jonas polsky

Bad Stand Up: The Non-Rhetorical Question

by Jonas Polsky

A stand up comedian is onstage.

“I used to have braces. Did anyone here have braces?”

(Awkward silence.)

The show has screeched to a halt. The comedian stands in silence for a moment, picks up the joke where he left off, and continues.

“Growing up, people teased me about my braces…”

Stand up comedy is a monologue, not a dialogue. The comedian delivers a prepared routine and expects only laughter and applause from the audience. The audience knows the performance is a monologue, and expects it to be performed without their input.

Lots of bad comedians will often pointlessly pose a question to the audience, then await a yes-or-no answer.

“I was watching cable today, do you guys like to watch cable?”

Here the performer has made a declaration, asked the audience if they can relate to the premise, and the show has stopped as a result.

Now there is silence. Audiences understand that they are supposed to be quiet during a comedian’s act. This is so well-ingrained, that when comics perform crowd work and talk to the audience, they often have to be encouraged to respond.

What answer does the comedian hope to hear when they ask about cable?

“Yes, yes, I love cable!”

“CAAAAAABLE!!!”

“Cable sucks!”

Any of those answers would potentially derail a comic’s set, so why risk asking? The answer is simple; the comedian hadn’t thought it through.

There are a million bad comedians in the world, and most of them ignore the importance of writing and rehearsing their act. As a result, many are onstage wandering around an idea, without regard to wording or rhythm.

At the worst comedy shows, you’ll see comics stop with each premise and pose a question to the audience, almost unconsciously, in search of approval.

“I was in England recently. Has anyone been to England?”

Absent of any other evidence, you could judge the success of a stand up act based solely on the amount of silence during it. A comedian says something, the audience laughs, the comedian begins saying a new thing, and the cycle continues.

The only time there should be silence during a comedy show, is when a joke bombs. The audience sits there, unimpressed with the punchline, and awaits the next joke.

When a comedian asks a non-rhetorical question they are intentionally creating silence, and eliminating any momentum their routine may have had. The other problem with stopping to get feedback from the crowd is that it invites hecklers. When a performer stops their jokes, and seeks a response from the crowd, they open a window for a heckler to climb through and potentially ruin their set.

Now, not only has the comedian asked a question for no reason, he has an audience member “helping” by shouting up jokes, or other observations. In this situation the comedian has sabotaged their own set, and have only themselves to blame.

On the other hand, some comics have a motivation to ask a question:

“Has anyone had braces? You had them? Well get your money back, because your teeth are still crooked.”

“You never had braces? Well look into it, because your mouth looks like a coffee cup filled with toothpicks.”

In the above instances, the comedian had prepared a punchline for both “yes” and “no” responses. This type of “spontaneous” joke, along with crowd work are the only two instances when a comedian should ask a non-rhetorical question.

A comic asking if they’ve heard of this news story, or that celebrity in the middle of every joke will make an act look less funny than it is, and invite heckles or other disruptions. Write down each joke, and perform it the way you’ve written it. A comedy show is not a survey. It should be a one-way street, where the comedian delivers material, and the audience listens. Tell your jokes, and save the questions for a one-on-one conversation.

Return to Stand Up Comedy Tips

Stand Up Comedy Misconceptions

by Jonas Polsky

Stand up comedy can be a beguiling and mysterious craft. As a result there are a lot of misconceptions from non-comics, or comedy fans about how stand up works. Here are the most often heard.

1. Stand up is mostly improvised
Friends and family are often surprised to hear that stand up is something that is written out, memorized, and rehearsed. This is because the point of stand up is that it sounds like a “natural” conversation with a group of strangers. Comics of course add things in during a set, or make an off the cuff observation, but for the most part 90% of it is planned out. This is due to the fact that going onstage and “just talking” is a surefire way to bomb. Comedians cobble together the jokes that work to try to avoid bombing at all costs.

2. Stand up sets are really long
Sets for an amateur comic generally top out at around eight minutes. Yes, the comedians on television do sets of an hour or longer, but no one at the herbal pet food store your friend is performing in can be funny for five minutes, let alone sixty. They need to get as many laughs as possible in the time they have, so they aren’t telling meandering stories, or going off on a tangent.

3. Heckling is a stand up’s dream
A lot of people think that the best thing that can happen during a comic’s set is that they are heckled. Anyone with experience will tell you that a heckler is the worst possible thing that could happen. Comics are telling a very precise story, with timing, and anything that interrupts that timing can ruin their set. It’s unlikely that a heckler story will be so good that it will make it into a comic’s material, otherwise road comics would only tell one drunken idiot story after another for an hour. The best comics have canned responses for hecklers in order to end the disturbance as quickly as possible.

4. Everything that happens in a comic’s life is fodder for material
People will have a conversation with a comic and frequently ask if they are going to “use” that experience in their act. The answer they generally hear is no. Not only that, the comic wasn’t even considering it, or even thinking about stand up at all. When a comic finds something to use for a bit, you won’t be around. And it’s generally not even funny at the time, it could be a scary, or sad moment but with reflection becomes funny. If every single thing that happened was funny enough for an act, comics could perform around the clock. As it is, they find one or two useable things a month.

