The Comedy Lightbulb Switch

I’ve been struggling to take another step up in my comedy over the last couple of weeks. I haven’t had any crazy gigs since Bobcat came to Laughs in July. I haven’t been booking myself out much either as the summer is pretty lite and I’m out enjoying the sun while it’s still here. Still, I’m always somewhat working, always asking, what’s next? I was most recently stressing over my audition set for the Vancouver Comedy Festival. I actually did the set twice, once to no one, and other to a booker I may never see again. Long story short, I’m probably not going to Vancouver this year (it’s in 3 weeks). Regardless, a very big development did come out of the audition experience. Here’s the story.

I had recently written a new joke about how nice it is when you get to have sex in the morning, before getting out of bed. I deliver it with more confidence than anything I’ve told before because A) it IS really nice, and B) it actually happened. It really is my favorite new joke. It’s got a great, easy to relate to angle, characters, and fun twist at the end. Because of its energy, I started using it as my opener when I first wrote it. It would start my set with, “I’m having a great week this week because…”, and go into the new joke. This is how I started my second Vancouver audition. The owner of Laughs Comedy Spot takes me aside and says, “Brian, love the new premise, but it really clashes with your other, more self-deprecating stuff. You should really think about changing the voice or moving it around in the set, because as your opener, no one knows whether to feel bad for you or not when you tell a self-deprecating joke later.” As much as I love constructive criticism, I was upset by this comment initially. “It’s my new opener!” I thought to myself. “This is the high energy stuff I should be doing! How dare he suggest I rewrite this!” It wasn’t that dramatic but you get the idea. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. He was right. Time for an experiment.

My next big gig after the audition was opening for a comic named Brad Upton at a casino about 30 mins north of Seattle. I had decided earlier that I would open using my old opener (about my parents naming me BJ) and put the new morning sex joke at the end. I thought it would make a nice storybook ending to my set. “See all these bad things that happened to me? Well it doesn’t matter now, cause I’m doing this” sort of thing. Best part, it worked! Left the stage feeling really good about how my act flowed and how my new joke worked even better as a closer.

But there was still something nagging me about this new joke. It kind of smelled different than my other material. Even as a closer I felt like the audience wasn’t really going to accept this premise after hearing all my previous no-so-confident opinions about everything else. I didn’t want to water down the morning sex material so to speak. I need a way to alter the approach on the rest of my act. Enter my friend Joe Larson. Joe is probably one of the hottest young comedians on the east coast who your probably haven’t seen yet. You will very soon I guarantee it. His act oozes confidence, even when he’s talking about how he’s not, he still is. I wanted some of that in my act. I asked myself, what is Joe trying to say with his material? I wrote it down some of his jokes and the attitude/opinion he delivered them with. Then I asked, what am I REALLY trying to say with my material? Not “what am I saying today” not “what did I write down originally”, but really, to me, deep down inside, why do I care about the premise? What do I care about? I looked at my jokes and then, suddenly, the attitude just started jumping out at me. I was so excited I could barely write it all down (maybe coffee was also to blame). I started grouping jokes into categories based on these various attitudes (which I wrote out as headers) and then segways and setups that had always seemed clunky and void of laughter became obsolete. “I don’t need to tell them this because what I really wanted to say was this…” kind of thing. What was left was the real funny parts to my ideas but none of the “fluff” I had padded it with because I didn’t know how to butt it up against anything else. When I finished hacking, my opener was gone, assigned to a point about 4 jokes into my first section. My closer is, well I might not have one anymore. Everything is a complete mess and, at the same time, more aligned than I have ever seen it before.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to put it any of this into practice yet. This could be an amazing new epiphany or just another detour on my development as a comic. I’ll know in a couple of weeks. Either way, its moments like these that make the creative process something I never want to live without.

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