• It’s waiting for me…

    So as many of you know, I went to an English Language Comedy Night last month and had the nerve to ask the organizer if he knew of any comedy open mic nights in the area. He didn’t (he lives in Amsterdam, not down here “below the rivers”) and told me to check Google. But then he told me he’d give me five minutes in the January show if I wanted. Then he handed me his card.

    Immediately I started building my “tight five”.

    If you watched the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon last year, you’ll have heard her talk about a “tight ten”. There is a beautiful sequence in one of the later episodes where you watch as Midge tells the same jokes over and over again to different audiences on different nights. Each time, the jokes are a little different. Each time, the same jokes are a little funnier.

    In comedy terms, a “tight five” is a five-minute set that has no extraneous content. It is five minutes worth of comedy without anything else in there. No extras. No filler. Nothing that doesn’t get laughs. Just five efficient minutes of material. It’s kind of a feat of sentence engineering. Or maybe it’s like playing Jenga. You take out as much as you can while allowing the structure to stand on its own. Needless to say, the more you take out, the harder it is to stabilize the rest. That’s the trick.

    It’s the same with comedy. The more you take out, the less time you have to build up to the punchline. The less time you have to warm people up to the big laugh. A joke is a process, a journey. You have to get people there.

    Most of the open mic nights I’ve done so far have given me six minutes. So carving it down to five is a bit of a challenge. But I like to build jokes in modules. Not everybody does this, but I tend to write in themes. My main routine is on a foreign language theme. No surprises there, huh? A lot of funny things happen to me in other languages. So I have a number of jokes on this subject. Some are only 20 seconds long. Some are five minutes all on their own. What I have to do is pick out the best ones. I decided to streamline the six-minute routine I’ve already done in front of an audience. It shouldn’t be too hard to shave a minute off it. Right?

    Then I finally got through to the organizer. It took four email attempts, but I got a reply. I’m on tomorrow night between the professional comedian from Australia and the professional comedian from Ireland. Lucky me!

    The downside: he’s only giving me three minutes. This isn’t a huge surprise. It was a bigger surprise that he was giving someone he’d never seen perform five whole minutes in a professional show! Three minutes is the standard for an unknown. If you totally bomb, three minutes won’t kill anyone.

    So now I have to get my set down to three minutes! Oh boy.

    My six-minute routine had six different modules in it. So I ripped three out and worked on the others. Unfortunately, the one module that really works is three minutes long all on its own. So it was time for some editing.

    The one thing I have to be careful not to do is to talk faster in order to fit everything in. I talk fast as a general rule to begin with. One of the things I have to remind myself onstage is to sloooooooowwwww dowwwwwwwwnnnn. So a big thing for me is to resist the urge to hurry. Since I have such a short time on stage, this is going to be extra hard.

    I’ve decided to start with a 20 second intro to introduce myself and say hello to the crowd. This will take a precious one-ninth of my time on stage. But I think it will work to make me take a breath and relax rather than leaping up on stage and rushing to talk as fast as I possibly can.

    Then I’ve got a good bit that varies from 45 seconds to a minute depending on how many “laugh extenders” I bolt onto the end. Laugh extenders (my terms; I don’t know what pros call them) are little one-liners that you add when people are already laughing that keep the laughs going a little longer.

    There are some famous comedians who tell a joke and bolt on laugh extender after laugh extender until you just don’t think you can possibly laugh any more. Then they usually slay you with a really big one at the end. That’s mastery!

    After my laugh extenders, I’ve got a quick 20 seconds that gets a good laugh and sets up the climax of the whole set.

    Then I have my main bit. This one runs from 1:15 to 1:30 depending on how I tell it. I’m worried about doing the most stripped down version because I don’t know if there is enough set-up in there for the end to be really funny.

    Then my final one-liner at the end that refers back to a joke I made earlier in the set.

    It feels like a good set. Of course I’ve rehearsed it so many times now that the jokes aren’t funny to me anymore. And of course I’ve never delivered them in front of an international audience before. And I haven’t done them at a professional show before. And… and… and…

    There’s a lot to be worried about. But I’d be more upset if I didn’t get on stage at all.

    So tomorrow night at about 21,15 Central European time, I will be on stage in Eindhoven. Think of me!

  • 10 comments

    Looking forward to seeing you crack jokes live!

    Reply

    =D

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    You got this!

    Reply

    Thanks for always believing in me, Lisa.

    Reply

    Break a leg!!

    Reply

    Breaking things!

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    Knowing what you need to do technically is half the battle. It's the craft part of the act. Any story can be funny but knowing HOW to make it funny and on time is where the skill comes in. You'll do great!

    Reply

    Thanks M! I'm nervous as hell about only getting three minutes. But I'm going to get rid of all the extraneous stuff and give 'em the guff!

    Reply

    You got this lady! Knock em dead!

    Reply

    Did it! Then went drinking with an Irishman. Probably not my smartest move. LOL

    Reply