Note: Embedded Multimedia in this chapter — 2 Audio Files, 1 Video File.
I was about 10 years old when I first experienced the high associated with making others laugh. With a few spontaneous smart ass remarks, I began to realize that I could make my older brothers and sisters laugh when I wanted them to. If you have ever had older, too-cool-to-live siblings, you know what an awesome feeling that can be.
Not long after that, my interest in my brothers’ comedy albums began to occupy more and more of my attention. I would listen to them for hours — stuff like George Carlin, Bill Cosby, and Cheech and Chong. I couldn’t seem to get enough of them. But it never really crossed my mind that I may actually be a comedian myself one day.
I was 16 years old when the idea to try stand-up comedy first popped into my head. While it was an exciting thought, it also scared me to death! Plus, I lived in Kansas. Where was I going to perform, at the feed yard? So I did nothing.
But over the next 13 years, I couldn’t seem to shake the notion that I needed to at least try it. Unfortunately, fear continued to hold me back.
On my 29th birthday in St. Louis, I went to a comedy club for the first time in my life to watch a live show.
I didn’t know who any of the comedians were, but I was blown away by how amazing a live comedy atmosphere is, compared to watching it on TV. I said to my wife, “I think I can do that.” A few weeks later, I mustered the courage to get on stage at an open mike. I actually got a few laughs, and I was completely hooked.
I didn’t know about any of the “rules” when I first started. I didn’t know how to write a joke. I just did what I thought was funny. I was just being me on stage.
I would change my material frequently in the beginning, constantly doing new bits. I just didn’t know any better. I was very raw (I mean unrefined, not “dirty”). I experimented a lot and did a lot of really stupid things along the way. I made plenty of mistakes. I had good shows and I had bad ones.
For awhile there, I was having a blast doing stand-up comedy, even though I was limited to performing for very small crowds. But soon, the fun I was experiencing started to wear off.
You see, I could get laughs, but not with the consistency or at the level I wanted. Still, I continued to perform. I just figured I would get better with more experience on stage.
Then one night at the Funny Bone, another new comedian came up to me and said, “Hi. Are you a comic?”
“Yeah,” I replied. (I’ve always hated the word “comic” — makes me feel like Batman or the Green Hornet.)
“Yeah,” she said. “Tell me one of your jokes.”
She couldn’t have caught me more off guard. I stammered and stuttered and finally had to say, “You know, I’m not sure I can.”
And the fact is, I couldn’t.
Frankly, I felt guilty that I couldn’t do it. I thought to myself, “What kind of a comedian am I if I can’t tell a simple joke when someone asks me to?… Maybe I need some help.”
So I bought a stand-up comedy book. It told me how to write jokes — how to write set-ups and punchlines. It told me that I shouldn’t write old school jokes, but rather jokes suited to the new form of stand-up comedy (new school jokes).
And it said I should apply different kinds of “attitudes” to these jokes. And that I should try to be myself.
Sounded good to me. And I did religiously everything the book told me to do.
I started writing and telling my new jokes. Some of them were okay, I guess, but most weren’t so great. But I forced myself to do it night after night. I performed all the time wherever and whenever I could, but I noticed that the joke-writing thing started to seem like a real chore, like diagramming sentences in English class. I noticed that audiences weren’t laughing as much and that I wasn’t having as much fun.
My wife quickly noticed the difference. She’d say to me, “You know, I kinda like a couple of your bits. But those last three really sucked. Those jokes just don’t sound like you.”
And she was exactly right. They weren’t me. They were just something I wrote because I thought they were clever and hoped they might work with some audience somewhere. I tried to apply the different “attitudes” and “personas” that the book talked about, but it just wasn’t working. I had lost the part of me that got me into this business in the first place — my own sense of humor.
I wasn’t sure what to do. So I kept trying to make the jokes work, and I continued to struggle on stage.
Then one night in a comedy club, I found myself talking to a fuzzy-headed road comedian. He told me, “If you want to develop a great act, the first thing you gotta do is get a character and a hook. That’s how you get successful.”
Now, this guy was not another newcomer, like many of the other comedians I usually talked with. This guy was a real, live, working stand-up comedian. So I decided to listen to him. And I tried to get a character and a hook. I tried to force one on myself, and I tried to let one develop naturally over time.