5. Stand up comedians share jokes
There is some basis for this because in the days of vaudeville it was acceptable to share, or “borrow” jokes from other comics. Yes, you have heard a million comics talk about relationships and take out food, but they aren’t saying exactly the same thing. Each one wrote an observation on a relatable subject, but each joke is different. And yes, each joke you write is so precious and sacred, you become enraged at the very thought of another comedian stealing it.

6. Audiences want to hear a comedian’s greatest hits
There’s a reason a comedian doesn’t go onstage and tell the same joke over and over, because no one would laugh at it. They have to keep presenting different, funny ideas to get laughs. No matter how much you love a comedian, you want to hear something new. There’s no faster way to sound like a complete fraud than to repeat a joke you’ve told someone already. Yes, if a comic trots out a beloved bit from their most popular album you can feel nostalgia and excitement for seeing it live, but he needs to follow it up with something you can’t recite along with him.

Comedy Audiences And Taping

by Jonas Polsky

This evening there was a dust-up about how a young Patton Oswalt handled an audience member videotaping his set. Patton asked if she was taping and the woman responded, “You’re going to want that whole chunk on tape, it was perfect!” I wasn’t there, but that quote underscores a larger issue with comedy shows:

THE AUDIENCE HAS NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON.

A comedian’s goal is to present ideas and situations as if they just occurred to them. That’s part of the stapled-on illusion to suspend the disbelief that a person is casually deconstructing their lives to a room filled with strangers.

Patton knows that the chunk he just delivered was “perfect”, because he wrote it!

W-R-O-T-E

Although it may appear that the ideas are coming to him as an ad-lib, he likely spent hours working the concept over in his mind, then writing it down, and finally reciting it to a crowd.

I can’t imagine at any point a blacked-out Oswalt leaves the stage and begs audience members to remind him what he just said. He knows what he said, and he doesn’t need anyone to record it for posterity.

Now that we have pulled back the patchwork curtain on comedy writing, let’s take a look at distribution. The YouTube phenomenon is a relatively new thing for comics to grapple with. And although it’s been said before, I’ll repeat it here:

COMEDIANS MAKE A LIVING BY SHOWING NEW MATERIAL TO AUDIENCES.

The material you’re recording and sharing with your friends has a tangible, real-world value. And there’s not an infinite amount of it. In instances where a comedian says they spent a year preparing material for an album, that means for twelve months or more, those jokes were putting food on the table, and clothing on their children’s backs.

Then, they sell the (mostly) unheard jokes again on a recording. Imagine audiences showing up at those concerts, or buying that record have seen all the material in advance, on YouTube? It would make them regret the purchase, or even demand a refund.

An analogy:

Imagine if at your job you had a fantastic idea. An idea that was going to really help the company. It was so exciting and so different you were sure to receive tons of accolades from your boss, and maybe even a raise. You put on your best outfit, strutted into the big meeting with your notes and standing there was Patton Oswalt.

PATTON OSWALT JUST SHOWED THE ENTIRE COMPANY YOUR PRESENTATION!

Do you see how that could negatively impact your livelihood? But, but, Patton loved your idea, and wanted to show it to the CEO before you did. He’s a huge fan of your Excel sheets, he has all of them.

Stand up comedy is not music. People don’t pay money to hear a comedian’s greatest hits, they want something new, and they want it all the time.

Comedians need to have some control over how many people see their material, especially material that is in an unfinished state. When Patton takes the stage with a crowd of twenty people, he assumes that twenty people will see it, not two-thousand. He wouldn’t have gone onstage with those same jokes at Madison Square Garden, because they’re not quite ready, and he wants to try it on smaller audiences while he works out the bugs.

Zen and the Art of Watching Live Comedy.

It’s been said before by Doug Stanhope and Louis CK; but when you go to a comedy show, just be at the show. There’s no need to update all your friends on what’s happening, or record the event. It’s a very archaic, non-tech art form, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Focus on the performer, be in the moment, and enjoy yourself.

So remember, if you record a comedian, you are potentially doing them financial harm, disrupting the show, and you may be ejected. Nothing good can come from you recording them, despite what you may think. And if they catch you, the comic may get upset and say that you have a double chin.

God Submits Two Weeks Notice

by Jonas Polsky

Our reality was stunned this morning to learn that God had officially tendered his resignation. Two weeks from today our planet will be without a supreme being unless a suitable replacement is located. An international coalition of space programs immediately drafted a want ad, which will be launched in a deep space probe in the hope that an unemployed deity will see it.

In the letter God made clear that he didn’t want to quit, but was referred for a position in another reality which he couldn’t pass up. Headhunters are unsure who can replace The Almighty, or even what to offer in terms of compensation. Temp organizations scrambled to locate a prospective candidate, but no omnipotent employees had been located at press time.

This afternoon humanity began its mad dash to get all of their prayers in before the deadline, in fear that God’s productivity may falter in his final days of employment. The Creator pointed out that he enjoyed his time working with us, and included his personal email if we’d like to keep in touch.

Winter Haiku for Yahoo!

by Jonas Polsky

My first assignment as a Yahoo! contributor was “winter haiku.” Here is my submission.

Christmas time is here
Cozy fires and hot cocoa
Lots of suicides

A child’s nagging cough
Daddy, where are the presents?
Wall Street bonuses

It’s Christmas morning
The medication ran out
Dead rat in a box

Creepy mall Santa
Registered sex offender
Was he drug tested?

