Breaking Down The Comeback – Why Did It Work?

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I hope some comics read this post, because I am going to tell you why I knew my set would work on my comeback night.  I’m not an expert by any means, but remember that I have been working with a guy who runs the only comedy school in southern California.  He used to write for Jay Leno and has a system he uses to write 120 jokes a day that get laughs.

Over the last couple months through Skype coaching sessions and from the e-book on comedy writing, I have paid attention to the comedy principles that have been enshrined within me.  It’s because of this help I received that I feel like I was operating from a different knowledge base than the other comics.  My coach knew the set we constructed would work based on the how and the why it would work.  I can look back on it now and share with you the how and the why.

The manager of the club said something very telling to me, when describing to me why my set worked.  He mentioned that he could see the character playing out on stage.  The character.  He is so right!

This is what I have learned….successful comedy is about stumbling blocks.  For example, take a really good looking comedian who is on stage.  I have seen good looking comics on stage from watching YouTube videos, and find that they don’t kill their sets, but they get some laughs.  Why aren’t they more successful?  I have learned that comedy is about stumbling blocks.  The more you stumble, the more laughs you get, the more the audience will be on your side rooting for you to succeed.

The good looking ones who get the biggest laughs for example, are the ones who talk about their stumbling blocks.  Stumbling blocks represent struggles, they represent life.  Besides, what are you more easily to relate to with a good looking comic who is performing?  Someone who talks about relationship troubles they have, or someone who mentions about the troubles they encounter going to Best Buy to purchase a cheap camera to go on vacation with?  You will probably relate to the guy who has dating troubles more, because it plays into the heightened reality.  It’s the way of the world today; people can relate more to the struggles of another because I believe that the same types of struggles happen to us all.  The same type of successes however, do not.  When that familiarity is there, it sets off one of the eight laugh triggers (recognition).  Then the audience can relate to you on a personal level because they have been through the same shit, and they want to see how it plays out for the comic.

I was surprised when I watched the video of my set where I got the biggest laugh.  The coach and myself thought it would have come with the ending joke, but it came in the middle of my set.  I don’t think I was prepared for that, hence the timing was a bit off.  But I believe I got the big laugh where I did because the audience could realistically see that situation happening to the character I played on stage.  

It’s about two keys.  Misdirection and heightened reality.  The misdirection comes in where you lead the audience down a certain path, they expect a predictable outcome, then at the last possible second you shatter their assumptions and go in a different direction, creating a laugh trigger and getting the desired laughs.  Heightened reality plays into the misdirection too, because with the set-up of the joke you should be building towards the ending.  Then just when you have the audience on the edges of their seats thinking you are going to say a predictable ending, you switch gears at the last possible moment creating the element of surprise (another laugh trigger) and getting the laughs.

That is mostly what my coach and I spent almost two months in constructing for my set.  I spent time with him speaking of my struggles, and from there we are able to build a character that faces stumbling blocks in whatever he tries to accomplish.

That is the coles notes version of why it worked.  If any comics are interested to find out more, feel free to contact me.  I’d love to share what I have learned to make you better too!


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