By John DeBellis
Whether you’re a would-be stand-up comic, a public speaker or just telling jokes to friends many of these tips will help you get bigger laughs:
10. Don’t be too audience conscious, which means do not grade yourself by your audience’s reaction. There are times I’d be working to a tired audience, or one that’s way too drunk, or one that really likes me, but are listeners rather than laughers. Woody Allen said that some of his best sets were ones where he didn’t get many laughs, but afterwards audience members told him how much they enjoyed his show.
9. Whenever possible, we always video recorded our sets and watched them no matter how painful, especially the bad ones. This way we could compare what worked and didn’t worked. Sometimes, the difference in getting a laugh or not is just a syllable or an added word, a look, or you waited just a beat too long in the delivery of the punch line or set up.
8. If I’m rolling alone, getting steady laughs and suddenly a joke doesn’t get a laugh (it’ll feel like an hour of silence), I never comment on it. Most of the time, the audience won’t even notice. There have been times, when a prolonged silence caused me to bring attention to it, but I always made sure what I said was funny. The audience wants the comic to be in control.
7. I was taught never to use vulgarity to deal with a tough situation, like a heckler or an unusual interruption. I’ve worked through black outs and fights in the audience. It’s best to stay clean and original. By closing off the easy avenues it opens up better avenues. You learn to think creatively on your feet and find smarter ways to turn a bad situation into a good one.
6. I was told early on from comedians like Elayne Boosler and Richard Lewis to watch other comics–especially your peers–not to emulate, but to see what works or doesn’t work and to help your fellow comics with advice or even a punch line. It’s one of the fastest ways to learn.
5. For comics it’s important to let the laughs breathe and not to step on them by going into your next joke too quickly. At the same time you also don’t want to wait too long and leave too much space between jokes. Finding the correct timing every time comes with experience.
4. This can also apply to public speakers. Don’t worry about hecklers. Most young comics, unnecessarily, fear them more than any single thing. You naturally learn to deal with hecklers as you gain confidence. You’ll relax more and become even more confident; at that point hecklers can even become tools rather than hindrances.
3. Don’t be afraid of failure. This can apply to other walks of life, but it’s imperative for comedians. Most newbie comics almost always bomb. Although it’s tough to stand there (you feel your life forces being squeezed out of your sweating paws) and not get laughs, you have to realize that bombing helps you determine what’s funny or not. Because of the pain you build a tough crust that will give you the strength to turn a bad audience into a good one.
2. For a comedian, it’s important to go on stage as much as possible–even if there’s only one person in the audience. It is still stage time and subconsciously it counts. From a wide range of situations we develop the tools we need in order to be a good comedian. In most cases stage persona takes time to develop. Jerry Seinfeld says it takes ten years.
1. As in many professions, growth as a stand-up comic comes in stages. I’ll be having great sets, and then suddenly I’ll bomb for a week or more. All that meant was that I was between levels ready to break through a wall to advance to the next stage in my development. Knowing that can be the difference between quitting, or becoming a success. I was taught by Rodney Dangerfield never to compare my growth to that of other comics. We all learn at our own pace.
John DeBellis’ STANDUP GUYS: A Generation of Laughs is a comic’s memoir that puts the reader on and off stage with a unique group of young comedians: Larry David, Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer, Bill Maher, Gilbert Gottfried, Elayne Boosler, Rita Rudner, Larry Miller, Joe Piscopo, Robert Wuhl, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld and several of the most neurotic, lovable characters who survived and thrived due to talent, passion, and, most importantly, camaraderie. It’s a memoir rich in humor, pathos, and insight.
“A Generation of Laughs”