Video: "I Need Laughs: We don't have to be tense (Part 4 of 7)"

Part 4 of "I Need Laughs: One week in the trenches of the New York underground comedy scene." Some painful shows. Do you give up? Riff? Plow ahead with material? And some post-show deconstruction with other comics.

More of "I Need Laughs" (and details about it) here.


Abbi Crutchfield said...

Nice insight into the challenge of taking it from paper to the stage. Quiet crowds may not be the best measure of how funny your material is, but they sure do show you how comfortable you are with telling it.

Sell it, remind them that it's funny and has the potential to be amazing. And that you're currently being amazing. Because they wouldn't sound HALF as good onstage as you sound when you're bombing.

I really like the clear shots (like Dan Curry's clip at the end), and I liked how creatively the camera was placed during Mark Normand's set at the end.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Oh, one more thing. Jess Kirson said if a personal story is not funny to you yet, don't feel obligated to tell it. I am all for working through sad times on stage, "My parents weren't married when I was conceived...well my father was." but sometimes it takes longer to get over pain than we realize. So all we're able to talk about is the bad side of it, not what we learned from it. And that might be what stifles the audience. They're still in sympathy mode.

Matt Ruby said...

Abbi, I finally cracked the code on that bit about my Mom after this vid was shot. It took a long time (years of playing with it and then putting it away!) but I finally managed to give the whole thing a real arc and then a fun callback at the end that resolves the whole thing. I think it skates the sympathy/funny line pretty well now. If ya care, ya can see it at the end of this set posted on YouTube.

Hank_Thompson said...

Great segment, Matt. I can't wait to watch all 7 in a row once the entire series is released.

I had to plow through some dead silence the other day. Set started great when two brand new jokes worked well and then a third brand new one bombed hard. It was nothing but silence and inaudible smiles from there out. Occasional chuckles some. I always respect other comics who plow through when they're bombing so that's what I tried to do, but I did a shitty job of that. I guess if you're going to plow ahead, at least get some decent performance practice out it. I just stood there and spewed chunks of self-doubt on the audience.

That said, it's almost impossible not to riff or to acknowledge the awkwardness in some way, to do anything to alleviate that slow-motion feeling of silence. Death by a thousand stares.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

@ Matt Ruby: Get 'em Matt! That was an supreme-quality video of a great set. I laughed out loud at the breakup bit and the line, "Best son...in America." I even played the shoebox full of blow jobs bit a second time and clapped. Just two claps. Like a fat sultan.

@ Hank_Thompson: "I just stood there and spewed chunks of self-doubt on the audience." Can that be the title to somebody's comedy album please? Mine's "Just Joe King" when I change my stage name to Joe King.

What's so great about plowing through? I mean, if you can acknowledge the elephant in the room in a funny way, that's always more entertaining. And it will loosen you up while you're performing, which send the message to the crowd that they can relax their buttholes.

ECN said...

"It's almost impossible not to riff or to acknowledge the awkwardness in some way..."

Yeah, it's not easy. But it's your JOB. Think of it that way -- like you don't have the right to do that to the show, like you signed a tacit contract not to run the show into the ground. At the point when you start bombing, your main duty is to the next act. So you can't TELL the audience the show's going badly. They'll believe it.

You take the hit -- recover if you can, go down with the ship if you have to, but don't pawn it off on the show or the crowd. Own up to your own failure.

And make no mistake, there is no such thing as saying "I'm bombing" in a funny way. You've maybe seen it happen once or twice by accident, but that was a massive fluke, okay? If you're so desperate that you're thinking of resorting to saying you're bombing, just to relieve the tension in your mind, you don't have the confidence or the poise to pull something like that off. Don't remember the one or two times the show flipped right after a comedian's nerve broke; remember the hundreds of times that DIDN'T happen, and the guy dug the hole deeper and devalued the whole show.

(Side note: yes, Andy Kindler says he's bombing. But you'll note Andy Kindler ISN'T in a state of desperation. Andy Kindler is in control of himself and the audience. He went up there planning to talk about his jokes going badly; he has a lot of experience doing this, he has funny things to say about his jokes going badly, and his head is level. And Andy Kindler probably wasn't REALLY bombing to begin with. Your situation is nothing like his.)

What's killed more comics' instincts is the fact that saying "I'm bombing" will occasionally elicit some nervous laughter from the crowd. But it's not real laughter. And again, it tears a huge hole in the show -- even if you COULD use it to really recover sometimes, it'd be unethical, because of what it does to the next act up. "That guy's not funny" doesn't kill the show. "This show isn't real" does.

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