I can tell by the search terms that people use to find this blog that many are under the impression that if they can just find just one critical piece of information that their stand-up material will somehow become funny.
However, getting big laughs on stage as a comedian is not just about one thing — it is about a combination of things that happen in symphony that causes high level audience laughter when a comedian performs.
Put this another way…
Virtually everyone has been able to make a person or a group of people laugh in casual, everyday conversations. You don’t need to know how to be a comedian to do that.
But just like in stand-up comedy, it wasn’t just the literal words that were used that caused that laughter to happen.
Again, it was a combination of the individual characteristics, qualities and attributes that you have that made that laughter happen in those casual conversations.
Related Article: Using Your Natural Comedy Talent As A Comedian
Unfortunately, most people who are trying to “write” a stand-up comedy routine or develop stand-up comedy material tend to focus on just one thing, which is “writing” — focusing on just the literal words alone without consideration of a host of other factors that are essential to laughter generation.
I’ve said before that this is much like trying to drive a car with a steering wheel without the rest of the car.
A couple of questions that you might want to ask are:
Does the stand-up comedy material you write take into consideration all the same individual characteristics, qualities and attributes that you possess that made people laugh during those casual conversations?
How can you go about using the same type of “live” characteristics, qualities and attributes that you use everyday to make people laugh in casual conversations in order to make people laugh while on stage?
Here are just a few important things to consider when it comes to developing stand-up comedy material that is going to generate significant laughs during a performance:
1. The comedy talent you have right now — the exact same comedy talent you want to take to the stage as a comedian — was NOT developed as a result of writing. It was developed as a result of years of live interactions involving talking and expression. Subsequently…
2. We don’t talk the same way we are taught to “write”.
If you don’t believe that, simply record your half of a telephone conversation with a friend and transcribe just a minute or two of your part of the conversation.
If you want to know how to be a comedian who can generate laughs on stage, you must realize that audiences don’t read stand-up comedy material — they experience it.
Hint: This is also the reason why most transcribed stand-up comedy material doesn’t “read funny” — critical elements that give a comedian their true laughter power are missing.
3. Most of the laughter generation power a comedian has does not lie in the literal words they use — it lies in how they phrase and express those words.
This is true regardless of the delivery style of the comedian. This doesn’t mean that words aren’t important.
A steering wheel is mandatory to drive a car. But relatively speaking it is a small part of an entire car. And you can’t get very far if all you have as transportation is a steering wheel at your disposal – without the rest of the car.
The reverse is true as well — the best and most expensive car is rendered useless without a steering wheel. So it’s a combination of a host of factors that “makes funny happen” when you talk and cause others to laugh, no matter what environment you are in (off stage or on stage).
4. Audience dynamics and seating play an important role in the laughter levels a comedian can generate.
5. A comedian’s outward appearance of confidence, likeability and genuineness along with a host of other individual characteristics and qualities plays a huge role in the laughter a comedian can generate.
6. Comedic timing and punchline frequency plays a significant role as well — not only in a comedian’s ability to generate laughter, but the momentum they can accumulate during a performance.
Again, these are just a very few of the simple, yet important things every comedian should know and consider when it comes developing or “writing” a stand-up comedy routine that will actually generate laughs — preferably big laughs.
One of the reasons why “conventional” stand-up comedy books fall short and are of little value when it comes to developing stand-up comedy material that works is because they only provide academic definitions and information that is not actionable on an individual basis.
What you really need is actionable information — techniques, strategies and methods that you can actually use and apply as it relates to you and your sense of humor and that will work to get big laughs on stage.
Not one single thing I have identified in this article is difficult to understand or apply when it comes to knowing how to be a comedian provided that you are armed with the information you need to put all of the factors into play that will generate the big laughs on the stand-up comedy stage.
Where the real difficulty in stand-up comedy lies is when the new comedian chooses to try to work only with words and sentences on paper (writing) as the sole means of trying to produce they stand-up comedy material — without any consideration to all the other things that give a person their natural comedy talent in the first place.
Remember these simple formulas as you are trying to “figure out” how to easily produce stand-up comedy material that will kill on stage:
Writing = Hard (working with only words)
Talking = Easy (working with ALL your comedy talent including the words)
I cannot make it more simple to understand than that.
You’ve provided a great list of obvious but often and easily overlooked factors that affect audience response, Steve. I admit that I find it much easier to perform to a larger audience than a smaller one, and I really hadn’t thought a whole lot about the relationship between audience dynamics and seating that you mention in point 3 above. Keeping smaller groups closely seated really does give a better ‘feel’ to the audience than having individuals scattered around the room.
I tend to view the audience as a unit — I may have mentioned elsewhere on this site about the “personality” of an audience — and find that if the group is scattered, it is much more difficult to build that crucial intimate connection.
It almost seems as if the actual “writing” part of comedy is one of the least important things. Stage presence really does play a critical role, if the audience likes the look of you they would be more susceptible to laugh. It really is quite fascinating when you consider how many factors come into play when trying to make people laugh. Truly fascinating.