SUBSTITUTE WISELY:  by Gene Perret

If you’ve ever watched sports on TV, you’ll notice that at strategic points in the contest, new players are utilized often.  In fact, a common complimentary saying in sports is that a certain team “has a solid bench.”  That means that they are able to substitute liberally without losing quality.

You might use this same philosophy in putting together your act.  You might wonder why an entertainer might need a strong bench.  One reason is that it offers your audiences variety.  Often you may have repeat performances before, basically the same audience.  You need a new act, but it’s not always easy to create a new show in a relatively short time.  When I worked on television variety shows, many guest comics would not do their nightclub routines on TV.  They requested that the writing staff provide new material for them.  Why?  They felt that if they did their best material on TV, it would be “old” material the next time they worked a club.  Some performers used to say that it was easier to get a new audience than it was to get new material.

But by using the “substitution” philosophy, you can manage to keep your material feeling and looking new.  Here’s how it works:

You start getting solid material that works and building components.  For instance, let’s suppose you have a great opening bit.  Terrific.  That gets your act off to a rousing start.  However, at some shows, you may substitute a new opening.  When you get a few that you’re satisfied with, save them, and put them “on your bench.”  If you can build up three, four, or five different openings, your act will look fresh even when you’re appearing before the same audience.

You could do the same thing for your closing.  Let’s assume you have a strong end to your performance.  If you’re brought back for a repeat performance or even a later show in the same evening, you can’t keep ending with the same bit.  Try to get other strong tags for your act.

Repeat this procedure for other pieces of your act.  It may take time, but it gives you a choice of strong material and it generates a bunch of different acts.

By compartmentalizing your bits or using “substitutions,” you have countless different acts that you can offer.  Do the math . . . if you have 30 areas in your routine and you have 4 or 5 different segments that you can utilize, think how many different versions of your material that offers you.

It can help keep your routine fresh; it can help your performance because you are thrilled with the variations, too; it can make available repeat performances that you might otherwise have to turn down.

Admittedly, it takes time and effort to build a “strong bench,” but then again, anything that’s worthwhile takes time and effort.

Have fun with it.


Learn more from Gene Perret with his books, classes, and newsletter.  Information available at www.comedywritersroom.com/store.  Gene also has a free joke service,Perrets’ Humor Files, featuring original lines.  Take a look at www.jokecrafters.com.  You can email Gene at RTComedy@cwo.com.

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