Speaking Rules Shot Down with Stand Up Comedy – How to Survive your First Attempt at Stand Up Comedy!


It was an eye opening experience. An entertaining one too as my good friend and fellow speaker bombed on stage! It was a treat – we don’t get to see that very often! Heck, it was the first time I ever saw him bombed!

But as speakers, we understood the value of bombing, in addition to the appreciating the experience (both good and bad) of speaking on stage. The important takeaway for both of us was the educational experience – and for him, he had a bonus – stage experience to count amongst that. You see, we’d met earlier for a meeting, and we’d sat together to run through his script with us. Yes, STAND UP COMEDIANS do prepare and rehearse their material too – and the both of us were busy formulating stories and helping him polish up his jokes too.

Heck, just for the kick of it, we were preparing a contingency plan too. Together with another associate of ours, we discussed the ideal seating location too, ie where to sit. With (or without… I can’t remember anymore) we decided to seat ourselves near the door just in case he bombed incessantly on stage!

Oh fine… our contingency plan wasn’t executed when his act was delivered. But he did bomb despite using all the speaking strategies that we’ve been trained in. Being the keen Toastmasters and eager learners that we were, we sought feedback from another stand up comedian who was comparatively more experienced compared to us.

The feedback we got was startling.

The bad news was we failed for a number of reason. The good news, however, was we received lots of feedback and there were several lessons to be learned from OUR Failure.

Yes, we’ve failed so that you can benefit! Actually, to be more accurate, My friend failed for OUR BENEFIT! So we’re getting extra value here!

So let’s cut to the chase. Here were some of the lessons we managed to milk from the experience:

Setting – Know What Your Audience

Unlike a normal meeting or training seminar where the audience are seated and prepared to listen to your for hours, the audience listening to you in during a Stand Up gig aren’t as patient. Their attention span is shorter and they demand to be entertained.

Building up your jokes with long stories run the risk of losing your audience and it’s a risky tool to use to generate interest!

What Does the Audience Want?

Still on the topic of the audience, the crowd that sits before a stand up comic are usually very intelligent people. They’re also extremely open and they can tolerate raw and mature content.

That said, the people who sit at the pub/club are there to chill and relax after a hard day’s work and expect to be entertained. Therefore, unlike audience participation during a training seminar/workshop, getting them to participate or think too hard about a joke’s a BIG no no!

The performance on stage is just that – a performance. You may use full body language and vocal variety to entertain them. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you ENTERTAIN THEM!

Keep Your Jokes Short

People don’t want to listen to extended set ups. Stand up comics are advised to keep their set ups short before delivering each punchline. As a rule of thumb, set ups should be confined to nothing more than 3-4 lines and unless the comic’s extremely skillful, he runs the risk of losing his audience’s attention and falling flat on his face.

Quick delivery is key. If there’s no real point in saying something, ie padding up the setting with descriptive vocabulary, then get rid of it!

Don’t Explain your Jokes

Just like the rules of humour and what to do when you bomb, explaining your joke’s not going to make it funny to the audience. My friend was fortunate he escaped with a surprised laughter with his innocent declaration, but we were advised not to do so in future too because it may seem to be seen as an insult to the audience’s intelligence.

“If You’ve Really Got to Tell A Story…”

If you’ve really got to tell a story, then weave in several jokes into it such that it delivers punchline after punchline after punchline.

Professional comedy acts such as Russel Peters, Jeff Dunham and Bill Cosby etc. are able to weave in jokes after jokes after jokes into their story before making their final point.

I was watching Russel Peters and Seinfeld and I was in total awe by how they’d manage to present the funnies in everyday life by including a series jokes into each of their stories.

Russel Peter’s style and content usually pokes fun at quirks of ethnicity, cultural differences and racism, whilst some of Jerry Seinfeld’s old act usually contained observational humour of everyday life – ie, he can look at something (ie, behaviour of men and women) that occurs day in and out and turn it into a joke, before weaving it into his story. By the end of it, he’d have a whole story lined up to push through his message.

Observational Humour

On where the other comics get their material from, we were told to keep a notebook to diary and take note of the funny occurrences and ideas that come to us during our daily life. Keeping a notebook is the prelude to keeping a humour & Story file. Now that it essentials for keeping a database for speaking.

Finally, our brand of humour is dependent on the way we see the world. Though a certain event may appear funny to us, it may or may not appear funny to others. Therefore, it wouldn’t harm to test it out with a few people first before presenting it on stage to increase your chances of earning some laughs!

* * *

Here you have it, lessons gained at the trailblazers’ expense! There’ll be weekly comedy acts at the Hideout Bar at 31(B) Circular Road (Singapore) on Thursday evenings.

We’ll post more information pertaining to the event once we receive it from the organizers!

Till then, happy collecting content! And may you soon join us on stage to tickle the funny bones of people who’re crying out to be entertained!

PS: The lessons shared were derived from our first night at a comic club. If you’ve got more tips to share and crystallize, you may include them at the bottom of this post so that new stand ups from all over the world can come forth to pool resources and exchange notes!

Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

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