As part of the Comedy Hub I have been lucky enough to run the Introduction to Stand-Up Comedy Workshop. Its a 5 week course that gives new comedians the basic tools they need to get into the art.
It navigates joke structure, writing tools, technical skills, stage presence etc.
It’s a great course, and something I wish I had when I started, which was essentially "Here is the mic, here is the light, go get em champ!". You then learnt the rest on the job! If you were good, you might have gotten booked more. If not, you got a heart "nice try champ, come watch a few more shows then give it another shot"
But in running the course, the biggest piece of feedback I get from the participants is
"I didn't realize how hard this is, I thought you just stood up and be funny"
Which leads to the point of this article - It is an art.
I think die hard comedy fans will get this. Comedians already know it. Sadly though, the wider art community (and community as a whole) don't. What they see is someone on stage, making Yuks, in a bar for 20 people, for little to no money.
What they don't see is the hours and hours that go into writing the smallest of sets. A solid strong 15 minute set, can take days to write, and a few open mics to fine tune. Then you need to edit it, what worked, what didn't work, where does it need more? Where can I cut back on words? Why is this funny? How can it be funnier?
All of this can take weeks.
And it is no different to other types of art. Song writers for example can bounce a song around for years before they put it on stage to try, let alone record it. However they then play it to millions of people. They get mass interviews where they can express that they worked on this song for 8 months before it was where it was.
Painters are the same, coming up with a concept, sketching it out, refining it, changing, starting over before they finally put paint on the canvas.
However unless you are a top tier comedian that goes unknown. Even then, little of the process gets out to the casual viewer. They just jump onto Netflix and watch the latest special. Enjoy the hour, then dismiss it forever. They didn't know that that comedian would have taken 12-18 months to develop that special. Started off at open mic spots, fine-tuned it, done small venue solo shows, then larger venues. Then toured it for a few months to get it all tight. Then, when it is the best it can be, record it to go out to the world. As the viewer, you don't see the bombs, you don't see the frustration of jokes you thought would be gold, flopping hard. You don't see the time away from their families, loved ones and home comforts. They just see someone, on stage, being funny.
Then, generally they think, hey, I can do that. And when reality hits, its a bit hard. Because its easy to make your mates laugh. Generally you all know each other, you all will have the same sense of humour, inside jokes, into the same sport, music, movies etc. You get the same pop references, and probably socialize in your wee circle for the majority of the time. And that is fine, this isn’t a knock on people, they are great. One might be told, man you should be on stage!
But when those mates are stripped away, and you are in front of those 100 strangers in the crowd, lights are bright and the room is silent, capturing an audience is hard.
And there is an art form to it.
You have got to engage the crowd early. Get them on your side.
Your jokes have to work, they have to be somewhat relevant and relatable. They got to go somewhere, have a punch line, and enough laughs along the way to keep the audience with you. You got to have some presence on stage, confident. Its got to seem like you are chatting to each member of the crowd, while talking to them all simultaneously. Your set has to have some structure.
Not as easy as you think. I guess what I am trying to say, is if you know a bunch of pub jokes, great! Be the pub hero you deserve to be.
But if you want to be a comedian, leave pub jokes at the door.
Respect the art