Stand-up is one of those things that people tell me I should do.
While I appreciate, stand up I’ve never felt a burning desire to it or pursue it further than an infrequent hobby.
However, every so often I get the itch to get up on stage. On Monday 4th of June 2018, I scratched.
I bombed big style.
Let me tell you what I learned from bombing, so you don’t have to.
5: Prepare a little
First some context.
When I first did stand-up, I used to learn the lines so rigidly that if I was one word out it would throw me off completely.
When I last did stand up I didn’t prepare as much as I usually did and it went better than expected.
I thought that for Monday I would push it even further and freestyle the whole set.
I made a mistake.
The set wasn’t a complete write-off but I’m not going to tell you what went well. You didn’t come here for that.
What happened was that I bounced around from subject to subject without developing a through line. Some jokes came out of nowhere with no set up so they didn’t land as well as they could have.
When you don’t prepare, there is going to be several long pauses. Those pauses kill the timing.
You’re reading this thinking that something as fundamental as not preparing is not a lesson you need to learn. I’m not that smart.
From past performances of stand up, I’ve learned that you don’t want to lock yourself too tightly into the words. If you do any flub will send you flying off course.
On Monday I learned that winging it isn’t good either.
Next time I do stand up, I’ll be trying to find that sweet spot between over and under-preparing.
The point of preparation into to lock yourself in it’s to give your mind the freedom should something unexpected come up.
4: You’re on your own
Stand-up is strange. You get up in front of people, recite a couple of sentences and hope that they laugh.
Your goal is to change how people view things through comedy.
Now that you know what stand up is I can tell you first hand what it isn’t. It’s not acknowledging the other acts.
When I performed with my band, Mental Deficiency, I would mention the support acts and thank them.
You don’t do this in stand up. I found out the hard way.
One of the performers on before me didn’t get many laughs. They were young, and I thought it would be a good idea to, on stage, tell him he did well.
Now in my head, I thought I was coming across as “Hey kid we’ve all been through it”. It wasn’t until a friend told me after that it came across as “Hey kid listen to me the old pro”.
How condescending, I’m not a pro, I’m not even amateur. When I realised this I cringed so hard I castrated myself.
Stages are strange; they’re an elevated piece of ground that as soon as you step onto it you’re a performer no matter what you think.
Keep in mind the context of what you are supposed to be doing on stage.
My mistake was that I thought I was coming across as helpful and inclusive. In a stand-up setting it may have come across as, at best mocking or patronising at worst.
Don’t worry about anyone else focus on your own act first. Acknowledge no one.
3: Never admit that you are screwing up while screwing up
Your perception of time changes when you’re on stage. Seconds turn to minutes, minutes to hours etc.
A silence can last a lifetime. There are going to be silences. From onstage someone listening and someone unimpressed sounds the same.
What laughter there is you can’t hear. A feeling of dread rises from your gut, “I am bombing” it’s the only thought in your head. You’re arrogant and didn’t prepare. You don’t have anything to steer you through the vacuum, so you announce “I’m bombing”.
Big mistake, if you weren’t bombing before, you’re bombing now.
Friends who came to see me said that I wasn’t bombing until I announced that I was bombing. Whether I was or I wasn’t didn’t matter, I had sealed my fate.
In stand up as in life, people hate weakness. We’re sharks in that regard, any hint of blood in the water and there’s a feeding frenzy.
If you think you’re not doing well, don’t let on.
Admission plants doubt in the minds of others. There’s also the added bonus of it becoming self-fulfilling prophecy.
2: Don’t attack the audience
Attacking the audience is the worst mistake I made. What was worse was that I didn’t realise that I had attacked them until after.
There was a group of improvisers in the front row. I performed in an improv group for several years. During my time in the group audiences offered us the same suggestions repeatedly, such as “Taxidermist”, “Sex-change” and “Meat factory”. It got a bit old.
I riffed on that saying how frustrated it was getting the same words all the time and how annoying improv audiences could be.
Again someone had to point out to me, an attack on one audience is an attack on all audiences.
It’s not even like I was unaware of this. Ghostbusters 2016 died on its arse because it attacked the audience before the film came out.
I was aware that attacking the audience is a no-no. Even though I believed that I was having a go at a entirely different audience the stand-up audience couldn’t tell the difference… because audiences are fucking stupid (;D).
This bears repeating, not for your sake but mine; DON’T ATTACK THE AUDIENCE.
1: Keep up the momentum
Before I went on the compere gave me an excellent introduction that was high energy.
The MC got the crowd going, he gave me the gift of a hyped audience, and I squandered it by not jumping straight in with a joke.
That’s going from 100mph in fifth gear to dropping down to first.
Dropping the momentum was not my biggest mistake. It was, however, the first thread that unravelled the stand-up sweater.
You have to keep the momentum going. Yes, there are going to be ebb and flow moments. You slow down to build up again, but you never stop.
It’s harder to start if you never stop.
Keeping up momentum applies to life. You have to keep up the momentum no matter what. Even if you are not good, you will get better through repeatedly doing. You may not make much progress, but you will make progress.
That’s what I need to do; I need to keep the momentum up. Before, I was never interested all that much in stand up, but now that I’m in the minus column, there has been a fire lit under me.
I have something to prove and I can’t wait to turn this defeat into a victory. Now that I have something to aim for and can’t wait for my next shot.
Stand up may have been in the background for me over the years but now it has my undivided attention.