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.
What Went wrong?
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.
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.