Interesting. That doesn't make any sense to me, but I'll happily use it to justify not doing a mic that I don't do well or have fun at.
Interesting. That doesn't make any sense to me, but I'll happily use it to justify not doing a mic that I don't do well or have fun at.
Well, think about it. The fewer comics there are in town, the more comedy is at a premium -- so the more feasible it is for comics (especially comics without national renown) to actually make some money doing stand-up locally. But if a venue can charge people $15 to watch a bunch of people who they don't have to pay, they don't have to hire professionals. Needless to say, this is a short-sighted strategy in a lot of ways, because the people who just paid $15 to watch an open mic are unlikely to come back... but a lot of comedy venues (to say nothing of venues that aren't regular comedy venues) are happy just getting their $15 a person plus drinks. They're not looking to advance the art form, and they certainly don't care about making sure skilled comedians get paid fairly for their skills. And there's always a fresh supply of open micers...
...whereas in most larger cities, there's a surplus of talented comedians -- the number of people qualified for stage time outweighs the stage time. Venues know that, and they know comics need to go up. So what's the incentive to pay a headliner when you can get five acts who can do a strong 10 minutes and will do it for the stage time? And when they DO pay a headliner, the sheer number of headliners also drives down the asking price. Meanwhile, the shows are cheaper, because the market is flooded anyway. Basically, nobody gets paid in LA, and practically everyone is okay with that. (Or at least they accept it's the way it is.)
All of which is not to say that a $15 open mic in LA wouldn't attract performers' ire, and it's not to say that real comics in LA would do that. But honestly, it's a jungle... nobody knows what shows anyone else is doing. There are dozens of small-time operators in LA -- I'd imagine I haven't he. Whereas in a smaller city, everyone knows where all the comedy is and who's doing what. So yeah, they have the time on their hands to keep track, and certainly (in the case of the professionals who get pushed out by this kind of stuff) the incentive.
From my perspective the fundamental difference between Erik's experience and others are not just about experience.
I've watched some of your stuff and I honestly think you're a fantastic writer and make for a great comic. I think that's a skillset in and of itself that many comedic performers strive for but can't reach. I do not believe that means everyone should be held to the same expectation. Nothing works exactly the same way for 1 person the way it works for anyone else. Listen to the Larry Wylde interviews of Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin for example. Each of them had distinct perspectives and approaches that worked for them.
I think there is a difference between a comic and a comedian. I think a comic 'tells jokes' and generally these jokes are inherently funny on paper. I couldn't make that work for me. I would get tepid to mediocre responses and because I was able to get to a point where I could get that consistently I foolishly believed I was 'figuring it out.' The truth of the matter was I forcing a square peg. I had to go outside my comfort zone and my experiences on stage of riffing and storytelling generated substantially stronger, longer and bigger laughs.
My experience writing and 'beating my head against a wall,' roughly two years and 400+ sets I started to 'get it' in terms of what big laughs were for me and how I could write out stronger bits as a result of it.
You've been blessed to have the experience of taking your prepared thoughts to the stage and having the jokes nail from the first run. I guarantee that wasn't true for the likes of a variety of comics. Maybe you're too far removed from your early years but I think it's more just the simple comic/comedian divergence.
But I figure you'll tell me it doesn't exist
If you believe something, it's true.
That makes more sense now. Thanks.
Oh and to follow the basketball analogy and devil's advocate myself... Shaq practiced free throws his entire career to no true benefit. Perhaps he would've been better off working on other parts of his game... But the obstacles to his success dictated he tried (hack-a-shaq).
I'm thinking about trying open mic for the first time and I have a question: Is it normal for comics to use more or less the same material for several weeks in a row at open mics? Or will people stop laughing if you keep delivering the same jokes at the same open mic?
The answer is yes, but I'm going to say no, and here's why. When I started doing comedy in 2002, I decided to myself that I'd never do the same material twice at the same venue. That lasted around three weeks... but by the time I was done, I had 12 minutes or so of strong material. I actually still do a couple bits of it. (Though not at open mics. That would be pretty pointless.) Imposing arbitrary restrictions on repeating material is a great way to stay prolific.
