So You Think You Are Funny…

Memba Ben By Memba Ben, 18th Feb 2018 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/41u8j48b/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

To find out just how hard the art of comedy is, I took part in a stand-up show.

"I'm funny how? I mean, funny like I'm a clown?" - Joe Pesci,Goodfellas

Every month, my friends and I make it a point to go out and try new things out and seeing that a big name comedian was coming to town, we decided to go to a comedy club. Fast forward to the end of the show and everyone was leaving in a good mood. The company was great, the weather was amazing and more importantly, all the comedians killed it.

We were heading back when an argument broke out (due to the price of the tickets) which divided us into two camps.

Camp A- “Comedians are stealing a living. They charge an arm and a leg to tell us an hours’ worth of jokes.”
Camp B- “If you enjoyed the show, then you got your money’s worth.”

Eventually the argument subsided for the night but picked up the following morning as we were reminiscing. Like most arguments, both sides weren’t willing to give ground and were locked in a deadlock until a person who shall remain nameless due to their stupidity (me) said the following:

“You guys aren’t serious. I bet I could also crack it as a comedian. Next open night, I’ll go up and do my thing”

And just like that, things were set.

I like to think that I’m a funny guy (turns out I’m not) so I didn’t think I’d struggle. As a matter of fact, I was looking forward to proving myself. Who knows, I could get famous…

Like everything else in life, I wanted to apply myself and see just how far I could get so I threw myself into the deep end and immediately found myself facing some stormy waters.

Most people seem to have this idea that comedy is mainly about inventiveness, that most comedians just show up and talk about whatever comes to mind. While improvisation plays a large part in how your act turns out, you can’t just show up and talk about whatever comes to mind.

That’s begging to be heckled.

These guys spend hours (in some cases years) practicing, refining and perfecting their joke structure to get to the point at which they find themselves at.

Although it was an amateur night, I still went and prepared like it was my first standup special.

How can I make the set-up shorter?
How can I make the punchline have more of an impact?
Is the set-up and punchline in tone with the rest of the joke?


I spent an ungodly amount of time structuring my act with the intention of perfecting it. I wanted to flow seamlessly form one talking point to another and while that might seem like a very mechanical approach to comedy (there’s not much room to ad lib or improve things in such a linear setup), I went in knowing what to talk about and how to connect the dots.

Come D-day, and I’m ready to go. The gang came through to see if the bet could be pulled off and they made their way to their table while I paced around behind the curtains.

I was set to be the opening act so the pressure was all on me to get the night off to a good start.

No pressure at all.

I heard the MC call my name to a welcoming applause and as I walked out to the center of the stage, a wave of panic came over me. I’ve never had to do such a thing in front of such a large crowd so to say I was sweating bullets would be an understatement.

I got to the microphone and smiled to the crowd, hiding my panic. The expectations are already weighing heavy on me and my mind is trying to process a billion thoughts at once.

What if I fuck this up?
What if I’m not as funny as I think I am?
What if they don’t laugh?


With the stage lights damn near blinding me, I look downward towards the spectators only to find nothing but expectation on their faces. Sure, it might be an amateur night, but they still had expectations to be fulfilled.

So, to set the mood, I cracked a couple of my best jokes to warm them up but that only got some chuckles out of the crowd.

Not good.

I pulled out one of my best jokes and all they did was chuckle?!?

What the hell are they going to think of the rest of my set?!?

At this point, I’m just so overrun with thoughts that I fucked up my set. Instead of naturally building to the crescendo of a joke, I rush through the whole story and setup. I was too eager to please the fans and hastily shot my load instead of calmly pacing myself throughout my set.

With every passing joke, I just got a poor reception.

Personal Experiences? Not interested.
Self-Depreciating jokes? Done to death.
Observational humor? Boooringgg…

It was while on stage that it dawned upon me that despite how hard I felt I practiced, there were still other aspects of performing that I completely underestimated.

A professional comedian could tell some random story that has nothing funny about it and still knock it out the park whereas any random Joe could have a funnier experience and it wouldn’t translate as well. Comedians have to be good storytellers, or have a great delivery of some kind while on stage in order for their jokes to not fall flat. These guys have to explain the situation, create the setup, and then drop the punchline with perfect delivery and this requires originality, creativity, and performance abilities which speak to just how good these guys are.

Another important thing I learnt via my baptism of fire is context. There’s a huge difference in telling a funny experience that you shared with some friends and turning it into a funny story which can be relatable to the audience. Every joke I told whilst I was up on that stage involved some kind of experience with my friends and while those experiences might’ve been funny to me because of how my friends reacted to those situations, they won’t be particularly funny to others because they don’t actually know my friends.

With the crowd’s attention waning, I desperately tried to save the situation by relying on my ingenuity and venturing into territory I was ill equipped for:

Improv comedy.

I ended up rambling about random things which the audience was doing which was just about the worst thing a comedian could do. At that point, it looks like you’ve run out of material and are just winging it and no matter how supportive the audience may be, they can be sharks. If they smell blood in the water, then it’s over.

At first, they were involved with my banter but as things went along, the chatter grew louder, making it harder for me to keep their attention and soon enough, EVERYONE was talking.

The fucking MC had to come out and save my ass by cutting short my allotted time and to make matters worse, the audience applauded wholeheartedly – whether it be because the MC saved the day or that they gave credit to my attempt, I’m not entirely sure.

It was an unmitigated disaster and I felt like a failure. I’d just been humbled and humiliated by the very people I was supposed to entertain (well, my friends found hilarity in what happened so there’s that) but all in all; despite how the show turned out, I enjoyed the experience. It opened my eyes to a profession which I saw as “people stealing a living” and made me appreciate just how much work goes into being a comedian which brings me to my final point.

Practice.

As mentioned, it takes a lot of things to become a good comedian but ultimately, the most helpful thing an aspiring comedian can do is practice. Practice brings improvement and one of the best ways to practice is to attend open mic nights. They give you the opportunity to learn how to reads crowd, interact with the audience, do a bit of improv and more importantly, allows you to get the opportunity to tailor your act in a way that will bring a positive reception from the crowd.

Many of the greats started off as rubbish comedians but kept on working on it for years to get to where they found themselves. Why shouldn’t you?

So, to any aspiring comedians:
Go ahead, give it a shot. It is probably one of the few professions where you can see your efforts paying off and anyone who has achieved their goals of becoming a professional comedian will tell you it’s as good as it gets.

All that’s left is for you to take your first step:
Tell me a joke.

Tags

Comedy, Comedy Club, Comedy Writing, Personal Experience, Stand-Up Comedy

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author avatar Memba Ben
I'd like to thank everyone for taking the time to read what I write and I hope you enjoy it!

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