This series is designed to be a four week course to develop a new 5-minute comedy set. We have a wide variety of experience and each week, students maybe at different points of developing their routines. Below is our basic FOUR step process to developing the routine. The class is mostly there for STAGE TIME and feed back, learning how a comic thinks, performance technique plus networking, learning from other comics etc. Every comic needs to grow at their own pace. We are hear to support and nurture that process. Drop by any class for just $25. Or pay $75/month (FOUR classes). Regular students invited to monthly showcases.
EVERY CLASS, EVERY OPEN MIC, EVERY SHOW
Before we look at step one or my four step process to developing new material, lets look at what you will do at every step. This is for total beginners or experienced comics. This is the formula to growing as a comic and not being one that watches the world pass them by.
PREPARE YOURSELF: Get your self ready to perform. Brainstorm Ideas, Brainstorm Details, Outline Ideas or Add some Funny. Set yourself up to succeed. I have study guides, one-pager writing prompts for each step to guide you.
GET ON STAGE: Focus on HAVING FUN! Don’t try to be funny. Don’t try to be clever. Just talk, share you ideas, and most importantly LISTEN. Stand Up comedy is a one on one conversation with crowd. RECORD EVERY SET.
ANALYZE YOUR WORK: This is when the real work starts. Tear the work apart. NEVER TEAR YOURSELF APART. This is not about ego or insecurity. Break down the good, the bad, the ugly in the most objective manner. Review video of your work. Write down any improvised lines that got a laugh. We will want to repeat these again and again. Ultimately the goal is to have EVERY word/phrase lead to a laugh. Don’t force this process, as you will find later, we want to FIND THE FUNNY. When we try to be funny/clever, we end up being jerky and/or disconnected. The best comedy insights come from the discovery process of improv as well as trial and error.
STEP ONE: Brainstorm Ideas
Create a list of 5-10 ideas. When brainstorming ideas, don’t edit, don’t try to be funny, don’t try to be clever. Simply jot down anything that pops into your head. I like to say VOMIT ideas onto the paper. GROSS I know. Let the volcano of creativity flow out of control at this stage.
As a writing prompt, write down a word or two to reflect ANY idea that pops into your mind when you think of things that you experienced or observed at home, school, work, shopping, on vacation, transportation, etc. Anything happen at the park, the bank, on the bus, train, airplane…? What annoys you, angers you, saddens you, makes you happy, makes you laugh etc?
GET ON STAGE
Keep working this list until it is your turn to share. Get on stage, stand in front of the class, or take focus on ZOOM. Simply read off your list and/or start sharing the story reflected on your list. Just talk. HAVE FUN. LISTEN to yourself and the audience response.
ANALYZE THE WORK
OK, now what? The second you get off stage start reflecting the past few minutes. Skip the ego/insecure responses. Those are a waste of your time and energy. Jump right in on the questions: WHAT WORKED? WHAT FELL FLAT? WHAT PEAKED INTEREST BUT…?
At this stage we are merely looking for a connection to certain ideas. We are not expecting any of the ideas to be comedy gold, not yet. For now, what stories connected to you or the audience? What stories completely fell flat? What stories held their attention? At what points did the flake out and start checking their phones, etc? Don’t take these responses personally. This process is not exciting enough to hold everyone’s attention, with rare exception. (VERY RARE).
This is the time we edit our list. From your list of 5-10 ideas, cut it down to 1-3 to focus in the next step. You can go back and use the other ideas next week/class session. Make a choice. Which ideas inspire you to dig further?
STEP TWO BRAINSTORMING DETAIL
Let’s flush out some things to enrich our stories. At this point focus on what really happened.
WHO are the characters involved? You are probably the main character of the story. List all the characters involved. Consider the extras in your story as well. Extras in TV/Film are those non speaking characters. Every story has extras. In a play, we often have to imagine the other people in the world not represented by actual actors. For the sake of this exercise, what did these seeming non consequential do? Did they ignore the action of the story? Did they stop and stare? How did they react? They may or may not be discussed in your story but they do set the tone of how you tell the story. For the main and secondary characters, go into some detail. Who are they and how do they relate to you/each other? List their character traits, moods, clothing etc.
