What I Learned from Watching Stand-Up Comedians

Laughter is the best medicine; that was a outlook on life my mother tried to instill in me from an early age.

To say I watched a lot of stand-up comedy on TV was (at one point in my life) an understatement. I want to quickly go over a few things I have learned from watching stand-up comedians perform, whether it is on TV or live. I don’t want to focus so much on their techniques on how to be funny; if you are interested, Darren LaCroix teaches these techniques extremely well.

If you are going to make something up…keep track.
About a year and a half ago I went to an improv show featuring a well known comedian and a group of his friends. One of these guys did a funny routine on life as a single child. A few jokes later, he started speaking about him and his brother…wait, didn’t he just say he was an only child? Some of the audience members had the same confusion I did. The jokes were great, but now we were distracted: which joke was made up?

A handful of people have approached me after my win to marvel at how I had made up such hilarious scenarios. I just smile and inform them those scenarios happened to me in real life. They usually gawk at me; I’m presuming they have a hard time thinking something so hilarious and unthinkable could haveĀ actually happened.

I am not against making up something funny or imagining a hypothetical funny scenario, although that is not my thing. The audience may know/expect some of these stories are made up but I would say it feels a bit like visiting a show home: you walk through and though you know otherwise, you will still imagine yourself living there, show home furniture and all.

Learn the Basics, and then Experiment
Building a foundation of comedy techniques is always key because you will keep going back to these same techniques over and over. (Once again, I thought Darren taught this very well in his seminar I attended last year). Once you get those techniques down, you are free to change them up a little bit, experiment, etc.

I was thinking about a sketch by a well-known comedian, Russell Peters, when this example burst to the forefront. (See video below). Towards the end he highlights an exchange with his dad, and it is an extension the famous “3 point rule” or “rule of threes.”

Dad’s question.
Russell’s response.
(That is point #1).

Dad’s second question.
Russell’s response.
(Point #2).

Dad’s third question.
Russell’s response was the twist.

To me, that is a little different from the standard “point 1, 2, punchline” that makes up the rule of threes. Russell has turned that from one sentence to an entire short conversation with his dad. Still funny, still effective, and adds a new element on a solid classic in my opinion.

Be Serious

This is the hardest concept for me to define into words, and failed miserably every time I have tried to do so. Once again I think Russell Peters does a good job of this especially when doing facial expressions of his father in the video below. In my view, whenever he does facial expressions he puts everything into being “in the moment” or “retelling the moment.” He doesn’t seem to be self-conscious about what his facial expressions may look like (likely he practiced in front of a mirror or recorded himself numerous times before), he does not overdo or overact, but he gets into the moment. If you can master the art of being completely “serious and in the moment”, that can be an effective punch-line within itself.

Those are my two (three) cents, and a link to the sketch I was talking about, below.

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