I tried everything…
• Bitter, Pessimistic Boy…
• Upbeat, Whose Your Daddy White Def Comedy Jam Boy…
• Nothing Ever Goes Right For Me Victim Boy…
• Vanilla Top: The Blonde Boy’s Answer To Carrot Top…
• I Don’t Give A Crap Monotone Boy…
I hated them all, and so did the audience. I said to myself, “Crap!!! This is just not working!”
I got frustrated. Really frustrated. I almost gave it up entirely. I moved to San Diego, and I just stayed away from the comedy scene for almost a year. But I couldn’t quit altogether, even if I wanted to. As bad as some of my sets had been, there were times when I had gotten some really big laughs — honest, gut-wrenching laughs. And those laughs stayed with me and would not let me give up.
So I started up again, going to clubs and open mikes, trying to figure it out on my own. Once again, I had some good sets, and I had some not-so-good sets. I lacked consistency and I knew it. But I loved the good nights too much to let myself quit.
Then I met Steve Roye…
I remember that night well. It was a four-person show. A friend of mine pointed to Steve and said, “Wait till you see this guy. He kills every time.”
I performed second, and Steve headlined. I did okay, but Steve blew everyone away. After that, I saw him perform several more times. Each time it was the same thing; he killed, no matter who the audience was or where the show was.
After a few shows, we started talking, and he told me that he liked my material a lot, but that I needed to polish both my material and my performance quite a bit. I couldn’t argue with that. I knew I had that raw funny inside me, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to get a handle on it.
Then he said he had written some instructional materials on stand-up comedy that I should read. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t very excited about that idea. I thought, “Oh great, another Get-a-Character-and-Joke-Your-Way-to-Success thing.”
I know I didn’t want to waste my time reading a bunch of stuff I’ve read dozens of times before, stuff I knew wouldn’t help me. Because by this time, I had read all the books that are out there on stand-up comedy — every word. And I didn’t want to read another one.
But then something hit me. I’ve never seen any of the authors in any of the books I had read actually perform on stage anywhere. I have no idea if they’re any good themselves, or even if they’re stand-up comedians at all. But I had seen Steve perform, several times. And he always killed. Always.
So I thought about Steve’s instructional materials, and I said to myself, “Okay. I’ll give it a try. Even if Steve has something to offer me that will help me get half the reaction he gets on a regular basis, it will definitely be worth it.”
So I got a hold of his stuff on writing stand-up comedy. I started reading it.
I couldn’t put the thing down. I had never even heard of many of the tools and techniques he was describing. There were ideas and concepts I had seen in other books before, but he presented the material from a very different perspective. Best of all, it was easy to understand and it made sense.
After reading his stuff about writing stand-up material, I couldn’t wait to get my notebook and start writing. I rewrote all of my bits that I was still excited about doing.
I started performing more. The improvement in my material was immediate and drastic.
But then I would hit a bump. I would have a bad show, and I would get really frustrated. Steve listened patiently to my ranting. Then he would remind me that writing wasn’t all there was to stand-up comedy.
In fact, it’s the smallest part. It’s not nearly as important as the performing part.
So then I got his materials on performing stand-up comedy. And the improvements in my act continued and came faster and faster. A few other comedians asked me what I was doing that was so different. I lied and told them I had been eating lots of carrots… Well, what would you do?
Then Steve told me about the “secret weapon” he used to get rid of his stage fright, increase his stage comfort, and improve his ability to write comedy material easily. I was skeptical at first when he described what I needed to do. But everything else had been right on the mark and had worked so well for me. I had to give it a try.
So I applied the “secret weapon” just as he suggested. Within 1 month, my act had improved so much that I won a stand-up comedy contest. Yes, it was a nice feeling to win the contest, but more than anything, I was just excited that I had a really good set that night. I no longer felt like I was trying to force “jokes” down the throat of the audience. I finally felt like that smart ass little kid again, making my brothers and sisters laugh by just being myself.
In case you’re interested, here’s a short clip from that contest set.
Paul Stoecklein Stand-up Clip
Now, not every set I’ve had since then has been exactly what I want it to be. In fact, after awhile, I found myself straying a bit from the concepts in Steve’s materials. As a result, my sets started to lose some of their impact. So I read the guides again and made the necessary adjustments. There was an immediate change in my performances once again. I actually found myself killing in front of an audience of 8. I’ve never done that before.
