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I would say that the first tight 5 minutes of a new comedian’s stand-up comedy act is without a doubt the most important stand-up comedy material that they will “write” or develop for a number of reasons…
It will be during the development of this first tight 5 minutes that the new comedian begins to effectively tap into their “stage voice” — that comfort zone that allows them to be who they really are on stage and not doing their “impression” of what they think a comedian should be.
It will be the confidence a comedian has in their first tight 5 minutes of stand-up comedy material that gets the big laughs that will lead to the development of new stand-up comedy material.
I guess I should explain what I mean by a tight 5 minutes of stand-up comedy material which NOT getting 1-2 small laughs per minute. That is known as bombing in the world of stand-up comedy.
A tight 5 minutes of stand-up comedy material generates an average 4-6+ collective audience laughs each performing minute.
While on the surface that may seem like it should be a fairly easy milestone to reach, it is important to note that many new comedians are never able to write or develop a tight 5 minutes of stand-up material that gets noteworthy laughs when performed.
One need only hang out at comedy open mic nights for a year to see exactly why I can say that.
I remember vividly saying this to myself after just a few of first stand-up comedy performances:
“How on earth does someone develop just 5 great minutes of stand-up comedy material?” It seemed like a daunting task at the time especially given all the work I had put in to get the crappy “jokes” I ended up with.
Like most new comedians I was writing my stand-up comedy in a literary sense without regard to one obvious and very important fact:
Writing and talking are two very different and distinct forms of communication.
Trying to write stand-up comedy material in a literary fashion is much like trying to thinly slice meat with a butter knife. A different kind of knife is needed to perform that task effectively.
Before I jump into the characteristics of a tight 5 minute stand-up comedy routine, here’s what you need to know:
Until a comedian can closely approach or exceed generating an average 18 seconds of laughter per performing minute, they aren’t going to get very far in stand-up comedy.
This is actually not difficult to achieve at all provided that a comedian has comedy talent and knows:
- How to recognize and use the comedy talent they already have
- What a punchline really is, how they are structured and how to generate them easily
- How to structure their stand-up comedy material to get 4-6+ laughs per minute before they take it on stage
- How to properly prepare to deliver their stand-up comedy material
- How to make intelligent adjustments to their stand-up comedy material post performance
With that said, let’s talk about…
The Characteristics Of A Tight 5 Minute Stand-up Comedy Routine
Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of any stand-up comedy routine — whether it be for 5 minutes or 50 minutes — is to generate an average of 18+ seconds of laughter for every performing minute (PAR Score 30+) which is commonly referred to as “killing” or “slaying” an audience.
That is headliner level laughter and is achieved by being able to generate an average of 4-6+ solid laughs per minute on stage.
Note: Every single headliner comedian was able to attain this level of laughter generation long before they ever achieved the title of “headliner”. So it is important to note that a comedian need not hold the “title” of headliner comedian in order to achieve this level of laughter.
For 5 minutes of tight stand-up comedy material, a comedian has 360 seconds to deliver 20-30+ punchlines in order to generate 20-30+ laughs.
Related Article: How Many Jokes Are In A Minute Of Stand-up Comedy Material?
If that sounds like a lot, consider this:
Audience laughter consumes time when when a comedian is performing — time that the comedian is not delivering their act.
So when you consider that in a tight 5 minute stand-up comedy set, one quarter to one third of the time a comedian is on stage becomes unavailable for delivery because of audience laughter.
In other words, a comedian who is delivering a tight 5 minute set actually only has 270-285 seconds to deliver the set-up lines and the punchlines needed to generate 20-30+ laughs in that time frame.
You may also want to consider this:
A comedian who is delivering a tight 5 minute stand-up comedy set will use less than 100 words per minute to generate 4-6+ audience laughs each performing minute.
Note: You can easily verify this for yourself. Simply transcribe 1-2 minutes of your favorite comedian from a YouTube video and count the number of words they use each minute.
Related Article: Are Long Set-up Lines Keeping You From Getting The Laughs You Want?
It should go without saying that if a comedian wants to deliver a tight stand-up comedy act, they really need to know what they are doing when it comes to developing and delivering a routine that will generate noteworthy audience laughter.
What fascinates me to this day is that when it comes to crafting a stand-up comedy act that actually gets big and frequent laughs (notice I said “crafting” not “writing” a stand-up comedy routine) none of the popular books ever mention anything about laughter levels, punchline frequency, or laughter intensity.
Answer this question for yourself:
How is a comedian supposed to progress if they don’t know how to develop and deliver a stand-up act that generates 4-6+ laughs per minute?
The reality is they don’t.
What I can tell you is this:
Your first 5 minutes of stand-up comedy material should be as tight and as effective as humanly possible. Every performance should be recorded and reviewed for performance improvement until your first 5 minutes is a smoking hot 5 minutes.
I will also tell you that:
Trying to “write” jokes on paper from thin air is the absolute hardest way I can think of to develop a stand-up comedy routine that generates long and frequent laughs.
But don’t take my word for it. It’s been said before that experience is the best teacher.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to waste months and years of your life trying to “figure out” what you need to do to develop your first 5 minutes of headline level stand-up comedy material.
The tools, techniques, strategies and knowledge you need to be able to produce mounds of stand-up comedy material AND tighten that easily and quickly are available to you now.
But after consuming this article you are still convinced that old school “joke writing” techniques and formulas from the Middle Ages are the way to go, get ready for a long and painful ride.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Come back in a year and let me know how you are doing “writing jokes”.