He said a lot of great stuff, but one of the things that stood out to me the most is that, until you bomb countless times, you don’t know anything.
Now I’ve bombed my fair share, and even got booed off stage once, but it looks like I have a healthy amount of bombing left to do before I smarten up. Most of the time, when you bomb, it’s because of the WAY you’re presenting yourself, and not so much the joke itself. Of course, unfunny is unfunny, but I’ve had stuff kill one set, and then bomb another set.
Thankfully, standup comedy, as with life, has lessons with every failure. In my couple of years doing standup, I’ve noticed five definite things that myself and other comics do, or don’t do, that can make or break a set.
When I first started doing comedy in Blacksburg, Va., this was my main issue. I’m a naturally laid back dude, but the host and my first comedy mentor, Anthony Quinn Robinson, told me that I needed to speak up. Matter of fact, he said I sounded like I was trying to be a midnight love radio DJ. I’ve gotten better at it and don’t think it’s my Achilles heel anymore, but no matter where I’m doing time, I still hear those words echo in my head sometimes before I go on.
You have to control the crowd. You don’t have to be a loudmouth, rah rah type comic, but you have to speak with authority, especially when you first go on. Even if you’re a lazy, stoner type, your voice is your instrument, so you have to draw the crowd in, especially if alcohol is flowing and waitresses are milling about taking orders.
Not literally, of course, but new comics are too verbose. I cringe looking at old videos, because I’ll kill with a setup and punch line, but then ramble for a minute and a half before saying something funny or interesting. Writing is in my blood, so I learned a long time ago that most of the time, tight is right and less is more.
The same applies with comedy.
I’ve learned to trim the fat with my sets, cut out any words that aren’t actively helping the joke and not ramble when explaining things. This makes your jokes stronger, especially when, if telling a long joke, you GET THERE with jokes, rather than empty explaining.
Don’t Waste Time
The biggest thing I miss about doing comedy in Virginia is that I could do 15+ minutes whenever I went on. In Hollywood, you’re doing 5-minute spots mostly, and if they’re crunched for time, you might get cut to three minutes.
While I have the luxury of doing open mics 7 nights a week, multiple times per night, I don’t have a chance to do as much time, so I don’t have time to waste. I was at a club a couple weeks back, where a comic had a 5-minute spot, and pulled out, (I am NOT making this up) a sword, a stick of dynamite and other assorted items.
There was a lineup of 10 comics or more, along with some musical guests. For someone going on with limited time, you can’t waste a second.
Fear of Silence
This past weekend, I took Mrs. G out to Inside Jokes on Hollywood Boulevard to support a fellow comic, Julian Michael, I met a little while ago. He had a great set, but though the jokes alone were funny, he added so much to it by taking a little moment to let it breathe.
Having that little moment of silence draws the crowd in, so that they want to laugh, even before hearing what you’re about to say next. I practiced this more in Virginia, but in Los Angeles, find myself sinking into bad habits of fearing silence, based on a joke not hitting, or talking too fast after watching comics bomb before me.
Which brings me to…
There really is absolutely no other way to put it.
Offstage, I’m the most chill, friendly, people loving person you’ll meet, but before I grab the mic, I have to go up there with the mindset that I’m better than you, and even if you don’t love me, Jesus does.
The split second you find yourself holding back, acting out of character, trying too hard, fearing rejection, wanting too much to be liked or letting them judge you, you already lost. If I’m going to bomb or offend, I’m going to bomb or offend, but it’s going to be on my terms.
When I walk out with that kind of confidence, no matter what comes out of my mouth, it’s usually a pretty decent set. When I let those doubts creep in, I usually bomb, or have an awkward set.
Confidence is king in all aspects of life, so I try to walk with these tenants daily on and off stage.