Just a few shorts weeks ago, I challenged myself to write material for twenty days straight. And what an amazing learning experience it was…
Earlier this week, I got hired to write some material for a purveyor of fine pornography. I then realized that the majority of people getting paid for ‘creating funny’ are writers, not stand-up comedians, actors, or improvisors. So hey, although comedians typically start off on stage, it doesn’t mean that the stage is the only place to make money.
That’s not to say I don’t want to be a stand-up comedian; I do. Stand-up is beautiful because it’s just you and a microphone…no boss, no friends, and no one to blame. Just you and a mic. Jerry Seinfeld, Rodney Dangerfield, Dave Chappelle…all have made tons of money elsewhere, and all have come back to one stage, one mic, and no excuses.
How To Be Natural On Stage
This is probably the biggest revelation of them all, and it relates to my goal of being natural on stage.
I’ve realized that Premise-Punchline-Tagging my material is what has been preventing me from being completely natural on stage. I was essentially filtering the thoughts that came naturally to me through a process that was stripping away the most important part of the joke: me.
So tonight, I’m going to take material on stage that I haven’t premise-punchline-tagged. I’m just going to make people laugh using the delivery that made me laugh in the first place.
Now, I should mention that any of these lessons learned are personal; your truths may be different from mine. For comics that tell a lot of disparately-themed jokes in a short period of time, the premise-punchline-tag formula might work well for you.
How To Kill 80-90% Of The Time
When I started out in comedy, everyone told me that I needed a killer five-minute set of material. This past month, I’ve learned there’s much more to it than that.
I was selected to compete against 21 other comedians for the Tim Sim’s Encouragement Fund, a stand-up comedy competition. The winner gets $5,000.00. When I asked Quinn C. Martin, my mentor, how he approached these competitions, he said it was no different than how he approached any open mic:
I watch the host. I watch the crowd. I watch the subject matter. Then I decide what material I’m going to use.
Early in his career, Quinn realized that killer material – no matter how good – wouldn’t kill everywhere. Accordingly, he developed a style of deciding what to use on stage right before his set (rather than well in advance). Now, this style requires one thing: a catalogue of killer material to draw upon.
Creating a ton of killer material sounds like a daunting task, but if I’m not in comedy to do just that, then what I am here for?
To Create Or Not To Create?
My comedy friend, Lwam Ghebrehariat, asked me if I was spending a lot of time honing the material I’d use on stage for the competition. I replied,
Not really. I’m focusing on new material. There’s the possibility that I might come up with a killer joke two days before the competition that I can’t help but use on stage.
The drive for safety and security is telling me to perfect my material so that I know every detail about what I’m going to do when they call my name, but my desire to create is telling me to keep creating.
When Practise Doesn’t Make Perfect
I’ve also realized that when I practise my material too much, I tend to act the material on stage rather than communicate the material to the audience. There might be a certain point where the amount of time practising the same material might start to hurt the joke rather than help it.
Practise doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practise does.
My new goal when I started this challenge was to do well (get laughs and have people come up to me after a show) using improvisation, crowd work, and new and old material 8 out of 10 times I’m on stage.
I also have to find a studio to shoot, ‘The Brown Effect’ which is a TV show I’m the Head Writer for. I have to complete my contract with the porn company. Oh, and I have to find an Enterprise Storage Analyst (EMC technology) for a client.
Follow your passion, friends. Life’s not worth living if you aren’t doing what you love.
Teach dem, Dennis…