Really, though, your first goal as a new comic is to come up with 5 good minutes and polish them to the point where you can reliably hold down a 5-minute set in front of an audience. You can't polish them without doing them a bunch of times -- 25 is a good estimate. If you can find 25 different open mics... well, there will be a lot of the same people at those 25 open mics anyway. So yeah, you have to repeat material. Keep moving forward, though -- write new stuff and bring it up, rework your old stuff if you can see a way to make it better. The only time people get annoyed is when an open micer does the same exact material over and over again for months, with no change or improvement. So as long as you keep getting better, do what you like.
Erik Charles Nielsen is a moderately funny fellow... right?
Sorry to kinda go back to that stuff that's a few days old but in short I'll re-agree with Nixon.
I think part of it come from an improv background and the biggest thing I learned doing improv was how important confidence and comfort on stage is. The people who are the best improvisers are ALWAYS the people who just don't give a fuck. That's not because it's 'funny' to not give a fuck, and you have to be professional but it's almost NEVER ever helpful to worry about the audience. To succeed in improv you MUST commit fully to an idea the instant it comes and use the audience only for information, not to judge yourself. Otherwise you freeze up almost immediately.
The other thing I found in improv was to distrust most advice about it. I've found that in both stand-up and improv what you think you're doing and what you actually are doing are often completely different. As such improving upon what your doing is all the more tricky. Usually the people who are skilled are the worst to asking how they're doing it. Ted Williams believed he was great at hitting because he could literally 'look' the ball into the bat, ie track it right up until the point of contact. This is literally impossible for a human being to do.
As such I'll see guys who do seem to be taking that route of honing the same material, doing the same jokes every mic juuust a bit different. They'll take out stuff or add something but that doesn't mean they're any funnier. It can be as much of a crap shoot as try completely new stuff out. The only advantage is maaaybe a 3-5 second segue.
It's a skill. and I'll disagree again in saying there are a lot of them in comedy. Writing one one-liner doesn't increase your 'one liner writing ability'? Of course it does. Doing anything enough will make you better at it. It's been said maybe too much by comedians but it's the Gladwellian 10,000 hours theory. In my opinion as long as you're truly committed to what you're doing and auditing yourself honestly you're probably progress the same no matter what you choose to focus on. But, to me, it should always be fun and interesting. For you I have no doubt that it was fun and interesting to hone material in a shiny diamond. I've had a lot more fun exploring my own 'naturalism' on stage.
To go back to basketball: Shaq is interesting because yes if you're sooooo who you are, almost from birth, like a Shaq, yes, you'll probably do fine only exploiting what you're best and most comfortable at. But for the one Shaq who really is the biggest and strongest guy in the universe there are a hundred guys for whom their height and power are a strength but Shaq (and a bunch of other guys) are still going to destroy them no matter what. Few of us are Shaqs. More of us are like Jordan. When he started out he was certainly a very good athletic and talented player but truly his only distinct advantage was his psychotic competitiveness. He only became "the greatest player ever" by working on his weaknesses on and off the court. He wasn't a great shooter when he came into the league. He became one. He didn't have a step-back move. He learned one. I think he even got some post moves etc etc.
(I also think it's arguable how much Shaq really worked on his free throws. This is a guy who most years after like 2001 came into each season 10 or 20lbs over-weight assuming he could play himself into shape. Now for the most part he was right but he was never a gym rat like Kobe or Durant is now)
Last edited by JayP7; March 5, 2012 at 9:54 AM.
Here's a break down of my process. I have a hard cover black book. The set I did goes in that book. What I notate: jokes, my opinion of the laughter on a scale of 1-9 (with 1 being bombed, and 9 being killed), how many people where in the audience, what time did I go up, what was the demographic of the audience (young white college age, blue collar, older etc), the vibe of the room (cold room, hot room) etc
I've had a few comics say why do you do all of that? I'm just meticulous about it I guess. I've been doing it this way for the past 8 months and it's created stronger sets for me. It also keeps me from having to go through video files and forwarding to a certain spot just to see if a joke about Cap N Crunch worked or not.
