I like telling the truth. But that's bad when you're supposed to be polite. Case in point: I'm bad at talking with another comic after they've had a bad set. Inside, I'm thinking, "Jeesh, that was pretty ugly." That won't win ya many friends though.
So lately I've been trying a technique I've seen others use effectively (sometimes on me): Pick out one joke and compliment them on that. Even in a bad set there's usually one bit that's decent (or at least has potential). Let 'em know that there was something there worth building on. Works just as well after a good set too.
Sure, it's a little bit Carnegie-esque. But hey, that's better than being a dick about the whole thing.
Sandpaper Suit is NYC standup comic Matt Ruby's (now defunct) comedy blog. Keep in touch: Sign up for Matt's weekly Rubesletter. Email email@example.com.
Compliment the one good joke
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A couple of months ago, I got offstage and you complimented me on a joke. I remember thinking, "That was nice, even though I just bombed." I had a slightly confused, warm and fuzzy feeling. I'm onto you, Ruby! I'm onto you that you are a thoughtful person!
I think young comedians could use one or two good buddies that can give it to them straight. Anything else they hear should be positive, because
a)it can't hurt
b)everyone needs encouragement
c)the crowd's silence is enough of a critique
Usually, if the comedian isn't a dick anyway, they'll be cool with constructive criticism. This is pretty similar to what you mentioned - picking out a joke and complimenting them on it.
"Hey, that joke was cool...you ever think of trying it with ____"
Isn't it always the shitty comedians who can't take any criticisms and think all the other comedians are out to get them?
No, good comedians have trouble taking criticism too. Anyone who performs for a living and whose career momentum depends on audience approval can run the risk of being pretty sensitive.
It depends who is offering them the advice and how it's offered. From what I've read, seen in documentaries and witnessed first-hand, most comics ignore their peers unless they're already friends. They tend to pay attention to what's told to them by a more experienced or more successful comic.
As far as thinking other comics are "out to get them", the more successful you are, the more competitive it is, because there's a big pool of people vying for a limited amt of high-paying gigs and TV spots. I don't know if that should incite paranoia or bitterness or feeling threatened, but it does add to the struggle of being a working comic.
Of course, there are examples of people who avoid trying to be famous and who are happy making a living doing the road. They still have to deal with challenges (spiteful bookers, vengeful audiences, dishonest colleagues, joke stealing...)
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