One of the most common problems that new comedians who are trying to figure out how to write stand-up comedy have is that their set-ups to the punchlines in their stand-up comedy material are simply way too long.
In this article I am going to cover this very important topic in three sections:
1. Basic performance and audience laughter dynamics
2. Factors that directly contribute to set-up lines that are too long
3. Article wrap up
With that said, let’s get down to business…
Basic Performance And Audience Laughter Dynamics
It is very simple to understand why long set-ups are a significant problem for comedians if you consider some basic observable facts.
1. There are just two primary events that occur when a comedian hits the stage to entertain an audience with laughter:
The comedian is talking or the audience is laughing or they are not.
This can be put another way:
If a comedian is talking the audience isn’t talking (they are listening).
If an audience laughing, the comedian is not talking.
2. While the length of time a comedian is tasked to perform can vary, every comedian is afforded the exact same 60 seconds in each minute to deliver their set-up lines and punchlines.
In other words it doesn’t matter if a comedian is performing for 3 minutes or 45 minutes, they get the same 60 seconds each performing minute to generate big and frequent laughs with their stand-up comedy routine.
3. Delivering stand-up comedy material consumes time during a performance. Likewise collective audience laughter caused by punchlines consumes time during a performance (if the audience is laughing).
Put another way, the more time a comedian spends talking in any given performing minute, the less time that an audience can spend laughing.
The more time an audience spends laughing, the less time a comedian spends talking.
This is a most important fact when you consider this:
4. The comedians who are afforded the MOST performing opportunities and open doorways to progress are those who are able to generate an average of 18+ seconds of laughter each performing minute.
With few exceptions, that headline level laughter generation is the result of 4-6+ audience laughs each performing minute.
Note: What I have just described can be easily verified by finding stand-up comedy performances of some “household name” or otherwise popular comedians on YouTube and simply counting the number of laughs they are able to generate each performing minute and measuring the amount of time (in seconds) that the audience spends laughing each performing minute.
5. The comedian who is generating 2 or less collective audience laughs each performing minute is bombing on stage.
Note: For all but the biggest audiences, the average length of collective audience laughter episodes for headline level stand-up comedy performances delivered by a pro comedian is around 4 seconds (give or take a second).