The difference between a me-too show and a remarkable one

The Comic's Comic wrote this about 2009's 50 First Jokes a while back:

I'm not sure this is the kind of show that benefits from such mainstream exposure from the NYT...This year's show was tighter, to be sure, but also probably not the best experience for the kind of unsuspecting Times reader who doesn't normally go to a stand-up comedy show. After all, you're witnessing mostly unknown or unheralded comedians attempting brand-new jokes. That's it. That's the show. For the comedy community, it's a great chance, and perfect timing after the holidays, to reconnect and reboot for a new year. For an audience, well, I'm not sold on what they're doing there. At least on this particular show. Am I wrong on this one?

I think it's a decent point. But I think there's a lesson here to learn for people who produce comedy shows: The shows that get the biggest audiences aren't always the best shows. Sometimes they're ones that have a good hook. And 50 First Jokes has a good hook.

Here are a few other shows that get a ton of buzz: The Rejection Show, Stripped Stories, Mortified, The Naked Show, etc. Packed houses, book deals, press coverage. What do they have in common? They're remarkable. They all have a concept that someone can tell a friend about that's unique and memorable. And that brings in audience, including people who wouldn't normally go to a comedy show.

Me-too shows get lost in the shuffle. If it sounds the same as every other show, why should people give it any special attention? If you want to see a downtown show that features six comics each doing eight minute spots, you have dozens of options. If you want to see people read their childhood diaries, you have only one option. That's the kind of thing that makes a show stand out.

This idea is what Seth Godin, a marketing guy, talks about when he writes about purple cows.

While driving through France a few years ago, my family and I were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing in lovely pastures right next to the road. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling at the beauty. Then, within a few minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what was once amazing was now common. Worse than common: It was boring.

Cows, after you've seen them for a while, are boring. They may be well-bred cows, Six Sigma cows, cows lit by a beautiful light, but they are still boring. A Purple Cow, though: Now, that would really stand out. The essence of the Purple Cow -- the reason it would shine among a crowd of perfectly competent, even undeniably excellent cows -- is that it would be remarkable. Something remarkable is worth talking about, worth paying attention to. Boring stuff quickly becomes invisible.

If you're starting a show, think about what's going to make it different than every other show out there. I don't think you have to get over-the-top gimmicky. But if you don't do anything to stand out, don't be surprised when gen pop doesn't care much about what you're doing.


Danny Solomon said...

I've read some Seth Godin. Can I interest you in a Meatball Sundae, Matt?

Anonymous said...

As someone who has done the naked show more times than I can count (on my hands anyway) I completely agree. I'd say half that audience saw an ad in the paper, thought they'd have a fun time and have never seen stand-up before. It's a far more supportive environment than just about any show I do. The novelty of the nudity fades away after the first minute and then it's just like any other set. 40-50 people, great space, solid line-ups, and a fun atmosphere.

Family Hour is another great theme show as well.

Mo Diggs said...

At the very least it should resemble 1 or 2 shows only, not every freakin' show below 30th street.

It doesn't necessarily have to have a theme either. Totally JK has all these great multimedia segments like List of Nothing.

Oh yeah I used "freakin'" unironically. Why do you ask?

soce said...

Some other fun theme shows I can think of...

"Casual Fridays", where comedians discuss various day jobs they've had

"Auction", where comedians auction off something random that they own to the audience and get to keep the money (or possibly donate to charity, depending on the week)

There are also talk-shows, such as Focus Comedy, Bob Wiltfong show, Matt Fried show

"Stand Up. Lie Down", comedy plus psychoanalysis

The WKUK shows were great because you always got to see their original skits.

And I always loved Oh, Hello!! I couldn't get enough of their witty reparte.

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