On that note I'm getting a lot of information from random guys 5-15 year in. Thursday I told a well established out of town comic that I'm doing a new set and he goes "you're 1 year in, you should just be working on a 5 minute set over and over. " Then another comic 13 years in tells me "always do old material, mixed with new material" Then finally a guy goes "don't listen to nobody, they'll mess your head up" LOL!
Anyway that night I dropped my new jokes except two and did my original stuff and got great laughs which actually surprised me because this was a more blue collar crowd of people in their 50's. I usually don't do that well with that group. Then Friday I did a show and did all new material and killed. Had a few more established out of town comics come up and say they loved my set. This was a confidence boosting week and I realize that this week it could all go south so I'm not dreaming of how well things went last week but thinking of how I want to approach a new week of comedy.
Were these jokes funny in the first place? If not, yeah, that's a waste of time. If so, it's not about making the joke "funnier", it's about making the joke more resilient. It's about the moment calling for ten different timings and inflections, depending on the rhythm of your set and the mood of the room -- and having all those timings and inflections in your back pocket. It's about knowing the joke, second by second, to the point where you can deliver it through any audience reaction and make it work. It's not to improve the joke's peak success in an ideal set -- it's to learn to use the joke to make every set closer to ideal.As such I'll see guys who do seem to be taking that route of honing the same material, doing the same jokes every mic juuust a bit different. They'll take out stuff or add something but that doesn't mean they're any funnier.
Which is just fine for you... if you're killing. A lot of people use "exploring my own 'naturalism'" (or whatever) as an excuse for shaggy, under-written, under-performed sets. That's not fair to the audience, and in the long run, it doesn't do you any favors either. 20 minutes of perfected material is halfway to an album. 60 minutes of erratic material is halfway to 120 minutes of erratic material.For you I have no doubt that it was fun and interesting to hone material in a shiny diamond. I've had a lot more fun exploring my own 'naturalism' on stage.
That's an underlying concern, and placing it at the center can lead to real problems. Yes, you'll always do better if you're engaged and enjoying yourself on stage. But the actual goal is always to make the audience laugh as much as possible. If you're seeing honing material and killing as a thing that is in opposition to, or adjacent to, "having fun", there's a good chance that what you enjoy doing on stage is not what works best for you.But, to me, it should always be fun and interesting.
Moreover, if you make having fun on stage your primary goal, what do you do when you're booked and you don't want to go up? What do you do when the room is depressing, or when you're just not feeling like it? What do you do when you get the thought in your head that it would be funny to say something rude to the crowd, or you get momentarily obsessed with the notion of doing material you know isn't good? You have to be able to put your head down and deliver the performance -- some people get that immediately, others have to build that resilience through years of trial and error.
I mean, that's where the work is. It's like Steve Martin said about consistency. And you don't get to opt out of the work of consistency and just throw stuff at the wall. That may well be more "fun," but people aren't going to book you to have fun, they're going to book you to do a job. Love your job, sure, but do your job.
To me, being funny is much closer to a state of mind than an assortment of words I've said before and put in a notepad. Having funny things to say that you've thought up before and have been vetted in front of other audiences is a wonderful asset but it's not better than being a confident, in the moment, performer. That's not to say joke writing shouldn't be improved upon, but it's not the only thing in existence.
So you want to learn to perform intuitively... but you don't want to learn your jokes intuitively? I'm not talking about planning out cadences in advance -- obviously not that. Not only would that not work, I'm talking about knowing the material so well that you can alter the delivery (timing, etc.) intuitively in the moment. And to do that, you have to do the same jokes a whole bunch of times, see how they move, see where they can be stretched in different ways. That's just how it is. That is the job you have signed up to do. If you don't want to do the job, nobody is making you do the job.I don't know how you can possibly "write" for every single possible crowd and scenario in existence. It sounds impossible and sort of dumb to even try. I'd rather do my best to become a better performer in the moment of performance and feel that stuff as it comes along.
