Form 2: Exposition
In the last post I examined Form 1: Narration which is the most common form used by comedy jugglers. Today I’ll explore the second form which is less popular but no less effective, Form 2: Exposition.
A juggler tells a series of jokes before performing a single trick or short juggling routine*
* Often these jokes are explaining and connected to the trick but not always.
For an example of this form in action watch this! From 3:40-6:06.
Form 2 is the more difficult of the two forms to execute. It requires that your comedy be strong enough to stand on it’s own AND for the trick to be “worth the wait”. However, if you can succesfully pull it off the Exposition Form is very strong and has a lot of applications.
This form is great for building suspense and tension and can turn a short trick or idea into a full routine. Exposition is defined as a “comprehensive description of an idea” and it’s in following that definition that the form really shines. Using this form, the performer gets to control the audience’s experience of a trick. The performer is able to make sure that every part of the trick is understood, and the public is able to really understand what would normally pass in a few seconds. A lot of juggling tricks are hard to understand on the first pass. This form gives the audience enough time to comprehend what is about to happen, and therefore enjoy it more.
Because most comedy juggling follows the Narration Form, using this form can be a great way to change the tempo of the show. A lot of finale acts are built using this form because it naturally heightens the tension and it points towards an end.
Just like Form 1, this form has its weaknesses.
Many comedy jugglers who use this form take advantage of the lack of action to start and stop the trick multiple times. You announce what you’ll be doing, make some jokes and then start to do the trick, but right before you do you remember something, and tell some more jokes, and so on. That style done well is great but it’s a narrow margin between “I can’t wait for the trick” and “Just do it”. It can be hard to know if you are doing it correctly but if you listen, an audience will tell you. They’ll shout out things like “Just do it”. Try your best to listen to them and adjust.
This form also promotes “talking while juggling”.Because you’re describing what is about to happen you start to just say dialogue that is explanatory but isn’t necessarily funny. While writing routines using this style pay attention to every line and make sure they are jokes, and not just pieces of text.
A lot of jugglers will often over-explain the tricks using this method and will leave no surprises for the audience.This is a lot like watching the preview for a movie and then the preview gives away the ending, the best joke, and the twist.
In my own show I perform the classic mouthstick trick with a bottle and a balloon. You balance the bottle on top of the balloon on the mouthstick and then pop the balloon. You catch the bottle (0r if you’re really classy, a candelabra) on the mouth stick, and then bask in the glorious applause.
I used the Exposition Form for that routine and I used to go into great detail about popping the balloon. I had some great jokes about it and really liked the whole thing. However, one day I forgot the whole sequence of balloon popping jokes and I set up the balance, and they applauded the simple act of balancing the bottle on top of the balloon on the mouth stick. Then I pulled a dart from my pocket and the whole audience gasped and I thought “Shit, I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time”.
I had to kill some of my darlings, but it was worth it in the end to leave a bit of the story out of the exposition so it could be revealed during the trick part. Which brings me to my first variation on the standard Form 2.
The Bait & Switch
Exposition can be used to educate an audience or to speed along a narrative, but it can just as easily be used to obfuscate or mislead. Build a comedy routine that appears to be describing one thing but then when it comes time to actually perform the trick you, perform something completely different. The Bait & Switch turns the entire routine into one elaborate joke. All of the jokes leading up to the trick are the premise and set-up while the trick itself serves as the punchline. It’s all about creating an expectation and then shattering it.
While hip hop owes its life to the Get-Down most of modern comedy owes its life to The Let-Down. Create some expectations and never deliver on them. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and rarely expected. Build a routine that leads up to a big trick but when it comes time to deliver on that promised feat…move on. Skip it. End the show.
Alternatively, you can do the easier version of The Let-Down and return to the trick later in the show.
Comedy juggling has two foundational forms: Narration & Exposition.
The Exposition Form or Form 2 creates tension and leads up to a clear final moment.
If you are not vigilant, Form 2 can come across as boring or as stalling.
Much like Form 1, this form hasn’t been explored and is ripe for interpretation.