That’s Why They Call it a Set Up!

by Jerry Corley, Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

I was watching a very talented comedian friend of mine perform some of her new material the other night. She performed a new joke she was particularly proud of and the result wasn’t what she expected. Yep, you guessed it—crickets! It’s the sound most comedians loathe, sometimes fear. The joke didn’t work.

She was frustrated and after her set she asked me if I knew why the joke didn’t work. I told her that she didn’t set it up properly, so the audience didn’t know what she was talking about. In this particular scenario, she was talking about how her father showed up to visit her wearing nothing but bubble wrap. So as he was walking you could hear, POP, POP, POP.

The idea of that happening is funny, but the audience couldn’t figure out why her Dad would show up to a visit wearing bubble wrap. It just seemed too absurd. I suggested to her that the audience needs more information. She said, “I’m not going to spoon feed them!” As comedians and humorists we walk a fine line. We know we need to keep it short in comedy (as Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit”), while at the same time we must give the audience enough information so they understand where we are going. In other words we have to have a clear set up so we can really PUNCH IT. Johnny Carson, who was the king of late night for 30 years always made sure that the setups in his jokes were crystal clear, so when he got to the punch line the audience knew exactly what he was talking about. In the scenario above the girl’s Dad was a paranoid schizophrenic.

If she delivered a solid set up to the audience by saying something like, “My father is a paranoid schizophrenic. Whenever he visits me, I never know what to expect, sometimes he’ll show up as a pirate, sometimes as Sherlock Holmes. He must’ve run out of ideas cuz’ last week he just showed up wearing nothing but bubble wrap. Maybe he still thought it was in the pirate theme since bubble wrap is essential in shipping…He was literally walking up my steps going, POP, POP, POP.”

In other words, the audience needs to know WHAT you are talking about before you can expect the punch line to connect with them. A friend of mine put it in a very succinct analogy, he said it’s like you have a hundred piece puzzle of a sailboat and you only put down the pieces that show the sky. There’s no way your audience is going to be able to tell it’s a sailboat because you didn’t show us enough pieces. It’s better to over do the set up and then cut back than to not give the audience enough information to make sense of it in the first place.

A good way to help yourself to make sure you’re giving the audience what they need is to do the “in a nutshell” test. Simply ask yourself, “In a nutshell, what am I trying to say?” This will get your head out of the story or the joke and help you to just say what it is you want to say and that’s when you can punch it!

Top Tips On Comedy Competitions

FUNNIEST_SU_C_^_SUNDAYTop Tips for Performing in Comedy Competitions
By Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

Comedy competitions are a great way to get your name out there, meet other comics and industry professionals and develop a thick, professional skin. By that I mean that you’ll develop a bullet-proof, confidence when it comes to auditions and higher-stakes performances. Here are some tips that may help you have a better grasp on how to handle these events:

· PREPARE A TIGHT 2 MINUTES: Most major competitions, including television’s “America’s Got Talent” and “Last Comic Standing, ” give you two minutes to perform in the preliminary rounds. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but if you can write and perform a set that returns approximately 10 laughs in that time, you’ll be in the running. That breaks down to a laugh every 15 seconds or so. Don’t let that fool you. It doesn’t mean that you have to do a joke every 15 seconds, it means that in the overall two minutes, it’ll average out to that. The trick is that you structure your set so that you have tags and act-outs that follow your punch lines. With this structure one joke can generate two, three or four laughs, if not more sometimes.

· M.A.P.: stands for MATERIAL-AUDIENCE-PERFORMER. Your material must suit the audience and the performer. Do material that defines YOU. Also groom your material to fit the competition. For example if you are competing for a broadcast television competition, you know that the material must be “television-clean.” Best way to determine this is to YouTube comedians who appear on the Tonight Show and other late night shows and make note of where they draw the line with their material. What’s acceptable innuendo, etc. It’s not only words that get cut by the censors, certain themes are also deemed inappropriate for broadcast T.V. For example if you think you’re clean and you end your set with “…so I went to my room and jerked off!” You’re not going to get on national T.V. and you probably will not make it through the preliminary rounds.

· BE PROFESSIONAL: seems like a pretty obvious tip. But you would be amazed at how many people behave unprofessionally at these events. From showing up drunk or high to arguing with event coordinators over trivial matters, these behaviors reflect on your professionalism and will definitely reflect on your ability to succeed in a competition. Sometimes competitions come with inconveniences (whether it’s waiting in long lines, cattle calls, dealing with disorganization, etc.) be as cordial as possible and be the guy/girl who can help with the situation rather than hinder it. The organizers discuss the event with each other and if your name comes up and you’re referred to as the “asshole who didn’t want to wait in line, ” then guess who’s not moving to the quarters or the semis? Perception is everything. When people don’t know you by reputation all they have is the first impression you give them. You are performing from the moment you fill out that entry form and submit your video so do it as professionally as possible.

· BE SUPPORTIVE: You are not only involved in a competition to win it, you are also in it to meet and network with other professionals. If you are supportive and friendly, odds are you’ll walk away from the competition with some connections to other future gigs. So do yourself a favor and stay positive and helpful.

· SUBMIT QUALITY VIDEO: Back to first impressions. If the competition has you submitting video, submit the best quality you have. Make sure the sound level is good and you can be understood and make sure the video seems reasonably professional. Don’t submit something you shot in front of your fireplace. (Don’t laugh, it’s been done!). Submit something that has been preferably shot in front of a live audience (as opposed to a dead one!) and best reflects the professional image you want to put forth.

· FOLLOW THE RULES: All comedy competition come with rules and terms. A polite piece of advice–READ THEM! It’s called the fine print. Know right off the bat what you’re getting into and what the terms are. You don’t want to get there and realize that you’re not prepared or that you didn’t meet the criteria. For example if they wanted a set to be 2 minutes only. Then you better keep to the time. I don’t care how funny you are, if you break the rules, the organizers will most likely disqualify you. Don’t lose on a technicality. Follow the rules.

· HAVE FUN!: This is very important. When you do a competition, have a good time. It’s a long-shot that you are going to win. The more competitions you do, the more you improve the higher your odds. So while you’re there have a good time. You’ll enjoy it more it will reflect in your professionalism and it leaves your mind in a better state to identify and create new material. Who knows, while your involved in the competition you might find yourself with a new comedy bit. Five new minutes on doing comedy competitions!