In the very first article I did in this series for Cybervent, I mentioned – and I mentioned it in capital letters to emphasize the importance: YOU’RE FIRST AND FOREMOST AN ENTERTAINER. You and your stage partner are at the center of the stage, the lights are trained on you, the microphone is adjusted so your voice can be heard throughout the theatre. It’s heady stuff. At that moment, you’re a pretty important person – the most important person in the place.
In this article, I’m going to make another statement in capital letters because once again, it’s that important: YOU AND YOUR STAGE PARTNER ARE NOT THE ONLY PEOPLE IN THE THEATRE. You should have a roomful of people all with their chairs facing in your direction. All of them should be watching you and your puppet. They should be eagerly listening for your every word (and probably watching to see that your lips don’t move). They should be laughing at you and your stage partner and the clever banter between the two of you. Remember this: those people are an important part of your act.
If you don’t believe that last admonition, try performing some night with only one or two people watching the show. It probably won’t be much fun for them, and I guarantee it won’t be much fun for you, either.
As a comedy entertainer, your job is to make people laugh. To do that, you need people. To do it well, you need appreciative people. To get appreciative people, you have to offer them solid entertainment. You must give them material that is well prepared, well rehearsed, and well presented. In addition, you must give them material that is appropriate to those people. You must consider your audience.
One proven way of doing that is to include your audience in your act as much as possible. In some of your routine, mention local places. Include the names of people the audience might know. Mention rival schools or sports teams. Localize your material as much as possible. Often, simply hearing a name they recognize will get a terrific response from your listeners.
I used to travel with the Bob Hope troupe when we did military shows for the armed forces overseas. As the writer, my job was to talk with the enlisted folks and gather all this information and then work it into the monologs. Instead of just kidding some Officer, we’d mention the name of the Commanding Officer at that base. The enlisted folks loved that. We’d name some of the disreputable places in the nearby towns. The GI’s would howl.
This doesn’t mean you have to write a new routine for each crowd you perform for. Not at all. However, if you can work in some recognizable names or places, they can often fit into material you already have. If you’re working for a business association’s convention, rather than say, “Two guys walked into a bar,” use the name of the association’s President and Treasurer as the guys who walk into a bar. And if possible, find the name of the bar that the conventioneers hang out at. The recognition will generate added laughs.
Your act also should consider your audience. Do material that is appropriate for the various audiences you may work to. For instance, above I spoke about doing an act for military audiences overseas. The material we did was aimed at a crowd of soldiers, sailors, and marines. They appreciated the attention. However, I also noted working for a business convention, the material then should be geared to those in that profession.
Again, this doesn’t require writing new material for each audience. It does imply that you should select material that is applicable to the different audiences. For instance, it would be silly to perform at an insurance salesmen’s convention and do material about how bad the cooking is in your school cafeteria. Likewise, it would be unwise to appear at a middle school assembly and do material about cold calls and meeting your sales quota.
That brings up another point about working to a specific audience – the listeners must understand your gags. The question we often ask after telling a joke is, “Do you get it?” If they don’t “get it,” they’re not going to laugh at it. They won’t know what they’re laughing at. The standard philosophy in comedy is: if you have to explain it, it’s not a joke. It’s the performer’s duty to speak in a lingo that his or her audience can understand.
Of course, the ideal is to generate a solid comedy act that is universal – one that middle school students can enjoy as much as group of salesmen at a convention. A one-size fits all comedy routine is a gold mine. For example, the famous Abbot and Costello routine, “Who’s On First,” gets laughs in front of any audience.
Even with routines that work for any audience, you may find spots where you can work in references that apply only to this location or to this crowd. If you do, use them and get a few extra or heartier laughs.
Whichever approach you use, keep in mind that there are people out there. They are important to your success. Don’t forget about them. Above all, don’t ignore them. Work hard to make them a part of your routines. They’ll reward you with solid laughs.
As a comedy entertainer, that’s what you want.
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 atwww.jokecrafters.com. You can email Gene at RTComedy@cwo.com.
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