New topic. Joke. Stop. New topic. Joke. Stop. New topic...
Each time you go to a new topic, it's like going from fifth gear back to first. It's why tagging existing bits helps so much. Or finding a new angle on the same topic. The momentum from each previous joke adds to the next one.
Gaffigan is a master at it. In fact, he discussed that aspect of his approach in this Nerdist interview a while back. The reason he sticks to one topic (e.g. bacon, hot pockets, hotels, etc.) is because he feels like changing topics is a huge mental chore for the audience.
It's an interesting way to think about it. Every time you start in on a new topic, you're asking the audience to press reset and lock in on a new target. That requires effort. And it makes your job that much harder.
For me, having chunks helps with set flow too. Remembering a bunch of one liners or quick jokes is annoying to my brain. I'd much rather have three topics that have a bunch of jokes embedded in 'em. Then it feels more natural and effortless as opposed to a series of stop-start jokes.
It can be tough to take this approach in NYC though. Here, it feels like you constantly need to be generating new material. But in my experience, tagging bits and expanding them is a slow process that comes over time — and from repetition. Heck, I've been doing one joke for almost a year and I just came up with a new tag for it a couple of weeks ago. When you're constantly turning over new material, you don't give bits that kind of chance to grow over time.
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.
Chunking keeps you in fifth gear
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Remembering one-liners on different topics is a challenge, but if you're able to memorize a string of jokes on the same topic, you should be able to do a string of one-liners. Just takes practice. If you spend most of your time doing chunks, one-liners are always going to seem challenging.
I had a theory that all one-liner comics had to be dead pan and keep their actions to a minimum, and I couldn't be a one-liner comic because I like to move around and smile. But lately I seem to excel more on Twitter than on stage (feedback-wise) which tells me I should be able to convert the short jokes on multiple topics into something more in tune with how I am on stage. Then again, I have better luck with tweets on stage that are grouped together as a bit.
This argument that starting a new topic makes the audience have to start over fails to take into account the comic on stage and his/her ability to convey their POV to the audience.
Steven Wright is not starting over because his personality and delivery provide the through-line and consistency the audience needs. Where a comic with a less defined POV must start over on each topic because the audience does not know where they are going or how the comic will feel about a new topic. Andrew Dice Clay was defined and his one nursery rhymes all went the same place, and the audience knew it so he didn't start over. Same can be said for Maria Bamford, Emo Philips etc.
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