Most comedy jugglers don’t spend too much time in comedy clubs. Increasingly though, comedy jugglers are acting more like comedians. There is a trend towards more joke heavy routines and comedy jugglers are juggling less and less. The entry level gigs for comedy jugglers tend to be things like street performances, fairs, and festivals. There isn’t a strong connection to comedy clubs and some of the things that are common place for comedians are rare in the world of comedy juggling. Here is a list of 5 things that comedians do that you should be doing too.
1. Have a Set List
This is pretty basic stuff for comics but something I’ve rarely seen jugglers do. It’s a super simple concept: it’s a list of the bits and jokes you intend to perform. Comics will tape it to monitors, or have it on cards, or more commonly leave it on the stool as they enter the stage. It’s a simple way to stay focused and on point. If you have new jokes you want to try in the show but regularly forget to try them because once the show gets started you go into “show” mode and forget. Set list. If you are prone to interacting with the audience and improvising but sometimes lose track of your place in show. Set List. Or perhaps you have hours of material and need to remember what finale you and your partner are doing? Set list. The set list can help you remember new things you want to try, it can remind you of the show order, and it can help you stay focused.
2. Take Water Breaks
Comedians know how to take a break and how to drink some water (or whatever). This isn’t really about water though. It’s about silence. Good comics aren’t afraid of silence. They’ll let a big joke land and then let it settle as they take a sip of water and get ready for the next bit. They don’t feel the need to fill every down beat. It’s also a great way to avoid unnecessary transitions as it acts as a kind of natural reset button. It helps ease any feelings of abruptness.
Water breaks are also great ways to get out of saying something you shouldn’t, to peek at your set list, and all sorts of other business. Once during a show I said something I shouldn’t have and while the audience laughed I took a long drink of water while shaking my head, that made the audience laugh more. Going to take a drink of water is a natural theaterical break, opening up the show to asides and serving as a way to change the rhythm of the show.
3. Use A Hand Held Microphone
Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to use a hand held properly. It’s a skill. You should practice it. Handhelds are also cheaper, more expressive, and more common than headsets or lav mics. It’s worth investing the time to learn how to use one and to rehearse some acts with a handheld instead of a headset. There will be times when a handheld is your only option and that is one of the time’s you don’t want to be learning on the job. Last summer, I experimented doing street shows in San Francisco and in Santa Cruz with only a hand held and it was terrible. Really tough. By the end of my two weeks though I had a grip (ha!) on it and now I feel pretty comfortable. A handheld changes everything. All of my routines abandoned whatever form they had been built around and every single one became either Form 2: Exposition or Form 3: Alternating.
Watch stand up comedians and watch how they treat their mics. It’s like juggling. It’s like partnership. It’s like a tool. It says “what I am saying is important” as opposed to a headset which says “I’m selling you something” or “I’m lip syncing with a snake”.
The three things you see most often on a stand up comedy stage are a bottle of water, a mic in its stand, and a stool. I’ve seen many comics sit on the stool and talk to the audience and it’s a super effective theatrical device. Comedians also sit with audience members and on the edge of the stage. Comedians know that this is a great way to communicate status, take a break, and alter the focus of the show. Comedy jugglers rarely sit. Unless there is a unicycle involved. This isn’t really about siting. It’s about learning how to use your position on the stage (sitting, lying, standing, etc.) to help communicate with the audience. Think about how often we use someone’s position to describe their emotional state or to help inform them of it: you’re going to want to sit down for this, everyone on their feet, spinning in their grave, it knocked me out flat. How can you use sitting or standing or lying down to help communicate with the audience? Who knows, maybe your jokes about how juggling isn’t great for attracting a girlfriend would be funnier lying on the stage. Or maybe your jokes about being short would hit harder if you were sitting until that point and stood up for the first time to tell your lollipop guild whooper.
5. Get Personal
Most stand-up comedy is highly personal. It’s about the comedians, things they care about, and people they know. It’s that old adage “write what you know”. Which is why most juggler’s jokes are about juggling and how much they hate hypnotists. It’s also why most people don’t know who any comedy jugglers are but could name 20 stand ups. People crave validation of their own experiences and they also want to live vicariously through others. People love when Louie C.K talks about depraved and terrible things because they get relief in knowing they aren’t the only ones who think those things. People love to listen to Amy Schummer because they wish they could be so free with themselves and their bodies. It’s easy to write jokes about juggling, it’s much harder to write jokes about your life and experiences. Challenge yourself to bring more of…well…yourself to your shows. It doesn’t matter if you are performing for kids and joking about your own experiences with cooties or revealing to an audience in a club that you take steroids and think about abandoning your family. The more honest your comedy the better. Aren’t you sick of re-writing your own version of “kids don’t try this at home, try it at school”?