As long as I have been in comedy (five years to be exact), there seems to be this never-ending debate among aspiring comedians when it comes to building your craft: repetition versus variation.
What do I mean by “repetition versus variation?” It’s when we go to open mics to practice material (assuming you have material) and choose a strategy of doing the same set or a different set each time; I’ll often hear comedians on the scene complain about when they see a fellow comedian doing the same set at open mics.
Seeing another comedian do the same set is a non-issue as your craft is personal to you, but it does raise an important question when it comes to comedic growth: should we do the same set or a different each time we practice?
Here are my thoughts.
You have to practice repetition to have a strong foundation.
Personally, I have seen a lot of stand-up comedy from open mics to live shows to televised/internet content and it’s proven that repetition has to be implemented because it creates a foundational set that you can ultimately play around with. It’s glaringly obvious when a comic has not practiced the joke enough; even if they’re extremely likable or overcompensate with their energy, it’s easy to see when a joke is not up to par compared to other jokes in a set.
Think about it. You HAVE to repeat something to get better at it. Performing stand-up is like training your body: each joke symbolizes an individual muscle and each of those jokes in a respective set have to be “worked out” to get stronger and tighter. When all the jokes are at the same level to perform at their best, you are more likely to be able to make that set one of your best sets.
Even if the joke is newer than the others in a respective set, you’ll feel a better sense of security with a whole set that is practiced and prepared because you ultimately know what you are doing with each joke.
Know when to implement variation.
While I am a supporter of repetition, you do need to know when to implement variation into your growth process.
We know new material is PAINFUL to bring out at open mics and can turn a decent rhythm into a clunky mess. These are what open mics are for so we negate as much from this painful experience at a real show. Variation is the only way you will build your set and it’s strategic because you kind of have to look at in a way of creating your hour. From personal experience, I have about fifty minutes to an hour of written material, but if you really cut it down only about thirty minutes of that material is actually tight and I can perform it on a whim. The rest needs to be practiced and worked out so it’s up to par with the rest of the set; however, if I never implemented variation along the way I would have been one of those comics that has been doing the same five minutes the last five years.
If I were offered an opportunity in stand-up that was meaningful, there is no way I’d pull out the unprepared material because those real opportunities aren’t a time to practice growth, they’re a moment to show your best and unprepared material will never be your best material.
Get over the “noise.”
The crux of this “repetition versus variation” comedy scene debate has a lot to with perception on the scene, but also how we feel about ourselves. It’s unnecessary noise that can hinder your personal development.
Just because other open micers have seen your set dozens of times or you’re tired of saying the same jokes for weeks on end, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck. It’s growing pains that we have to experience.
I always look at it in the way of what you’re personal goals are in comedy. Maybe you’re preparing for a show where you do need to know your set to execute at your best and practicing the set would serve some good? Or you’re in a mode of testing out new material? We have to alter our strategy as we go so it fits our current needs. It’s overall about balance and balance can mean different things at different times.
Only you know what is right for your current strategy and discipline is key.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts.