There's another kind of limiting joke: one that's funny only to a specific area. I remember seeing a comic in Chicago one time who was really killing. Great set. But I started to notice something. Every single one of his jokes was Chicago-specific. About riding the el train, going to Wrigley, etc. Funny to the people in that room but what happens if/when this guy ever goes on the road or tries for a TV spot? He had crafted a great set that was worth nothing outside of his hometown.
Ya see it in NYC all the time too. What the hell are those conductors ever saying on the subway? People from Jersey are stupid! And you won't believe how tiny my apartment is... Those topics can get laughs here. But the relatability of 'em is gone when ya go somewhere else.
Helen Hong interviewed by The Comedians:
“When I first started playing outside New York,” says Hong, “I was so surprised when I found how many of my jokes didn’t work there. Even when I went to LA, a place and go at least a couple of times a year and try to get some spots; there are some jokes that are very New York-centric that only work in New York, which is my fault for writing them. Even outside of LA, there are jokes that are too socially edgy that they don’t get it. They don’t get apartment living. If you have too many jokes about going out with your black friend, gay friend, and drag-queen friend, they’re going to be, like, what? So it’s great to have that mix.
That socially edgy thing is something I just heard from someone else too. Apparently, edgy jokes (like something with racial overtones, but not actually racist) will get big laughs in NYC but fall flat on the west coast where people seem to be more sensitive. Curse you, people who are sensitive!
So time and geography are two joke ghettos. I guess the other one would be topic-based. Being overly niche-y. Like I have a new bit I'm doing about Tom Waits. Fun in an alt room where there are hipsters or musicians. Tougher in a room in midtown filled with people who are, um, not in a Tom Waits demographic.
Some may argue you should stick to whatever material you want to do regardless. Eh, I'd rather take it on a show by show basis and deliver the jokes that will work best in that room for that crowd. I see part of the job as being able to read the room and know if one joke's gonna work better than another.
Labels: about standup
Permalink | 11/13/2009