So it’s April 4th, which means I’m on stage at the Hard Rock Cafe with Quinn C. Martin in 11 days.
Did I mention that I haven’t been on stage since February 19th? Did I also mention that I need a COMPLETELY NEW five-minute set for that show?
But as Parkinson’s Law states, ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.‘ Now that the pressure’s on, it’s time to get to work.
But it didn’t feel like work last night.
How I Get Comfortable Before Going Up On Stage
One of the things that I use to get comfortable before a set is to socialize with the other comedians. Other comics don’t do that at all, preferring to pour over their material and rehearse before going up. However, I’ve found that the more comfortable I am with the people in the room, the more comfortable I am talking to them when I’m on stage.
And that’s how I see my performance on stage; it’s not a speech or a lecture. I’m having a conversation with them, telling them what’s on my mind, just as I would talking to a friend on the phone. I want to take to the stage like a bird to th’ air (someone said this, I dunno who).
After the show, Hannah Hogan, winner of a Canadian Comedy Award for her work on YTV’s, ‘That’s So Weird’ mentioned to me that I looked like I was having fun on stage…she was right.
Engaging the Audience Using Improvisation
I love starting sets with improvisation based on the feeling of the room and the previous comedians’ jokes for a few reasons:
- It fosters audience engagement off the top, which is the most important thing you can do besides getting them to like you in the first 10-20 seconds of a set. Audiences listen up when you’re talking about something relevant to them.
- My favourite comedians always include room for improv in their sets.
Is it absolutely necessary? Nope. But I can’t say this enough: Audience Engagement is one of the most critical aspects of stand-up comedy, especially when the audience is drunk and on the edge of rowdy.
Applying Lessons Learned from Jay Sankey’s Zen and the Art of Stand-up Comedy
Reading Jay Sankey’s Zen and the Art of Stand-up Comedy has introduced a new world of technical elements and artistic understanding to my act. It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that, from a best practices point of view, my written material is giving me a great chance at doing well on stage.
So let’s dig deeper. Here’s how I crafted the improv I used to start my set:
|What Comedian Said / My Observation||What I Said On Stage||Technical Elements Used|
|I observed that the audience was 95% white people.||To the white people in the room, I want to sincerely apologize…I know you were really looking forward to an evening free of minorities…Rene and I have thoroughly ruined that for you, and for that I apologize.||
|Rene Payes made fun of the fact that he’s overweight, something we have in commmon.||Give it up for Rene! [audience claps] Rene has inspired me…he’s inspired me to become bulimic.||
|Hannah Hogan lamented that she was only going to get fatter and uglier.||Hannah mentioned that she’s only going to get fattier and uglier. But don’t worry…come to Scarborough; being fat and overweight’s an aphrodisiac where I come from. You can get any black guy you want.||
Testing Out New Material
Man, it took me 4 months to come up with five minutes of material, how the hell am I going to get another five minutes in the span of less than two weeks?!
That had me really worried before tonight. But a little voice whispered to me, ‘You’re not the same comedian you were back then. Your writing is fifty times better than it was before.’
And the material worked! Did every punchline get a laugh? No. But enough did to know that I’m on the right track.
In case you’re curious, here’s one of the bits I used:
|Buying Crappy Shoes|
You’ll notice that I don’t use that many words in the above bit. Jay Sankey said that we don’t speak in the same way that we write. We often omit words in casual conversation without even noticing it.
For example, instead of saying, ‘I grew up poor man‘ I’ll say, ‘Grew up poor, man.’ It’s a small thing, I know, but Jay really opened up my eyes to the possibilities of writing as tightly as possible, balancing the written part of my act with the expressive, ‘acting’ part of my act.
Tonight I’m touching the road again, but not before I go over my material with a comb and practice it another 30x.
Wise Words from the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast
I’m a gigantic fan of every podcast that involves Joe Rogan and Duncan Trussell. Both are well-read in addition to being seasoned comedians.
Just last week, Joe and Duncan were reflecting on our precarious existence in the universe (click here to go to the podcast). Duncan said:
‘If the sun just got only a tiny bit hotter…we’re done. Gone. And how dumb would we feel that we were wasting our time on bullshit instead of having beautiful orgies…’
He was right. Do what you love, homies. It’s fun. I wouldn’t trade places the anyone in the world right now.