An empty stocking
Found a note by the egg nog
Parents hung themselves

What is FavStar, Exactly?

by Jonas Polsky

If you’re reading this, you either know precisely what FavStar is, or have absolutely no clue. This is the for latter group. In the world of twitter comedy, a joke is measured by the number of “faves” it receives.

Well you may ask, “What’s a fave?”. Twitter was designed to allow users to “favorite” a tweet so they can go back and view them at a later date. Favstar has repurposed this function to work as a “Like” system, similar to Facebook.

(Note: Twitter, you need to implement an internal “Like” system, badly.)

The worst joke, that totally misses, will receive no stars, and a great one can receive hundreds, or sometimes thousands of stars. For comedians, they live and die by the number of stars a joke gets.

A comedian in a live setting knows a joke has been appreciated by the audience’s laughter or applause. The internet hasn’t evolved fast enough to allow for live feedback to comedians, so at present, Likes, +1’s and stars are all we have.

Now that you understand the “importance” of stars, you may be wondering just how you, the reader fits into this complex ego-system. Well, I sometimes get messages, or Follow Fridays where someone raves about my writing, but I’d never seen a star, retweet, or comment from them. Their appreciation is totally unknown to me.

Imagine you posted “I’m getting married tomorrow!” on Facebook and didn’t get a Like. You'd  have to assume that none of your friends cared, or were happy you were getting married. But if you ran into a friend and they told you how excited they were for you, you’d wonder why they didn’t tell you on Facebook. That’s the vacuum created when you don’t fave a funny tweet.

I presently have 3,000 followers, and it’s not uncommon for me to post a joke and get four stars. Let’s assume my actual readership is at 50%, and only 1,500 read my feed daily. Of that 1,500 I am instructed that 4 people liked it, and 1,496 people thought it sucked. That doesn’t feel great, but it pushes me to get more than 4 stars each time.

“Well, I’m just here to read free jokes, what do I care?” you may be indignantly shouting at the screen. Here’s why. Writing comedy for nothing is a thankless job, and without encouragement all the free laughs you get every day could dry up.

Send no money or prayers, just click the little star button the next time you find yourself smiling, giggling, or convulsing with laughter. Otherwise you have no voice, and comics no reason to continue.

Thanks for reading, check out my 90-second JOKE podcast!

Why Your Favorite Twitter Feed Will Be Gone In Two Years

by Jonas Polsky

Nothing lasts forever, including your favorite hilarious twitter feed. I know what you’re thinking, there’s no way my favorite tweeter will disappear. As jarring as it may be, your favorite free comedian won’t be around somedy. Here’s why you’ll be fondly reminiscing about them in two short years.

Twitter Drama - This is the most frequent and high profile departure from twitter, which can induce a very public, and dramatic “twittercide.” Writers can become entrenched in the “social” aspect of social networking. Lines are drawn, plots hatched, and feelings hurt. The feed you loved reading today can vanish overnight with a keystroke, and a single, lonely tear.

Employment - Many twitter comedy writers are talented, and motivated to use their writing to land employment. Unfortunately, at the point that they are paid for their hilarious ideas, the freebies will slow to a trickle. Likewise for writers looking for dayjobs, when they finally find one, they don’t have the fourteen hours per day to spend chatting with friends on twitter, and their feed dries up.

They Suck - The most depressing of all the endings, your favorite twitter comedian starts to suck. Their once “must-read” timeline becomes a rehashing of concepts, and turns, that were hilarious a year ago, but are now tired. A pathetic, moping, comedy phantom, indulged by their public can continue to trade on their avatar for months without laughs. In this instance they don’t leave, you ignore them, or unfollow.

Migration - As new social networking avenues emerge, people begin a migration, and the early adopters and stand outs move as well, leaving behind the dried husk of the previous network.

Frustration - Another sad conclusion; when a writer plods along and their efforts bear no fruit, they see twitter as a waste of time and quit. Not enough stars or retweets to make it worthwhile. There is no last hurrah, just a disappearance.

Remember, happiness is ephemeral, savor each and every tweet, for tomorrow we may be dead.

Jonas Polsky Investigates: Rob Fee’s Comedy LP

by Jonas Polsky

It’s so rare for a comedy album to be released that we sat down with Twitter personality and long-time stand up comic Rob Fee for a better look at what’s going on with his upcoming album.

Jonas Polsky: You’ve recorded a comedy album, why?
Rob Fee: It’s for the people.

Your album is called “Rape Stomp.” That’s a pretty aggressive anti-rape message you’re sending.
It’s actually called “Grape Stomp.” I’m not sure what “Rape Stomp” would even mean.

Oh good, I was worried you were encouraging people to rape the cast of the Broadway spectacular “Stomp.”

Fans previously knew you as “NotTomBrady” but you changed your name to “Rob Fee.” Can they ever learn to trust you again?
Maybe I could buy each one a promise ring.

So this album goes on sale 11-1-11, the same week as the film “Immortals” which was filmed in epic 3D. Are you concerned about competing with the movie, and is your album also in 3D?
How exactly would an album be in 3D?

You probably should have thought of that before you recorded it. “Immortals” has Matrix-dodges, and lightning arrows. It will blow your CD out of the water.

I watched a news story the other day about “hog dogging”, the sport of having pitbulls attack and kill hogs. How will “Grape Stomp” address or fix this problem?
I have absolutely nothing to do with dogs attacking hogs.