WHERE did the story take place? Describe the location, include how it felt – cluttered v open space, hot v cold, wet v dry, light v dark etc. All these things effect our character and paint the picture for our audience.
WHAT happened? Brainstorm details regarding the actions of the characters. what changed, what stayed the same as a result of the actions.
GET ON STAGE
Now re-share the same stories from previous sessions, armed with all these new details. HAVE FUN! Just talk. Don’t try to be funny/clever.
ANALYZE YOUR WORK
Again, tear the work, NOT YOURSELF, apart. From all the new details, which just cluttered the point of the story and which helped shape the story towards funnier outcomes and understanding.
STEP THREE: FIND THE FUNNY
NOW I want you to think about how can we make these stories more funny. Too often students/amateur comics skip to this step. There are many ways to make your stories funnier. Consider technique such as MAGIC THREE, combining stories/characters into a single crazy life episode, exaggerating details, solving the problem, writing the line you wish you would have said or the action you wish you would have taken, etc. Again we have a full study of ideas but every routine/comic is unique and this is where we do this most work with our students to enhance their work.
ALSO start to consider your presentation skills. Sometimes a story becomes funnier simply by finding the right tone and rhythm of the moment. Play with tempo/pace of the delivery, find places to get louder/softer, higher/lower pitched. And when in doubt heighten the attitude of the moment.
GET ON STAGE
Share the SAME story/stories again with the new takes.
ANALYZE THE WORK
Once again identify from new and repeated work, what is leading to laughs, what is delaying the funny unnecessarily, bogging us down with unfunny, unnecessary set-up, etc.
STEP FOUR: OUTLINE ROUTINES
From now one while working on this routine we will continually repeat Steps 3 & 4.
Continue to Find the Funny. Every time you are about perform, look for new ways to punch up the laughs. Suck out the dead space of unnecessary set-up and details, punch up the exaggerations, the attitude, re-adjust rhythm/pitch/volume for to keep you audience on their toes etc.
OUTLINE your work. Set yourself up to succeed by organizing your thoughts. Start considering your opening and closing line, as well as a general order of major points you ant to make. You can put this on the stool or just to the side of your camera on zoom as a guide. If you flake out for a moment, this list will help keep you on track with today’s game plan.
EVERY TIME you take stage from now on make an outline of the routine fresh.
GET ON STAGE
Execute the plan.
ANALYZE YOUR WORK
Continue to reflect the good, the bad, the ugly. What new stuff worked or fell flat?
STEP FIVE: WASH RINSE REPEAT
The rest of your life as a comic will continue the above steps. Every time you need to develop new material, go all the way back to step one. Every time you retell the same routine, go back to steps three and four. Every time you get on stage is a chance to grow as a comic. Every time you waste this time you sip backwards. There is no such thing as a plateau in the arts. Every perceived plateau is a back slide. Make the conscious choice to look for new ways to make people laugh.
Unlike a Broadway show, with its closing nights, or a TV/FILM shoot with its final days on set, your comedy material is always in flux. Over years you will find certain stories get stale. You can choose to retire them from service or revamp to find new life. If you get to a certain level, a comic with a new comedy special every year, you will developing new material constantly. The pros go back to step one almost every week.
At the club before their set, or at the diner, or on the subway en route, you will see a comic with their journal, or sometimes scribbling on a cocktail napkin, their list of 5-10 ideas.
Don’t try to be Dave Chappelle on day one. Most comics will never be Dave Chappelle on their death beds. But even Chappelle spends 100s of hours in the clubs working new ideas.
GET ON STAGE – At some point you will hopefully be paid to get on stage, but until them: take a class, go to open mics, produce a show, start a podcast etc. If you are not finding or given opportunity, create it.
After 20 years in this business there are two type of artists. Those that get on stage, ANYWAY THEY CAN, and those that judge with bitterness as the world passes by them.
Most of the first group eventually work and get paid as comics, writers, producers etc. Not all become famous, most don’t but they can hold their head high knowing they paid their dues and can see the rewards of their efforts – paid spots at clubs, college and corporate gigs.
NONE of the latter group have anything but bitterness.
MAKE CHOICES, NEVER EXCUSES!