Johnny Carson on the most important thing in comedy: likability

"Likability" is a track from "Johnny Carson On Comedy." In it, Johnny talks about what he thinks is the most important thing for a comedian to be successful: The audience has to dig him as a person.

The most important thing to me in comedy is the empathy that you have to have for the performer. I think this is the greatest thing that a performer can have if he's going to be successful: an empathy with the audience. They have to like him. And if they like the performer, then you've got 80% of it made...

And if you don't have that, it's damn difficult to get the audience on your side. If they resent you or they don't feel any empathy with you or they can't relate to you as a human being, it gets awfully difficult to get laughs...

There may be funnier men in the world, who may be quicker on the ad-lib or can say funnier natural things in a given moment. But I still feel the most important thing is the likability, the rapport, that indefinable thing that, you don't learn it, you don't study for it, you don't take a course in it, it's either there in the individual or it's not.

That to me is the most important thing when I see a comic performing on a stage. You can tell very quickly whether the audience likes them. Not so much what they're saying but how they say it, how they relate to the audience.


Great reminder on how writing good material is just part of the battle.

Incidentally, I recently watched "When Stand Up Stood Out" (documentary about the Boston comedy scene in the 80's) and it was amazing how much power Carson had over comedy back in those days. He was the kingmaker. All those guys were just begging for a shot to get on his show. Make it on Carson and you get huge. If you don't, you're stuck where you are forever. Talk about a logjam.

Labels: