Early in my career as my friends came to a lot of my shows (because it was still cute that I had a dream) I welcomed their feedback. They weren’t comics, but I don’t think someone has to be a comic to give good feedback early on. I’ll admit, it’s annoying when it comes from a non-comic sometimes, but it was more about my stage presence.
I said, “Umm,” a lot. Listen to your recordings. Do you say “umm” a lot too? At all? Do you have a different noise (uh, you know, sooo)? My “umm” went away after a couple years without me even realizing it. The reason? I knew my jokes well enough that saying them became automatic. In other words, it took years of a lot of the same routine to get the “umm’s” out of my speech.
One of the most enjoyable parts of comedy at this point in my career is getting a new joke to work. Newer comics experience this too, but too many times some are quick to move onto new things before building a solid “umm-free” set. Umms don’t sound like a big deal and as comics we probably don’t even notice ourselves saying them, but it’s the difference between building an okay set and an extremely solid, money-making one. The people who book you notice the umms.
If you’re not getting enough shows to recite your jokes enough to put the wording into autopilot, it’s time to practice at home, over and over. To gain another level of respect from an audience, they need to hear your jokes umm-free. It’s okay to do the same jokes month after month and even year after year. Professional comics do that. The guys who have multiple HBO Specials like Chris Rock have multiple writers (not that you should be comparing yourself to them). Build up your act and use the same jokes if they work (that last part is very important). Once they work, stretch them out with other funny lines, callbacks, and other dimensions.
The important thing to remember this week is that you have to have enough repetitions of your jokes to make them come out without umms. Stop worrying about boring your fellow comics that you see at the same open mic night. It’s your act and career, not theirs. Once your memorize your bits to the point of not having to think about what you’re saying, there’s so much more you can do with them. These extra techniques are mentioned in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage so feel free to order a copy if you haven’t already.
3 thoughts on “Umm…”
I’ve repeated my jokes at open mikes that many comics is CT can quote me word for word, and none of us says “um.”
Correcting grammar: I’ve repeated my jokes at open mikes so often that many comics in CT can quote me word for word, and none of us says “um.”
Great advice Rob, and applicable to anyone who does public speaking. All audiences deserve umm-free presentations. (I am so stealing that word!)