Why Counting Laughs Per Minute Is Not The Best Way To Determine Comedian Performance Levels
Every comedian wants some solid indication of how effective their stand-up comedy routine is when it comes to generating audience laughter.
Now you might be saying to yourself...
Well, isn't it obvious that if the audience is laughing frequently then that is a pretty good indicator of how effective a comedian's stand-up comedy act is?
While the answer to that question is conditionally yes, there's a bit more to the story here that is not quite so obvious.
As a comic you really need to know the difference between subjective and objective analysis when it comes to how funny your stand-up comedy routine actually is.
Otherwise you can end up like many new comedians thinking that you are "killing" with your act when it is merely only lukewarm at best.
The best way I can think of to explain what I am referring to is to discuss the typical laughs per minute analysis that many comedians use as means to determine how funny their stand-up comedy is.
A Look At The Pros
If you review ANY online stand-up comedy video of a pro comedian you can easily determine for yourself that they consistently generate an average of 4-6+ laughs each performing minute.
You don't even need an external time piece to do this as the run time is right on the video itself -- you just need to know the start time and count audience laughs for whole minutes to verify this.
But here's the important part about using a laughs per minute analysis that most new comedian miss, which is:
A simple laughs per minute count analysis of a stand-up comedy routine loses significant value if the length of the laughter episodes generated during a performance is not considered.
Let me give you some very specific examples of what I mean by that...
Where The Laughs Per Minute Count Falters
One the years I have reviewed hundreds of new comedian videos and there are times when a new comedian thinks they are on fire when they are not even close. Specifically:
- If a comedian is getting 4-6 (or more) laughs per minute, but those laughs are only a second long -- that comedian is basically bombing on stage.
- If a comedian counts one person laughing out of an audience of 20 or more people, they can have a great laughs per minute count while in reality they are mostly flopping on stage.
- If a comedian counts coughs, sneezes, boos, groans or heckling events in their laughs per minute count (trust me, I have seen this first hand over and over again), then the laughs per minute count is not accurate.
It should be obvious that without any consideration of the length of time audience laughter episodes last during a performance (I am referring to 50% or more of any audience laughing regardless of size), then the laughs per minute determination can easily fall into the category of an inaccurate subjective determination as opposed to an accurate objective one.
Unfortunately, many new comedians want to justify that they are doing well on stage when in fact they aren't doing well at all. I've heard this referred to as "faking themselves out".
So let's look at the laughs per minute approach with the consideration for the time an audience actually spends laughing during a stand-up comedy performance...
Looking At Pro Comedians Again
If you go back and review any online video of a stand-up comedy routine delivered by a pro comedian, you will find that they consistently generate an average of 18+ seconds of audience laughter, cheering and or applause for each minute they are on stage -- regardless of the actual number laughs that occur in an given performing minute.
Just like the length of time a comedian performs is measurable (3 minutes to 60 minutes or more), the amount of time the audience spends laughing during any minute of that performance is also measurable.
You can use the stopwatch function on your smartphone to very easily verify this -- here's a report that explains exactly how to do it:
Here's the reality when it comes to objectively determining just how powerful a stand-up routine is (or is not):
To only consider just a raw audience laughter count for each performing minute during a stand-up comedy performance lacks a true objective determination of just how funny that act is unless the time the audience spends laughing is measured as well.
Does the number of laughs a comedian generates during their performance matter?
Yes it does because without a decent punchline frequency (which is 4-6+ punchlines delivered each performing minute), it is difficult to approach, meet or exceed an average of 18 seconds of audience laughter during a stand-up comedy performance.
And 18 seconds of audience laughter/min is the minimum laughter level you will need to be able to meet consistently in order to make any real headway as comedian.
Note: This is NOT as difficult as it may seem UNLESS a person is trying to "write" their stand-up comedy routine for consumption by an individual reader instead of developing an act based on talking and expressing themselves using all aspects of their natural comedy talent -- which is more than just the words used.
A much more accurate representation of a comedian’s performance is to measure the seconds of accumulative laughter, cheering or applause for each performing minute.
A headlining comedian should average a minimum 18+ seconds per minute (PAR Score 30) for each performing minute on stage.
If you are a comedian who can average 24+ seconds of laughter for each performing minute you are on stage, then you have reached the level of the most popular stand-up comedy stars.
Seconds of laughter per minute is a rock solid performance evaluation metric and is hands down superior to counting/comparing laughs per minute because…
Depending upon audience size, a comedian may need only get 3 laughs per minute to generate an average of 24+ seconds of laughter each minute.
Because of different delivery styles, speech rate, etc. a different headlining comedian may generate 6-10 laughs (or more) per minute to reach 24+ seconds of laughter for each performing minute.
Just know that the laughs per minute metric is not a “one size fits all” metric — it is different for each comedian and can vary greatly on a minute-by-minute basis depending on a number of factors.
It's a rough gauge at best of a comedian's performance skill and ability.
But measuring average seconds of laughter, cheering or applause generated for each performing minute is a rock solid, across the board metric that is not dependent upon a highly variable “laughs-per-minute” gauge (nor is it dependent on style, type of comedy material delivered etc.).
If you are only getting 1-2 laughs per minute as a comedian and you are not generating at least 18 seconds of laughter from those 1-2 laughs per minute, then here’s the deal…
1. You can’t have a minute or minutes without significant laughter when you are a headlining comedian.
While some comedians may be slow starters, still — in order to be considered a headliner level comedian, they must still average 18+ seconds of laughter, cheering and/or applause each minute for the length of their performances.
Note: Talent buyers, agents, comedian bookers etc. know from experience when a comedian is truly killing and when they are not without the need for any sort of laughter measurement process. That process is for a comedian to objectively self-determine how well they are doing and what parts of their act needs attention for improvement.
2. The chances are great that your set-up material is too long, too detailed, too expansive before you get to a punchline.
If you understand my redefinition of set-ups and punchlines, you know that you need to have a sense of humor reaction to what you have just presented approximately every 10-20 words (not a hard and fast rule).
3. Most headlining comedians usually generate 4-6+ laughs (or deliver 4-6+ punchlines) per minute consistently virtually every minute of their show. But as I mentioned before, laughs per minute are highly individual and can be highly variable, even on a bit by bit basis.
One of the reasons why Killer Stand-up comedians move up the stand-up comedy ladder very quickly — many times in just a matter of weeks or months — is because they are given complete guidance on conducting performance improvement reviews which are vital to determining which parts of a stand-up comedy routine need the most attention first.
Plus, they can use Comedy Evaluator Pro for free for an entire year to help evaluate recorded performances easily to pinpoint exactly which minutes of their show needs improvement (editing, replacement or deletion of comedy material) without having review a recorded stand-up comedy performance over and over again to get the performance data needed for improvement activities.
Bottom line -- for reasons that should be more obvious now than when you started reading this article, I would NOT use laughs per minute alone as the guideline for how effective your stand-up comedy performances truly are.