Here To Stay

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It was just over four years ago this month that the newest character was introduced into the Saskatoon comedy scene.  Before it, no other character had any success, much less staying power.

Carnac the Mediocre was an offshoot from the Johnny Carson character called Carnac the Magnificent.  Carson played a psychic that would…..well, instead of trying to explain it, just watch a bit of his act below.  It’s kind of like Jeopardy inserted into stand-up comedy, with the jokes being told in reverse.

This story has been told before within the pages of this blog, as most of you know.  People had questioned whether or not it was against the law to perform Carnac.  After some research, it was found to be acceptable within Canadian Copyright Law, so long as the audience knows it’s a parody and the name of the character is different.

Anyhow, I have written close to 100 different pieces of material for the Carnac character, all original and created by me.  None of my material is copied from the Carson character.

Some comics have mentioned that they do not approve of me doing this character, even though there is video evidence that proves the Carnac material is a hit and gets laughs.  The first time I performed this character at a professional club, the headliner after the show thanked me “for doing my job” as an opener and getting the audience in a good mood right from the start.  For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why they had a problem with my Carnac, until recently.

The Carnac character does one thing that other local comics don’t do to the same effect.  Carnac gets a big burst of laughter while being clean.  Most local comics don’t get that same reaction, let alone from being clean.  Let me explain and offer evidence to support my claim.

The other comics think it’s cool how I can take the joke, invert it by having the punchline be the setup (telling the joke in reverse).  They think it’s easy to do and want to try it.  The only problem is, they will try this after my Carnac set is done.

What this shows me is that the comics who do this that come on after Carnac don’t trust their material.

I’ll repeat what I said.

The comics that come on after Carnac will try Carnac material because they do not trust their own material to work.  There are two instances with a couple of comics who tried this approach.  If their material was solid they wouldn’t have to piggyback off of Carnac’s success.

The reason Carnac works is simple.  It’s all about misdirection.  The greater the misdirection, the bigger the laugh.  The silence while Carnac “divines” the answer in the envelope adds to the tension in the room, because it’s silence.  The “setup” (punchline) isn’t funny.  You have to wait for the envelope to be opened before the “punchline” (setup) is delivered.  Also, Carnac isn’t offensive or dirty.  It takes work to be clean and most comics don’t want to be clean, let alone have a clean set in their bag of tricks.

Here’s why I wrote this piece, because it wasn’t to rehash all this stuff again.

I was thinking of rebranding Carnac somehow because I actually considered the opinions of other comics.  One went as far as telling me they would not have Carnac on his show because they felt it cheapens the show.  Yeah, I can see how you wouldn’t want Carnac on your show when I can write jokes in a way that nobody else can to the same effect.  What’s interesting is that I am not breaking Canadian Copyright Laws, and in the end, the audience is the final judge.  If they didn’t laugh at Carnac’s material, then maybe the comics have a legitimate point.  However, the audience enjoys is because it’s different from the conventional stand-up performance they are used to seeing.  Since Carnac is different, they pay attention a bit closer, stay quiet a bit longer, and react more positively with laughter at the end of it all.

I talked with a well known headliner in the USA about this, asking him if I should change the character in any way.  He asked me a great question.

When Carnac gets laughs, is it because of the character, or because of the material you wrote?

I replied it was because of the writing.  His answer was then who cares?  If the material works who cares what others think?  Change it if you want, but just do what you do.

That was an empowering moment.  This headliner has had other acts criticize his act and style, but in the end audiences love it, as he gets booked for cruise ships, corporate events and comedy clubs all over because he gets laughs while being clean.

So in the end, Carnac will stay Carnac with a bunch of new material coming soon.  In comedy, the audience is the judge, jury and executioner.  If they like it, you as a comic are doing your job getting laughs, and setting the table for the next performer, putting them in a better position to succeed quicker into their act.  I am proud of what I created.  It took a long time for the comedy community (most of it) to accept Carnac, but it was well worth the wait.

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