Starting Out: The Feature Set

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.



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