What about donating some of the album sales as compensation to victims of hog dogging?
It’s a comedy album, I’m not trying to save hogs or dogs or whatever animal is being harmed in that scenario.

(Editor’s Note: This publication is revolted at Mr. Fee’s lack of empathy for animals that clearly need his help.)

How much is this album going to cost?
It will be $9.99 and I can promise you none of that will be going to murdered hogs.

$9.99? There’s a global recession going on right now. Do you accept Food Stamps or allow people to barter for this album?
I don’t believe iTunes accepts food stamps. Maybe you could trade something for an iTunes gift card?

Say someone was down to  their last ten dollars, should they use it to buy food, or this album?
Buy the album and get food stamps. That’s what the government is here for.

(Editor’s Note: This publication would like to make clear that we disagree with Mr. Fee’s advice to abuse public aid for his own profit.)

If it’s okay for a man to steal bread to feed their family, would you approve of murdering a nun to get this album?
Is that the same thing? I don’t think that’s the same thing. Please don’t murder anyone of the cloth.

Last question, what’s the album called, and where can readers get it?
It’s called Grape Stomp and it will be available on iTunes November 1st, 2011

What’s iTunes?

Jonas Polsky is an unemployed comedy writer since 2011.

(Preview Rob’s album “Grape Stomp” here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/grape-stomp/id473728118)

My "Are You There, Chelsea?" Pilot Review

by Jonas Polsky

Tonight I watched the first forty-three seconds of the new television series “Are You There, Chelsea?”. At that point, I paused, thought about whether or not I wanted to continue watching, and stopped.

The part of the show I saw was a character relating the experience of getting drunk, drinking and driving, and then being arrested. After she was arrested she fires a few pointed insults at a very large female inmate who then confronts her.

At this point, I turned the show off.

In storytelling, I would say the goal is to keep the viewer engaged and wanting to learn more. In this case I wanted to know less, and had an overwhelming urge to make the story end.

If I had to describe the feeling this program gave me, it would be “The opposite of an orgasm.” I don’t know that the show is specifically designed to transmit evil, but I could definitely feel my body filling up with darkness.

I interpreted my sense of dread as a desire to no longer experience “Are You There, Chelsea?”. Admittedly, forty-three seconds is not a long time, and I did not give the show much of a chance, but I had to escape the suffocating cloak of unhappiness and despair.

Perhaps I am not the target audience for this show, which is likely people who are arrested for drunk driving, and can’t think of anything hilarious to say to their cellmates. As far as I can tell, the entire show takes place inside a jail cell where two women are about to interact, while a third woman wearing a hat sits on a bench and ignores them because she’s an extra.

“Are You There, Chelsea?” could very well follow the plot of “Hogan’s Heroes” where a mysterious “Chelsea” ferries inmates in and out of the cell so they can continue to receive DUIs, and hand out insults. I will never be able to prove, or disprove this theory.

If I have one suggestion to the makers of this program, maybe Chelsea should make her whereabouts known sooner in the pilot. Otherwise viewers will be ill at ease, wondering if Chelsea is there, or if she ever makes her location known. Of course, the determination of whether Chelsea is there or not may be a surprise that they are saving for the season finale.

D-

Open Letter To Any Woman Who's Dumped A Guy For Being 'Too Nice'

Dear Women Who Dump Guys For Being “Too Nice”,

Congratulations on dumping that guy who was just “too nice” for you to date. I admire your strength. Now you’re finally free. Free to go find that perfect guy who will ignore you, say you look fat, and interrupt your “my day” story to punch a hole in a rented television.

You don’t want someone who treats you well, and you deserve whatever emotionally distant “rebel” you wind up with. Unfortunately he’s probably going to be some guy named Vick with a tattoo of a switchblade on his forehead.

The downside of not wanting a nice guy is that the opposite of nice is mean. There’s not much of a middle ground. In the same way that no guy gets off of a motorcycle and starts playing the violin, no guy that’s disinterested in your feelings is going to surprise you with a sensitive side.

Don’t fret though, dating a jerk can be rewarding. You’ll have tons of great stories like, “When he cocked back his fist to hit me, his bicep looked so buff!”. Or funny ones like, “When I catch him cheating on me, he comes up with the cutest excuses!”

Thankfully you don’t have to worry about that wimp that surprised you with flowers too often, said “I love you” too soon, or just plain cared about you too much. He’s out of the picture, and will soon be married, and off the market.

You won’t though. The guy you want isn’t interested in marriage, he’s too wild, too dangerous, and way too mysterious to settle down. This “not nice” guy won’t wreck your birthday with a candlelit dinner, he’ll surprise you by flaking out on your grandmother’s funeral.

Don’t worry about the guys you’ve dumped, in a few years all those “annoyingly sweet” guys will be in stable relationships, while you’re having your face shoved into a sink full of dirty dishwater. (Vick freaks out when he hasn’t had enough to drink, but he’ll sometimes apologize later, so it’s okay, right?)

I just hope when you’re raising two newborns alone in a mobile home, and the now-estranged Vick has thrown a molotov cocktail through the window you’ll remember how disgusted you were by men that would hold open a door for you. And as the window shatters, and the air is filled with flames and broken glass, time will stand still for a moment, and your love life flashes before your eyes, and you see all the losers who wanted to hold hands, listen to your dreams, and write you a poem.

