Record Yo’self!

Everyone loves to hear the sound of their own voice, right?!  Especially as a poor quality recording. No, just me?  Oh wait, no I don’t!  But I do appreciate the importance of it.  I have recorded almost every one of my stand up sets, and in the beginning I could barely tolerate listening to myself.  But the benefit of listening to yourself far outweighs the annoyance of it. 

Recording myself has taught me a LOT that I might not have otherwise realized.  I have met comedians that don’t ever record themselves and it seems to take them longer to improve.  People who record themselves and listen to or watch those recordings can fix their mistakes and weak points, and also play up their strengths.  You may think that you are going to take specific mental notes on yourself, but it’s probably the last thing on your mind when you’re up there performing. 

I feel like I have grown significantly over the past year and a bit because I force myself upon myself (yup).  I could go back and listen to the first few sets I ever did, but I won’t.  EVER.  I’ve learned which bits are too wordy, that I say “umm” WAY too much, that I could afford to pick up the pace, and that people like the term “rapey”.   I can tell which parts get the most laughs (those are the jokes I keep doing), and which ones could use more. 

I also recently video recorded a couple of my sets.  Now, I really do not enjoy watching video of myself.  Self-conscious!  But I did learn from this too, not just about poor wardrobe choice.  Believe it or not, there are some aspects of a performance that don’t come across in audio that do in video.  Namely the visual aspect.  There is really a lot more that can be gained from seeing your entire performance.   How you interact with the audience, seeing your physicality and how it works with what you’re saying,  and seeing what kind of energy you emanate. 

Now that I do voiceover work too, it’s even more obvious why recording myself to practise is important.  Did you know that just feeling happy sounds COMPLETELY different than speaking with a giant shit-eating grin on your face?  It does!  There are so many subtleties that you are capable of that you don’t even know about until you listen, see, and learn from your own self.

Everyone already knows that it takes a lot of guts to be a performer because people are always scrutinizing, but no one is the biggest and best judge of your own work than YOU because YOU have the know-how to use this judgment for your own good. So keep growing, you little tulip, you!

(NOTE: I just got home from doing a show at The Comedy Mix, and I forgot to hit record on my phone.  Of course!)

Thou Shallt Not Quit

The feeling that you’re going to fail before you hit the stage is a horrid.  It’s a terrible thing to give up on something before you even begin.  Everyone knows that, yet we still do it all the time.  Having said that, I still fall victim to my own defeat more often than I’d like to admit.

There are times when conditions are not in a comic’s favour to produce a max-laughs situation (as I call it).   Sometimes the audience of four paying customers may seem to hate laughter and everything it stands for, dragging your spirits 20,000 leagues under the sea.  Other times a boisterous, intoxicated heckler ruins every one of your punch-lines by shouting out his own witless remarks.  And even other times, the comic before you may just suck teats.  I remember a stand up show I did in a pub where there just so happened to be a pin ball competition going on at the SAME TIME!  That’s right, PIN BALL.  Who even knew those machines were still around and functioning!  It was impossible to ignore, so everyone who got on stage acknowledged that it was annoying, and then carried on.  And tried to be louder and more entertaining than the pin ball machines (impossible).  Because what’s worse than the negative circumstances winning?  Seeing someone give up and LET those circumstances win.  It’s much more interesting and entertaining to watch a battle, right sportsfans?

Whatever the case may be, it’s important to remember NOT to give up on yourself.  In my experience, the most experienced and professional comics are able to stay composed and confident to get through a set no matter the circumstance.  That’s what I’m striving to do.  (I’m also trying to say “umm” less on stage, in case you were wondering)  If no one is laughing, don’t force the issue, power through with all the energy you can muster.  I would advise against belittling an audience for not laughing, that’s even tougher to watch.  And if that heckler gives you a hard time, tell him to shut his damn trap because YOU have the mic.  I’m still working on overcoming hecklers and it’s tough because you may be forced to improvise witty back-and-forth in front of an audience and, ideally, win.  Yeeeeesh!  Phil Hanley is a great crowd worker.  He can scold a heckler into regret, plus he can rock a cardigan like nobody’s grandpa.

But reflecting on all the imperfect conditions one must perform in, makes you realize how awesome it is when the conditions ARE perfect.  When the audience is tipsy and roaring with laughter, and your confidence is through the effing ROOF because everything you say is GOLD!  I’M GOING TO LIVE FOREVER!!

However you decide to approach negative circumstances, commit to your jokes, do it with CONFIDENCE, and always be the best that you can be!  (That’s what my mom always tells me anyway)


Now THAT’S a “to-the-point” title.  And it’s a good rule to live by if you are writing jokes.

People don’t come to a comedy club to listen to comedians tell long-winded stories for five minutes before finally getting to the three-second punch line.  And if that is the case, it had better be a DAMN good punch line.

But generally, like most things in life, jokes are best being short and sweet.  This is one thing that I am constantly working on, especially with new material.  A fellow comedian told me that, ideally, the audience should be laughing every seven seconds.  So trimming the fat off jokes, avoiding wordiness, and just getting to the funny part is key in maximizing funnies by streamlining and maintaining clear thoughts.  We don’t need to know that you and your significant other were in Calgary at your second-cousin-who-you-hate’s wedding last summer on a beautiful July day in your trendy, yet affordable, outfits from H&M.  Just get to the part where your grandpa got loaded and fell into the $800 wedding cake.  THAT’S what I want to hear about.  I may not be the biggest fan, but there is something to be said for one-liner jokes.  Give ‘em what they came for!

This is not to say that details should necessarily be chopped.  But ask yourself, do the tiny details make the idea funnier, or are they just extra words?  Details should add to your jokes, not take away from them.  Maybe Grandpa Mortimer fell into the cake because he had a few too many Glennfiddich single malts and was looking for his monocle which he kept dropping….down ladies’ cleavages.  What a scamp!  Chris James‘ joke about buying bulk foods is extra funny because he says that he uses the code for “dried split peas” and I don’t care where you’re from, peas are HILARIOUS.

Choose your concise words carefully and you’ll be twice as funny*.  A group of my friends and I were at a show last week where my pal Ivan Decker was also performing.  He has a way of saying things and adding details that make his jokes sound more colourful and clever.  Talking about how an eccentric sultan’s lion “ate most of us” sounds funnier than just a rich man’s lion killed everyone, and it made the joke more memorable for us.  The thesaurus has become a great friend to me.  My only friend really….ANYWAYS!

So keeping in the spirit of this post, cut fat+funny details+effective word use=success.

*not guaranteed