JH5 had originally planned to have a blog by Kathleen McGee today; however, we were concerned with excessive language on our blog :) We instead have a blog written by a local talent, and JH5 is dedicating this to McGee, as she is one of the ones who we feel gets it right. So please help us pay kudos to McGee, and to celebrate the talent of Mr. Nick Carter who writes on the subject of vulgarity.
I took a break from having sex with a member of my family in order to talk to you about “vulgar” comedy. To be honest I don't really like it (vulgar comedy that is, sex with my nephew is fantastic!) I would like to take a minute and explain to you why you hear so many bad “sexual” jokes in comedy (especially from amateurs), some thoughts on how to improve a “gross out” joke, and help share some examples I've seen of people who do it right.
There's an old saying: “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” And that's sounds about right. But what if your goal is not to catch the flies, but simply to get them damp? Will vinegar work just as well as honey? The answer is: Probably.
What's my point? Most amateur comedians are terrified of silence. They are going up on stage wanting to evoke ANY verbal reaction from the crowd, good or bad. They aren't looking for sweet sweet laughs. They just want to get those flies damp. So it would make sense to say if your goal was simply to avoid silence, a groan might be just as good as a laugh. I know it sounds like a strange theory but if you watch enough bad comedy (which I do) you see a pattern of people
willing to say anything just to get a reaction. Sure, they might THINK it's funny to them, but I like to believe that most of them know (on some level) it's simply going to be received as gross. And I believe that's what they are counting on to survive through their early performances. It's a mask of fake confidence for people who don't have access to comfort and real confidence. Those tools just don't come right away for most people who try stand up comedy. So they try and fake it. Some people will start swearing way too much, some will talk really loud, others will just try to get really graphic The rule seems to be: Say something that no one else dares say and you will instantly gain attention.
And this is a trap that new comedians can get into. Say gross things that will shock your audience into paying attention. Some never get out of this style of comedy and some don't want to. That's fine. IF IF IF you're good at it. But again, most aren't. (I would argue that almost every single working comedian has a really dirty joke they love but rarely makes it into their act)
Jokes of a sexual nature RARELY fall to silence. Even an unfunny joke that is gross will USUALLY get a large reaction from MOST comedy audiences. (One of the biggest exceptions to this is: If it's a gross joke coming on the heels of several gross jokes that have already silenced the crowd. At this point you're no longer a joke teller, you are just a joke. A gross, disgusting joke of a human being. If they didn't laugh at the first one chances are they won't laugh at the fifth one. But keep trying to win em over because they might just be a tight group!)
So it's often a fail safe for new comedians to have a series of “sexual jokes” in their early “acts”. To be honest, a lot of people who start out in comedy only know they are funny because their friends squirm at their over-the-top “I can't believe he/she said that” jokes they toss around at house parties. Their friends laugh and say “he/she should be a comedian!” Unfortunately these he/she's are idiots. (If you are looking for a shemale joke here you probably shouldn't do comedy either)
Please Note: I am using a lot of “””” things in this because I am talking in very broad terms here... “vulgar” “sexual” “shocking” jokes can be about almost anything from masturbation to pushing your girlfriend down a flight of stairs. My focus is not on stopping people from talking about these subjects, no, my preference would be to get people to stop talking about these subjects in a base way where the reaction isn't laughter, but instead big ugly “groans” of disgust. (People who do it right: Aaron Berg has a classic “masturbation” story, and I heard a great “grandma down a flight of stairs joke” that was written by I don't know who).
Now, some groans should be considered acceptable, where some are not. This is where you need to use your judgement. If they groan and laugh, or groan then applaud you probably want to keep that one. They are disgusted but can't help from liking it. But if you lay out a big fat pedophile joke and there is a feeling of disgust in the air, well that could be a sign you missed the mark. A good comedian will LISTEN to their audience to gauge their reaction. Listen to your audience. Comedy is a two way conversation. Pay attention dummy.
