To Do List (Re: Stand-Up Comedy)

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I specified that this list is explicitly re: stand-up comedy because my regular to-do list would include applying for grad schools, getting a job, and finishing my novel. Those things are boring.

Stand-up, I hope, might be a little more engaging. This is a list of things I need to work on most in my stand-up routines. Hopefully, this will help other stand-up comedians who might be at the start of their career and struggling with the same things.

1. Looking up and at people.

Too often, I stare down at the ground or into a vague no-man’s land in between two audience members. This is bad. I need to make eye-contact with people in the audience, or at the very least force my head to stay at eye level.

2. Punchlines.

Sometimes, I think a joke will work just because the topic is funny. Two nights ago at the St. Charles Coffee House, I described Twilight as “a book about a girl who moves to a town, falls in love with an older man, abandons her friends, and devotes her whole life to him. Then, at the end of the story, she gets beat up in a fight and he convinces her to claim she ‘fell down some stairs.'”

First of all, everything in that speech actually happens in the book. Even the bizarre potential allusion to the common lie used to cover domestic violence. However, there’s no punch line. No point where the audience is instructed to laugh.

Now, I’m not saying jokes half to be setup/payoff and that punchlines need to be hammered home, just that there should be definitely moments where the joke occurs and where the audience may respond by laughing. For example, when I was  earlier talking about crystal meth, I said “it’s a national epidemic, like swine flu or Twilight” and that got big laughs, because there’s an easy-to-spot joke in it.

3. Body Language.

Too often, I keep both hands on the microphone the entire set. It’s a nervous habit, but once I get started, it’s difficult to stop. And when I take one hand off the microphone, I tend to make the same repetitive hand gestures, over and over again, which isn’t much better.

I need to work on stepping back from the microphone and letting the mic stand do its job.

4. Posture.

I guess this is really a part of “Body Language,” but I think it deserves a separate category because I’m really bad with it. Often, I never properly adjust the microphone stand, so I spend my entire routine hunched over, with my head down. I need to stand up straight to project confidence, even if I’m nervous as hell.

5. Practicing my material.

I need to practice my routines at home more, going over the lines and refining them into their sharpest form. I almost always improve my material by selecting every single word individually, but often when I’m going to an open mic, I choose to just wing a bit or too. While improvisation can be good (see Eddie Izzard), I still need to practice more, so that I know when to improvise and when to stick to the script.

6. Speaking more slowly.

This one is pretty obvious. Sometimes I race through my material, if I slow down, it will be more effective, and also I’ll need fewer jokes per minute, which is a nice side-effect as it means less work for me.

7. Developing a unique style.

Sometimes I find myself making easy jokes for the guaranteed laughs. Last night at St. Charles, I actually started cursing more because I could tell it was getting yuks from the audience (though there were diminishing returns with each “fuck”). I actually planned to start with a joke about the weather, for crying out loud! (And not even a good one!)

I need to work on developing my own unique style. This, I think for me, means more ridiculous situations that involve pop-culture figures (such as my Cannibalism on Gilligan’s Island material, or my Vanna White is Addicted to Vowels bit). I need to learn how far I can carry a single routine, and I need to push it at least that far, instead of getting nervous and moving on.

8. Performing more often.

Again, this is self-explanatory. I can count the number of stand-up performances I’ve done in the last year on my two hands (that means it’s less than ten, for those of you who don’t know how many fingers I have). Only by performing in front of a live audience will I get any better, and only then if I do it consistently. With regards to this, I am going to try to perform at least once a week. That’s not a lot, but it’s something.

So, there we go. Those are my eight to-dos when it comes to stand-up comedy. Posting them in public like this should force me to work on them more, and maybe other aspiring stand-up comedians will read this and realize that they are making the same amateur mistakes.

As always, comments/questions/complaints?


Written by Greg Karber

November 19, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Rambles, Stand-up

Tagged with , ,

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