It's fine to not kill when you try to kill and don't get there. It's not fine to not try to kill. And in my experience, a lot of open micers talk about "experimenting" or "being spontaneous" or "trying to have fun," and those people are lying to you or to themselves, because what they really mean is "staying focused is hard, so I'm going to just do what I feel like doing, and hey, if it works that's cool." That's not the job. Staying focused and being consistent is the job. If you can do that without strong, resilient material that's been tested and works in a variety of circumstances... well, that's great if you can do it consistently. But nobody's ever done that consistently, so I don't think it's unreasonable to expect an up-and-coming comic to be striving toward building that material, or to question the motivation of a comic who's not focused on building that material.When is it fine to not kill?
Last edited by ErikNielsen; March 5, 2012 at 6:04 PM.
If I could jump in for a mo'
I went out tonight planning to get up for the first time at an open mic that I found out was discontinued five years ago. I love how things on the internet survive forever. Anyway the bartender told me to go around the corner to a coffee shop and when I got there it was this tiny place with three guys inside. The host for the open mic asked me if I was a comic and I said "I guess so" so I ended up on the bill.
I had realistically maybe 5 minutes of material which I burned through in about three. By this time there were a couple more comics in the audience, and the host told me I had to do five more minutes. In the moment I was terrified, but I'm really glad he did this. I was forced to just talk about things, and while there might not have been any jokes I think I might have hit upon some things that I could work out.
Obviously this was not a good opportunity to find out if any of my jokes were funny (I'm starting to think they aren't), but it was a very nurturing environment. The other comics were super nice and supportive and I think I learned some experiences that will help me in the future.
Just wanted to share an experience.
Went up for the first time tonight and I went completely blank! I must have rehearsed my set(7 jokes) dozens of times. But when I was facing audience, my brain just went blank hahaha
next time I'll bring a set list
Why only work forwards? I think down the line I'll be more adept at working forwards and backwards but for now the latter is easier because it avoids all the silly cheapshots I "think" are funny and doesn't communicate the why I think something is funnier, which works much better for me.
All comes back to you were the lucky one who was such a strong writer you didn't need to get out of your own way to maximize your efforts on stage.
"Waaait a second. Are you saying you're more interested in learning the ins-and-outs of the piano than the ins-and-outs of "Moonlight Sonata"???? You don't have time to learn some bullshit 'other songs' or scales, or chord changes or WHATEVER. It's the 3rd Grade piano recital every goddamn week in this town and you can’t let down those other kids who came here to watch YOU play... even though they actually didn't, and don’t care at all about you, and are just here so that they themselves could play and--- whatever! You go out there and you play 'Moonlight Sonata' every week because that's your BEST song. And maybe, just maybe, if you do well at these recitals, you’ll get to play a wedding and then maybe you’ll get to play a Bar Mitzvah, and if you do great and I mean GREAT at these Bar Mitzvahs-I want to see foreskin growing back- we can talk about learning some new songs... But ONLY between Moonlight Sonata Pt1 and Moonlight Sonata Pt.2... God forbid we ever do anything interesting or surprising whatsoever. I’m sorry, but that’s the job of playing piano and it’s the only way anybody has ever done it. Yes, I'm serious.”
It’s like that except replace Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” with some shitty song written by a 3rd grader about his dick.
I've been doing mics for five weeks as of yesterday and it's been nuts! I just got asked to do my first showcase and I'm not even sure what to make of that! I'm excited but also feel like MAYBE I'M A LITTLE OVERWHELMED TOO?
I don't even know.
Overall, the experience has been amazing - mostly overwhelmingly positive with a few weird/awkward mics thrown in, but those experiences were good too.
And heeeeeey, JayP7. Nice meeting you at Cole's a couple weeks ago.
Last night I swear I think someone gave me a speech impediment as I couldn't properly verbalize 1/3 of my jokes.
Heh. Fumbled a joke I've been using for a while last night — but it still worked great!