The Pros and Cons of Set Lists

I have always been of two minds about set lists. If you don’t know, a set list is what (in this case at least) a comedian brings on stage with a list of the jokes they want to tell. I used them early on, but decided to abandoned them so I could work a bit more organically. Lets look at the good and bad and have you decide what you should do before you step on stage.


  • Keeps new jokes, that you haven’t memorized yet, at the ready
  • Ensure you keep certain jokes together that would ruin a flow if they were separated
  • For those that have trouble remember most of their jokes, this can kick start your memory


  • Makes it harder to work organically within the show
  • Can become a crutch and keep people from memorizing their material
  • Can look unsightly when a comedian looks down and stares at the stool

The way I see it, if you are at an open mic, or working with a lot of newer jokes, then you may want to use a set list so you can keep the jokes you want to do at the ready. There is nothing weirder then a comedian that gets on stage at an open mic and can’t remember the jokes they wanted to tell.

I think it is important to have some etiquette when it comes to a set list. Don’t write your set on a big piece of paper and bring that up with you (talking about shows, take whatever up at an open mic). It looks like you are not prepared. Don’t write the entire joke on the paper. Just the title (if it has one) and a couple of words to jump start your memory. The set list shouldn’t be there for you to read and recite your jokes, it is there as a handy reminder.

Another thing worth trying is hiding your set. I have seen comedians put it on their beer or water bottle. That way when you take a drink you can look at it. When I am using a set list, I will right the title on a comment card or something and leave it on the stool. While I am prancing around on stage I can take a quick peek at it and see where I am supposed to be going next.

There is nothing wrong with a set list as long as you remember that it is supposed to help you remember material, not replace your memory all together. The audience doesn’t want to see a comedian spending most of their time reading a note card when they are supposed to be performing. Just think about what you would think of if you saw a comedian doing that.


What I Learned From A Comedy Class

The local comedy club had a comedy class and it was revealed later that it was mandatory if you wanted to work at the club.  I was going regardless, but a lot of people wondered what a class like this would entail.  Would it try to sway the way we write jokes?  Would it try to brainwash us?  Would the lunch be satisfactory?  These were just a few of the inquiries that were floating around before the date of the class. I just wanted to go over some things that I got out of a class of this nature.

The class was ran by comedian Cory Michaelis.  I’ve known him for several years, and he is a former teacher turned comedian.  That background helped him build a class to teach those looking to give comedy a shot. The class he was teaching us was a bit more advanced. What I thought was really cool was how, at the very start of the class, he told us that he was not assuming to be an expert, just someone that through experience as a teacher and comedian, could deliver it in a fruitful way.  That is how I run this blog.  I am not a big time comedian, just a guy that has seen a lot of stuff and wanted to share that information.  I think a lot of people were wondering what gave him the right to teach a class when he doesn’t have whatever credit needed to be seen as a “real” comedian.  He was headlining the club this past weekend, but I got the feeling that a lot of people wanted appearances on late night and stuff like that.

He started off with the simple stuff.  Premises, punchlines, tags.  The stuff that people claim to know about, but when you ask them about it they don’t have a firm grasp of these concepts.  We saw videos of people using techniques that were taught, giving you thorough understanding of each thing taught.  He then went into hosting, and asked for any questions.  I thought it was a great class and I took away quite a lot of information.

I am always trying to write more material.  I got a couple of tips on how to make that happen more than just those eureka moments.  I learned more about hosting (one of my many weak areas), and what is required of a good host.  I was able to see techniques applied to actual jokes, and I learned a lot more about why my emails probably were not getting answered.  All in all I think it was worth my money.

Sadly, I also learned some not good things from this comedy class and it has nothing to do with the club, or the teacher.  Spokane, like I have said before, is pretty much an island when it comes to performers.  We are here with no other large cities around for hundreds of miles.  That means that a lot of people have a warped sense of where they are in the grand scheme of the comedy landscape. Before the new club came to town, if you just kept doing alright for a couple of months, you could get paid to perform.  That means that we have a lot of people who have only been doing this for a couple years that have gotten paid and now they think they can take on the world.  When the club came to town a lot of those same people wondered why they were not getting the same work, and instead of turning the critique inward, looked out and tried to find the reason for these failings elsewhere.  When the class was announced a lot of people chimed in that it was fishy because it was aimed at comedians.  Not thinking that maybe it was the club’s way of saying that we were not up to the standards that they are looking for, and that the class could help.  When it became known that the class was needed in order to work a the club, you got a lot of defiance.  This perplexed me.  As some one who has had to sit through orientations and training meetings, it is not unheard of to ask your employees to sit down and see what is required of you.

