
  3. Kiley uses misdirection through surprise, incongruity and recognition to get his laughs.  I am sure Norelli is a decent guy, but how can people relate to a good looking guy who a) stays at the Motel 6 and b) goes shopping for a digital camera at Best Buy?  Is it believable coming from him? No. In fact, I know he has women troubles (I won’t divulge how I know this), so why not talk about that? Now, even though he’s handsome, he’s willing to knock himself down a peg or two. Self deprecating material helps the audience feel superior to the comedian, they will laugh because not only do they recognize the situation happening to them, they are happy the comic isn’t talking about them….and isn’t it always easier to laugh at somebody else’s problems before you’ll ever laugh at your own?
  4. The laugh triggers on Kiley’s set are easy to recognize. Misdirection is so classic in comedy. The setups are more identifiable to us. I mean, Norelli talks about having problems at a Motel 6 or a Best Buy. Who can relate to those? Where are the stumbling blocks within those stories? There aren’t any! But when you talk about family, there will always be stumbling blocks present!

Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of things to consider when you get on stage for a show. The comedy club setting is the absolute best place to be, because not only did they pay to see you, the audience is also wanting you to take them on a journey. This is possible if you get off to a good start.

The start is important for you to get laughs immediately to establish come credibility with the audience. The best way to win them over right at the start is to know who you are onstage. What is it the audience sees? What will they believe? The better the material fits your appearance/stage presence, the more willing the audience is to follow along with you.

The only problem is, this does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of failure to steer you in that right direction. One other important thing I’ve learned. The types of laughs you will get are completely different from a comedy club compared to a bar. It’s a different style of comedy, you need a different mindset. Bars are a great classroom teacher on how to deal with failure.

Once you figure out how to have success with the bar crowd, it makes the comedy clubs that much easier to navigate through, because the bar crowd has kinda helped define who you are as a performer. Then you fine tune it and kick ass at the clubs.

Hope this helps you see that being a comedian takes work. It takes work to write, work to edit and more importantly it takes work to break down why things work or go to shit.

My comedy coach said that most comedians he knows lack a strong work ethic. I think he stated that maybe 5% of comics have that.

It isn’t about working hard versus working smart. The only way you work smarter is to work harder. That comes with time. Unfortunately, most comedians I know don’t have that kind of work ethic.

That last statement would be very easy to prove. Then again, how many of those comedians that I know would actually listen to my answer with an open mind?

One for sure. Maybe three at the most. I’ve got 5.5 years experience that tells me so.

 

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