Nothing's more relatable than right now

When I go onstage, I usually try to start off by riffing on something in the room. Something about the venue, the audience, an earlier comic, whatever. It helps ease the way into material and makes the whole thing seem less scripted.

Some examples from recent gigs: At The Living Room, I commented on the discrepancy between the size of the audience and the number of cameramen capturing the show. At Comedyland, I talked about an earlier comic's set and how he did oddly geographically specific crowdwork with a girl from Kentucky (audio). At Comic's Inn, I made fun of the shitty PA and the bizarre shelf on the wall. At Comix, I questioned the idea of having a bathroom attendant at a free comedy show.

This sort of commentary almost always gets a laugh. People give you points for coming up with something off the cuff. Plus, a huge part of comedy is being relatable. Nothing's more relatable than that specific place at that specific time. Everyone in the room is sharing that experience and can definitely relate.

I've noticed that Jon Stewart takes this idea to the next level a lot during the beginning of The Daily Show. He'll actually start the broadcast by riffing on an inside joke that only the studio audience understands. He does it pretty often too. Curious because I've never seen any other TV broadcast do it.

For example, check out the time machine lines he uses to start off this episode of the show:

Clearly a reference to something he and the audience discussed during warmup. I guess Stewart thinks it's worth leaving us viewers on the outside in order to get the studio crowd on his side. His version of making sure "the base is energized" before starting the campaign.


Abbi Crutchfield said...

What's wrong with the whole thing being scripted if it comes across as sounding natural?

Matt Ruby said...

What's wrong with the whole thing being scripted if it comes across as sounding natural?

Depends on the vibe you're going for. At a lot of small audience shows it seems weird to me to just launch into scripted jokes right out of the gate. Makes it feel like you're giving a monologue instead of having a conversation with the crowd. I usually like having a looser vibe, especially at intimate shows.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

I get that, but just to play devil's advocate, isn't the trick to know your material well enough you sound conversational? It seems like if you intentionally do unplanned material, you're running the risk of not being funny, which sounds like a rookie move. And if you're sure it will get laughs--you've reviewed it in your head or jotted it down before getting on stage--it's a scripted improvisation.

There's a famous story from the set of the 1976 film Marathon Man: Upon hearing that Dustin Hoffman had kept himself awake for 36 hours in order to feel properly exhausted for a scene, Laurence Olivier gently chided his co-star, "Dear boy, why don't you try acting?"

I get that you'd prefer it not sound like a monologue, but blaming it on "seeming weird" sounds like you're not giving yourself credit to make it not sound weird.

Also, riffing on things in the moment in between jokes makes sense because they're already on your side. Doing it at top makes me wonder if a comedian is just avoiding having to start his/her jokes the same old way. Which he / she should take up with Jerry Seinfeld.

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