How often should I be working in new comedy material on stage?
by Rik Roberts (www.SchoolOfLaughs.com)
This is a GREAT question that I received twice last week. It came from both an established feature act, and a brand new aspiring comedian.
As you might expect, there is no “one size fits all” answer. Some will say you should always be working in new material and others will say work on it at an open mic and then take it to the club stage. They would both be right.
Others will tell you that if you aren’t trying at least one new thing out every time on stage you are wasting your time. And that is correct, too.
My answer comes from the “QBQ, Question Behind The Question” approach. I think before you can answer this you have to ask yourself, “What is my goal for this particular set?”
OPEN MIC NIGHT
Each time you get on stage you have a golden opportunity to grow as a comedian. To simply get up and go through the motions and repeat your tired old jokes doesn’t do anyone any good. And when the entire line up is full of comics doing this it will kill an open mic night.
So determine your goal for the set.
A few simple goals revolving around new material at an “open mic night” could be:
- Tighten up a former set and get it as good as it can get.
- Work in a new opening joke or a closing bit.
- Tweak your introduction so that it sets up your first joke.
- Expand upon every joke and see if you can get one more laugh out of it.
- Open with a brand new joke and see if it can stand on it’s own.
- Take the weakest joke out of your set and replace it with a new joke.
FIRST TIME AT A NEW CLUB
If it is your first time working at a club on the road, you should put your best foot forward. Establish that you are solid comic and show them your “A” game. Deliver the goods and don’t hold back. After you have the respect of the club, don’t be afraid to also work on some new material, especially on the weeknights. Friday and Saturday are the primo shows, so give them your absolute best.
A few simple goals for working in new material on the road could be:
- Write a “local” joke to show them you are aware of your surroundings.
- Write a joke with an incredibly specific fact about their town as the set-up.
- Write a joke about that particular town’s least impressive attribute.
- Write a joke about that town’s sports rival.
- Write a joke about what you would do if you were the mayor of that town.
YOUR HOME CLUB
When you perform consistently at your “home” club you will often feel like the crowd has heard every one of your jokes a million times. The staff surely has, but not everyone in the audience is a repeat customer. So, even though you may feel like throwing together a completely new set each time you work your home club it certainly isn’t necessary.
You still want to be consistent, that is why the club booked you.
But you should scratch that “new material itch” at least a little bit. Showing the management that you have new material is one way of letting them now you are creating new material and growing into the next position on the show. Keeping your act fresh for you is also important. Your goals for working in new material at your home club could be any of those mentioned above for either open mic nights or a road gig.
THE BIG PICTURE
As you look further down the road, past this one set, you should be asking yourself “What are my writing goals for the month, year, etc.,? If you are aiming to record a new sixty-minute show within that year, then you might aim for one solid minute of new material each week. Or five killer new minutes a month.
If you want to have a new feature set every year, three minute a month of polished fresh material is a worthy goal.
The key is to determine your goal in advance of the show so you can prepare properly and achieve it. Action without purpose limits impact.
What goals do you set for yourself when it comes to working in new material on stage? I welcome your comments and suggestions. Please send them to SchoolOfLaughs@gmail.com. Let me know how long you have been at it and where you are located.
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