When I started my stand-up comedy career, like most people who want to take a shot at stand-up comedy I had preconceived ideas and made assumptions about what stand-up was all about and how it was done.
Those preconceived ideas and assumptions that I had were supported by multiple factors:
- Information that I was exposed to from watching television.
- Stand-up comedy books that I devoured.
- Comedy workshops that I attended.
- Friends, coworkers and family members.
- Talking with other new comedians.
And it was these same preconceived ideas and assumptions that almost made me quit stand-up comedy after 9 months because I sucked horribly at it and I knew it, no matter how hard I tried.
It was when I ditched these crippling preconceived ideas and assumptions that I was able to progress from an open miker who could hardly get laughs to headlining in 600+ seat venues in less than 3 years.
So in this article I want to cover a couple of these bad assumptions that had a negative impact on my own stand-up comedy journey when I first started out.
Bad Assumption #1
One bad assumption that I made was that “writing jokes” or writing stand-up comedy material was the foundation for creating a stand-up comedy act.
Virtually every book you can get about developing a stand-up comedy act supports the “paper written joke process” and attempts to demonstrate how to do it.
Related Article: How To Get Stuck In Stand-up Comedy Joke Writing Mode
So it was this sort of mentality that caused me to completely ignore a most obvious and undeniable fact which is:
Writing and talking are two completely separate and distinct forms of communication.
As a matter of fact, writing and talking are so dramatically different in the way they are both developed and consumed that one is is NOT effectively interchangeable with the other — particularly when it comes to producing comedy material that will actually generate the laughs needed to make any headway as a comedian.
We are taught to write using only words formed into sentences to covey messages about our thoughts, ideas, experiences, etc. We are taught to write for an individual reader who will read what we have written.
Talking and speaking share just one aspect with writing and that is the use of words and sentences.
But when we speak, much more than just words and sentences alone are at play to communicate what it is we want to say.
As a matter of fact, the literal words and sentences we use to communicate when talking to others play the smallest role in the whole verbal communication/expression process.
If you want to verify this for yourself, you need only record your side of a phone conversation. Then just transcribe the recording using your words processor.
But my own blindness to this obvious fact led me to try to “write” stand-up comedy material the way most people attempt to do it which is:
- Try to come up with a funny or interesting premise
- Write down everything you can think of about that premise
- Try to write punchlines for all the things about the premise you identified
- Arrange the resulting jokes in some sort of logical order
- Memorize my paper fabricated jokes and say them on stage
The results? I severely sucked on stage every time I was in front of an audience as a direct result of “joke writing” the way all the “experts” said I should do it.
What made matters worse is that I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I was doing everything “by the book”.
I was also clueless to the fact that in the process of trying to “write” jokes or stand-up comedy material that I was only working with words and sentences.
That meant that my joke set-ups would automatically be way longer than needed which automatically reduces the number of laughs per minute.
Let me put this another way…
When you only work with words and sentences to produce jokes or other comedy material, you are literally forced to use many more words than you need in order to compensate for the missing body language, facial expressions, and voice tone qualities — factors that reduce the number of words needed when we communicate verbally.
But that wasn’t the only thing that contributed to my less than stellar performances in the beginning…
Bad Assumption #2
Like many, I also inaccurately assumed that I needed to deliver my stand-up comedy material in the “role” of what I thought a comedian should be on stage.
In other words, when I first started performing, I did so doing my internal impression of what I thought a comedian should look like, act like and how they should deliver their material.
I assumed that stand-up comedy was something completely different than when I naturally and easily used my sense of humor around coworkers, friends and family or in the classroom as a teacher.
In retrospect I can say with great certainty that this assumption resulted in my paper written jokes coming across to audiences as hugely phony and contrived no matter how prepared I was to deliver that material.
The important thing to note from this is that it doesn’t matter how well prepared a comedian may be – if their material is not funny, the best delivery in the world won’t make it funny.
Trying to serve up a stand-up comedy routine jokes to a live audience that you have written for an individual reader to consume (not in person communication) is a great way to get little to no laughter when you hit the stage as a comedian.
Truth be told — despite all my advance preparation before I ever hit the stage I can honestly say that I really didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing at any stage of the process of trying to write and deliver a stand-up comedy act.
Like for most, my stand-up comedy activities became an exercise in shear trial and error (that was mostly error) with no real way to correct it. Sit through any stand-up comedy open mic night and you can see comedian after comedian embark on this same approach.
Note: There is a video clip of one of my embarrassing first performances in this Interactive Guide chapter that demonstrates how awful I was at stand-up comedy when I started.
Just Some Observations
For those who truly have comedy talent and want to jump into stand-up comedy, here are some simple observations that you may want to consider as you move forward:
- Creating stand-up comedy material that works and works well to generate laughs is not difficult at all. However it is a process, one that I don’t recommend that a new comedian try to tackle armed only with a few stand-up comedy tips and some assumptions that are not accurate.
- Every comedian is afforded the same 60 seconds in every minute they are on stage whether they are performing for 3 minutes or for an hour.
- Every comedian has exclusive control over the stand-up comedy material they choose to develop and deliver and how they choose to do so.
- Comedians who can generate big laughs frequently and consistently are exposed to the most performing opportunities that stand-up comedy has to offer.
- Comedians who can’t generate big laughs and frequently and consistently generally don’t progress beyond open mic performances.
- Comedians who can develop and deliver a clean, high impact stand-up comedy act are afforded many more performing opportunities than comedians who only develop an act that is only suitable for comedy clubs and similar venues.
- The comedy talent that a person uses effortlessly off stage can be greatly minimized if they don’t know how to adapt, structure and “package” their comedy talent for the stand-up comedy environment.
- The faster a comedian can progress, the faster they will reap the personal and professional rewards stand-up comedy has to offer.
As you review the articles on this blog you will certainly find that much of it is devoted to providing a different perspective on the process of developing and delivering a stand-up comedy act that actually works.
It is also about getting folks to see some of the more obvious and important things about stand-up comedy that tend to be largely overlooked, ignored or not even considered because of preconceived ideas and assumptions someone may have about the process of becoming a comedian.
Stand-up comedy is certainly challenging enough without the addition of self-generated obstacles caused by inaccurate assumptions that can significantly reduce a new comedian’s progress and delay the realization of their stand-up comedy dreams and goals.
All I can tell you with the greatest of certainty is this:
Much of the information you will find about creating a powerful stand-up comedy routine — including information from so-called experts — is simply not accurate and tends to do more harm than good.