Lesson 7: Set-up/ Payoff

Now we've explored the wider context — the writing process and, starting the gig itself — let’s get stuck into the nitty-gritty, starting with the basic comic rhythm: set-up/payoff. Set-up/ payoff is the basic comic rhythm. I was a huge fan of Not the Nine O’ Clock News and (like everyone else) remember the simple, physical Rowan Atkinson sketch where Atkinson's character is pleased he is on TV, waving at the camera and mouthing 'hello mum'... then he hits a tree. The set-up is him walking along, waving at the camera. The payoff is hitting the tree. The follow-up sketch has him avoiding a lamp post and then falling down an open manhole in the pavement. (The is a false dawn ending - it seems

Lesson 6: Starting your set

Having discussed bespoke material for the gig in the last lesson, I'm going to begin this lesson with the physical practicalities of starting a set and then we'll move onto getting into your material. First up, come on with pace and energy, so it's clear you want to be up there and you've got things to say. Don't let the applause die away before you reach the mic stand – be near the stage when you are being introduced. If it does start to die away you can either get it going again ("keep it going!") or make a gag out of it when you reach the mic – ideally though, get up there quick so it doesn't happen! Dealing with the mic stand well is crucial, especially in an open spot setting, to give t

Lesson 5: Write something specific for the gig

The stand-up, compère, act booker and manager Geoff Whiting told me that many years ago he was an open-spot on a bill with Ross Noble, who is renowned for his improvisation and for doing material that is bespoke to rooms and towns he is playing in: “Really good comics can get material out of the room. It seems like it’s off the top of their head, but they’ve really been sat at the back asking, 'what’s funny about the room?' Ross was one of the prime exponents of this. He started aged fifteen—I can only think of one comic who started younger than that—and I saw Ross when he was seventeen and opening a show. He was already doing twenty minutes at that age. From where Ross and I were sitting at

Lesson 4: The importance of re-writing

The lessons are about to shift into the writing of material. Before we go there, I wanted to say that the most important stage in stand-up comedy writing is the rewriting stage. Do a few drafts before you perform it. Work on it for a bit, leave it and come back. When it's ready to go, try it in front of an audience and see the reaction. Then rework it. It really is a process of tinkering, editing, trying different words, rhythms—there are many ways of expressing the same basic idea. If it's not working, then it may be that the idea wasn't funny, but it might also be that you haven't found the best way of getting it across. Nothing is intrinsically funny. It all comes down to who is saying it

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