Those guys weren’t right for you. Nobody wants a faithful, available boyfriend, they want Vick; the abusive cheater who tells you that you’re an ugly slut. You may wonder where he disappears to for days at a time, but you’ll never have to worry about him being “too nice.”

Disaffectedly yours,

Jonas Polsky

Thanks for reading, sorry if you’ve gotten dumped. Maybe my JOKE podcast will cheer you up?

My Cover Letter for DONDA Employment

Dear Mr. West,

Greetings from one dope thinker to another. Like you, I too believe that kids should have an opportunity to hang out, and be inspired in a dope environment, where they can just chill, or have their minds blown by crazy new art, or even older masterworks remixed, or reimagined in a trippy new way.

I’m seeking employment at DONDA, because I’m as excited, and as pumped up as you are about rearranging perceptions, and inventing new ways of doing everything.

Jackson Pollock.

I understand, in the same way that you do, that everything is interconnected, at all times. All human thought, action, and even the planet itself is just one huge pulsating thought, waiting to be tapped and used to create amazing-ness for everyone. We need to constantly give birth to new things, otherwise life is just fast-forward in reverse.

Scorpions.

Speaking of which, why can’t everyone be high on cocaine all the time? Seems like mankind’s lack of cocaine is the biggest obstacle for human advancement.

On coke we could be inspired, and radical, and do anything, because everyone knows that everyone is amazing, and anything is possible. It’s ideology, and governments, and language barriers that prevent everyone from getting cocaine, so they can just vibe out, and trip on the complexities of the universe, or look up crazy stuff on their iPhones and share it with dope people. Internal space exploration, a new beginning.

Fractals.

Penthouse, prison cell, a bus stop, the womb, everything is the same place. When your mind is truly engaged and every cylinder is clicking, and it’s like music, and even when you want to turn it off, you can’t, because that’s life, and it’s perfect. A million RPMs a second, a symphony.

Burj Khalifa.

I want to never stop having amazing thoughts, and never stop talking, and if I worked at DONDA, I would show up every morning and just bug out and trip with other employees about how amazing minds work, and how crazy life could be if we discarded all the thoughts and traditions of the past that didn’t work, and create something totally new for everyone, that they can have all the time.

Ghettos, villas, hilltops, valleys, these are all the same places. Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Amsterdam, Calcutta, it’s home to someone, and no one at all.

Higgs Boson.

Like you, I know that we’re all geniuses, we just need the chance to reboot society, and our own brains in a profound way. And that even when we’re on the sidelines, just tripping out on how crazy everyone is, our minds never stop working, not even for a second, just coming up with things the present-day world considers insane, but are the true inspiration for children in the future, with iPhones, and crazy art, and air-conditioned tour buses, designer clothes, and elegance, and just everything all at once. Even if we don’t want it, or it’s not amazing, it’s still okay, because it’s still part of that huge thing, that wonderment that we can never quite put our finger on, because it’s always changing, yet there it is in front of us.

Timeless.

Intelligence, inspiration, passion, devotion, evolution, everything.

I believe that DONDA encapsulates all these ideas and more. Ideas we haven’t even had yet, but our future selves will, and only through working together, and TRULY trusting one another, with everything can we tap our social potential and engineer something new, and true for everyone.

My resume and salary requirements are attached.

Sincerely,

Jonas Polsky

P.S. Miles Davis, Arkanoid, the future, dinosaurs, humanity, beliefs, God, magic, capoeira fighting, Ziggy Marley, convenience store employees, time-travel, Air Yeezy, genocide, Jonah Hill, alphabets, parking meters, the movie ‘Radio Flyer’, genetics, Houghton-Mifflin, DNA, Amy Winehouse, encryption, Cheerios, kilts, chemtrails, the future, Steve McQueen doing a motorcyle jump, stadiums, Scientology, dopeness.

Stand Up Comedy Advice: Bombing with Dignity

by Jonas Polsky

Hear that suffocating silence? You were doing stand up a moment ago, but now time is standing still, and you wish you were dead.

No matter what you say, or how you say it, the audience refuses to laugh. Your soul rises from your body and watches in horror as you see yourself in the spotlight, sweat streaming down your forehead. With each punchline you hear nothing but a deafening silence. It’s so quiet, you might as well be in outer space.

The audience hates you, and you wish you could disappear. This – is bombing.

Stand up comedy isn’t a science, and there are no “sure-fire” jokes that kill every time. No matter how well you prepare your routine, there is always the chance that you will bomb. Having a joke miss here or there is normal, but when the crowd despises everything you say, it’s a disaster.

Here are some tips to survive bombing, and live to perform another day.

Know the Risks

Whenever you step onstage, there is a chance you will bomb. Even professional comics that have been performing for decades will bomb sometimes. It’s important to be emotionally ready for this outcome, lest you fall apart in front of the crowd. Accepting in advance that you may bomb will give you the resolve to continue your act despite a roomful of strangers trying to kill you with their stares.

Be Professional

You’re bombing, every single person in the room hates you, and that’s okay, you don’t have to make a scene. You want the sets that you bomb to be a forgettable experience. If you flip out on the crowd, lash out, run offstage, or break down in tears, everyone will remember you as “The Guy Who Bombed That Time.” No matter the circumstances, you can’t blame the crowd. Fight back the tears, and act like a professional.

