In the comments to "The bad of cursing and the good of being conversational," ECN rails against comedians who "just go up there and talk" and praises great comics who avoid sounding conversational. "This rambling trend is a plague upon real, crafted comedy," he writes.
I know where he's coming from. Because I know when I get too conversational, I can feel the air slowly escaping the room. And I hate when others just ramble and use words as if they're free. They're not. The audience pays for them with attention.
But it feels like this is painting with broad strokes. Like there's only two paths...
There's the joke guy. With all the one-liners and quick hit bits. He's good at being clever but there's often a lack of soulfulness and depth there. He gets a chuckle but no one (including him) really cares about what he's saying in any meaningful way.
And there's the personal, conversational, in-flow guy who is organic and brings you into his world with stories and longer bits. He'll sometimes favor narrative over punches because he's trying to tell a story or get across a point of view or be a more fully fleshed out personality onstage. (Or maybe he just can't write that many great punchlines since that's, y'know, hard.)
But isn't there middle ground here? The "in-between" comic with quick jokes who still manages to bring you inside their world. They're talking about their life and what matters to them and getting across who they are as a person — but doing it with tight, quick jokes.
I think Nick Griffin is a great example of this. Exquisitely well-edited jokes. Not a wasted word. But there's also a thread through 'em.
You watch his set and you feel you know him. He's not going into long stories about his divorce or drinking. But he's dropping enough breadcrumbs along the way that when you connect the dots, he seems like an actual, fleshed out human being talking about the things that obsess him. It's dark and sad and a real thing of beauty.
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.
Nick Griffin and the in-between
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Very nice, thanks.
Another great post, Matt.
I've been thinking alot about this lately because I've decided that I'm trying to be that "in-between" comic myself.
But sometimes I need to be the joke guy. Like at the beginning of my set, or when I'm opening to a cold audience, or when the audience isn't paying attention, or when the last comic just bombed...I feel that being the joke guy gets people paying attention.
But sometimes I need to be the conversational guy. Like when I'm hosting and need to "bring the room together" (for lack of better words), or when the show isn't going well and I need to validate that, or when my material isn't working and I need to try something new.
Then I run into another problem: I'm using two different styles/tones on stage. There's the joke guy, and the conversational guy, and maybe the in-between guy. Your commenter ECN had another great comment in that previous post...
"however you choose to talk to the audience, make sure you can maintain it, and that you sound consistent and natural when you do it."
...would love to hear your thoughts on that sometime in a separate post.
I like what Phil was talking about, how there are moments where one style is better than the other. Like other art forms, it's important that the artist have a wide array of vocabularies at his disposal.
Charles Schulz was able to draw his characters more realistically, but a Robert Krum drawing style would not be the best form for depicting Peanuts' characters and writing style, just as Schulz's simplified lines and basic character structures would not be best to render a comic about urban life in the 70's.
But also to Phil, the situations you give as examples of when you make your act move to more extreme ends of the spectrum are situations that are less-than-ideal. I guess you figure out if you're an in between comic by what you would say in a comedy vacuum in front of your stuffed animals or in an ideal setting where the audience is warmed up, attentive, and you're headlining. And you change your style as reality molds the ideal from your starting point.
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