If you’re a comic in your first few years and this isn’t a concern, it should be. Too many amateur comics have stories where they say, “I did a half-hour with no problem the other night…” If you’re one of those comics, you’re delusional. On the other hand, if you’re honest with yourself and your set’s ability, you’ll occasionally reach small landmark sets of the first time you get to do a full seven, ten, fifteen or twenty minutes. You can’t just write an additional four minutes the week of the gig and hope it fits in perfectly. (If you are, there’s a really good chance it isn’t good enough yet and you’re still delusional.)
So how can you take what you have and squeeze an additional few minutes out of it without watering it down?
1. Slow down your pace of speech. This doesn’t mean make the joke longer by adding words, especially in the setup. This means to simply not talk to so fast. This has been a weakness of mine for years because the first six years of my career I was mostly MCing 10-15 minute sets. Pause and let the audience laugh a little more between each joke and each tag line. There’s a fine line on this but you’ll eventually get the comedic timing down that everyone talks about. The extra seconds shouldn’t hurt your momentum if your bits are strong enough, and if you can do this correctly, you’ll actually increase how hard each joke hits.
2. Add another tag line where you can. Over the years you’ll be surprised how many tag lines in your act are actually courtesy of another comic. They’re often a different angle that another comic thinks of for you. They aren’t 100% transferable because we often have severely different delivery styles, but for the most part they can add some extra laughs. You might even discover a potential callback.
3. Take your existing bits and build on them. See if you can find whatever topic you’re joking about and just write another joke or two for that topic. This will start to help develop your set from sounding like an open mic set of individual jokes into a more professional format of bits made of jokes about the same topic.
Here are things NOT to do to make your set longer:
1. Recycle older jokes. There’s a reason you stopped doing these. If they didn’t work in your less experienced days, they probably aren’t worth recalling unless you can completely rewrite the premise as a more experienced joke-writer. Never recycle topical humor that is no longer topical (Note to everyone: Bill Clinton jokes expired a long time ago).
2. Crowd work; there’s a lot more to write about this topic (see Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage) and it takes years to develop this into something that’s entertaining for the entire audience. Along with the crowd possibly turning against you, it’ll also upset the comics after you as well as the manager.
3. Transitions; transitions aren’t necessary when you’re still doing individual jokes instead of longer bits. It’s hard to write or plan transitions anyway. Worry about them much later down the road, because for now they’re just lowering your laughs-per-minute. They shouldn’t be so long that they take up much time anyway.
4. Cheap hacky fillers; Watch enough midnight shows with weaker headliners and you’ll see these. “Let’s all just go to a strip club now…” Or “Keep it going for the troops…”
This brings me to an important side note: You can learn more from headliners during tougher sets with small crowds than you can with sold out shows. Watch Heywood Banks during a midnight show when most of his regular fans aren’t there. It’s amazing how he works them into liking him compared to the earlier shows where they’re eating out of his hand within the first five minutes. I’ll try to write more about midnight shows next week unless somethings else pops up.
Thank you again to everyone who has been reading and sharing my blog and book. I’ve tried to write just about every post as additional information from my book. I don’t expect anyone to 100% agree with everything I write, obviously, and for the most part any differences of opinion have been handled maturely, so again, thank you. The shares on Facebook really boost the number of hits so thank you. It’s really hard to compete with those blogs that discuss rape jokes every month.