Cut Your Losses

A few jokes missed, you found yourself in a hole, tried to claw your way out, and failed. Comics that are bombing sometimes double their set length trying to squeeze out one good laugh before leaving the stage. This isn’t the time to run the light. When your time is up, give ‘em one more joke, pray that it works, then say goodnight. Ask yourself, would you rather bomb for six minutes, or ten?

Understand Repulsion

After you’ve bombed, no one will want to talk to you, make eye contact, or even acknowledge your existence. This is an instinctive reaction that comedians have for fear that bombing is contagious. Trying to have a conversation with someone as if you didn’t just bomb can be as awkward as bombing itself. Once your awful set has mercifully ended, scan the club for an illuminated “EXIT” sign, and walk towards it until you are outside.

Lick Your Wounds

For the next few hours you will vow to never perform stand up again. But when you wake up tomorrow morning, you’ll feel otherwise. Comedians deal with bombing in different ways. Some take time off from performing, others want to perform again as quickly as possible. Take a look at the material you performed and figure out if you could have done something differently and gotten more laughs.

Eventually you will forget about the nights that you’ve bombed and move forward, but if you follow this advice you can make the experience slightly less painful.

Tips to Avoid Bombing

Nothing in stand up is foolproof, but there are some ways to mitigate a bad set, and reduce the amount of time you spend performing in complete silence.

Switch Gears

If you have three bits about your grandmother’s colostomy bag, and the first one tanks, switch gears and move on to something else. Part of being a great stand up comic is having a wealth of different material, and being able to “read” a crowd and have an idea of what kind of material is, or isn’t going to work.

Don’t be afraid to bail on a bit. If the audience is gasping, or groaning at each punchline, move on to something else as quickly as possible.

Avoid Bad Crowds

If every other comic on the show is bombing, and you’re up next, guess what’s likely to happen? You’re going to bomb too. Sure, you could be the hero that turns the show around, but it’s unlikely.

If it’s a small show, with only four or five comics, you may have to get up there and take a bullet, but if it’s a showcase with a dozen comics going up after you, save yourself the headache and bow out. Tell the emcee the crowd is really bad, and that you don’t want to go up. Everyone benefits.

Use “Saver” Jokes

Sometimes, jokes are going to miss. When they inevitably do, be prepared. Self-deprecating “saver” jokes acknowledge that a joke didn’t go over, in a second attempt to get a laugh.

Example: “Folks, that’s what I get for telling jokes I found on the inside of a birth control kit.”

Brainstorm saver jokes and write them down. Imagine that you’re in front of a stone-faced audience having the worst set of your life, and what you’d want to say. “If this set was a dog, I’d put it to sleep.”

It’s possible to improvise funny lines in the moment, but you’re going to be rattled while bombing, so having a funny saver joke memorized is your best bet. Saver jokes can prop up a flagging set, and help you squeeze out a few laughs.

Empathize

Just like you, the audience knows that the show is going badly, and they’re having a bad time, too. It’s okay to address the elephant in the room, but do it in a funny way. Explaining that all of the other comics that performed have moved back in with their parents, or are signing up for online dental school can earn you some laughs, and reboot the show’s mood.

Like savers, empathizing breaks down the barrier between the performer and audience, pointing out how bad the situation is, in the hopes of turning it around. Remember, every audience has a momentum, laughs build to more laughs, or alternately: silence, to more silence.

Prepare

As always, the best insurance against bombing is to show up with your A-game. Have your best set ready, rehearse/rewrite in advance, and perform a tight set that’s wall-to-wall jokes. Being funny, and having material that you’re excited to present, is your best insurance against bombing.

Dealing with Hecklers

Subscribe to my Topical Joke Podcast

Open Letter to Star Trek Personnel Involved in the "Trouble With Tribbles" Incident

by Jonas Polsky

Dear Star Trek personnel involved in the so-called, “Trouble With Tribbles” incident,

Being a Tribble, let’s just say that I had MORE THAN A FEW issues with this episode of your program. What Tribble died and made you king? Oh that’s right, ALL OF THEM!

Maybe it never occurred to you, but Tribbles watch TV too, or did you think we can’t afford it because we have so many children?

I gotta ask, what exactly is your problem with Tribbles? You have a televised forum, and you seized  the opportunity to make a totally racist statement about an entire species.

I’m sorry, is my existence an inconvenience to you? You see a furry creature procreating and suddenly that’s a bad thing? Okay granted, there’s a lot of us, and as documented in your so-called “reality” program,  we have a tendency to create lots of cuddly offspring. Is that really such a heinous act?

To your credit, you did highlight some positive qualities of our species, namely our soft fur, and soothing trilling. Aside from that, ALL NEGATIVE. I wouldn’t be surprised if you believe all the stereotypes about Tribbles, like our huge families are a drain on social programs, or that we’re more likely to be incarcerated.

I never saw your crew complain about rabbits, or puppies, why pick on us? What did we ever do? Oh let me guess, you see Tribbles hanging out on the street corner, or on the bus with enormous families, and you equate that as some kind of social scourge?

Don’t believe what you see on the news, not all Tribbles are a drain on society, in and out of jail, or abusing social programs. I work, and my family’s not even that big; there’s only forty of us, so don’t go painting me with that brush.

