How to improve your tight-5 set

You’re working on perfecting your best 5-minute comedy set. Who knows what’s around the corner when that’s ready — Fame? A Netflix special? A drink ticket?

Here are some things to work on.

Know where you expect the audience to laugh. Often newer comics will do material about an amusing topic and expect that to have the audience cackling. It won’t. You need punchlines to get a response. You should know exactly in your set where the audience will laugh.

It’s also possible they’ll laugh at unexpected parts and won’t laugh where you expect them to. That’s comedy. It’s hard.

But if you think the whole dang bit is hilarious and the audience will be laughing from start to end, odds are they won’t laugh at all.

Extend your punchlines. You have a joke that works and gets consistent laughs. You’re not done yet. What can you do to tag that joke and keep the laughs going? Can you do a callback to it later in your set?

I do a bit about taking my wife to Waffle House when she is expecting a fancy dinner experience. A punchline is “So I took her to Waffle House.” (Laugh) I could quit there. I add, “She experienced three fights in the parking lot.” (Laugh) “She won all 3.” (Laugh). “Two were with me.” (Laugh).

Your jokes should always be a work in progress. Keep tinkering and adding laughs.

Avoid racial jokes. If you have been doing comedy less than three years and have jokes that rely upon, the race, nationality or skin color of someone else, ditch the joke. Wait until you have more experience and hard-won judgment if that’s the direction you want to go.

Keep the audience on your side. Generally, audiences bond with comics who are likable and confident. Among topics that can quickly lose half or more of the audience are political jokes, using the r-word and making jokes at the expense of the homeless.

You can feel the audience pull back when these bits are trotted out. So, unless that’s your goal, be careful with them.

Let the audience know you. Try to write jokes that are true to you and your unique experience. Anyone can tell a joke about dating apps. You can connect better with the audience if they get a sense of you. It will also make it less likely that you wind up with jokes similar to other comics.

Be open to feedback. You may love your joke, but it’s the audience who ultimately decides. When on stage be realistic. Did your punchline get laughs? Or was that really a sneeze? It’s fascinating how so many comics think they crushed when hardly anyone laughed for 5 minutes.

Be open to asking for or accepting suggestions from more experienced comics. Strongly consider doing what they suggest. Or at least thank them for their time.

Get on stage. The best way to get better faster is to get on stage. Take advantage of the open mics and other opportunities to work on your material. You’ll be increasingly more polished, confident and comfortable the more you do it.

Author: Creig Ewing

Writer, comic, cubicle dweller. Louisville Laughs

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