To end the starting out series, we will talk about the feature set. The feature in comedy, also referred to as the “middle act”, is responsible for about 20-30 minutes of material. They go up right before the headliner and is usually the step before becoming a headliner yourself. Now, that is not to say if you are a feature comedian for five years that you are a failure as a person. Some comedians enjoy that spot. It isn’t as stressful as the headline spot.
Now, before you go add up the time you have and declare yourself a feature comedian, you have to understand that at this point in your written you should be getting close to an “act”. When you were doing five or fifteen minutes you were focused on just material. Getting the sounds and the actions right and making sure the jokes were good. When you take that into a feature situation, you should be more organized in the execution of those jokes. A lot of us don’t have 15 minute stories or anything, just a series of jokes. If that is the case this is a great time to start bunching them together. This way there is a flow to the jokes you are telling. Even if you write just one liners you may want to get them organized. I have written a lot of jokes about my daughter over the years. If I am going to do a set with those jokes, I make sure to collect them together either in my head or somewhere else, and tell them together. That creates a narrative and makes it seem like I actually wrote them all at once and I actually know what I am doing.
The feature is an important spot because they are supposed to keep the funny ramped up. The emcee goes up and gets the crowd warm. You, as the feature, get them all hot and bothered, and the headliner brings it all home. There are a couple of things you have to be weary of as a first time feature. Do you curse a hella ton? Well, make sure that the headliner isn’t super clean or the show as a whole seems like a big mess. Some will probably not agree with this. I do. The audience isn’t there to see you (no matter how many family members are in the audience), hell, sometimes they didn’t come to see that specific headliner, but your job is to give them a mini dose of what the headliner will be bringing. You may not have a lot of jokes to pull from if you have just started out, but you may want to see if they will work without the curse words. This will allow you to work you entire set in front of any audience and in front of any headliner.
When I first started featuring on the road I just had a bag full of jokes. There was no rhyme or reason to them. I would bounce back and forth and it would be a bumpy ride. No one said anything to me. Why would they? If the feature doesn’t know what he is doing, it makes the headliner look even better by comparison. I just naturally started grouping jokes together and trying to come up with a beginning middle and end. I would reel them in with a couple of nice warm jokes. Then I would hit a little harder with some stuff and then by the end I would have something outrageous lined up that was silly in scope and execution, but not too harsh. I started to succeed more. I also got called upon by headliners to open a show for them. That is the best feeling in the world. To be a small comic and have someone tell a big comic that you are a great feature act.
If this little serious was suppose to say anything it’s mainly this: Take pride in what you do up there. Make it an art and not a job. If you really want to make it as a comedian, I believe that’s what it takes. Long evenings trying to find the right words for a punchline, rewrites and different ways of performing the same material. Going to open mics to practice it all. I am not a big time comedian. I only speak from the level I am at. However, the success I have seen is because I took steps like this to try to better myself as a comedian. I also watched and studied and try to figure out why something worked and others didn’t. I really hope you enjoyed reading this and I hope there was something in it for you. Thanks.
We say goodbye to the month of August, one of the best months we have ever had on this blog, with the following pictures.
I want a tortoise, but the pet store in Spokane isn’t selling this bad boy.
I would raise a chicken as a pet if they weren’t so damned delicious.
And here is a collage with the guys I will be doing a comedy show with September 2nd at the Bartlett in downtown Spokane. The unicorns are just there because I thought it was funny.
Thanks for checking out the blog and I hope you come back and see the silly things I type and the thinks I take photos of. Have a great weekend!!
I went to almost every open mic last week to work on my act for the San Francisco Comedy Competition. I didn’t do that this week. Why? Because half of the mics had no one there. I mean there were comedians, but comedians are a jaded bunch. You don’t really know what works for an audience if all you are performing for are other comedians. So, two of the nights had people, and I was able to get a good grasp on what I should be doing when I get to California.
Speaking of California, I am excited to be going there for the first time ever. Growing up I loved California. It had palm trees and women just walked around all day in bikinis. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that that was the south of California and not just paradise for teenagers that wanted a lot to fap to later. I am excited to go to San Francisco for the sights and history and the camera stores. Man, I love camera stores. Just walking around and seeing what others can afford makes my penis hard.
