Bad things in life can lead to interesting things onstage. Got to see a comic who's normally a one-liner guy break out of his shell the other night. His gf had just broken up with him and it seemed like he was taking it rough and needed to talk about it.
From a comedy standpoint, it was really interesting to watch someone who I had only heard do scripted jokes seem totally in the moment. He was being open and honest about what was on his mind.
And it totally changed the tone of his delivery. The pauses. And how the crowd reacted to him. Now it wasn't the punchlines that were getting laughs. It was everything. The uncomfortableness. The authenticity. The reality of seeing someone talk through real drama onstage.
I'm glad he got it on tape (assuming he wants to keep going in that direction). Because I think the tough thing is to hold onto that raw emotional state/delivery. Unless you're a really good actor, it's tough to reconnect to that authentic feeling once you're doing something night after night. And then those in-between laughs disappear. (Part of that whole lifecycle of a bit thing I discussed recently.)
At least he can look back and see what it is that was getting laughs. Which pauses, which lines, etc. Because the laughs came at unexpected places.
Overall, it was neat to see a real A-B comparison of the same comic with different material. Seemed like a more organic, pure exchange with the audience this way — instead of a script with "here's where you laugh" moments.
Sandpaper Suit is NYC standup comic Matt Ruby's (now defunct) comedy blog. Keep in touch: Sign up for Matt's weekly Rubesletter. Email email@example.com.
When a one-liner guy drops the script
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I'm guessing if that one-liner comic doesn't change his style, he has 5 new one-liners he can glean from having gone astray.
I think the tough thing is to hold onto that raw emotional state/delivery. Unless you're a really good actor, it's tough to reconnect to that authentic feeling once you're doing something night after night.
While acting chops certainly help, it's repetition and comfort on stage that keep material sounding authentic, whether you "feel it" or not. It's part of the "comedy-as-magic" notion, whereby it's all premeditated, down to the giggles in the back corner. Luckily in comedy there's room for organic changes, like elephants in the room, hecklers, which can cause you to manipulate your idea to fit the circumstance.
Feel free to disagree with me. Repetition and comfort on stage could also be what keeps you from conveying that raw emotion and remembering why you felt a certain way when you wrote the joke.
I'd actually like to see a post here on acting chops as they benefit comedy, because I can't think of one successful comedian who doesn't have them.
"Repetition and comfort on stage could also be what keeps you from conveying that raw emotion and remembering why you felt a certain way when you wrote the joke. "
That's what I've found. It's tough to maintain that rawness and passion you get the first time after you've been telling a bit for weeks/months.
Jerry Seinfeld is a pretty terrible actor.
I can't imagine how awkward it was to compliment that comic afterwards. "You're really funny when you're miserable up there. Keep getting your heart shattered. The smaller the pieces, the bigger the laughs".
Doing stand-up can be a lot like doing live theatre. In both disciplines, there's usually an objective that you're trying to achieve. In live theatre, you're trying to fulfill the demands of a script and trying to re-create moments as if you're doing them for the first time--every time you walk those sacred boards [*James Lipton voice*].
Stand-up is very similar-especially when you're trying to re-create "that raw emotional state/delivery" of a bit you've previously executed with perfection. Getting a big laugh from a bit feels like hitting a home run. You wanna knock it out of the park every time you do it, but you probably won't. You still have to swing the bat though.
Abbi makes an excellent point. Your third paragraph is right on target. I don't think that you can be so into yourself, as a comedian, that you don't recognize what's going on in the room--mainly because the "fourth wall" is usually non-existent in live [stand-up] comedy. In a way it relates to the Mitch Hedberg post. If you're too self-involved, you might be missing something that deepens your connection with the audience. Audiences at theatrical productions are asked to be polite observers, while the folks that we deal with may not always be so polite. We need to be aware of them, but we can't let them win!
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