One thing that Steve Roye has taught me in this guide is that it is in the performance that the comedian truly brings the magic of stand-up comedy to life. And it is also the arena in which the new comedian must develop and hone the material that will ultimately define who the comedian really is and how well he learns to master the craft.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn, because I’ve always considered myself first and foremost a writer. I always thought that if I wrote something that looked funny, people would laugh. But it didn’t work out that way. What I needed was a good understanding of the performance side of stand-up comedy, and that’s just what I got through this guide.
After I first saw and put into practice the techniques in Steve’s Interactive Writing Guide, my act improved 500%. But it wasn’t until I absorbed the information in the Interactive Performing Guide that I really felt like I was truly at home on the stage.
This interactive guide is designed to work in tandem with the Interactive Writing Guide. It contains numerous references to multimedia examples to help you understand the things you need to know to develop your act from a performing perspective.
Here’s a brief look at what this guide has in store for you…
• The rest of this chapter discusses the importance of developing your stage voice, and blows away the myths of needing a character and/or a hook in order to succeed — myths that have been embraced by just about every author of stand-up comedy, except Steve. It is a lesson that I desperately needed to learn.
• There are large chapters devoted to honing your act and evaluating yourself. One of the biggest problems I had when I started out was that I did not evaluate myself objectively — if at all. Before I was exposed to this guide, I really had no idea how to evaluate my act to make improvements; I was just fumbling around in the dark trying to figure it out for myself. I believe these evaluation tools are worth the cost of the guide alone. There is nothing like them out there anywhere. I’ve looked.
• There are chapters about the different variables that are at work when you are performing. These variables are generally divided into the following areas: environmental, audience, and performer. Detailed information is given in each of these areas.
Once I started taking these variables into account when evaluating my performances, I was suddenly able to see why some of my performances were received better than others. I discovered that it wasn’t necessarily always because I wasn’t funny on stage.
• There are chapters covering various other performing issues, such as improvising, stealing material, and professional jealousy. Then there are detailed chapters on bombing and stage fright. It is within the chapter on stage fright that you will find the “secret weapon.” I have used it and it completely changed my level of comfort on stage.
The concept behind the “secret weapon” is so stinking simple, but it makes all the difference in the world. Even 8 months after first applying it, I’m still using it just about every single day, simply because I know it works like crazy for me.
• There is a chapter devoted to the working comedian. This basically has to do with taking your act to the next level, and then to the next level beyond that. In other words, it talks about moving from being an opener to becoming a feature act, and then ultimately becoming a headliner.
My best advice for you regarding the interactive guide is to read it over and over. This brings me to a very important point…
Steve’s guides are intended as reference works — not one-time quick reads. So don’t expect yourself to soak it all in the first time around.
I’m not saying that these guides by themselves are going to make you a great comedian. All I know is that they made a huge difference for me. I now have confidence when I am on stage like I never had before. I’m in control. I’m myself again, not just another joke teller. I’m getter bigger laughs and more of them. And most importantly, I’m having the most fun I have ever had doing stand-up.
Steve Roye’s guides have greatly enhanced my ability to get the big laughs consistently when I perform — not in years, but in mere months.
Here’s a YouTube video of one of my more recent sets:
And now, on with the rest of the Interactive Performing Guide…
Steve Roye here… As the title suggests, this guide is all about the most important part of stand-up comedy — your actual performance on a stage in front of a live audience.
It’s not essential that you’ve already read the Interactive Writing Guide in order for this performing guide to be of use to you. However, it’s definitely a much better path to take. This guide uses a lot of the terminology and concepts covered in the writing guide. So if you haven’t already completed the writing guide, I would highly recommend you do so before continuing.
Now, with that said, let’s get going…
I would like to begin by discussing your end goal on stage — your stage voice. I’ll explain what I mean by “stage voice” shortly. For now, just know that, aside from the laughs, your stage voice should be your primary performing goal.
So if this is your “end” goal, why are we talking about it at the beginning of this guide? Simple. Because everything else in this guide, as well as your success as a performer, depends on how well you understand this concept. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to misunderstand this concept because of the widespread popularity of the ideas of “character” and “hooks” in the stand-up comedy community.
Almost every book on stand-up comedy talks about character development in one form or another. The authors say, or at least strongly imply, that you should have a “stage character.”
