This week, Just For Laughs is in town, and I’ve had the good fortune of being able to see some of the best headliners in the world, including Ari Shaffir, Mark Little, Pete Holmes, Reggie Watts, Louis CK, etc.
Quinn C. Martin asked me how Mark Little’s show was, and I said,
Amazing. I never know where his material starts and improvisation ends. Man…that takes a lot confidence to just do improv like that, not knowing where you’ll end up but having the balls to believe that you’ll land on a joke.
I beg to differ. What I think is interesting is that you might know where you’re going to end up, but using crowd work and improv to lead you there.
I probed, and his reply opened up the heavens,
|Let’s say that I have a punchline coming. If I see an opportunity for crowd work or improvisation, I can weave those elements into the material, knowing that I’ll eventually land on my pre-written punchline and get the laugh regardless of what happens.|
A Quantum Shift In Comedic Delivery
|Old Model of Comedy||New Model of Comedy|
To illustrate, let’s watch Norm MacDonald in action:
He’s going through the following sequence:
- Crowd Work 0:00 – 0:02: audience member interacts
- Improv 0:03 – 0:16: Norm thinks, then says, ‘Here’s my opinion on OJ.’ (Improv)
- Material 0:17 – End: You can see the wheels turning in his head before he begins his bit (he previously used this joke on a podcast with Tom Green).
How To Leverage This New Model
There are a few things I’ll need to implement this new way of delivering comedy:
- A library of material that I can draw upon.
- An encyclopaedic knowledge of my material so that I can weave crowd work and improv gracefully in with my jokes.
- The ability to casually weave the improv and crowd work into my material, so that nobody can tell whether I’m improvising or doing material. It’s not enough to know what I’m going to say next. In fact, I have to seem like I don’t know what I’m going to say next and am just going with the flow. This requires me to be able to modify the delivering of the joke to fit the improvisation that I’ve just delivered.
If there are any comics out there, maybe you can comment and let me know if I’m totally off base or if I’m onto something here. Anyhoo, hilarity ensues at 0:50,