Your Set Is Boring
As a producer for Comedians on the Loose, there are certain things I am asked on a continual basis:
“How do I get on your show?”
“How do you book such strong talent?”
“What do you look for in a comedian?”
The reality of it is these questions center around one thing which is getting a spot in the future.
I don’t blame or look down on a comic for asking about the booking process, but as I have shared information and received a plethora of booking submissions, one common theme is consistent among new and seasoned comics. The set is just boring.
I wrote a blog a while back discussing the basics of a submission tape and while many found it helpful, there were parts that needed elaboration when it comes to the actual set.
Now, I’m not saying I’m the expert for comedy and joke writing, but as someone who books a club show and takes an objective approach to casting it has allowed me to be more analytical with what is presented.
If your set is labeled as “boring,” these might be the reasons why.
The material is superficial.
I can remember as far back as a month ago, I received about four submission tapes in one day.
Unlike some submission recipients that only view the first two minutes or pass over without watching, I genuinely take the time to review the entire set. This day was painful to watch because I was bored to death. Every comic that submitted ranged from political to observational to the not believable “I’m such a whore” story. None of these submissions left me feeling like I could connect to the comic because the material presented in each tape didn’t feel like something that was the true core of the person. For the most part the material was just an assumed layer.
I always say superficial jokes have a shelf life for how much they’ll work. Topical and political humor is the best example of this (these jokes only work for a certain amount of time and only certain comics can do them), but even observational humor is tricky because you have to have a real connection to make it work.
If you’re writing a joke, make sure it’s something authentic to you. No one wants to hear a “Trump is bad” punchline because it’s superficial.
The jokes are obvious.
One major element of joke writing I learned from a professional comic is that a joke has to paint a picture and take the audience somewhere they don’t expect in order to be funny. Humor is supposed to spark a reaction and formulating obvious jokes only allows for a reaction you don’t want.
For example, the harshest moment I have EVER witnessed was a comic on a bar show in Queens. The joke went “I had to put down my dog...he was getting heavy.” While most settings would produce a mild reaction or no reaction a drunk bar patron yelled out “WHAT WAS THAT, BITCH?!”
Clearly not the ideal setting for a comedy show, but I had to agree. That was a lame joke and the disapproval was earned.
You’re not putting your “all” into the performance.
I cannot say this enough, but energy really is the deciding factor of whether a joke will land or flop. You can have some of the best-written jokes of all time, but if you aren’t putting your all into them when it comes to performance time expect it to fall flat.
I had to learn this the hard way and recently revisited some old jokes that I had my fun with years ago. At the time these jokes were written I had much lower energy compared to now. I got my laugh, but I wasn’t willing to be as intense and perform act outs like I am now. After revisiting these jokes with new energy and some revisions I realized that what I thought was my “all” back then was only like 60% of my performance style today and it was comparatively boring.
The impact of those jokes changed with my higher energy versus the energy I had years ago. Those are the growing pains of being a young comic, but even for a seasoned comic, you know when you’re holding back and we’re our own harshest critics. It’s likely those who leave the stage knowing they could have done better. This isn’t a debate about whether high or low energy is better; there are all different types. It’s about confidence in your performance style. When you are confident you can truly own the energy behind the jokes versus just saying them.
Now, no one is expecting you to be perfect straight out the gate. It takes time to develop a set that is true to you that will also register with audiences. Just learn to be self-aware and know if improvements should be made. Complacency is the killer for any aspiring comedian.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!