Which Came First, The Comedian Or The Chicken?

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I heard a comic I know say that some local comics aren’t getting any better, but they aren’t getting any worse.  It’s as if they plateaued and are content staying there.  Watching comics take too long to set up a joke and not make it relatable, or being away from the live shows for months only to come back and see comics do the same jokes from a year ago, tells me one thing.

they’re afraid to fail

For example, when confronted with a heckler at a show, most will try to shout the heckler down, which always is counterproductive.  The comic needs to understand audience psychology and understand why the heckler is speaking out.  Oh, wait.  They’d rather not be told what works from others.  They want to figure it out for themselves.  In that case, I won’t get into why hecklers speak out and the best way to disarm them.  That, of course, would require a person to listen to previous episodes of the radio show and hear from headliners who are far more successful and have had more experience in dealing with unruly audience members.

I once heard from a top headliner that the second you realize you can get laughs on stage, it then becomes your responsibility to get better.  Getting better doesn’t mean telling jokes the same way about different topics.  That’s called being lazy.

By no means am I saying I slay audiences each time I get on stage.  I only wish that was the case.  What I am saying is, you always have to change it up to keep it fresh, to keep the audience interested in following you.  The biggest laugh triggers in comedy are those of misdirection and surprise.  Those get the big laughs from the unexpected.  How can you give a good laugh to a comic you’ve seen for years when they don’t understand this premise?  Getting better takes work, and not just writing when you get to a gig.

To that end, why would you try to create material at a gig anyhow?  If you don’t have structure in your act already, then how can you take an original idea and make it tight?  Usually a new idea comes loose with too many words and indecision.  If that’s how you treat your comedy, the audience won’t give you the laughs in return.  The greater the misdirection, the better the laughs.  How many times have you heard me say that?

Writing usually takes editing.  You write the joke longhand, as if you are actually telling the story to a friend.  Then, you edit the joke, over and over and over again.  With each edit, you tighten the setup, make it more clearly defined.  My problem is the jokes I edit and work on have clearly defined setups, they don’t use extra words.  In some cases the payoff (punchline) doesn’t fit properly.  Maybe there needs to be more laugh points in the setup (local comics aren’t familiar with that).  Laugh points, to be effective, sometimes have to deviate away from the setup itself in order to work, hence the misdirection.

I know I’m not setting the comedy world on fire, but unlike most, I’m willing to put the work in to get better, when I am motivated to do so, on top of everything else going on at the moment.  I take cues from successful headliners, ones who make an actual living from doing comedy.  My ego is removed from the conversation, as I ask questions and listen to their answers.  Maybe one day it will all click for me and I’ll become the next comedy superstar nobody ever thought of.

It seems that comics want to do things their own way, not take risks and not ask for help.  Unfortunately, that’s a mindset that does not lead to long term success.  It goes back to the mindset of “you’ve either got it or you don’t”.  That way of thinking is an absolute lie, plain and simple, especially when there are examples all around to the contrary, that is, if you leave your ego at the door long enough to see them.

As I have said before, I’m a how and a why guy.  I need to know the nuts and bolts of something before you can get me to buy in.  It’s like at the dentists office.  Before they work on me, I like to ask questions and know what’s going on.  Can I see it?  No.  But knowing what they are doing gives me a sense of calm.  Case in point, I had ten fillings a couple years back, five on the top and five on the bottom.  Now, I’ve been with my dentist since I was a kid, so that’s over 30 years (loyalty, relationship building).  I didn’t need freezing at all, for any of them.  It didn’t hurt at all.  Maybe it’s because my pain tolerance for dentists is high, or maybe it’s because the damage needing repairs (fillings) wasn’t too bad to require freezing?  Not sure.  I’d like to think it’s because I’m a macho dude and pain didn’t phase me.  But then I would be lying, and that’s something I don’t do.

I’ve tried to challenge comics around here to be clean and write tighter, but I don’t feel I am respected enough, if at all, for anyone to take me seriously.  I would give examples of how others who’ve been around longer get that respect, but I won’t.  Just know that it exists.

I’ve offered to help some with their material, rewriting things to give certain bits some laugh points, and just to tighten up a joke so it makes more sense.  The punchline to a joke should make sense and not leave you with lingering questions.  But they don’t want to try, for fear that I might be right.  So they can keep telling their jokes the same way and get a few laughs.  At least I tried.

What happens if you try things differently and they work? What if……

I once heard you need to take responsibility to get better when you get laughs.  Too bad there are some that couldn’t be bothered.

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