Finding that killer opening joke

Kent Haines is looking for a strong new opening joke. Ah, aren't we all? Along the way, he posts a clip of an opener from Steve Gerben that he thinks is excellent (I agree).

This is a great opener for several reasons. First of all, it’s funny. But a lot of jokes are funny; this joke goes further. It sets the tone for the rest of Steve’s act. Just from watching this joke, you could guess that Steve is going to tell a series of jokes about awkward social interactions that usually involve some sort of huge embarrassment for him. Which is, in fact, exactly what Steve does.

The joke quickly makes a joke out of someone’s first impression of Steve, a nice trick that cleverly mimics every audience’s initial perception. Lots of veteran comedians tell jokes about their looks. The theory is that you want to acknowledge your appearance so that the crowd a) sees you as self-aware and vulnerable and b) stops being distracted by trying to place which celebrity or movie character you look like. Hence, a lot of hacky jokes about how I look like _____ and _____ had an ugly baby. Honestly, I feel like most of these jokes are a little lazy. But Steve gets to comment on his appearance naturally through the context of a conversation he actually had, which makes it feel more honest and interesting.

I started to think of my favorite opening jokes and one that comes to mind is in this video of a Louis CK club set. He starts off complaining about being so broke that the bank charges him money for not having enough money.

It's one of my fave bits and I think it's a great opener for the reasons Kent mentions (it’s funny and sets the tone for the rest of his act). Plus it's personal, relatable, everyman-ish, and shows him making fun of himself. All those qualities are gold in an opener — and anywhere else for that matter.

Another great one is the joke that opens Brian Regan Live. He starts with a mission statement of sorts: "I'm just trying to go through life without looking stupid. It's not working." And then goes into his whole "you too" bit. It sets the stage for his whole act perfectly.

What do you think is an amazing opening joke?


Sam Morril said...

Steve's opener is very funny.

You talk about veteran comics doing a "look like" joke. One who I think does it very well is Ross Bennett. Ross has a very unusual look, jewfro, glasses, and the first thing he says is, "I'm just as disappointed as you guys are." I've never seen that not do well. It segues really well into his first joke, which is: "I had a woman tell me she wouldn't sleep with me if I was the last man on earth...And it wouldn't have bothered me, but we weren't even having a conversation."

Anonymous said...

Zach Galifianakis.

"I was talking to my stylist before the show and I said, just give me the college professor/rapist look... just give me, Vice President of Ultimate Frisbee... just give me, fat Jesus..."

If you look even a little unusual, you have to address it right away.

Joe Pilato said...

I think that what makes ragging on yourself so good is that it's like a riff on the room that you can take with you to every show.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

George Carlin's first line of an HBO special (Louis CK has talked about this) where he doesn't want to soak up the long applause break upon his entrance, and he shouts, "Why is it that most of the people who are against abortion are people you wouldn't want to f*** in the first place?"

gilad foss said...

I think Regan's opener is a great example. For what it's worth, he's my favorite comedian working today. I saw an old HBO special with Bill Hicks and he started with "I've been on the road doing comedy for about ten years now. So just excuse me while I plaster on a fake smile and plow through this shit one more time." It's hilarious and establishes his tone and point of view right away.

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