To be completely fair, many of these authors also state (often indirectly) that you should be yourself on stage. On the surface, this looks and sounds good, but in the end it’s simply confusing. That’s because, even when they tell you to be yourself, they bury it underneath a bunch of talk about “creating a character.” But how can you “create a character” and at the same time “be yourself”? You can’t.
That’s why these books can be so confusing. It’s like a parent who tells you to do one thing but then tells you the opposite: “Here are 20 different types of characters you should try on stage, and remember, be yourself!” It’s like giving Richard Ramirez a Poulan chainsaw and then telling him to be nice with it. Eventually, you’re going to end up with a bloody mess.
Most of these authors will immerse you with chapter after chapter about the importance of developing your “stage character.” It’s central to their philosophy of stand-up comedy. They will tell you how to make your stage character work. They will tell you the types of characters you can be. They will give you examples of different kinds of characters. But none of them really tell you how to create a character. Why? Because they can’t.
You see, almost all of these books subscribe to the notion that you should be a completely different person on stage than you are in real life. I believe there are several reasons for this:
• It is much easier to blame a poor performance on your made up stage character as opposed to taking responsibility yourself.
• Having a made up character provides a means of easily labeling who you are. The authors of these other books aren’t exactly sure how to explain the way successful stand-up comedians do what they do, so they resort to something they can label — “character.” It’s just easier that way. It’s a sad fact that when humans have a tough time describing something, they slap a label on it.
I think it makes us feel better because once we have given something a label, we think we have control of the situation. When someone asks us, “What is that?” we’re not comfortable with saying, “Geez, I don’t know.” Instead, we feel much better if we can say, “Oh, that’s an angry comic, and over there’s one of those ‘raise the roof’ hip hop comics, and over there’s a cross between a Dennis Leary and an Adam Sandler.”
• For some people, maybe being someone different on stage is much easier than being themselves. Maybe some folks don’t have a high opinion of who they are and see using a stage character as a means of escape from their view of reality.
• Everybody says so. It’s easy to agree when all the other stand-up comedy authors and many working comedians say you should get a character. The trend seems to be, when in doubt, agree with what’s being said everywhere. Hey, 500 years ago, everybody said the world was flat too, but that didn’t make it true. I’m here to tell you that the stand-up comedy world is not flat.
Unfortunately, there are some down sides to this “character” mentality:
• How do you develop a character? As I’ve already said, the existing books on stand-up comedy don’t tell you — not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. I can’t tell you either. I would say the best bet is to take acting classes. Other than that, I can’t even provide you a hint of where to start developing a character that works well and consistently on stage. But telling someone they need to develop a character is like telling someone to grow another arm.
• If you do develop a character that works, you are now stuck with this alter ego. Once people know you a certain way, they may not be accepting of a change, no matter how talented you are. If you don’t believe me, ask Paul Rubens who was the Pee Wee Herman character.
• My “character” that I started doing at the beginning of my career never seemed to be concerned when my performances sucked. It was always me who laid awake at night wondering why I couldn’t make audiences laugh really hard.
When I first started this business, I had an image of what I thought a comedian should be on stage. I did my impression of what I thought a comedian should be on stage. I delivered jokes like I thought a comedian should when entertaining an audience.
And, much to my dismay, I sucked. I got laughs, but they were nowhere near the level that I wanted. I actually have video footage of some of my very first performances, and they are now simply embarrassing for me to watch. I wanted more from my stage performances, but I couldn’t find what I needed in the books. (I had almost every one available at the time I started.)
One day, I just simply snapped. I had just finished a performance for a group and they were not impressed or amused at my feeble attempts to be this “comedian” person that I felt I had to be in order to do stand-up.
That was the last straw. I was very close to coming to the conclusion that no matter how badly I wanted to be a comedian, I just wasn’t cut out for it. But I wasn’t going to let this reality destroy me. Hell, I wasn’t cut out to be a brain surgeon either. Like they say in poker, you gotta know when to hold ‘um and know when to fold ‘um.
While I was in the process of “quitting” comedy, I did something by accident that changed my comedy career forever. I got fed up. I abandoned my comedian “character” that I had and decided to just be myself. At that point, I figured I had nothing to lose. I threw away all the “jokes” I had and just started talking about things I wanted to talk about, the way I wanted to talk about them. Then the weirdest thing happened.
