This article belongs to In Search of Laughs! column.
(This will be short!)
Scolding amateur comedians is a gas! As I traveled in my own standup career, often I've been asked to help and coach some inexperienced comedy performers. If these wayward souls could be helped, mostly I tried to help. If I couldn't help, then I gave encouragement. A lot of other comics certainly helped me. Lord, I wish I could have helped all of them. There seems to be more inept standup comics than good ones!
Having seen, at ten meter range, the evolution of Andrew "Dice" Clay, Sam Kinison, and Yakov Smirnov, I underscore here, there are roughly two kinds of comics. There are joke telling comics, and there are the character or "attitude" comics. My advice here is primarily for the joke tellers. If you're attempting to do an "attitude" act, I can't offer any advice: except acting lessons or seeing a psychologist! It would have helped Sam Kinison, it might still help "Dice" Clay! This stuff won't help ventriloquists! In my opinion, nothing can help ventriloquists, nothing!
If you are reading this, and you're not a comic, (quit peeking!) I apologize for my tone! I am harsh, but newbie comics need to learn fast, for all our sakes! Besides, I just don't want to argue with beginners who don't know what I know. I've morphed many conversations with rookie stand-ups into my very personal list of do's and don'ts that work for almost all comics, so listen up, you arrogant little snots, pay heed:
Performing standup comedy is another bizarre form of public speaking. Most of the rules of public speaking apply to stand-up, except in stand-up you can choose to add in some charm, mischief, or even an idiosyncrasy! See George Lopez, Rosie O'Donnell, or Carrot Top!
The absolute essence of doing standup is your likeability! If the audience does like you, they'll laugh at your weakest stuff. If they don't like you, they'll only laugh when you provoke or challenge them, if at all! Methods to accomplish this are similar to the behavior you exhibit while hosting a dinner party for your grandmother, or meeting your date's dad, or even applying for a highly paid job! Think brown-noser to the second power.
If you understand acting nice is vital, then add to that: Look NICE! If you achieve anything in your career, you'll be performing for paying customers. It's their night out, so I believe you owe them an effort to look as nice as the money they paid. That's why it's called Show Biz! The crowd wants the show to look nice, and everybody putting on the
show wants to get their pay, because after all, done correctly, the whole idea is actually a business!
Learn to enter and leave the stage distinctively! Smile, wave, and find a way to build a focus (a focus is the necessary attention from the crowd to make your opening joke work) in five to eight seconds! (I start all of my shows by saying: "HI, my name is Lue, if you would, everybody say 'HI LUE!" It's only human nature for people to do this, when they all respond in unison, they've effectively appointed me: Captain of NOW! That's how I build a focus, in just five to eight seconds. Invent a method for you to do something like that. It helps make your opening work.
An act has three parts: the opening, the middle, and the big close! Try to develop an opening for your act that works every night! Once your first laugh with a crowd happens, they and you will relax a bit. I like to use my best joke as an opener! I like to use my second best joke as my closer! The middle passes quickly, and usually takes care of itself.
All jokes have three parts, in this order: premise, set-up, punch line. The premise is the subject you're talking about; the setup is the statement that raises the crowd's anticipation; the punch line is the payoff...the funny part! (Stop talking after your punch line! Leave time for the crowd to laugh! The third time you talk over the crowd's laughter, they learn to stop laughing. Now, you don't want them to learn that, do you?) Learn this trick and other comics will give you jobs.
Always try to let your crowd focus on you! Maintain eye contact with your crowd! When you are onstage, don't take the mic out of the stand unless you have some material that requires it! Stay center stage, stand and deliver! When you get steady middle act work, then explore other parts of the stage. Never, ever stroll around aimlessly! Only move around the stage if you have a quite specific reason to do so! It takes real courage to stand your ground. Only wussies pace around the stage!
When you are onstage, keep a constant eye on your elapsed time. If you've done what you think is five minutes of material, and it's been seven minutes, you are getting laughs. If it's only been three minutes when you think it's five, hey, they ain't buying it! Skip to more reliable stuff, and talk slower! You do your time and get off with the best laugh available. Do your time! No more time, no less time! Learn this easy trick and then bookers will take your calls.
Build your act with five minute TV style modules! Then stack them until you reach the fifteen minute requirement for emceeing opening acts; then thirty minutes for feature acts; and finally, fifty-five minutes to close the show. If TV happens to call, not only will these five minute modules be useable, they will be ready because you will have practiced them so frequently! This will also piss off your loved ones and friends! But, it's worth it.
Beginners will go through plateaus approximately every fifty shows. Your first fifty shows will teach you what not to do! The next fifty shows should teach you when to do what routine or bit. The next fifty shows teach you how to get jobs. The next fifty shows teach you how not to bomb. And so on.
There, that's what I know that you don't - ten basic items. If you want the next ten items, e-mail me, or leave a comment. Look, I've got far more important things to do than teach you to take jobs from me, go away! Now, go hackysack something . . . you're starting to bother me!
Standup comedy emanates from an oral tradition. This meager attempt is trying to achieve the modern day print equivalent, gratis of The Comic in Red Shoes, Lue Deck. Everybody say: "Bye, bye Lue!"