You Don’t Need Five Minutes Of Material

UPDATE: Jump to Audio

I was talking with my buddy Quinn C. Martin about putting together material, and he said something that turned my stand-up comedy paradigm on its head.

You don’t need five/ten/fifteen/sixty minutes of material. You need to learn how to be on stage for that amount of time.

Damn, son. I should also note that he followed that up by saying, ‘You want something to blog about? Blog about that shit.’

Laughter Is More Important Than Material

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to manicure five minutes of perfect material that will hit everywhere I go. However, I’ve realized that the audience doesn’t care about whether you’re doing material or not. At the end of the day, all they want to do is laugh.

If you make them laugh, they’re not going to leave saying, ‘Wow, what great written material.’ All they’re going to say is, ‘That brown guy [they rarely remember your name] was hilarious.’

How I Applied This Lesson Tonight

I did a good job applying this lesson to tonight’s set.

I was talking about the trials and tribulations of dating at 29, and there was a couple that were clearly enamoured with one another close to the front row (there were about 6 audience members and two comedians in the room). You can hear me interacting with the couple on the clip. It takes the first 30 seconds to set things up, and I go in thereafter…:)

Full set if you’re interested (I’m whispering in the beginning to describe the lovebirds)

How I Prepared Myself To Achieve That Laughter

Changing The Way I Rehearse
I practised my new set 5-7 times today, making sure that I had my key points down. One of the things I’ve stopped doing is memorizing my material word for word. I’ve decided to give myself some breathing room script-wise which I think will help me achieve my goal of being myself and becoming more genuine on stage.

Changing My Focus To Laughter Rather Than Material
I’ve changed my focus when going on stage. Yes, I’m still preparing material for my two new booked gigs at the Hard Rock, upcoming sets at Yuk Yuk’s, etc. However, my focus is now to get laughter, moreso than doing my prepared material. If I get on stage, and there’s something in the room to make fun of, the material can wait.

Surveying The Room
Quinn also told me about taking in the room before going on stage. Who are the people laughing in the room? Who isn’t laughing? Are there people doing something interesting? How are they reacting to risque/racist/sexual material? In this way, he said that you need WAY MORE than five minutes of material to be able to kill everytime you’re on stage. You need to be able to channel the right jokes for the audience that is in front of you. Profound tings right there, homies. In this case, I noticed the couple interacting romantically well before I got on stage, and decided that I would interact with them.

Recognition Of My Ability To Interact With Crowds
I like talking to crowds. And more often than not, it results in laughter. So, I’m trying to remind myself to leave myself vulnerable to their reactions and spontaneous outbursts.

Making Sense of It All

Comedians make people laugh. If they use material, so be it. If they don’t, but still make people laugh, then the people will have gotten what they wanted.

I’m not saying that there’s not beauty in doing prepared material, but there’s much more to comedy than plowing through rehearsed set pieces. There’s a whole world of material right in front of you when you get on stage, you just have to have your eyes open.

Tat tvam asi,

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
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5 Responses to You Don’t Need Five Minutes Of Material

  1. Um, second? I didn’t know there was a comment contest 🙂

    I think you might have it there – what struck me the most was you saying that you like interaction with the audience. I’ve seen comedians who did, and those who did not – the funnier ones were the ones who included the room and didn’t get stuffy or upset about ‘heckling’ which, as a non-comedian, sometimes feels like interaction on our part. Whoops. (oh, do I have a story, shudder). I’ve been dead impressed by the comebacks comedians have to shut unwelcome audience ‘participation’ down, but especially, perhaps, in a small group it makes everyone comfortable and more prone to laugh when we are included. I really enjoy seeing your progression, and as an apparently funny writer I take tips from your learning experience. Thanks!

    • Hey HTBS!

      Good point on finding common ground with the audience. The bit about women wanting to go on expensive outings worked perfectly with the crowd simply because there was a couple in the audience…I’m not ashamed to say that things wouldn’t have worked out the same if there were a bunch of single people in the room. Oh, it also helped that the guy got up to pay the cheque (see 0:38 of the clip below)!

      While it’s the second time that I’ve done the bit, I found that I’m slowly picking up on the observations that resonate the most with the audience and am tweaking it accordingly. Oh, and I found that I felt comfortable acting out a lot of the parts on stage, mostly because I felt that I was having a conversation with the audience rather than a performance.

      Yeah, I like it when the audience interacts. As a guy who’s funniest when responding to comments/conversations/etc., it’s like food! You’re right, the way I look at it, smaller rooms do make it more than acceptable for the audiences to talk with ya. We don’t have to pretend that we’re in a theatre. In fact, the audience interaction made the set what it was that night. For example, at the start of the set, I’m describing the interactions between the two lovebirds and imagining what they’re saying to each other (0:00-0:40). Anyhoo, for that reason a lot of the clip won’t make sense without seeing the visuals of myself and the couple, but here ya go :))

      Dating at 29

      Oh, and one more thing…with a small room (I’m not complaining; beggars can’t be choosers), I find that the more conversational the delivery the better. Often times audiences are uncomfortable for the performers when the crowd is sparsley populated; that uneasiness can be wiped away by personalizing the show.

  2. List of X says:

    That was interesting… If you are planning on interacting with your audience, do you ever try to anticipate scenarios of their possible actions/reactions in advance to at least to have an idea of a possible comeback in case such a scenario happens? Or do you react as it happens?
    I don’t mean that it’s possible to anticipate every reaction, but anything, such as one good “pre-improvisation” helps you win more laughter early on, the rest of the set would go better as well.

    • Hey LoX!

      Thanks for commenting. I can tell that you’re a control freak…because so am I.

      My technical, wants to control every variable / eliminate confounding variables side is very apprehensive about honing an act that relies on audience interaction to kill. Early on in my career, I’d notice comedians use, ‘set pieces’ where they’d ask an audience where they’re from and then deliver written material based on what their response was. Now, the crowd probably didn’t think that it was rehearsed material, but I could tell it was. It’s the concept of, ‘apparent spontaneity.’

      That said, even apparent spontaneity is still trying to capture the magic that exists when something happens spontaneously on stage. I’ve talked to a few comics that have mentioned even a 7/10 joke that is improvised based on crowd work goes over like a 10/10 joke. For example,

      With regards to trying to anticipate specific crowd responses, it’s an enticing strategy, especially to a control freak like me. However, I’ve realized that it takes away from the magic. I remember using a canned line after an audience member said something one time and it totally fell flat because the line didn’t fit the situation 100%.

      Unfortunately, I’m going to have to be vulnerable in this part of my act. Fortunately, I believe that I’m developing the skill to effectively work with a crowd and respond intelligently to whatever they throw at me. Fortunately, if I can work to peak this improv bicep, the spontaneous humor that results will most likely KILL for the reasons give above.

      And hey, I’m still feeling my way in the dark with all of this stuff. You might be right about preparing set pieces of crowd work to start the set. However, my control freak side tells me that I should ensure that there are laughs in the beginning of the set and then open myself up after the first 30 seconds are over and they’ve decided they like me. But then again, I totally didn’t do that in the set that I recorded above. Then again, when I start all of my sets with improv, I’m ignoring my own rule.

      Damn this is maddening, isn’t it? I love it.

      Thanks again for commenting, LoX! We’ll figure this out…or maybe we never will. Maybe that’s what’s going to keep it fresh…the unknown.

      Take care,

      Jagdeocomedy on Twitter

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