"High energy comes across as desperate onscreen"

Energy is great, right? Pumps up the crowd when you've got big act outs and lots of enthusiasm. But it might not be the best way to make it onto TV.

Eddie Brill, Letterman's booker, sometimes does workshops where he gives notes to comics. I've heard that he's told a couple of good comics who are energetic that they'd have to tone it down before they'd ever get a shot at being on the show. To one, he said something like this: "High energy comes across as desperate onscreen."

Never really thought about it before but I guess it makes sense. A live room needs that shot of adrenaline sometimes. But on TV, that can seem manic. On the flip side, someone like Steven Wright comes off great on a screen, but his kind of low energy schtick might bomb in a typical club environment. (A reason why a lot of mellow guys prefer theaters to clubs.)

One more reason why live standup and television standup are two different beasts.


Anonymous said...

what defines energetic in your opinion? movement? material?

Matt Ruby said...

"what defines energetic in your opinion?"

Movement, volume, enthusiasm, intensity, etc. Dane Cook = energetic, Steven Wright = not.

Mike Drucker said...

I think it might be because watching a live performance is active, while watching a TV performance is passive.

When you're at the club, you're making eye contact and mentally working with the comedian - the stage isn't very distant from the crowd (as it is on TV or a theater) and the atmosphere is much more interactive.

Whereas on television, it's hard to match someone's energy. You can't REALLY make eye contact with them, and there's part of your brain that knows that. So when they're blasting off into space, you're not having a conversation with them, so it seems fake and artificial.

Mo Diggs said...

I would add that sometimes high energy stuff is ok on TV. Especially during act outs. Being hyper in general looks stupid, but a theatrical, crazy act (especially if you are affecting a character's voice) may work.

Sam Kinison is probably the best example. Through most of his first Letterman set he talks with a normal voice but belts out that patented scream during the punch line. Granted he also did crowd work during that set, which is of course a no-no on TV.

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