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January 15, 2020

AHA Blog: Make Them Laugh: What Every Stand-up Comedian Should Know

Posted by Carol Laux, AHA Class of 2021


When I was asked to write this entry, I was shocked. A comedian. Me. My 60 seconds of fame at the Holy Angels Talent Show last year was the first time I had ever brought my material onstage. Now someone wanted me to give advice about the whole experience? I hardly knew what I was doing myself. That being said, if anything I say could help another aspiring funny person, I’m happy to share everything I know. Here are my tips.


Write Everything Down
Comedy isn’t something you can think up the night before the show, unless you’re insanely talented. Whenever I say something that gets my peers to laugh, or make an observation about someone that I could joke about, I write that down ASAP. There is a sticky note on my computer full of near-incoherent routine ideas. It’s important to make sure you don’t forget any material you think up on your own. If you don’t keep track of your jokes, it can be easy to tell a joke you heard from someone else and falsely believe you came up with it. It is dangerously easy to steal another person’s jokes, whether consciously or not. The honesty policy applies in comedy and in academics. By jotting down basic ideas and punchlines, you can get a rough idea of what you want to do, and the more vague and simple the ideas are, the easier it is to string them together into a full set.


Try A Test Audience…or Several
Sometimes the things you think are knee-slappingly hilarious are just not what people want to hear. When I was first narrowing down topics to discuss for my set, I had a story about myself as a kid that I thought was the funniest thing since “Who’s on First.” When I had my parents, siblings, and friends listen to it, though, they weren’t reacting as well as I had expected. They thought it was funny, sure, but they far preferred some of the other jokes in my routine that I was then able to expand into a full act. Exposing my ideas to a test audience before going to my audition (or the show itself) saved me from potential embarrassment, or not making it into the show at all. Remember: The more friends and family who are willing to give constructive feedback, the better.


Physical Comedy
The best piece of constructive feedback I have ever received in my (admittedly short) career came from my mom. She told me my jokes were funny and my delivery wasn’t too shabby, but the audience wasn’t just going to be content with listening to me. It would be just me and the microphone up on that big stage, and people were going to want something to look at. This is where physical comedy comes in handy. When people came up to me after the show, there was one part of my act they kept bringing up: the part where I moved. I did a whole minute and a half of material, but the one part people seemed to really remember is when I acted out how Ken dolls sit down. Just like how in the classroom people are auditory or visual learners, certain people react better to verbal or physical comedy.


I hope these pointers were helpful, and I hope to see you at this year’s talent show at 7:00 p.m. on January 24, 2020.