Last year I became more intentional about reviewing my stand up comedy material, more specifically clips of my sets, regardless if I filmed them at shows or open mics. My goal was to become more self aware of my stage presence, joke writing style and a general performance level. I wanted to discover the reason behind why certain jokes are performing better than others, and how I can turn half-baked bits into winners.
I’m not gonna lie, the process hasn't be that easy. Some comics are obsessed with watching their content over and over again, and bless them but, I’m not one of them. External validation has never been that important to me, even though I’m very much aware that being a stand-up comedian requires being accepted by strangers. As someone who is very big on self improvement I recognized that a deep-dive into my work is necessary for further development.
Why record yourself in the first place?
Feedback - When you record your sets and watch them back, you may notice that you do things that you didn’t even realize. This provides the opportunity to correct any potential issues so you go forward knowing that you made necessary adjustments that, over time, create a healthy pattern of writing and performing. When you watch yourself perform you slowly start figuring yourself out and recognize what makes you feel uncomfortable and what is second nature. You gotta check-in with yourself, and even if you decide not to post the clips online, watch them privately or show it to a trusted person for an honest feedback.
Timing - When you get into a habit of reviewing your material on a regular basis you will get better at figuring out how long your jokes really are based on the fact you tested them several times and can estimate their duration. You might not think this is significant but I believe that it is one of the strongest tools in your arsenal. Let’s say you are given an opportunity to perform a 7 minute set. Do you know exactly how many and which jokes you can effectively squeeze in without going over your time or leaving the stage early? You don’t need to know the exact duration but the more precise you are the better control over your bit you’ll have. You can mark jokes as “1:45 - 2 minutes”, and that way you are giving them some flexibility to be stretched out or shortened. I’ve seen several professional comedians talk about the importance of knowing the duration of your joke. They tested their jokes so well that they even know where the laughter will be and how many laughs per minute the joke usually has. Now that is some next level preparation.
Protection - Social media platforms can be a great way to boost one’s exposure. However, jokes can be stolen from less known comedians and used by those who have more exposure and professionally produced comedy specials which makes those less known comedians angry and helpless. When you record your set you have time stamps of when you performed those jokes so in case of theft you have receipts. This might not bring your joke back but at least you can protect your integrity and not be labeled as a joke stealer.
How to analyze your recorded sets?
Choosing when to review your set is a personal preference, however, the sooner the better. You want to be able to catch any mistakes as soon as possible and make adjustments you can utilize in your next performance. I analyze my sets using a 3-step approach.
Listening to audio of my set without watching the video.
When you are relying just on your hearing to judge your set, you’ll be able to notice what stands out in your delivery. You might catch the overly used fillers like “uh” or “um” that can distract even the most engaging audience. As comedians, we use these fillers as a way to say something, anything, while we’re thinking of our next point. Try replacing these fillers with silence, “the pause” that can be very effective in stand up but a lot of comics are nervous to create that break in their set. I found that a well-timed break in speaking can help strengthen a point, letting it sit with the audience before moving on to the next joke. Listening to the audio will also help you catch audience reactions and tweak your set accordingly. You will also notice that you are getting too self conscious about your voice. You might not even believe that you sound like that but here’s the truth. When you hear yourself live and not on the tape you’re hearing yourself through your skull bones and your chest cavity which is why your voice sounds deeper and more resonant to you. The way you hear your voice on the video is the way you actually sound to other people. Never get discouraged by that, it’s normal that part surprises you but on the other hand, sounding strange or having a certain voice can make you more recognizable to your audience. It can be part of your brand. The best impressions are of those people who have a very specific tone, cadence and speech pattern, so just embrace it.
Watching the video without listening to it.
Put that video on mute and focus only on the way you look and move on stage. Things to pay attention to are: how are you covering the stage and handling the microphone, do you have particular gestures, what does your wardrobe say about you and the type of a comedian you are, and is anything blocking your face (like a hat or your hair)? Facial expressions are very important for comics which is why you want to make sure your face is seen from front and sides (depending on where the audience sits, you want to make sure they can see your face). When your face is open like that you seem more approachable, it’s a psychological technique, and it makes you look more genuine, and you are making sure you are giving attention to every part of that room.
Adding and reviewing captions.
A lot of editing videos like CapCut have an option to add captions to your videos. Closed captions (CC) place text over video content to depict spoken dialogue for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences, as well as additional contextual information (e.g. audience reactions, background noises, etc.). Closed captions are different from subtitles, which simply provide text for spoken dialogue without any additional context. Adding captions to your videos not only helps with posting videos on social media but it can also help you figure out your timing, joke structure, language, flow, improvising and delivery. It can significantly help you with editing your jokes, cause nothing is more frustrating than noticing you used 'like' way too many times in a bit. You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself but at the same time you don’t want unnecessary fluff to take over your well written jokes. Like Shakespeare said: 'Brevity is the soul of wit', so use that as your north star when editing your material.
You might be under the impression that this is a lot of work for one video when you are taping multiple videos per week. That is completely understandable, however you will find that the process gets faster with time and these reviews will really cut your work in half going forward as you will figure out your patterns and how to adjust your routine. Just like professional athletes review the tapes of their games to enhance performance, comedians should do the same.
Applying this technique for several months helped me figure out that keeping the microphone in the mic stand helped me feel less anxious on stage, and more “grounded”. I wasn’t pacing or trying to figure out what to do with my hands. I was articulate and benefited from pauses. Sometimes we think that we have to create a lot of energy on stage to get that energy back from the audience, but at the end of day, a well written set will hit harder than trying to do too much on stage. Depending on the set, I alternate between taking the mic out of the mic stand and keeping it in, and that gives me a lot of versatility and room to explore. Another thing that I benefited from this technique is editing my jokes and making them tighter. An audience doesn’t have a lot of patience, you gotta make a long story short and get to the good parts. I’ve also started to dress better and style my hair in a way that is not taking away from my delivery.
Every time you apply this technique you will learn something about yourself. Being honest on stage creates the best jokes. Being honest with yourself offstage creates the best performers. Try it for yourself and let us know in the comments what you’ve gained from the experience.