Comedian Lessons | Give The Joke A Chance!

raise-your-handOne of my classes just had their graduation showcase at the world-famous Comedy Store. A student-comedian was not happy with his set. Some of the jokes worked and others didn’t. He was wondering whether the material was funny or whether he was just getting pity laughs while running the material in class.

He was ready to toss out some really good material just because they didn’t get laughs that night.

Comedian Lesson:

Never throw out material that you believe in if it doesn’t get a laugh on one given night.

Everyone has had a night where even the “tried and true” material is not resonating with the audience. Always give a bit at least 3-4 attempts in front of different audiences before you determine that it’s not working.

There could be a multitude of reasons that joke or comedy bit doesn’t work;

  • The room could be too hot
  • The drinks are taking a long time
  • The waiter or waitress seems rude
  • The dynamic of the room is not immediately conducive to laughter
  • The audience is not empathizing with you
  • The audience doesn’t know you yet to trust you

… then list can go on and on.

Comedy is a process and you learn how an audience feels and with experience you develop the ability to better read an audience’s mood, then you make adjustments in your act to reflect their mood. I never blame the audience for my set not working. I believe that it’s my job to figure it out and get them to respond. Most of the time it’s successful, sometimes…not so much!

If I see that an audience is fickle; they are not giving love right away, I will either hit them with solid surprise and structure at the opening rather than an esoteric story-based routine. Once I get them to give me 2-3 solid laughs, I can try to lay out a more story-based routine. Sometimes I’ll just talk to them and ask them a question like, “Is this the support group for back-pain sufferers?” Then why are you guys groaning at everything?” “Is this one of those overly politically correct crowds?” Then I have a routine about political correctness that almost always does well. Once I’ve earned their trust and their laughter, now I can test the new stuff.

Jay Leno use to say, “Start with the ‘tried and true’, then put some new stuff in the middle, then end with the tried and true.” It’s good advice that could keep you from throwing away good material by overreacting to just one audience and it’s a good comedian lesson.

Please Share Your Comments! Love to hear from you!

Jerry says:

That’s a great point, but I found it can also lead to the comedian constantly blaming the audience for not getting a joke. It’s a comedian’s job to read the audience and adjust himself or herself accordingly. Not that I’m saying dumb it down all the time, but in some situations, you might want to adjust your subject matter or vernacular to the audience in front of you. I’m surprised that you would be surprised that most people wouldn’t get the word ‘androgyny’. :-) It is a pretty well-known fact that most people in the U.S. read at a 6th grade level. Newscasters and journalists for the most part adjust their vocabulary when they write to reflect that. It’s either that or risk not selling newspapers or magazine. That’s one of the reasons that Harper’s and The New Yorker are not for everyone. That being said. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave such a well thought out comment, man. Very cool!

dd says:

It could also mean that your jokes are too smart for that particular audience or they simply can’t relate because of who they are/where they are in life, etc, etc. I stand on the smart comment too, because it’s shocking how many people don’t know basic things. I was at a workshop this weekend and we were all doing some telepromper work, and it shocked me how many people were saying things like “I don’t know what ‘androgyny’ means….I don’t know what ‘delves’ or ‘proverbial’ means.”