Learning from experience

billhicks

Here’s a list of observations I’ve made from watching brilliant comics, bad comics, and looking back at my own performances. Take em or leave em. Right now, for me they’re gospel. In other words I disobey constantly, and then desperately seek forgiveness.

  • Stay in the spotlight (if there is one), no matter how blinding. If the light isn’t following you (i.e.: there’s no dedicated lighting guy), you literally disappear once you step out of it.
  • Talk to the audience – not the floor, not that one person you want to convince to laugh.
  • If the audience can’t hear a heckler, don’t respond. Or if you do- repeat the heckle aloud so they know what the hell you’re taking about.
  • Freestyle when necessary.
  • Tell stories, not jokes.
  • Use prosody, facial expressions, movement, accents & characters.
  • Speak audibly and slowly.
  • Vary your emotional tone.
  • Don’t pre-empt, metacritique jokes or performance. This is astonishingly hard to do well, and usually alienates the audience. Don’t beg for laughs, or point out their absence.
  • Delay the punchline. Once the audience knows where you’re going build suspense, allow them to complete the joke for themselves, then satisfy and surprise them.
  • Reward the audience for their attention and approval, but tease the shit out of them too. Condition them like puppies to seek your approval.
  • Try to seamlessly move between bits, use asides and repetition.
  • Use concrete imagery, draw word pictures, tell the audience what things sound, smell and taste like, and implicitly let them know where they occur in space.
  • Always have a great opener. Even if your stuff is narrative based, you need a quick thrill to get the audience going and let them know what to expect.
  • Do some new material (or at the very least a new presentation of old material) at every gig.
  • Have a clean set ready – I don’t have one yet, but I should!
  • Always turn up to a gig ready to perform. Even if you’re not supposed to be on that night, you could end up on the stage.

Enough of my nonsense… Go and read a list by someone who knew what the hell he was talking about.

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