Cross Pollination of Comedy

Today, I used some of the principles of improv to get me through my first stand-up set in two months. In hindsight, I feel really dumb for not having thought of it earlier.  Although, I guess I had to fully understand it in improv in order to be able to translate it elsewhere.

I was feeling very nervous for my set tonight. It was a competition-style show, which I detest. Actually, I’m sortof anti-competition as a whole. I’m very socialist in that way. (Down with the free market!) I posted about it on Facebook, my hands were shaking, it was all the nerves I’ve had since starting stand-up all 5 years ago.

So I thought to myself: why don’t you get nervous in improv anymore? What’s different about this?

And I remembered a few things that’ve really hit me in the past few months of my improv study:

  1.  Fuck the Audience – I got in trouble with my longform class (now team) about this one. But I stand by it. If you keep trying to please the audience, you’re never going to get the response you want. It’ll never feel authentic, it’ll always feel forced. At the end of the day, you have to trust in your own brain that what you’re doing is funny. That you, yourself find it funny. And people can laugh, or they can NOT laugh. You have to be OK with that NOT mattering. That frees you up a bit. And the nerves calmed down.
  2. Fuck Memorization – (for this one, I got a bit of help from my friend Pete, who attended the show.) I asked him why he thinks I feel so comfortable when I host an improv show, which is basically being alone on stage, with a mic (or not) and getting the crowd pumped up by being funny and generally charismatic (much like a stand-up set.) But when the moment comes for me to shift that into that stand-up mode, I panic. I decided it was because you have to have all your jokes memorized, and I’m not great at memorizing lines, (which is one of the reasons I’ve never booked a commercial.) When hosting, you’re more free to keep things loose. Pete suggested looking at my set-list just as a guideline; that I wasn’t expected to go up there and say things word-for-word. (Which is the opposite of a lot of my stand-up teachings.) Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I should throw away the joke-writing process. I’ve studied that enough to know how a set-up and a punchline works, and how important timing and delivery are, but looking at it in looser terms, instead of memorizing and reciting it as you have a million times, makes the process feel more natural, and for me, less nerve-wracking.
  3. None of this actually fucking matters – It’s one set in a million. This, I had reminded to me in an episode of The Backline Podcast earlier today. If you have a bad set, just get up on stage soon and try again. Your next one will go better. (My fiancé keeps telling me this too, but for some reason it never quite sinks in.) This obviously applies to stand-up just as it does to improv. (although I don’t have bad improv sets anymore) *blows on fingernails. (Yeah, right!) Seeing this as just a show, and not some big deal competition helped me relax a bit.
  4. CONNECT – OK so, this may be counterintuitive with point #1. But when I say “Fuck the audience” I really mean forget them in your process / choice of joke-selection / choice of joke-writing. When it’s time to actually get on that stage, I LOVE looking at the audience and connecting with them. It’s something I enjoy a lot while hosting improv shows too, so why WOULDN’T I apply that to my stand-up? It used to scare the crap out of me to break out of my routine and make eye-contact with the audience. But looking at them in the face, reading their body-language, it’s so important! Hosting shows has really helped me understand the energy of a room. I know when to pick up my own energy, and when I can play around with dipping it and sometimes killing it completely. I WANT to make the people in the audience feel like we’re sharing an experience together.

So, I applied these techniques to my set tonight, and I sincerely feel I had a pretty good one. I tried out some new jokes that worked really well. The audience was VERY receptive and it was an all-in-all good time.

I’m not saying this is a surefire trick to a 100% success rate. I know it’s not going to work in a quiet room of only other comedians, but tonight, it worked.

Tonight for the first time, I  used improv to help my stand-up.

Yes, And I fucked the audience.


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