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Dear Nick,

Be brief(s).

You talk too much. Too many words drop out of your flapping head, and flounder about on the floor like dying carp. Word after word after word comes out, and it has to stop. Preferably by the Friday after next.

We all talk too much, of course, but it is one of the biggest problems when you’re starting in standup. Every word you use that isn’t a punchline means your audience is waiting longer for their punchline. Every word you use that isn’t setting a punchline up is just wasted.

Although there are many, many ways of doing standup comedy (and I am hardly one to talk about using too many words), to begin with you must master the setup and punchline. For your first set, we will be almost exclusively working on the basis of setup and punch. Any word that is neither setting your joke up (misleading the audience, heightening their expectations, putting them in a mood you are bout to undercut) or paying one off is an unfunny word. It’s a useless, wasted beat in your routine. It is, although it is filled with sound, dead air.

You, I think, may well have to conquer your natural, professional hatred of silence. Silence is your friend. You can use it to intimidate your enemies, sneak a look at the notes written on your hand, or to feign a swoon, and wait for someone to carry you off stage. In comedy extra words are confusing, a distraction from the real job of making your audience laugh.

So, your first job is to think of some jokes. Your next job is to take out every unnecessary syllable. Every one. Evy on. N.

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