The Fourth Wall Is There For Your Safety And Mine

Between an audience and a performer there is the invisible fourth wall.

A difference between most performance and stand-up is that comedians “don’t have” the fourth wall. Or so it needs to seem.

Just my take, but I wouldn’t worry too much about “breaking” the wall.

There are all kinds of way successful comics out there, from the ultra who-are-you-what-do-you-do? types to the the tightly scripted one-liner merchants and there’s a place for them all.

People come to know you through what you’ve created. That’s intimate enough.

I reckon even the comedians that get audience members up on stage to dance/answer questions/pick a card haven’t broken the wall. It’s still a show, there’s still a wall, and those punters just became props.

I say pick your own relationship with the wall. For me it’s more of a serving hatch.

The diners can come into the kitchen if they like, but the stuff that’s relevant to them is coming through the hatch.

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Wah, Wah, Wah. Someone’s Better Than Me.

Is there someone out there who is better than you at a certain thing? Does it bother you?

Well, answer me this.

I know for a fact there’s someone out there who could take you in a fight.

Why hasn’t it stopped you walking around?

Welcome to being alive. With 7 billion choices, yes, there just might be someone out there “better” than you in some category.

It’s your turn right now. You can be best at dealing with that.

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Comic Relief

I’ve had mixed feelings about Comic Relief since the arms trade scandal in 2013, and it makes me wonder where that story went. It’s all a bit Orwellian.

In Animal Farm, the animals start a revolution, emancipating themselves from human domination, but by the end become just like humans.

The Comic Relief scandal was like that, but instead of animals, piles of cash.

Here’s the plot:

Evil piles of cash create inequality and suffering in the world.

Good pile of cash is assembled to fight injustices created by evil piles of cash.

Good pile of cash ends up being just like evil piles of cash.

I think the moral of the story is that we need to keep assembling giant piles of cash, and then maybe one day, one of them will end up being nice.

Or maybe the moral of the story is if you enfranchise enough potential critics, memories fade.

Makes me think of the Milan Kundera line:

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

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The Other Way To Get A Laugh

Yesterday, I mentioned my old improv teacher told us there were only two ways to get a laugh. The first one was covered yesterday.

The second way to get a laugh (I was told) is reincorporation.

That could be as simple as a comedian harking back to a thing she introduced earlier in her routine. The second time she brings it up, the context has changed and this change makes us see the original thing in a new light, inducing laughter.

It doesn’t have to be a thing brought up in the routine. It could be a thing already in the consciousness of the audience.

If I parody a famous singer, as well as dropping the status of the famous person (satisfying, as mentioned yesterday) it’s also a type of reincorporation. You’ve heard it before, now I’m using it in a different way.

I’d say observational comedy falls into the reincorporation category. The comedian is making you see a thing that you’ve seen a million times before, but making you realise you hadn’t truly seen it until you saw it the way the comedian saw it.

I guess some musical comedy is a type of observational comedy. “Have you noticed (x) sounds like (y)?”

Maybe if you’re having trouble with a joke, it could be that you’re not lowering the status of someone or something (your target might not be one your audience can build hostility towards), or you’re not reincorporating, because you’re making an observation about a thing that’s not in your audience’s consciousness at the moment that it needs to be.

If you’ve been doing stand-up, this might be stuff you’ve already worked out, but hopefully I’m saying it in a way you may not have heard before.

Reincorporation without the laughs!

PS If anyone has anything to add to this, I would love to hear from you.

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Jeremy Clarkson – Why The Laughs?

There only two ways to get a laugh, my old improv teacher said to us.

One is status drop*.

Imagine the scene. Jeeves (a valet) and Wooster (his boss) are in a room. Jeeves acts deferentially (verbally and non-verbally), tidying up after Wooster, hanging on his every word.

Wooster acts regally. Fluid, deliberate movements. He doesn’t even make eye-contact with Jeeves, to signal how in control of his own space he is, as he holds forth on some Society enemy.

Jeeves (respectfully, in an effort to please) breaks into Wooster’s monologue and offers some valuable information about Wooster’s enemy, and hints there is more.

Wooster now changes his physical behaviour. His movements and speech patterns are less fluid, he makes eye contact, maybe deigns to touch Jeeves on the arm. His confidence is gone. Wooster has something he wants.

I was taught this is called “status”. We were taught to think of the two players in the scene as being on a see-saw. One’s up, the other’s down.

When the arrangement is reversed, and the see-saw tips, there’s a laugh to be had. The high-status person has dropped and the low-status person is elevated.

Famous people are high-status. If they make themselves humble or contribute in way people like, it’s harder to drop their status.

If they bang on about “eco-mentalists”, or suggest we should shoot striking public-sector workers in front of their families, or put nuclear waste on the Rainbow Warrior, some people are going to enjoy a laugh at their expense.

This might be why people are enjoying the occasional Jeremy Clarkson joke today.

*I’ll talk about the other one tomorrow

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Change For The Change-Resistant

I was on a train once and it went past a piece of graffiti.

It said, “Routine is the enemy of creativity.”

I thought, “That sounds great and true. I must endeavour to take it on board.”

Then I got off the train and went and did my stand-up routine.

I’m just not having a wall tell me what to do.

But seriously… If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, it’s all very well people (and walls) advising you to make a change, but the rut always comes at a time when you’re feeling least energetic and adventurous.

The low-energy quick fix for me is to change the inputs. Maybe listen to some music or spoken word you haven’t heard in ages, reconnect with who you were when you first loved it.

I prefer audio, because it puts pictures in your head. Just that little bit of work from your mind can get things going. There are some great podcasts out there, ask someone who knows you for a recommendation.

Other than that, take the pressure off, be nice to yourself and ride it out. Sorry to state the obvious, but you can’t plan spontaneity.

Lastly, if you’ve made a commitment to publish every day, the rut is just something you ride over.

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