By the way, whatever happened to the space-maxim of “Live long and prosper.”? What, does that only apply to Vulcans or something?

You know what’s really “troubling”? The premeditated mass poisoning of a harmless race of creatures that were removed from their natural habitat, BY A HUMAN and placed in a situation where they were allowed to gorge themselves on poisoned grain.

That, is troubling.

Lastly, I watched the credits and didn’t see a disclaimer that “No Tribbles had been harmed during the making of this program.” You know why it wasn’t there? Cause all of those Tribbles really died.

TELEVISED GENOCIDE.

How do you people sleep at night?

Signed,

A Tribble.

Creating Forward Momentum with your Comedy

by Jonas Polsky

If there’s one thing comedians do a lot of, it’s talk. I had a long discussion with a friend recently about some of life’s biggest questions:

Is there a God?

What does life mean?

Why does that guy deserve his own sitcom?

My friend wasn’t that satisfied with his life, or more importantly, with his comedy career. As I talked him off the proverbial ledge I brought up my two rules for happiness: Get a good night’s sleep every night, and do something you really enjoy every day.

My theory is that if you follow those rules, even if you never achieve your dreams, at least you made sure you enjoyed yourself, and you weren’t exhausted when assaulted by life’s indignities.

We have very little control over our lives, but if you can focus on those fundamentals you can “guarantee” that it’s somewhat livable.

The more we talked, the more I realized there was a third element that was missing from those rules: Do something every day that is going to create forward momentum with your comedy. 

Each week I write topical monologues, jokes for a web series, ideas and sketches for a podcast, and send out writing submissions. Each week, my friend on the other hand, tries to find stage time.

That’s it.

He doesn’t write comedy very much. He almost doesn’t write anything at all. He expends most of his energy trying to get laid. As near as I can tell, no one has booked a gig based on their ability to score with chicks. Which is lucky, because if that was the case I’d be blacklisted from show business.

Before a show he’ll try to remember ideas he didn’t write down and see if he can come up with a joke. That half-hour of brainstorming is all of the effort he puts into his comedy aside from performing.

Sleepwalking through your act once or twice a week doesn’t generate momentum, if anything it holds you back. It gives you a false perception that you are “working.” Performing stand up for free is essentially an audition, but if you’re not improving, there’s no point in people seeing you.

Lots of writers and comedians spend hours and years daydreaming about a career, trashing other comedians, and waiting for the phone to ring. In their minds, when that happy day comes, and they finally get “a break”, they’ll roll up their sleeves and learn how to write sketches, generate ideas, and complete assignments.

Unfortunately, comedy writing jobs don’t offer paid training. They want you to be great at it when you walk through the door. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to ask you to make something, take the initiative and create it of your own free will.

I am not waiting for someone to call me. I am not waiting for a chance, I’m working right now. Why am I trying so hard? The same reason I make sure to be rested and find enjoyment, because today is the only day we have. If in a decade I find out I’m too old, or not good enough to ever find work as a comedy writer, I’ll know I tried as hard as I could to make it. I wrote down every idea, pursued every lead, and tried everything I could think of to find success.

No one wants to look back on failure and know that they could have tried harder.

Each moment you spend writing, or rewriting, pushes you one atom forward to excellence, to your maximum proficiency. When I die, I’ll look back on a life of soul-crushing heartbreak and disappointment, but I will also have an unpublished body of work that I’m proud I created.

Push yourself to improve every day. Work on a script, write an essay, rework some stand up, produce something. Each day we create something makes us feel good, and fills our lives with a measure of satisfaction.

Generate forward momentum in your comedy, and create something every day that made it count, that made it worthwhile. Today, I wrote this.

My Tattoo Idea

by Jonas Polsky

It’s gonna be a tattoo of an alien with a jester’s hat on and a pukka shell necklace.

He’s got a bong in one hand, and he’s shooting dice with the other hand.

And he’s blowing smoke out of his mouth from a bong hit.

And he’s showing off a huge wad of money.

And in the other hand he’s flashin’ a royal flush.

And the alien is leaning back with an ice cold 40.

And even though he doesn’t have pupils, his eyes are bloodshot.

And in the other hand he’s sippin’ a giant Slurpee.

And he’s strumming a killer riff on a bass guitar.

And in the other hand he’s holding a gun with smoke coming out of it.

And he’s got a can of spraypaint, spraying the anarchy logo.

And he’s karate choppin’ a cop in half.

And in the other hand he’s holding a coke mirror with three huge lines of coke on it.

And he’s giving the middle finger with both hands.

And he’s wearing a Cypress Hill hockey jersey.

And he’s kicking a hacky sack.

And he’s lighting a fat joint.

And he’s got a stack of records and DJ headphones under his arm.

And with the other hand he’s flipping a coin.

And in the other hand he’s holding an alien porno mag.

And the alien chick on the cover is totally hot!

And he’s holding a tattoo gun,

And he’s giving another alien a tattoo of a human.

And with both hands he’s juggling three skulls.

And he’s catching a crazy looking frisbee between his legs.

And he’s taking a bite out of a pot brownie with a weed leaf stickin out of it.

And he’s got on a wizard hat and he’s casting a kickass spell.

And in the other hand he’s like gazing into a crystal ball!

