I guess it’s a sign that my last post – about needing to work on some new material – was right on target: I didn’t make the cut at the San Diego’s Funniest Person preliminary level earlier this month. I listened to my recording and there were laughs, even good laughs, at most of the places I expected. My biggest laugh of the evening was an improvised line that referenced a previous comedian’s set.
So I came home that night and started working on material for the open mic at the Comedy Palace for this evening. My challenge was to do three minutes with nothing I’ve done on stage before. I wrote a new opener about the fact that I get stage fright (yes, I really do) and some new stuff about Burning Man. I ended up using a few lines that I performed once before, but for the most part, I feel like I met the challenge.
And it went over….. not well. Listening to my recording, I can tell I was a little flat, but not extraordinarily so. I’m guessing the subject was a little too esoteric. I want to do material about Burning Man, but I still haven’t made it accessible yet. And I think I’m going to adapt the stage fright bit a ‘saver’ for when I really do have it.
Two times on stage, two strikes. Next week, I’ll be at Morty’s in Indianapolis, so I will open and close with ‘tried and true’ material because I don’t want three strikes in a row, but I’ll slip some new stuff in as well.
Yes I’ve noticed it too.
If you’ve looked at the videos on my website, you may notice that I’ve been using certain material quite a bit for a long time. By itself this isn’t a bad thing – even Carlin had bits that he used for years – but I realized I’m using it for the wrong reason. I don’t do it because it’s edgy (it’s not). I don’t do it because I think it’s the best I can do (I don’t).
I do it because, more often than not, it’s successful. Yes, I tweak it every now and then and yes, I try to put something different into each set, but the bottom line is that I’m playing it safe on stage. When I do a scheduled show (or an open mic out of town for that matter), I feel some pressure to make a good impression and often fall back on the same tried-and-true material.
I spend a fair about of time putting together each show, because I don’t want to do exactly the same thing twice. Still, I’m at a point in my comedy career where I can do a decent 10 minute set with no warning if asked. I might be able to do 12 or 15 at last minute and be “OK”, but if I try to stretch much beyond that, I’m digging for bits with only one punchline or setups that are too long for the payoff. That’s not good enough to move beyond the “hobby” stage of stand-up. The material I’ve been doing won’t get me a 20 minute opener spot.
So after the San Diego’s Funniest Person contest tomorrow, I’m going to allow myself to fail. I’ll do more open mics and fewer scheduled shows. I will keep the scheduled shows polished, but at the open mics, I’m going try some material that still needs to be forged in the fire of audience reaction. A big fear of mine is getting on stage with nothing prepared, so I will summon the courage to try no material, i.e. just chatting with the audience and seeing what I come up with on the spot
And I will fail. I expect to have some epic “why did I bother to get on stage” moments. But I hope to learn from those moments how to create new successes.
So please bear with me. I’m failing now so I can succeed later.