Bill Hicks’s Principles of Comedy

Chris Hardwick wrote a great post trying to answer the “How does one go about being a comic” question. Along the way he offers up the following list which is posted on the wall at the Laughing Skull in Atlanta.


1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.

2. The act is something you fall back on if you can’t think of anything else to say.

3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.

4. Never ask them is this funny – you tell them this is funny.

5. You are not married to any of this shit – if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.

6. NEVER ask the audience “How You Doing?” People who do that can’t think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they’re doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a hole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.

7. Write what entertains you. If you can’t be funny be interesting. You haven’t lost the crowd. Have something to say and then do it in a funny way.

8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.

9. Listen to what you are saying, ask yourself, “Why am I saying it and is it Necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words)

10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the room. There aren’t any bad crowds, just wrong choices.

11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.

12. I love my cracker roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them.

Great stuff. #7 esp rocks. If you're not getting laughs, at least talk about something that's actually compelling/interesting to you. It's your best bet for at least holding people's attention. Without that, you'll never get laughs anyway.


myq said...

Does anyone know where these Bill Hicks points came from before they were on the wall in Atlanta?

Just curious.

Also, number 6 is interesting, regarding never asking "how are you doing?"
Do people have thoughts on this?
I'm not a big practitioner of this, I can see the argument that it can be a time-wasting space-filler, but is it "the most common mistake made by performers?"
Certainly if someone is hosting, it can be a fair question, no?
Or maybe not.

Some of them are interesting in that they're not in the imperative--most of them are "do this" or "don't do that."
But for example, number 8 says "I..."
Which just seems weird on a list of what otherwise seems like a "how to," just because I don't think that's necessarily something that everyone needs to do, nor does it seem like he's saying it either.
(Number 12 is sort of like this also.)

A couple brief arguments:

Number 10, I would argue that while there might not be bad crowds (and that might be a big "might"), there can certainly be bad situations that can be uncontrollable.

Number 11, I'd say that there are harder things to do. But this seems more metaphorical and not worth arguing over. But I like typing.

And I especially like number 9. The one that says you should only include necessary things? The one that suggests filtering what you say to be economical? You know, to use only the words that you need? Do you guys remember that one? Number 9? Nine? That's the one I'm talking about. Just wanted to make that clear. Cool? Word economy. Economy of words.

Word (to that).

Matt Ruby said...

Re: never asking "how are you doing?"...Well, it does happen a lot. And it's also the first thing out of your mouth so it has even more impact. I've def done this before but I can see how it's a bit pointless. It's an impossible question for a crowd to answer. Like asking 60 people: "So, what's your combined weight?" Well, that would be possible to answer. But it would def slow down your momentum. Unless that was your whole shctick. "Hey, it's the guy who makes us add! We love math."

myq said...

"What's your combined weight" would be a very funny way* to open your set, sincerely.

And back to the issue of "how are you guys doing," what are people's feelings about a host doing it? I mean, obviously the goal is not to get individual answers, but to make people demonstrate energy, interact, participate, make noise, etc... And what do people feel about that? I know I've heard Todd Glass (I believe) speak about how he doesn't like when hosts or comics are like "make some noise!" because who cares about noise, or something along those lines.

Do people think that hosts that gear the audience up to have (potentially artificial) energy are doing something worthwhile? Does it make the audience more active? In a good way? Etc.?**

* Or a very funny weigh. Heyo. Or heigh-o. What? Wheight? Wait?

** I'd really like someone to answer "etc.?"

Mike Lawrence said...

I think there's a large level of insecurity in asking "how are you guys doing". It's like when you're on a first date and you're extremely nervous and worried. "Is this restaurant okay? You do like tacos, don't you? Are you sure you don't want to go somewhere else? This is a good date so far....isn't it?"

Asking that question shows that the host/comic doesn't have the rapport they want with the crowd and shows how desperate they are to be liked. Obviously you can need to be liked, but you don't want to show it too much on stage.

Not asking the question shows you have confidence and trust yourself and trust the crowd. Like when you're on a great date and you know exactly how things are going.

RG said...

Shit. "How are you?" was my closer.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

I still look at "How are you?" as a formality. Just like saying, "Hello" on your cell phone when you already know who's calling.

Hosts should always say it. Hosts should not make being funny their priority; that's the comedian's job. Hosts are to slip into the audience's subconscious and guide their brains when they get distracted by their own emotions. People elated or angered by the last act should pass through the filter that is the host so they are properly distilled for the next comic.

When I perform I think it's more fun to say, "Thank you" for the applause (if it's still going by the time I reach the mic) and jump into material. Like what you have to say is so important you skip over the formalities.

Italians answer the phone with, "Pronto!" which means, "Ready!"

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