So, I entered (Or I should say paid to enter) two comedy festivals. I have already heard back from one. The most expensive of the two. I didn’t get into the big sky comedy festival, but that still leaves the one in Boise Idaho, and that one seems more appealing because there is a chance to actually get club dates out of that. I am thinking about hitting up more of these things in the future. When you live in Spokane you have to be willing to go out and shake some babies and kiss some hands so you can get some work.
Last week, we talked about getting that first five minutes so you can start getting on stage and feeling comfortable as a comic. Now, it is time to get that tight 15! Honestly, it is more like tight 10-15, but 15 makes it better for me to come back next week and talk about that feature set. Why would you need a tight 15 minute set? Well, 10 minutes is usually the length of guest sets. That extra 5 minutes of material let’s you pick and choose what you will say on stage during that time. A buffer I guess you could call it. 15 minutes is also what a lot more paid shows are asking out of their comics lately. When the roster is 5 comics or more, you will probably be tasked with doing “A tight 15”, I’ve seen this done in bar shows and more importantly some of the bigger comedy clubs in the country. It is also the showcase set. A showcase is a show when multiple comics are on the bill. What is the difference between a showcase and a show where a bunch of people who don’t have 30 minutes of material get to perform? Mainly just who is watching. Showcases usually has more weight behind it in that the club owner may be looking for new acts or execs are in the room scouting talent.
The same strategy you used to conjure up 5 minutes you use to get 15 minutes. My advice would be to go back to the material that you are already doing and flesh them out more. I don’t know how many times I have looked at a joke I thought was great and was able to get another 2-3 minutes worth of hahas out of them. If you are just starting out, still remember what works for the first 5 and go after that. If you haven’t been writing material that long stick with what makes you laugh. You have plenty of time in the future to tackle different things. This is the reason a lot of comics end up with dick jokes and jokes about tampons. Those are the issues that come to mind first when you are writing material. You can still tell a dick joke, but with so much material of the penile nature out there you may have to think hard about putting a spin on it.
This is usually where a lot of people get stuck. The first 5 minutes of material should be easy if you are a naturally funny person. You may not have even written the jokes down, except to make sure all the words were in the right places. 15 is a little more difficult if you are new because you are up there for a longer time. You are exposed up there for longer, and that usually kills your momentum. If you don’t have a decent 15 everyone can see that at this point. This keeps a lot of people from going on to work on their feature sets (next week folks!). This is also where people’s faults come into play I feel. People who don’t like to write or people who do not make it out to work on their material will start to get stuck in the 15 minute range because that is all the material their slack asses can come up with. Another thing there are comics out there that are so brutal on what they write they may just never take it to the stage to try it out. Every comic has a joke or two that they don’t feel confident about doing on stage. The thing is if you don’t have that much material, you have to take it up there and try it! This is not the time to be shy. You are trying to be a comedian dammit!
When I started, I had more stories then jokes. When it came time to do 15 minutes at these shows, I realized that I had more filler in these stories then I needed. I trimmed and trimmed until I got down to the essence of the story. This is almost the opposite of story telling in say a book. Then what happened was I would get on stage and after saying something I would elaborate on it if it meant an extra punchline. So I took out the extra information and started to replace it with more jokes. After awhile I just started to write like that. So my performance on stage started to affect how I wrote the material. That is easy because then I didn’t really have to remember that funny part in the story, I had written it so it was there in record for me to go back to and memorize it.
Your 15 minutes is more of a stop gap to getting to feature sets and headline sets. It is still important though because it can establish you as a good comic, but that just means you will be tasked to do more and more time. This is when the comedians separate themselves from the open micers. Which one are you?
This was taken at Neato Burrito in downtown Spokane, WA
This is the iTunes pic for my podcast…whenever that happens.
I decided to go out this week to all the open mics in town and practice the set I want to do in San Francisco. Both mics had a total of about 6 people. I didn’t get a good gauge on if what I was saying was good or not. I mean it was good to record the sets and then listen to myself and see if I was telling the joke the way I wanted, but the best way to see if a joke, or set of jokes will work is to hear that laughter and it is hard as fuck to make a bunch of jaded comedians laugh. I’m not going to say it wasn’t worth my time because if I wasn’t there I would just be leveling up my druid on World of Warcraft.