People started laughing hard when I was on stage, and I wasn’t even trying! I started to repeat the process over and over, with continued big laughs and continued success. I then developed a system I could use to refine what I had to say with fewer words. The laughs got bigger.
Believe it or not, I couldn’t figure out at first what I had done so differently. All I knew was that it was working great and I didn’t want it to stop. But I’m the type of person who likes to know why something works.
I started reviewing my tapes. I started watching other successful comedians. Instead of reading about how to write a “joke,” I started reading about what successful comedians had to say about their comedy careers and how they progressed. That’s where I found what I was looking for…
It became apparent to me that most of the comedians I really respected and thought were really funny seemed to have a very conversational style when they were on stage. They didn’t just serve up one “joke” after another. They talked about things that audiences could relate to. It appeared that these comedians were talking from the heart with their own unique point of view. Was everything they said true? Nope. Could it have been? Absolutely.
Also, I found that almost all of my favorite comedians went through a process of “finding” themselves on stage through years of trial and error, finally discovering who they were in front of a group of people when it was their turn to perform.
Reading between the lines, I figured out that many started just like me, being what they thought was a comedian and eventually working their way back to being something very close — yet more condensed and refined — to who they were in real life in front of a group of friends before they started comedy. The audience started to see the real person standing before them.
Here is an audio clip from an interview that comedian Dave Chapelle did with Byron Allen on his syndicated magazine show Entertainers. In this clip, Dave seems to reflect what I’m talking about.
Dave Chapelle Interview Clip
The text from the clip is as follows:
BA: I’ve been watching you for awhile, and you’ve been getting better and better. And you were talented the moment I saw you.
DC: Hey thanks, man.
BA: I remember when you first came out. When did you come out here when you started doing the club scene in LA?
DC: Like ’92…or ’91, ’92. Yeah.
BA: What are you talking about these days?
DC: Oh… You know, it’s funny. Because I’m just getting to the point where I’m just talking about myself more. Like, if you watch my act now, you can feel like you know me more.
Entertainers with Byron Allen, 2001.
If you’ve ever seen Dave Chapelle perform, you can see exactly what he’s talking about in this interview. Like most of the really good comedians, he doesn’t go out on stage and start firing off strings of jokes. Instead, he lets the audience see and hear his real views on life. He lets the audience see and hear who he is, not some kind of phony character.
Now, I don’t necessarily want to discourage anyone from developing a character for the stage. If you can do it and it works, fantastic. However, I now firmly believe that the process of trying to fit your personality into some made-up character reciting jokes written out of thin air is the absolute longest path to success.
I believe that your real “character” is already inside of you. It is who you are when you come in contact with your friends (or anyone else) and make them laugh. It’s not who you are all the time. We are each slightly different people at different times, depending on the circumstances. When you relay your thoughts, ideas, and point of view to someone or a group of people, any number of “internal characters” may pop out at anytime in order for you to get your point across.
But no matter what, this internal “character” or “cast of characters” is always there. It is that natural part of our personality that causes people to laugh when we talk and for those same people to say that we should take a shot at stand-up comedy. So why should we have to go through years of stage trauma just to find out that being ourselves works the best? I’ll tell you why…
Because just about every book on the subject starts you off on the “Let’s write a joke first” path. I believe this is the absolute fastest way to be seen as a “phony” in the eyes of an audience. It causes a really funny person to become someone who is trying to be funny. Subsequently, the audience won’t buy into the “goods” you are selling on stage.
Then you don’t get the laughs you want because it was painfully obvious to the audience that you were trying very hard to make them laugh with a bunch of unbelievable crap that they just couldn’t buy into. Then you go home and wonder why you ever wanted to be a comedian in the first place.
Let me tell you why people become comedians (whether they admit it or not):
• They recognize they have a sense of humor that seems to stand out, no matter where they go or who they talk to.
• There is no greater thrill on the planet than controlling a group of people and orchestrating when they are going to laugh so hard they almost pee their pants.
• It is a tremendous self-esteem booster and feeds the ego like nothing else can.
I have the greatest respect for anyone who has the courage to get on stage and risk (that’s right, I said risk) their sense of humor in order to entertain an audience, no matter what path they take.
