The Seriousness of Comedy (pt. 1 of ?)

I always hesitate to talk about comedy publicly. I much prefer to have the “shop talk” with only comedians at 2am while eating at a diner or in the green room between shows. I feel like as much as civilians* say they want to know more, it’s not really exciting going beyond the jokes.

So lets go beyond the jokes and discuss silly things seriously.

Dissecting humor can become hours of conversation over how long to hold for a laugh. Is this relatable to the audience or am I the weirdo. The distraction of wearing a shiny watch, having a visible but indiscernible tattoo, shorts; etc. True comedians love talking about every detail of stand up. In fact, those conversations really let you know who is in it for life and who is just doing it for the adulation. Yes, there are people doing stand up comedy that can’t wait to become famous enough to not do stand up comedy.

I’ve spent a combined total of 2 days talking about what makes a great intro**, how high a bar can the host set with too good of an intro, how many credits to say in an intro… oh… yeah, I can keep going.

Breaking down a joke’s POV, rhythm, word choice, purpose in the set is a weird dip into the how the human mind can be provoked if desired or how to punctuate it for more “laughs per minute”***. Finessing a joke to predict how the average comedy club attendee will digest it can be surgical. If that surgery was removing a heart and replacing it with a rubber chicken… or a whoopee cushion… or another podcast.

A comedian can also be described as a psychic psychologist. I have decide in split seconds if I want to dive in the deep end and if the audience will follow me****. We predict how the jokes will make the audience feel or think or laugh. Is it an easy laugh? Is the payoff worth the set up? Then again, there is a level of comedy where you don’t care if they follow you. This samurai level of confidence a stand up has to reach to pull off is one of most brilliant displays of performance ever. The staggering of thoughts followed by a punch perfectly timed in between the moment of “he’s a genius” and “I’m listening the ramblings of a mad man.” Sadly now, there’s a lot of samurais that only have confidence. Their shortcoming is most visible when they discard a premise before it leads anywhere and the silence in between one thought and the other is the internal dialogue of “I don’t know why I’m saying this really.”

The punchline is the destination of the joke. The punchline exists completely right when it ends. The wording of the punchline, though, is much like a string of Christmas lights. If one bulb is off, nothing.

What comics love the most? The direction of the joke. Oh man, nothing is sweeter than not seeing it coming. It hits so nice in the chest that you are elated and kind of jealous. If a joke was a rollercoaster, while all other passengers are just looking all over the park and enjoying the blur, comics are watching the railing in front of them. We want to see if we can catch the bend before the drop.

The fluidness of the set. About four jokes in, most comedians can tell if the guy on stage is doing a set or if they are just throwing shit at the wall.
Then the act outs. If comedians are really honest with themselves, the act out is the part that almost every audience loves. Nothing against comics that aren’t very “act outy”. You aren’t doing it wrong by not having act outs. But the laugh of an act out is 10 times better than the laugh of just a joke. It’s what makes people believe we were class clowns. It’s what they enjoy mimicking. If you watched stand up as a kid, the act out is probably what you took back to school to show your friends.

I actually am bored by comics that refuse to drop the cool. I’ve seen clips of comics whose jokes sound more like tweets that were too long to be tweeted. Usually the laughs they get are short. As if the audience all together said, “Ah, we see what you did there. Nice.” I’d rather have the laughs where if feels like the audience is saying, “MOTHERFUCKER! HA HA HA! YOU FUCKING FUCK HOLE!! YOU DID IT AND I DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD!! YOU PIECE OF SHIT AWESOME FUCK HOLE WOW! SO GOOD! TEARS! SON OF A BITCH!”

Wait… what was this blog about? To Be Continued…

* Yes, we call you civilians. Trust me, we envy being civilians.

** Here’s what I think makes a good intro. Don’t overhype the crowd unless the comic can match the energy. But even if they can match it, there will always be the immediate drop for the audience when they realize “Oh, that’s right, we’re supposed to sit and listen now.” One credit is all you need. If they don’t know who you are, no amount of credits will make the first joke easier. If they do know who you are, then they’ve been waiting for you so go! Walk on music is unnecessary because most people don’t want to dance for 3 seconds and most songs aren’t recognizable in 2 seconds. (And I’ve had hours of conversation over that.)

*** I don’t believe laughs per minute is a good indicator of how great a comic was. But I do have a pretty good laugh per minute ratio.)

**** Most comics has been doing this unknowingly since they were let around people. At least since middle school.

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