I was asked why I, a comedian of 12 years, would attend a class on comedy and I think the answer should have been obvious.  I am not an expert at comedy.  I don’t know every single thing there is to know about comedy, so I want to know as much as possible in order to become better. To see fellow comedians look at it not as a chance to get better, but as an attempt to get $25 dollars from them (the discounted price to attend, from $125), seemed short sighted and pretty egotistical.  To assume that you need no direction because you have been paid, or have been doing it for some time is just a weird thing to me.  How do we get better as artists if we don’t sharpen our skills?  How do we move from just getting paid every so often, to having comedy pay our bills, if we are not trying every thing possible to make it happen.  I also think that getting upset over the date (the weekend before the 4th) or the cost, or the fact that it was mandatory, was just a cover for something larger. Comedians are some of the most sensitive people I have ever met, and any affront to their ability to make people laugh is an affront to them and their very being.  So to some, to have someone come in (mind you someone that has a successful club that is one of the best in the nation), and tell them they need to work on their comedy is a slap in the face, and that saddens me.  It saddens me because I am a champion of a lot of the comedians in this city, and to see that they don’t want every little edge possible to be the best they can be is disheartening.  It’s not the fact that the class cost money, someone had to spend their off time to teach it so it should cost something.  It’s not the fact that it is a class.  We take classes for all sorts of other things and pay way more money for it.  It’s not that it was mandatory. We have all worked places were we had to sit there and listen to someone tell us not to talk about our co worker’s tits, and to not steal the bandages (this was orientation for a job I had at the VA).  It’s about comedians who do not want to admit that they can work on being better then they currently are.  So, one of the biggest lessons I learned is that you can not drag people to their potential. The only career I can control is my own, so I will continue to write, perform, and get better.

Oh, and the pizza we got for lunch was pretty good.

A Letter To The Heckler

Dear Heckler,


I kinda get it.  I kinda know why you do what you do, but I am here to tell you that all the reasons you have piled in your head are wrong.

You may think you are helping the comedian.  You are not.  Being a comedian usually involves writing and rewriting and performing and rewriting and crying and rewriting a joke until it is nice and shiny. That comedian that you paid between nothing and $20 to see has been working on that material for so long that they know it front to back.  The last thing they need is someone yelling in between the joke. Why?  Because it throws off their timing.  Timing is important to comedians because it helps then know when they should do things like continue with the material or wait for the thunderous applause to end (one can hope). You screaming things does not help the comedian.  You hurt them.

You are also not making the show better.  There is a reason you are not on the bill.  You are not a comedian.  You may think you are funny, but that is the alcohol and ego talking.  You don’t know what it takes to get up on stage and tell really personal things about your penis or vagina.  These comedians have given their lives to try to make a room full (hopefully) of people laugh.  You have not.  As a matter of fact, you are actually making the show worse.  To you left and right, are people that paid between nothing and $20 to see a comedian.  They did not come to hear you yell at a comedian from the shadows.  They want what the comedian has to offer, not you musings.

Like I said earlier I kinda get it.  You are usually called the funny person at the shop or office, but you don’t have the balls to get on stage and give it a try, so when you get a couple in you, you feel a need to give it a try now.  Maybe that isn’t you.  Maybe you are the cool guy in the group and now the group is laughing at the comedian instead of commenting on the crease in your slacks.  Maybe you are the lady that has never had people not stare at them and now they are staring at the comedian and that bothers you.  Maybe you are just a loud drunk.  No matter where you fall, you are not needed or wanted at a comedy show. These comedians have gone through enough.  Let them entertain you. That is why you paid between nothing and $20 bucks.  Thanks.


Not really sincerely,

Harry J. Riley IV

P.S.  We also don’t want to hear your racist jokes after the show.

