Stand-up comedy was one of the most challenging experiences I have tried.
Stand-up comedy is extremely hard.
To tell a good joke, you need to have a unique point of view, be funny, and be yourself. In addition to that, it requires taking risks to bomb in front of strangers.
Let’s face it — your first few sets would suck.
To get us through the tough part, we were asked to fail in class:
We were asked to tell the worst joke ever. I certainly took advantage and shared a bunch of lame jokes I love.
We were asked to be who we are. It was so liberating to share all my honest observations. I love that I could say whatever I wanted without having anyone comment on it.
We were asked to play out the worst-case scenario. For me, I spoke so fast that no one could understand what I said. This not only helped me overcome stage fright but also assured me that the worst case is still pretty funny.
Stand-up comedy principles
Stand-up = Public Speaking + Storytelling + Humor
In addition to being articulate and engaging, you need to command the audience. You are practicing to get as many laughs as possible per minute from a group of strangers.
While stand-up comedy is built upon these storytelling principles, there is a huge distinction. In storytelling, you have the luxury to finish at the climax and let the interested audience follow up afterward. In stand-up comedy, you need to provide closure and never leave the audience hanging. To maximize the audience’s satisfaction, you need to answer all the questions the audience might have. Here are some examples:
- What’s the lesson of the story?
- What happened happily (or not) ever after?
- What’s the punchline?
- How did your story characters respond to the events of the climax?
Another big difference is that you are going to have more than one story. The best strategy to connect them is through segue.
It can be a punchline or a sentence that links your previous joke to your next one. This creates a natural flow of thoughts that make your set look polished and natural. The audience loves them.
Making people laugh is a skill set that can be acquired through daily life. Here are the three basic elements of humor:
- Surprise: This could be an epiphany or assumption the audience isn’t aware of.
- Status lowering: This could apply to concept, yourself, language, or people. While the teasing could be a bit mean, you can do it acceptably.
- Making sense: You don’t have to make sense immediately, but language precision matters. You want to ensure a smooth flow where the audience can gradually pick up.
How to write your comedy
1) Write down anything funny (or could be funny)
Once you direct your attention to finding funny stuff, you will be surprised how ideas keep showing up in life. Start by asking:
- In which ways am I funny?
- What can I make out of this?
2) Develop them into stories
Once you have a few stories ready, use the elements of humor to tease out the jokes.
Don’t feel pressured to write a perfect joke. As Ali Wong said in her book Dear Girls:
A joke is never finished. There’s always more material to write. A joke can always age or get stale. It demands innovation with every new show, and you’re only as good as your last collection.
3) Build your set
- Start and end withyour two favorite jokes. You want to start building momentum from the start.
- Highlight your personality with unique personal traits early on.
- Build strong segues along the way.
- Put new materials in the middle. It’s the safest place to test out new ideas.
- Ramp up the quality toward the end. It’s also a good place to include dirtier and vulnerable stuff.
- Close strong because that’s how people remember you.
I hope this helps. Have fun doing stand-up 👏🏻