I attended a small troupe’s Hollywood take on SNL earlier this week, TMI Hollywood. There was great energy, and I’m a fan of people really “going for it.” If you’re in Los Angeles and have a free Sunday evening, I recommend looking it up, but with some caveats because it’s got some rough edges to smooth out, which may have been due to it being the first show of the season.
As always, where there are rough edges, there are lessons to be learned, and since this is comedy we’re talking about, I’ll follow the rule of 3:
Don’t Tell the Audience What is a Punchline, and NEVER Tell the Audience What Isn’t
The show started with a late night talk show style monologue, and the comedian giving the opening, within the first few seconds, more or less told the audience “that’s not a joke, don’t laugh at that.”
I’ll chalk it up to nerves, but when you’re up there on stage, any reaction (especially laughter) should be a lifeline for you. It’s the audience showing they’re engaged, they’re listening and reacting, and laughter especially shows that they’re on your side. There was palpable tension following this in the audience where he was being extra emphatic about landing vocally on the punchline, like an oratorial cue for a laugh track, and because of that early alienation? The audience gave him crickets- “you told us not to laugh before, are you sure we should be laughing?”
Don’t do this. Audience engagement is golden, and if you’re getting laughs/engagement on a line you didn’t expect (both performance and writing wise)? Take mental note, go back to the lab and work on bringing that out.
The Dad Bod is Never Going Out of Style
Are you a pudgy white man who can dance and talk loudly? Congrats, you’re automatically funny. *sigh*
Three in Three – Comedy Needs 3 Acts
Comedy is more than spontaneous inanity and zaniness. That’s humor, sure, and comedy can certainly feel like that, but it does require a bit of calculus and structure. The best parallel I can think of this is how a magic trick is outlined in The Prestige, a pledge, a turn, and the prestige.
A lot of the sketches started with potentially strong premises (pledges). One started with the joke: “Who’d have thought there’d be more than one Michael Cohen practicing law in New York?!” But rather than establish and build to a turn then a final prestige moment, they circled around the premise punchline.
Here’s this ordinary thing, this guy named Michael Cohen who practices law, but what’s the unordinary thing about him? Maybe he actually gets calls from Trump on occasion because of that too, and maybe he actually takes them today- the prestige then is: wait, you were Michael Cohen all along [cue dramatic music].
Circle back to my first point, because comedy also comes full circle: engage your audience, give them a punchline, and then build on it. Don’t alienate them, and don’t keep beating them over the head with the same punchline demanding they laugh over and over- take them on a journey, build a story.