Why I Lost At The Comedy Brawl – Interconnectedness and Comedy

The other night, I participated in Ian Atlas’ Comedy Brawl, a stand-up comedy competition. I spent the entire day working on my material, including:

  • Honing my stage directions (where I was going to pause, walk, stop, look down, look up, etc.).
  • Pouring over recent recordings, removing lines that hadn’t gotten consistent laughter.

By the end of it, I had a KILLER five-minute set of material. I felt great. I felt confident. I was going to destroy the competition.

I felt so confident that I even made a video message to the rest of the competition.

But I lost…badly.

Fuz man.

What Went wrong?

Why I lost at Comedy Brawl?You have to understand what it feels like to do poorly. My initial reaction is the standard Threat-Rigidity Response, ‘Fuz that crowd, that material is the bomb. It’s hit before…’

Then, you eventually start questioning yourself.

Is it really as good as I think it is? And what if it isn’t? Should I start from scratch and scrap all of my five-minute set? Fuz man. Maybe I haven’t found my voice. Maybe I’m just unique and haven’t found my audience (or they haven’t found me). Or maybe…

It’s a disorienting feeling because there’s no right answer…

Or is there?

Great Act vs. Great Material

When I asked Ian Atlas (the show’s producer) for his opinion on why my performance didn’t resonate with the audience, he said:

It’s hard to say what the cause was, but you seemed really disconnected from the show. Almost like you were reciting a lot of the material rather than performing it.

Spot Fucking On. I realized exactly what he meant the moment I read his words.

I felt like an idiot after reading his email, to be honest. Of course I didn’t get the audience’s vote: I was just reciting my ‘killer five-minute set’ rather than COMMUNICATING WITH THE AUDIENCE. I mistakenly thought that great material, precisely delivered, is what stand-up comedy was all about.

It’s not.

Stand-up comedy is about more than material. It’s about an act that resonates WITH an audience. That’s why improvisation, crowd work, and jokes that spring from audience interaction usually get the most laughs. It’s the shared experience and interconnectedness that we crave.

Examples of Interconnectedness

Chris Locke’s Crowd Work (1:56 – 2:08 & 4:34 – 4:45)
Martin Lawrence Destroys a Heckler
I Translate For The Patois-Impaired (1:50 – 2:30)

Notice that it’s the relationship with the crowd that acts as the springboard for the greatest moments of laughter.

So where do I go from here?

More Mic Time

I need more experience with a mic in my hand. It was foolish of me to think that 5 stage experiences in the past three months would make me a great stand-up comedian.

That said, more and more, my crowd work is hitting. My material is solid, but I have to make room for audience interaction and spontaneity, rather than trying to manicure my material word for word.

I’m not saying that’s the solution for every comedian, but my heart tells me that it’s the solution for me.

We’ll get there, homies. After all, I was born for greatness, and so were you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Michael Jagdeo

About Michael Jagdeo

My name's Michael Jagdeo, and I refuse to write about myself in the third person. I'm a Comedian from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to honing my stand-up comedy act, I maintain this blog and write the weekly comedy article for blogTO.com.
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10 Responses to Why I Lost At The Comedy Brawl – Interconnectedness and Comedy

  1. Pepe Urquijo says:

    thoroughly enjoy reading your posts michael, congrats! the links have “typos”, take a second to clean them up. it should take all but a minute to fix, no worries. keep up the good work!
    peace,
    -P

  2. Pingback: Welcome | Diary of a Toronto Stand-Up Comedian

  3. Brian Ward says:

    I was there at your brawl show (in the audience that night, but I also am participating.), and I think you also need to build some more material that’s going to work with different crowds. I’ve actually seen you a few times (we were both on stage at groove bar back in January). A lot of your material is about ethnicity, and that stuff often doesn’t work with a predominantly white crowd. Not saying you shouldn’t do the ethnic material, but you should know when it will and when it won’t work. And if you think it will, and it’s not, you have to learn to realize that and abandon it before you dig yourself a hole that’s too deep to climb out of. I also agree with Ian’s point that you seem like you’re reciting lines rather than it coming across as a natural thought. I hope I don’t sound condescending, but it’s just been my observation on the times I’ve seen you perform. The problem with rehearsing too much is that you stick to your rehearsed material rather than stepping away from it when the time is right. You seem to have acknowledged this, and that’s half the battle. Good luck, and I’ll see you around toronto. (PS: if you don’t bring people out to the brawl, you’re probably not going to make it through no matter how good you are. Nature of the competition, unfortunately.)

    • Hey Brian,

      Spot on. That Kim Kardashian/Angry White Girls bit did well at the Hard Rock, which was a predominantly ethnic (or Scarborough, which even if you’re white you’re half-black) type of crowd.

      In the interest of crafting material that reaches all audiences, I’m in the process of building two separate bits – one about pretentious food reviews, the other about attention whores. I’m going to ensure that I keep both free of ethnic slurs, lol.

      Your point about rehearsing the material is also interesting. I think that I’ve been approaching stand-up comedy too much like speech arts, if you know what I mean.

      Thanks for the honest take on my set! You have no idea how much it helps, really.

      I saw that you got first place in your Comedy Brawl heat – congrats! Let me know when you’re on next.

      @JagdeoComedy on Twitter

  4. Daniel P says:

    Hey Mike,
    I agree with Brian’s comments. He nailed it. I’ve read your previous posts and it seems as though that’s the type of feedback a lot of people tend to give you. Just that you should perhaps try not doing so much ethnic stuff…since some people just won’t get it. Loved your Hard Rock performance.

    • Hey Daniel,

      Yeah, Brian’s comments were some of the most insightful I’ve had to date regarding my entire act.

      Glad you liked the Hard Rock performance! But I have to ask…it contained a pretty racial comment (black guys and overweight white women)…did you like that punchline? Dislike it? Was ok given that it wasn’t the focus of the set?

      Thanks, Daniel. I look forward to hearing from ya!

      JagdeoComedy on Twitter

      • Daniel P says:

        Well I think that worked because you played to the audience. Ya I think it was ok since it wasn’t all you were talking about. There was some cool banter there…with the dude and his accent as well. But keep writing…don’t settle.

        • Hey Daniel!

          Lol when he said, ‘Cah she’s an eediat’ my mind just went on autopilot.

          Improvisation is a funny thing, you know? I mean, there is something called, ‘apparent spontaneity*’ where the comedian responds to the crowd using a prerehearsed bit.

          The response I gave was entirely spontaneous, given that there were a good amount of white people in the crowd that may or may not have understood what the Jamaican guy meant. Or perhaps they did understand what he meant, and I just painted all of the white people with a broad brush and patronized them for not understanding patois even though they did.

          Either way, who knows why our minds work the way they do, why a certain number of neurons sparked and connected in such a way that lead me to respond in the way I did.

          Consciousness is a funny thing when you remove the filters…

          @Jagdeocomedy on Twitter

          *My comedian friend Quinn C. Martin mentioned the idea to me, which he himself got from someone else.

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