Notes On Stage

Notes on stage are usually frowned upon, but necessary in certain circumstances.  Lets talk about those circumstances.

One time I think you should not worry about your notes on stage is when you are at an open mic. Open mics are for you to work out material.  It is a great thing to be able to look down and make sure you are practicing the jokes the way you wrote them.  That way you can access the joke and see the areas that could be trimmed.  If you just guess the overall theme of the joke you could be going in a completely different direction.

If you are building a new set that is also a good time to bring your notes up on stage.  Here is the thing. You have to be very stealthy about doing that.  I have seen guys pretend to take a drink, so they will grab their drink that is on a nearby stool and while doing so, they will look at their notes.  It doesn’t look natural.  It looks like you are doing a terrible magic trick.  Either learn to make it look more natural, or just add it to your set so it doesn’t look like you are trying to pull one over on the audience.  If you are doing this at an open mic, you don’t have to say anything.  If you are at a paid show, however, you should really try to be a little more sneaky with it.

There are pros that take notes up on stage.  They also do it in ways that the audience doesn’t know that they are keeping track of their set with a set list.  One way that I saw was putting sheets of paper on the floor of the stage.  That way while walking about on stage, the comedian could look down and see what the next joke was.  The only issue with this is you need a stage with monitors or is higher than the audience.  Some comedians use telepromters.  As they tell their jokes, the words appear on a monitor in the audience.  This is expensive so if you are working at a bar, you may not have this available.

Notes are great if you need to keep track of your set or you need to work on new jokes.  Take your notes up, but be careful and try not to use them as a crutch.

Let’s Just Chat

This blog has had it’s ups and downs.  It started out very weakly, until a friend told me to keep at it.  I made it a mission to write something about my experiences with comedy.  My experience is that of an 11 year comedian that lives in Spokane, WA and makes barely enough from comedy to be considered poor.  I have not been on The Last Comic Standing or have been on any late night talk shows.  I am the average comedian just trying to get more work and support what I love very much.  That is why this blog doesn’t cover things like forming your late night set and working at The Laugh Factory.  I’ve never done that.  I have performed in a club in the woods of Northern Idaho.  I have performed in bars where a fight broke out before and after the comedy show.  I have performed in front of 900 people and I have performed in front of two people. I have driving through deserts and I have driving through snow storms.  I struggle to get the email addresses of bookers, and I am afraid of asking my comedic friends for favors.  That is what this blog is about.  The struggles of the comedian that just wants to do what they love for a living.

A lot of things I do are not truly popular.  I have a podcast, a photography business, and comedy and they would all be considered…meh.  This blog gets about 100-200 readers a month.  I book about 1-2 photography appointments every couple of months and my podcast is listened to about 40 people a month. I get booked about 2-3 times a month.  Most people would consider that an utter failure.  I don’t consider it that because it is what makes me get out of bed in the morning.  I like to write (even though I should write more so I can get better at it) I like to do my podcast, and I like to get on stages and make people laugh.  I may not be making 60k a year from comedy, but I enjoy this more than sitting at a desk. That is not to knock people who have normal jobs, that is just to say that I personally could not do it knowing that what I really love to do, what drives me, is right there.

I started writing this blog because I would get newer guys asking me how to do things that no one ever told me how to do.  No one told me how to write a bio.  I had to write it up and see that it was terrible and then read about it and then work from there.  No one told me how to get in contact with bookers.  I was giving an address and I mailed my stuff to them (what I thought they would need).  No one told me what I needed to do to make sure my feature set was something that wouldn’t get me booed off the stage.  I had to go through the stares and sad looks myself.  I’m not saying I did this all on my own. People gave me advice, but I had to ask for it.  So, I decided to just start a blog that people could turn toward and get that info.

If I am an expert in anything it is how it feels to fail.  I have failed a lot.  In love, marriage, parenting, finances, military career, I have sat with my head in my hands, trying to find a way to keep pushing when I was pinned to the ground.  I have given up a lot.  I have, for some reason, gotten back up more. That is life though, not just comedy.  Life is just a series of kicks to the nuts, and it is up to us to decide if we will let it or if we will keep going.  The only reason I have kept going at comedy, and writing, and acting, is because it is one of the few things that brings joy to me.  I can not run away from the things that make me who I am and you shouldn’t either.  I may never be the comedian that I want to be.  I may forever stay booked 2-3 times a month to sparsely attended bar shows, and I may forever be “random guy #2” in a straight to Netflix movie, but those are the things that make me feel alive, and if I turn away from that what would that mean for me?  What do I do when I give up on the things that I love?  This blog does not have all the answers.  It can’t ensure you that one day you will be in a movie with Kevin Hart.  All it can do is help you out and inspire you to keep pushing.  Happy 4th to everyone and have a great week.

