Every year the Sauce heads along to the Raw Comedy heats to catch the country’s up and coming standup acts. And every year, for every amazing comic that gets up on stage, there’s another talented person who needlessly bombs because of a few predictable pitfalls. So for the sake of this year’s upcoming Raw contenders, and newbie standups everywhere, the Sauce has collected a few handy hints for first time comics:
5. Know What a Joke Is
It seems obvious, but it’s one of the biggest mistakes made during heats. A first timer (or even fifth timer) gets up and reels off an amusing anecdote, to near silence. It’s not that what they’re saying isn’t funny, it’s just that it’s not delivered in the form of a joke.
This is how a joke looks: Setup, punchline. Setup: “I wondered why the frisbee was getting bigger“. Punchline: “And then it hit me.” Simple.
By having a clear punchline it gives the audience a signal to laugh, and gives you a few second breather to work out where you’re headed next. It doesn’t have to be that short. It just has to be clear where the “you laugh now” part happens.
It also helps to know that a simple joke normally relies on a surprise or unexpected turn. Let people think you’re leading them in one direction, then pull a handbrake turn at the last second.
If this point has already caused you to freak out, have a read of this, this and this for some more in-depth help on telling jokes. If your act is something new and edgy, that’s cool too. As long as you’re not just going to get up and reel off the kind of stuff that makes your mates laugh, which brings me to:
4. The Audience is Going To React Differently to Your Mates
You’re not telling jokes to your close friends in private anymore, you’re trying to make an audience of strangers from all walks of life laugh, and there’s a big difference. The audience doesn’t know you. You’re not going to win the competition because you said something about Dazza’s trip to Thailand which Dazza, Tezza and Johnno all find hilarious.
3. Don’t Play “The Creep” To Get A Laugh
Please. For the love of god. Don’t.
Sure a world famous comedian can joke about how they’re basically a sex offender. That’s called irony, because we all know that world famous comedian (hopefully) isn’t one.
You on the other hand, Raw contendee, have just walked in off the street, picked up a microphone and told everyone you oggle small children in your spare time (yes, sadly I have seen this bit done more times than I care to remember during Raw heats). You know you’re not actually a monster. But the audience doesn’t. For all we know you could be telling the truth, and without the certainty you’re being ironic, you’re just not going to get a laugh.
It amazes me how many people don’t plan ahead for when things don’t pan out perfectly. The light comes on signalling time is up but you’re only halfway through your set. You didn’t plan for this, so you keep pushing on till they drag you off forcefully.
Plan for everything. Plan for mic failure. Plan for an almost empty venue. Plan for ignoring drunk heckles. Plan for what you do if you forget your place. Stalling in silence can cost you your heat, a crafty save can win you it. Plan. Plan. Plan. Then plan more.
1. Google Your Jokes
If I hear one more person get up on stage and unintentionally steal a famous Seinfeld bit, or use the “Shampoo, why not real poo!?” line, or come out and repeat “Hey, how about the immaculate conception eh, there’s a lie that got really out of hand!” I’m going to stab myself in the eye just to mix things up a bit.
Every single year there will be a contestant who will come out on stage and repeat a fairly obvious joke that has already been told that night. Hell, I even once heard a guy get up and repeat a joke that was in one of the judge’s regular sets. I don’t even need to tell you that guy didn’t make it past the first round.
Keep in mind it’s also an extremely popular choice to open with an introduction of where you’re from (say Western Sydney) and then follow that up with a gag (Land of the Uggboots!). Just remember, there will be probably five other people each night from your area, opening with the exact same premise, so try to keep it original.
On this topic last year’s NSW state finalist Sophia Roberts has a helpful tip:
0. Remember To Have Fun
At the end of the day, there’s only going to be one Raw winner, and if you don’t win, hey there’s always next year. Have a chat with your fellow contestants (who knows you might be chatting with the next Adam Hills), grab a drink with the crowd after the show, and just enjoy your time in the spotlight. Everyone knows it’s a competition with plenty of fresh faces, and remember, Jerry Seinfeld never won Raw comedy, and his career hasn’t been that bad considering.
Special thanks to Michael Hing, Sophia Roberts and James “Has Never Won Raw Comedy” Colley for their input.