But here’s what I am saying:
• Funny is what will get you on stage. Funny is what will get you work. Funny is what will get you noticed. Funny is what will bring you money.
• Don’t worry about becoming some “character.” Chances are you were a “character” or a “variety of characters” before you ever hit the stage. Worry about saying what you have to say. Let someone else label your character on stage. Trust me, if you are funny, this will happen all by itself.
• I believe that the faster you grasp this concept and act on it, the faster you will achieve the laughs and success you want, provided your personality and sense of humor translates well in front of an audience.
If I were to describe myself, the comedian, here’s what I would say:
What audiences get from me is a condensed, refined, and calculated version of who I am when I get my turn to talk when I am in a group of friends. The only real difference is that I know exactly what I am going to say when I am on stage, but my sense of humor is exactly the same.
Instead of “character,” I would like to refer to who you are and how you perform on stage as using your “stage voice.” In its simplest form, it is who you are when addressing an audience, while still retaining your sense of humor.
I guess the best way to explain what your stage voice consists of is to explain who you are in different environments. Every one of us assumes a different role depending on the situation and environment we are placed in. Each of these roles is identifiably different, yet they are each a part of you.
You are a certain person at work.
You are a certain person with your spouse or lover.
You are a certain person with your kids.
You are a certain person in the presence of your parents.
You are a certain person at a party or with friends.
But of each of these roles you assume is still you. They’re just variations of who you are to fit the environment and situation you are in at the moment. Each of these roles is still laced with your personality, sense of humor, natural impressions, and impersonations of the things that happen around you.
Your stage voice is who you are in front of an audience. It is not about becoming something you are not, unless your goal is to develop some type of character who is vastly different from who you really are. It is not about you doing your impression of what you think a comedian should be or do in front of an audience. It is about you being you.
I have numerous people come up to me after my shows and comment on how well they enjoyed my persona on stage and all the different goofy characters I do. Not to burst their bubble, but I don’t do any character on stage. It’s just me, using my stage voice to covey my material in a way that is not foreign to me.
In more in-depth terms…
Your stage voice is a combination of your material, perspective, delivery, and timing. It is a concentrated and edited version you, your thoughts, your observations, and your feelings.
It’s a big question. How do I find this thing called “my stage voice”? Well, your stage voice is definitely something that develops over time and with experience. However, you can speed up the process a great deal by doing one simple thing – imagine yourself talking to a group of friends.
When I’m on stage, I liken my performances to talking in my living room to a group of friends. It is merely my turn to lead the discussion and captivate them with my views, opinions, and insight. It is my opportunity to display my passion (or lack of it) about a topic or issue.
Just like every role we all play in life, I have found that I am a somewhat different person when I am among a group of friends and it is my turn to talk. It’s still me, but it is just a little different version of me.
That is the way I approach the stage. I visualize talking to a group of friends. It’s my turn to talk and I definitely have something to say, just like my friends do when it is their turn to talk. When it’s my turn, it’s me talking in my stage voice. It’s not contrived; it’s me sharing my views and opinions the way that I see them. It’s me using my natural sense of humor in different ways to express that sense of humor and convey what I have to say.
Many comedians work for years telling jokes before they develop their stage voice — the voice that captures who they are in the material they deliver. Maybe they just get fed up too.
I don’t want you to have to wait years to discover who you are or to develop your stage voice. Be yourself, as you would in front of your friends. Have faith that, just like when you are with your friends being yourself, that you are funny. That’s why you got into this wacky adventure in the first place, isn’t it?
If you have used my writing guide to the fullest extent, you know that it was designed to help you capture your true views and sense of humor – not stifle it. By determining and developing material you are personally passionate about, you should be well ahead of the pack when it comes to developing your stage voice.
Having your stage voice is just as important as having confidence. I think it is worth repeating that while your stage voice is a combination of many things, when you boil it down to the basics, it is this:
Your stage voice is simply you being you on stage in front of a group of people when it’s your turn to talk.
In the movie Punchline, there is a scene on a subway where Tom Hanks’ character is trying to teach Sally Field’s character about stand-up comedy. Up until this point, she has been buying jokes from people and trying to tell them on stage, with dismal results. Hanks is trying to get her to be her naturally funny self.
He’s prodding her, irritating her, and asking her questions.
He asks, “Do you have a babysitter?”