Writing Jokes In The Stream Of Consciousness Style

Stream of consciousness, or free writing, is a style in which you are more or less trying to apply thoughts and ideas to a more concrete form.  This can be a useful tool for those that feel as though they are not writing enough in that it separates the need to come up with material there on the spot and handles all ideas as equal. Stream of consciousness can be really good in that distractions like word correction and punctuation is not important.

When talking about this subject, I want you to take into consideration that this will be slightly modified from what authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce did.  Mainly because the purpose of joke writing is to get a joke.  Thoughts and feelings can be taking into account, but the entire idea is to create something that is funny.  The purpose of using this writing style is to get the idea out, not to recite the finished product immediately after writing it.  So lets go into the steps, and remember, modify these to your liking.

In order to get the most of this style, you will likely have to set aside a time (and probably a place) in which you can sit down and focus on writing for a set period of time.  When I am looking to do this, I sit down for about 20-30 minutes a day for say, a week.  Then the first thing that comes to mind you start writing.  This can be hard because most of us write in a way that we close out parts that are either too weird or not in our usual style of joke telling.  It will take some getting used to, but once you get over that mental obstacle, you can then freely write.

The next part is taking this funny ore, if you will, and turn it into funny gold (and yes, I am proud of that turn there).  After you are done writing, it is time to start going through and seeing if there is anything you can turn into a joke.  This sounds hard, but after the first few times, you will get good and seeing where you brain popped out something funny.  Once you have found that thing, you can now try to shape it into a joke.  It may be best to try it out on stage.  That way you can see the extra you can shave off of the material to get a stronger joke.  I like to read it a couple of times and then cut pieces that may not be all that important to getting the joke.  I will then get on a stage and try it a few times.  This is to see if it is consistently funny or something that is very situational.

Before ending, I want to say that this isn’t to replace other ways you go about writing material.  This is a tool that should be used when you feel stuck, or haven’t written in awhile.  There will also be times when even this may not help generate jokes.  That is natural, but your job as a joke writer is to write.  So get to it, and I hope you come up with your next great joke!

Why Joke Stealing Is Wrong

You may think this is a no brainer, but for some, it is a foreign concept, that telling a joke of someone’s is not a cool thing.  If you need an explanation as to why…I will try my best, but if you are a joke thief nothing I say to you will matter, so keep stealing jokes and being a complete foreskin.

Comedians rely on their material to differentiate themselves from other comics.  If one guy is telling a joke on spoons and the other on forks, you may not remember their names, but you can remember them by the material.  When someone steals a joke, that is no longer the case.  That comic’s identity as a performer is gone, and now he is no better different from the hundreds of other comedians out there scratching away at making a living.  When a joke is stolen, the work that another comic put into crafting that material is also taken.  The thief didn’t have to sit through countless open mics and wring out as much laughter as possible with that material.   Their synapses didn’t fire like this comic’s when his mind captured that idea that later became that joke. They just heard the finish product and ran off with it.  Like stealing a wheel of cheese after someone milked the goat and stored the damn thing until it was more than just stinking goat milk.  Like I said earlier, a bag of foreskins.

When someone steals a joke, that means that they do not value comedy.  They do not value the craft of perfecting words to make people feel.  They are lazy and they probably smell of old taco meat.  They are also probably not very funny on their own and needed everything they could get their hands on to be able to get a crowd of people to chuckle.  The worst kinds of joke thieves though are the ones that can’t even tell the joke right.  Do you know how pathetic you have to be to steal a joke and then fuck it up?  What kind of neanderthal swipes someone’s material and then fumbles it up with their big foreskin sucking lips?  Someone who is probably not going to make it in this business as a comic…unless they do…damn famous prick skins.