I did a show a few weeks back in the East Village. Not much of a crowd. Maybe ten civilians and five comics? And they were all spread out throughout a big room. I went up fourth. Things were pretty mellow. No one really killing but no one eating it too bad.
Just doing a rote set of established material would have felt like a lie. Like I was ignoring the state of the room. When there's that little energy in the room, I'd rather take a gamble on hitting a spark from riffing or trying something new. Plus, I view it as a chance to stretch and learn and get better as a comic. Just doing bits that always work doesn't really teach you much.
It's a strange thing when you start winging it with the audience. You're not giving them your best performance. But you're showing them respect, in a way. You're trusting them to go with you a bit. And maybe you can connect on something fresh and in the moment and really go somewhere with it.
So that's what I tried to do, while weaving in and out of jokes along the way. I riffed on the previous comic, I talked about the room, I did some newer bits and tried new tags, I went off on unplanned tangents. I'd get some laughs, then I'd lose 'em, then I'd go back into a bit, and then I'd go off on a tangent again, etc.
I actually recorded the set and — while stranded in the airport recently with nothing to do — decided to do a breakdown of it. Graphics!
The more I winged it, the less I got laughs...
If this was a big show or a place where I wanted to really impress, the ratios would be pretty much the opposite. I'd do almost all written stuff that I know works and then just riff a little bit here and there if it felt right. The laughs would be bigger and more consistent.
But this way was more fun for me. At least that night. And I think for the crowd too. I felt like I "had them." When something off the cuff did hit, it felt a little magical.
There's a tradeoff with winging it. You lose consistency, but you can hit highs you'd never reach otherwise. And at least every once in a while, it's worth walking that tightrope to see what happens.
Permalink | 3/11/2010