That’s the question
that all comedians are trying to answer, because humor is subjective. Some people think that knock-knock jokes are funny (okay, that’s the under 7 crowd!), and some people like Bill Cosby-ish stories, while some people want Eddie Murphy dirty, and then there’s those of us who like set-up punch Rodney Dangerfield – you-don’t-like-this-one-then-you’ll-love-this-one jokes. I just got a great quote from a client who said “I felt sure that any comedian clean enough for our crowd would be a little too clean for me. You struck just the right tone — grown-up, real-world humor appropriate for everyone in the audience.” I was glad that she enjoyed the show, and even more glad that she didn’t share her reservations with me before the show!
And since every audience has
different expectations when it comes to what they think is funny, comics are constantly trying to figure out what will hit. And especially if you’re not famous, and the audience didn’t show up just to see you because they know your act and like your material, then you’ve got a little more work to do. I decided that fame in the comedy world will get you about 10 minutes. With that I mean, that you can get on stage and not be real funny for 10 minutes. The audience will cut you some slack. After 10 minutes they get pretty mad because they paid a lot of money to see someone funny. On the other hand, those of us not famous get about 60 seconds. The audience wants us to “make them laugh” within the first 60 seconds or so, or they’ll figure we’re not funny and they won’t laugh the rest of the time we’re up there.
How can you
Make people laugh in the first 60 seconds? Us unknown comics have learned how to do it, and you can too. Here’s a couple tips:
- find something to relate to them. If you can’t avoid the group (like you need the dough so you have to do the gig), then use one of the techniques listed in this blog to find some common ground. (next week’s blog will offer a bunch of different subjects you can kick off with that will appeal to most people)
- watch how unknown comedians do it. Studying others who are doing it successfully is a great way to come up with your own ideas (don’t steal the jokes).
- start off with a common topic – marriage, kids, etc. . .are pretty universal and you can connect with 80% of the group with one of those topics. I don’t start off with my dating material, because most people at my shows aren’t actively dating. If I had divorce material, I’d maybe start with that.
- get in front of your crowd. Stay away from groups that you know you have nothing in common with. I don’t like to perform for certain groups because I don’t relate to them.
- play off a common experience everyone is having in that moment (or just had) – like the dinners were all burned, etc. I once had some fun with a group because at one of the functions, the hotel ran out of meatballs and people got mad! The hotel bent over backwards to accommodate them and I was able to joke around with it and put “running out meatballs” into perspective.
- Ask a rhetorical question . ..something you know the answer to but it’ll also grab people’s attention because we like to feel smart by secretly answering it.
Kicking off with comedy, when you’re not Jerry Seinfield, can be tricky, but it’s done all the time in comedy clubs across the country. You just need to pay attention to your audience.