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Winging It: The Biggest Performance Mistake

I was recently at a show that was packed and had great energy.

Those are really the best rooms: the energy supports comics versus working against them; it was the perfect room for every comic to crush their set and have a good night...or so I thought.

Prior to the show, I had asked several of the comics if they knew what they would be performing that night on stage. Most said they either had an outline or knew exactly what they wanted to do, but one comic told me “I’m just going to wing it.”

This “wing it” comment made me nervous for her. I know this comic well and “winging it” was rarely ever in her vocabulary. She always knew from start to finish what she wanted to perform; hell, she even knew the timing down to the minute for each joke.

When she got up on stage, her first joke fell flat and she could not recover (she essentially bombed from start to finish). It was kind of painful to watch because she came off very amateur which is so not her skill level. This made me realize that you can never really “wing it” in comedy.

Here’s why.

“Winging it” is the definition of “lazy” for comics.

Comedy is a strange art form. For performers to be successful, you have to know your own jokes down to the last word. At the same time, you have to make sure it doesn’t look you’re saying it for the first time. On top of that, the material and how you perform has to catch people’s attention and you only have about thirty seconds to a minute to do that before the audience checks out. That’s a difficult feat and takes a certain level of commitment to be able to execute efficiently.

Here’s the thing, audiences are aware your joke is probably not the first time you’ve told it, but they want to be made to feel like it is. This takes a lot of preparation and planning to not only figure what you’re going to perform but also HOW you’re going to perform it. “Winging it” promotes a lazy approach where even your best bits are likely to come off as unpolished and your jokes don’t do as well as they could have. It’s kind of the equivalent of a comic performing unpolished material at an open mic, it’s just now being brought to a real stage.

People notice when you are being lazy.

Whether it’s the audience, comics, or the producers of the show, people know when you are “winging it” and it’s not a good thing. There’s a saying that “people remember bad events more than than good events.” This is a common principle for comedy shows because there’s always going to be that weak link and you’ll be remembered for the wrong reasons. Chances are someone in that room is paying attention and when you take the approach of just doing whatever, it leaves a question mark. I guarantee you that people, whoever it is, will question you on many things: do you care? Are you just being arrogant or expectant with your comedy? You never want that to happen just because you decided it was cool to come unprepared. Even the greatest comics come prepared and you have to follow that mindset; at the very least it will lead you somewhere, even if you bomb.

A lazy approach to performance leaves no room for direction and what you get out of performance is what you put into it. It will always be a quick lesson to come prepared. That’s really the only benefit you get out of “winging it.”

Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!

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