I have decided to try a different approach to these competitions. When I participated in the Seattle Competition, I was doing a different set every night. I also got a really inconsistent finish almost every night. I saw a lot of comics just sticking to there sets night after night and the ones that had good material and stuck to the same set consistently did well. That is what I am going to do in San Francisco. The thing is I do headline set most of the time and it is hard to ensure that you are not going over your time. In recent history, every comedy competition (that was not the Seattle international comedy competition) that I have lost, I lost because I went over time. I am trying to avoid that and deliver the best material while at the same time not getting deductions because of going over.
So I have the artwork and sound bits ready for the podcast. I have gotten closer and closer to getting this started. I am excited. The format is still the same, talking about the top stuff of the week. So, I will go over like what was the number one movie and number one album and song in the country. I think that it will be a nice little podcast that people will want to check out. At least I hope. My daughter did some intros and outros and I realized that she has a great voice. I also sung a song about cats going to hell…it’s not as evil as it sounds.
I am very excited about going to San Francisco. I was reading that there have been a rash of camera gear thefts in the city and that kinda scares me. I don’t know what I will do. I have been thinking of carrying a knife or something while I am down there so that I can defend myself, but one story I read said they were pepper spraying people. A weapon is almost useless if you can’t see what you are aiming at. I guess I will do more research and prepare myself.
As always thanks for reading and I hope to see you Friday for photo of the week.
When some comics are first starting out, they are already looking at what movie roles to take and the theaters they are going to play. It seems like you can just get up there like you are at a cookout with your friends and just blast funny (some can do that), but when they get up there they realize they have to do more than that. Writing material is the most important part of being a comic and no matter if you keep it in your head or write it into a moleskin, The first five minutes seems to be the toughest, but with a little encouragement you may be able to get there very soon.
The first five minutes are important because it will get you in the habit of how your brain works to get material into the mic. It’s also important because a great five minutes can help with your confidence and it can help you get more stage time in front of paying crowds. When you first start out though, this may seem tough. What do you write about? What’s funny? That should not really be the thing on your mind. What you should be thinking is: What do I find funny? Write about the things that you think are funny. Are you one that observes things and wonder why that is? Start there! You got funny stories (more on that in a future article)? Then go there! You have to go where you would naturally go. If you’re a down to earth person that follows politics then the absurd might not be your natural train of thought to getting something funny out.
Ok, so you got material scribbled down all over the place. Here is where the heavy lifting comes in. You have to take it somewhere to ensure it is funny. If you know someone that will let you on stage and try them then try them, but remember: Not every joke will be a killer. That is the nature of comedy. Not everything YOU think is funny will make EVERYONE laugh. That doesn’t mean you’re stupid or anything. That means it might not work on a level that a group of people would get. If you are in a larger city then I suggest getting on a site like badslava and getting all the open mic times and going through them all. This is a great thing because you will encounter many different types of audiences and get a feel on what it takes to make all of them laugh. Most importantly it will let you know what jokes work for the most amount of people.
Depending on how much you write this could be very easy or an endless sea of bombing at open mics. Either way you will have to get that first five under your belt. There are some things to remember about your first five though. It has to hit HARD. You can’t be up there chilling like you are Louis C.K. working on a new special. If people see you up there with a 4 minute story with a weak ass punchline to top it off they will see through that. They think you are just padding your one worthwhile joke between 4 minutes of filler. because it is your first five, try to shave all the extra words out. Instead of talking about sitting on the porch on a Sunday afternoon after eating just talk about being on the porch (unless Sunday, afternoon or eating is important to the joke).
I had to learn all this stuff the hard way. No one would tell me this stuff because most comics are trying to advance and so some treat advice like proprietary information. I hope this helps new comics with getting together what I think can be the hardest of all material. For instance: you will be judged based on how a lot of comics first see you. If they think you suck that means less chances to perform in front of more and more audiences. Thanks and check back in next week where we talk about that tight 15!