I'm at a mic the other night watching a comic who's kinda struggling. Yet a couple of lines he says get huge laughs. The thing is they aren't his intended punchlines. They're just little asides: "I was at this mic the other week and no one there liked me." "I work with Italian guys, the kind who wear gel in their hair." I know, they don't sound funny, but these lines got laughs.
Too bad he wasn't recording his set. He might be able to listen back, find the laughs, learn from 'em, and maybe even use those exact lines again.
A week later I saw this girl get up and riff off one of the earlier comics. She went into detail about her woes with men and how she was a late bloomer and it was all fucking hilarious. Totally off the cuff. Then she settled into her material. Wasn't nearly as funny. I sat there thinking what a shame she wasn't taping the set. She had gold, and it was probably just going to slip away.
In fact, I hardly ever see people taping their sets which is surprising to me. After the fact, it's tough to remember where the laughs came 100% of the time. Plus sometimes it's the exact phrasing or delivery that gets the laugh. If you don't tape it, you may never figure out how/why what you said was funny. You make your job that much harder. And you waste your stage time in a way. As a wise man once said, "Stage time in this city is too valuable to waste."
Here's an example of how taping a set made one of my jokes better. It's an older bit I've been bringing back recently:
"Promotion done!" wasn't part of the original bit. Just came out one night and it seemed to serve as a nice exclamation point. I think people wanted a hook to hang a laugh on.
If I hadn't been taping that set, I'm not sure I ever woulda remembered even saying that line (or that it got laughs). But now I always include it. Do I feel like a dork always setting up my recorder or a camera? Yeah. But it's better than just letting good stuff slip away.
Sandpaper Suit is NYC standup comic Matt Ruby's (now defunct) comedy blog. Keep in touch: Sign up for Matt's weekly Rubesletter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taping sets to get phrasing and delivery and to remember funny riffs
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love taping for that reason. i also am a big fan of saying my material out loud quite a few times before actually taking it to stage just to see what comes out - little remarks, tags, better lines, etc. i had gotten out of the practice for a while but am back in it full. no mirrors though.
I try to tape all my sets, but in most rooms it's hard to do so without it being a distraction. Not so much setting it up, it's just the camera and tripod's presence is distracting, like there's an unspoken burden on the audience to laugh it up because hey, it's being recorded. Stealthy is the best way.
aside: One time I set up my camera and the host (Poppi Kramer) totally called me on it: "Apparently Chesley is taping this set to send to Comedy Central..." She got a laugh.
Yeah, audio recorder is def better than a camera if you wanna tape on the sly. I usually save the camera for venues where it's not a sore thumb.
Ruby and Fontaine! Gonna need you for a show soon.
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