Structuring a showcase set

Ross Fitzpatrick emailed me:

I'm about a year and a half in and have an audition-type set for a local booker who could help me get to a lot of different, new stages...

I'm wondering about structuring it, a 6 minute set. The advice I most often hear is start with your second best and close with your best, then basically alternate by perceived strength of the jokes: 2,4,6,8,10,9,7,5,3,1

I can't really do that. My best two jokes are both about a minute and a half long. They both work well and get 3-4 good laughs. Problem is my 2nd best joke is about Hitler and includes an impression and I just can't open with it.

Is it suicide to open with your best joke? Are you bound to be a let down for the rest of the set? I've done it before (to get attention from the getgo) and it felt a little flat until the close. I could open with my more mediocre stuff that can come off as persona building and then close super strong with my two best, but wonder if this risks losing the audience/booker's attention before I get to the real meat?

My response (as always, take any advice I give with an ocean of salt):

i think you're overthinking it. i never heard of that alternating thing before. but yeah, you wanna open and close strong. and i wouldn't open with a hitler impression or whatever. heh.

it is not suicide to open with your best joke. it builds confidence in the crowd (and in you). also good: if the opener joke explains who you are or your p.o.v. of the world or makes you seem self-effacing. all those things help get a crowd on your site.

if you're not feeling ready to be seen, you could always tell the booker that. he might be impressed that you wanna wait a lil' bit to get more material together.

overall, i wouldn't sweat it too much. oh, one other thing you can do: watch late night sets to see how people structure those if you really wanna suss out if there's a "formula" that works.

good luck!

Ross replied:

I'm wondering if you've opened a show before with what you felt was your best material and if you found it had any significant positive or negative effect on how the rest of your act went? I mean, I realize this can be a pretty subjective thing and to get a sound read would probably necessitate a good number of reps with it - basically, I realize that it's kind of a silly question.

What's in the back of my mind as I wonder about this is the Talking Funny show on HBO (Gervais, Seinfeld, Rock, and CK were talkin about being comics) and CK mentioned how he would start to open with his closing material in an effort to strengthen the rest of his shit (it's in the first 10 minutes of the show.) Just raise stakes and put the onus on more. Maybe this applies only to a certain level? The 5-minute-set level guys should just focus on working on X plus Y and not bother worrying about higher mathematics? Like, focus on crawling to get on your feet before you begin to worry about a sprint or jumping hurdles?


I've never found a negative consequence to opening a set strongly. If you can kill up top, do it. If you can kill at the end, do it. If you have to choose between just one of those, I'd choose to end strong.

Re: CK, he does that to make his material better. That can be a good idea if that's your goal. When you're trying to improve a set, you do different things than when you're showcasing. When it's time to showcase or record or "be your best," then you should prob close with your strongest (or close) material.

One other thing I'd add: Think about how your jokes flow into one another. If you can go from one bit to another naturally, do it. It gives your set an organic flow instead of joke-reset-joke-reset-etc.

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