At this point I want to stop and say: You NEVER have to change your performance to please a crowd. NEVER! NEVER! You are in comedy to say whatever the hell you want! This advice is
only a suggestion for people who are looking for new ways to try to connect with more people or possibly achieve some work at a local comedy club. At the end of the day you and only you can decide where you want to stand on the “art/business” balance of stand up comedy. Some great comedians appear to be uncompromising on stage. If that is your path I respect that 100%. If you're funny that's even better. If you think poop and sex jokes are the funniest thing in the world then talk about that. But just be aware that it's really easy to tell those jokes (watch any amateur show) BUT it is VERY VERY difficult to do it in a unique and creative way. (People who do it include: Mike Wilmot, George Carlin and Dave Attell)
So here's some things I can say to maybe help you:
I believe it was Greg Cochrane who told me “there is no such thing as hack premises, just hack punchlines.” That's a pretty good rule. You can talk about anything you want just make sure you aren't simply repeating an idea that has been worn out over the years. The best way to do this is to WATCH A LOT OF COMEDY. PROFESSIONAL COMEDY! This advice is for EVERY amateur. Hanging out at Amateur shows is like recess in school. Professional shows are like your Science and Art classes all rolled into one. If you call the club in advance they will probably let you in for free. Go on a Thursday and then again on a Saturday. See how the shows change with different crowds. See which jokes might be cut for the Saturday “mature” crowd vs. The rowdy “student” crowd on Thursday. If you are watching a “dirty” comedian talk to them after the show. Find out what bumps they learnt over the years doing “dirty” jokes and how they learnt to do it RIGHT. If you didn't think they were funny then you might be able to figure out what you didn't like and understand HOW you want to be different from them. Most Headliners will be happy to answer your questions if you are polite and offer to buy them a beer. (But be yourself) One of my fondest memories in comedy came when Bill Campbell took me up to his hotel room after a show and told me some amazing jokes that were “too edgy” for the crowd he just performed for. It was amazing to hear a comedian just spilling out all these wonderful bits and the theory on why they wouldn't have worked etc... Also I blew him.
Before trying a new dirty joke ask yourself “What's the joke here? Why are people going to laugh?” Try to anticipate the reaction of NORMAL PEOPLE WHO DON'T TALK ABOUT THEIR ASSHOLES IN PUBLIC. If you think they will laugh simply because “it's funny” it might not connect. Funny to you may not be funny to anyone else. And again, let me stress you don't have to change anything for those people. People may just take time to come around to you. If you have a joke that you swear is funny but it never works, put it away for a while and try it again in a few months. If it truly is funny you will want to tell it in a couple months anyways right? Plus you may have a new perspective on the joke or maybe you have a joke that you could put in front of it to make a smooth transition. The theory is that you will use every joke you ever write.
Often jokes will work once you figure out how to trick the audience so you can catch them off guard. They never saw it coming! Or, with dirty jokes you can create tension and then defuse it. Seinfeld talked about how a good joke will be like jumping a motorcycle over a canyon: The take
off is the set-up, the landing is the punchline. If their is too much distance 'tween them no one will make the leap with you. If it's too short of a distance their won't be any build up/pay off, no thrill. Jon Dore is a great example of a comedian who can bring a crowd to silence with a set-up because his punchlines are so perfectly crafted that he doesn't have to be afraid of losing the audience. He can say the darkest things with a set up and bring everyone together with a clever punchline. And he can take an innocent set up and spin it into a dark punchline. It's that ability to play with audiences expectations that keeps them off balance and the comedian in a position to keep their attention. Although the joke may be “gross” or sexual in nature the laugh doesn't come BECAUSE it's gross or sexual. Well okay, it kind of does yes, but the laugh is bigger because it's done by crafting the joke in a way the audience members think “oh I better pay attention or I'm going to miss something”. If you catch the audience off guard they will learn to pay attention to you. No one wants to be left out or tricked. By misdirecting them' or sneaking in something unexpected 'you have done just that.
Of course sometimes a dick joke is just a dick joke. If you're just telling stories about sexual encounters just tell the story. You don't have to fancy it up. A writer would probably tell you to add in some descriptive words and metaphors etc... That's where your inner artist has to come out. (His name is Paul and he really likes ironic t-shirts)
There is a whole style of comedy built around vulgar, gross out comedy. And when it's down right it's great. A funny joke is a funny joke. Heck one of the biggest drawing shows at the Just For Laughs festival is the “Nasty Show”. So there is an appetite for this kind of thing. If you like being the filthy comedian I hope you continue to do it. I hope you have fun with it. I hope you remember to not only be filthy but also be entertaining. I guess maybe that's the key. Do whatever you want, just do it well. For the children.