Humor and Public Speaking — Become Good by Being Bad

The path to brilliant humor is paved by falling flat on your face!

Practically nobody is great in the beginning.  Even the professional comics have places to go where they can miss the mark and fine-tune new material.  A terrific place to visit is a comedy club on Open Mike Night.  It’s not just a training ground for stand-up comics.  If you can make a comedy club audience laugh…think of how easy it will be able to get a regular audience to laugh when you are giving a speech.

Open Mike Night is a special event, usually at a comedy club, where
you can perform on-stage to test new material.  Sometimes the venue
is a coffee house or a nightclub.  Again I’ll remind you, not all
open-mike participants are aspiring comics.  Many performers come
from all walks of life and are simply accepting a challenge to grow. 

Performing comedy at an open-mike night might be compared to
giving a motivational talk to Junior High School students!  It’s
not that you’re speaking to a bad audience…you’re just speaking
to a demanding, sometimes critical, attention-challenged audience.
It gives you a push to be your best.  And that’s a good thing.  It
will make other speaking assignments easier. 

I’d recommend that you make your first trip to the open-mike night
as a spectator.  Get a feel for the room and the audience.  Watch
what works and doesn’t work for the performers.  Checkout the
evening’s routine.  Maybe you’ll have a chance to visit with some
of the performers, both pros and amateurs, after the event. Ask
questions and learn from them.

Normally the performing spots at an open-mike night are limited and
you need to sign up.  Check with the performing venue to see how
this works.  Sometimes you call in advance…sometimes you sign up
the night of the event.

Most open-mike nights allow you three to five minutes on stage.
Small clubs may give you more time.  Do your best stuff.  When
starting out, a shorter routine is better than a longer one.  On a
first attempt, three minutes will almost always be a stronger
performance than five minutes. 

You will need to prepare and practice a set of material, which will be different from material you’d use when giving a normal humorous speech.  Material for a comedy club works best when developed around a theme and normally is structured with a setup line or two followed by a joke punchline.  You’d want to shoot for at least three punchlines a minute.  If you can do more than that, that’s a good thing!  After all, this is a comedy club!  Remember, you’re “going to the gym.”

When you’re scheduled to take the stage, especially the first time,
invite your supportive friends.  Most people find this makes for a
friendly audience and a better reception for your material.  If you’re having trouble getting the regular audience to warm up to you, play to your friends!  Even better, talk a friend or two into performing the same night you take the stage.

The great thing about taking this performing challenge is that while on-stage you begin to get a feel for what is funny and what isn’t.  The judge for platform material, whether in a comedy venue or a normal speaking venue, is always the audience.  Maybe you thought something was funny.  But the audience didn’t!  You merely had an error in judgment and they provided you some subtle feedback
(they didn’t laugh)!  This is a good thing.  The next time you’ll be funnier.  And you’ll become a better judge of what an audience will think is funny…which is not always the same as what YOU think is funny!  I know, as a magician, that I’ve learned to perform magic tricks
that I’m not crazy about, because I’ve learned that my audiences love them.  So it may be with humor.  Learn to appreciate what makes an audience laugh.

Tape your performance.  Audio is OK.  Video is better.  Analyze it for audience response, opening moments, your close, your timing and
pacing, your placement of punchwords, your movement and gestures,
whether you’re stepping on laughs.  Then find tune your material,
sharpen your delivery and hit the stage again.

So where do you find an open-mike?  Start by checking with your
local comedy clubs.  Look in your local newspaper’s community
activities calendar.  Let your friends (especially Toastmasters) know you’re looking for an open-mike night.  If you have your antenna tuned, you’ll find opportunities that you otherwise would
have missed.

Get out of your comfort zone and try an open-mike night.  I
performed at more than 25 open-mike nights in the early 1980s and
it was a great experience.  Put a few of them on your calendar and
you’ll open the door to a funnier you!