She says, “Yes.”
“What’s the babysitter’s name?”
Clearly irritated, she responds, “Charlie Manson!”
It’s her natural response, and it’s funny. It’s not a “joke,” but it does have a punchline — “Charlie Manson.”
Later in the movie, when Sally Field is terrified about performing before an audience without her “jokes,” Hanks gives her the following advice: “You talk to the crowd. Remember the subway.”
Now, the point I’m trying to get across to you is not that you should get up there and start improvising off the top of your head, just blurting things out. My point is that you should “talk to the crowd.” You have pre-planned material, but when you perform it, all you are doing is “talking to the crowd,” just like you would talk to your friend on the subway.
Don’t hit the stage with the intention of impressing anyone or trying hard to be exceptionally funny. If you don’t want to get killer results, this is the way to go. Be a mere joke teller trying hard for the laugh and let the chips fall where they may.
I recommend that you go on stage with the full intention of sharing your ideas, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and passion about what you have to say with the audience that is yearning to hear what it is you have to say. That is how you can rapidly develop your stage voice.
I know this sounds redundant, but it is worth repeating. The faster you develop your stage voice, the faster you will experience success, get the results you want from your performances, and be noticed by the people who hire comedians.
Last, but certainly not least, is that the faster you have your stage voice, the faster you can have fun — the greatest fun in the world. You will be able to erase any doubt about whether or not a comedy career is for you.
I have heard this so many times in my career: “You need a hook to get noticed.” The term “hook” refers to an identifiable angle at which your comedy material is presented. One of the best examples is the way Tim Allen uses his “ape voice” to describe how men behave.
I have watched several interviews where Tim Allen talks extensively about how his comedy act developed. His ape voice wasn’t a planned thing. It was born by accident while he was performing. It was his natural impression and expression of what men are like (and a very accurate one at that, which makes it hilarious).
So what am I saying here? What I am saying is that trying to come up with a “hook” is just as hard, if not harder, than coming up with a “character” or trying to write funny jokes from thin air.
If you just focus on refining what you want to say, your “hook” will come out by itself. It is a part of you already and will develop, just as your act develops on the stage. It is that consistent part of your personality and sense of humor that you use in everyday life when you are not on the stage.
If you are talking about things that you are passionate about, that the audience can accept and relate to, then your “hook” will make itself known, if there’s one there at all.
Now you may ask, “Well, what if I start performing and my hook doesn’t come out?”
Then I would say to you, “Then find the person who can tell you exactly how to develop that ‘hook.’ When you find him or her, let me know, and I will refer everybody to that person.”
My point is this and you won’t read this anywhere else:
You don’t need a hook. You just need to be funny.
You don’t need to look for one or worry about having one. Trying to find a hook is like trying to get the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
If I have a hook, I am unaware of it and I’m not about to start looking for one now. Why? Because I am funny on stage just being me. I didn’t even know that there was this myth of success that was dependent on a hook until I was almost at the headliner stage of my career.
I just concentrated on getting the biggest laughs I could with the personality and sense of humor I had. If I had subscribed to this “needing a hook” business, I would have quit comedy long ago.
Focus on being yourself, and if you have a hook (without wearing an Elvis costume on stage) then it will present itself without prompting as your act develops and matures during your comedy journey.
I know there are many who will disagree with me sharply on this. Fine. Therefore I say, “Then tell me exactly how to do it.”
No matter what, funny rules — whether you have a hook or not. Have faith in your ability to make people laugh. Isn’t that what brought you to this comedy adventure in the first place?
Here’s another secret that folks simply refuse to acknowledge:
There are a lot of comedians. But not all of them fall into the range of hilarious — the ones who are getting the most opportunities.
I have actually heard comedians say, “I would be funnier if I had a hook.” Being funnier has nothing to do with a hook. It’s about developing and performing material that kills almost all of the time.
So I would say to you, if you are not happy with the level of laughs you get, look at your act, not for some mystical “hook” to tie your success to. Take responsibility for your act and continue to strive to make it better and better. That will get you where you want to be faster than anything else I can think of in this business of comedy.
Okay, now that we’ve covered what your end goal should be, it’s time to move forward. It’s time to work toward achieving that end goal. In the next chapter, we’ll discuss life as a stand-up comedian when you first start performing on stage…