Using every part of the buffalo

Nerdist interview with Paul F. Tompkins. He talks about how his joke-writing approach has evolved.

N: When you’re doing an hour-long set like Laboring Under Delusions that has more of a thematic tie throughout, is the writing process different than it would be for a more conventional hour? What’s the process of creating that for you?

PFT: It’s the same in a lot of ways because the joke-writing approach for more conceptual stuff is asking, “How do I get the most out of this concept?” You know, really thinking about it and examining it and asking, “Where will it lead?” A lot of comedians certainly go through this — I did when I was younger — you’re so excited to get a laugh that you sort of set up the premise, you get one joke out, then you move on to the next thing, because you get nervous that if you wait too long, people aren’t going to laugh, they’re going to get mad at me; you feel that if you have a variety of things to talk about — I remember seeing Chris Rock’s first special Bring the Pain, the material that he did, he really examined all the different facets of a given topic. Sure, he had longer stuff that he trimmed down, got it down to the best stuff, but he was using every part of the buffalo, if you know what I mean. It’s a similar thing with these stories where 90% is done because it happened to me. There’s your premise. Then I have to fill in, get to the bottom of “what was I feeling when I went through this? What feels unusual or amusing to me?” or whatever, and then begin the translation process from my brain to a group of total strangers in order to have it all make sense.

I thought his description of the mindset of a younger comic was interesting. I certainly feel that way about pauses between laughs. It's as if the air starts leaking out of the tire and there's a desperate need to plug it up with more laughs as soon as possible.

There are even jokes that I really dig but that I won't do in a short set for precisely that reason. They're stories that require patience from the crowd and I'm too scared to let that much air out of the room.

In a longer set, I'll go there. But when I've got only 8-10 minutes, I feel the need to grab 'em fast and not let go. I imagine you can stretch more when you get to consistently do longer sets, perform in front of crowds that know you, and can rely on years of experience to orchestrate it just so.

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