January 21, 2014

Before I get started, I’d like to point out a slight complaint of mine.

I often get calls, Facebook messages and even a sms or two – as retro as that might be – from open spots asking me where they can get some stage time.

That’s not my complaint.

This is. What follows is the wrong way to ask for help. Keep in mind I’ve never met this person before.

“Hook me up 4 some open spot man. I’m around soweto n can manage to go arround joburg.” (sic)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the language so severely pummelled in print. No hello, no please, just demands like a SARS-employed storm trooper. I showed this to Mark Lottering, whose first response was “Shall I fetch you also? Perhaps cook you a meal? Maybe you’d like a foot rub as well.”

Grammar and punctuation might be a difficult concept to grasp but they shouldn’t be expunged from your communication skills by The Verbal Inquisition. If you want a polite response, be cordial, introduce yourself and never demand anything. And when you’ve got over a thousand words to play with, there is no need to shorten the language in order to pay homage to your inner Dictionary Sloth.

Right, sermon over.

And now, onto the week’s questions:

Zakkiya from Pretoria asks:
“How do I overcome a bad gig/bombing?”

Martin Davis had this to say to a nervous open spot. (As I paraphrase, I will attempt to write in a Cockney accent:
Martin: “D’y’know what ‘appens tonight if you die, completely die on your ass?”
Open Spot: “No.”
Martin: “Nuffink.” But, d’y’know what happens tonight if you storm, I mean completely blow the roof off the place?”
Open Spot: “No.”
Martin: “Nuffink. So, go out there and ‘ave fun. Happy days.”

If you die, leave the death at the gig. It’s done. Go home. The best thing you can do is keep coming back because your first gig isn’t your toughest gig. This is a marathon, not a sprint. As Mel Miller has said and I have often quoted, “Never let a bad gig go to your heart.”

It helps to record your sets, especially at the beginning. Video is best. That way, you can see what you’re doing or not doing and see where things can be improved upon. Perseverance is important. It’s like stalking without the restraining order.

Chris from Cape Town asks:
“If you do a set without timing and die and then you do a set with timing, can you kill?”

Possibly, but inserting some timing where there was none before will always improve a set. To kill, you’d have to have a perfect storm moment. Only when the material, timing, attitude and rhythm of the performance all fall into place at once, and only with the right audience for that set, can so drastic a change happen all at once.
Good timing will improve material and make it funnier but it isn’t a silver bullet. It’s a partnership between the two. One cannot work well without the other.

As to material itself, it comes back to the frame of reference. It’s like an electrical circuit: the further apart the two electrodes are, the more energy it takes to get a spark to leap the gap. The same goes for comedy. The more you have to fill the audience in, the longer it takes for the material to spark with them.

Shared experiences are the bedrock of all comedy. True stuff is the funniest stuff, as Jeff Foxworthy once said.

Also, try a gag at least three times, three different ways, before you decide to shelve it.

Last Question.

Lwando from Jozi asks:
“How do you learn to read your audience?”

Practice, at every gig. This is where observation comes in. Make sure that when you have a gig or you’re just there to watch a show, observe what the MC does. A good MC will behave a lot like a fisherman: throwing out a series of different lines to see what the audience will bite at. What they laugh at loudest will be the easier material to do on the night.

There you go folks. I’ll answer more questions as I receive them. Keep sending in your questions to vthejester(at)gmail(dot)com.

And remember to have fun out there. Comedy should never feel like work