And he’s holding a feather pen and some parchment,

And he’s writing a wicked-ass poem.

And kickflipping on a skateboard while overcharging a tourist for mushrooms.

And with both hands he’s throwin’ up the devil horns!

And he’s leaning back with his hands in his pockets.

This tattoo is gonna be great!

I'm 'Straight Edge'

by Jonas Polsky

I’m “straight edge.” The only other expression I know to describe myself with is “teetotaller”, but I don’t think anyone has used that since the fifties.

It doesn’t matter which I use, because either is met with blank stares.

I’m a person who chooses to not drink or do drugs. The English language only has two expressions for that, because it’s a tremendously unpopular choice. A choice that requires a lot of justification. I’ve spent a lot of time explaining that it’s not due to religion, or being in recovery, I just don’t do it.

The more I’ve aged, the more reasons, or situations to be sober I’ve encountered, so there’s no one thing to point to that explains why. I didn’t get high and stab my cousin, and no one died in a drunk driving accident. Religion and tragedy apparently are the only acceptable excuses for self-imposed sobriety.

When I was really young, I was into punk music, and some of that music was straight edge and would tell you that drinking and smoking wasn’t cool. I was at a very impressionable age, and I let these musicians poison my mind with the idea that you could enjoy life more by staying sober.

Then I moved to a farm. I was probably twelve years old, and that’s when the “bug” to smoke marijuana kicked in, but there was none to be found. The town I lived in had a gas station and no supermarket. I have no idea where my mother got our food. I was socially stranded, and the only thing people were doing in my town was chewing tobacco.

My parents divorced when i was seven, and the judge in the divorce, in his infinite wisdom thought it best for my younger sister and I to live with our mother, and the three other children to live with our dad. My father was permissive, reclusive, and probably despondent. As a result his home was filled with wild children chain-smoking cigarettes, and up to all hours drinking and taking LSD.

Visiting them was a culture shock, and for a child that with almost no exposure to any of those things, I was frightened, and probably disgusted by it.

Then I became an adolescent and suddenly had access to marijuana and beer. I alternated between the worry that my obsessive tendencies would turn me into a drug addict, or alcoholic at the first indulgence. This was accompanied by the fear that drugs would ruin my ability to think clearly, and impact my status as a budding fifteen-year-old intellectual, which I was not. I didn’t want to live with the uncertainty that I was lazy, or bad in school because I’d taken drugs.

As the years passed, different rationale floated in and out, but whatever the situation was, I just never started. When you’re nineteen and have never smoked a cigarette, you’ve likely passed the point of no return in being interested in getting high.

Society has a funny way of explaining what is expected of you; mostly through tradition, expectations, and guilt. When I explain that I don’t drink I’m met with looks of suspicion, and scorn. Frequently I’m told that I’m lying, and must have been in rehab, and clearly that was the answer. Otherwise, why would someone choose to not drink?

Drugs and alcohol impact the brain and nervous system to simulate an emotion. Emotions, the most of which I think, can be accessed naturally. Elation, confidence, happiness, they are all available in non-ingestible forms. Unfortunately, in order to feel them, you have to go out and do something with yourself. That’s the give-and-take with sobriety.

Drugs and alcohol represent a temporary “escape” from the tedium, and hopelessness that is human life. I am not afforded the comfort of this escape. I live in a miserable world, and I face it each day sober, and it is horrifying.

The upside of this knowledge is that I endeavor each day to improve my life, and the world around me, as opposed to hiding from it.

In George Orwell’s ‘1984’ they depict alcohol as a means of pacifying, and satiating the proletariat. The injustice, and abuse the prole suffers in a blue collar job is erased when he can down a liter of beer and feel like a king, until the following morning when reality beckons.

I’m straight edge. It’s not sexy, or cool, and probably the ultimate social hindrance. The funny part is being sober is actually the most normal, and sensible method of existence, but try explaining that to society. I have.

The Worst Twitter Memes of 2011

by Jonas Polsky

Let’s gather around and say farewell to the worst twitter memes of 2011. These are the cookie-cutter tweet formulae that have readers rolling their eyes, with the cursor hovering dangerously over the unfollow button.

If George Lucas is right, this could be our last year enjoying twitter, so as we livetweet the end of the world, let’s annoy each other less by abandoning the following memes.

5. “Spirit Animals” - Everyone gets it, bacon is your spirit animal, but somedays Snooki is your spirit animal. And a paint can, child’s diaper, or homeless person is your spirit animal. It was cute for a little while, but let’s leave the spirit animals in the kennel next year.

4. Hashtag punctuation - Not hashtag games mind you, but using a hashtag as a shortcut to a punchline. “Guess I’m smoking heroin today. #LindsayLohan” When people first started using twitter the ironic use of an unused hashtag was novel, but it’s done now. Nobody tell Doug Benson though, cause he’s lovin’ ‘em.

3. Dangling sentence fragments - I’ve seen enough “Why is jobs?” and “Why are men?” tweets for several lifetimes. There are several, maybe hundreds of things in life that everyone hates, but there are better, less stoner-inspired ways to express them. You can find one in 2012.

2. Kardashian text retweets - The definition of low-hanging fruit. When someone posts a serious declaration and you have an infinite amount of time to respond YES you can think of a sarcastic answer. (slow clap). I’m aware that Eli has cultivated his entire feed around thinking of high-larious comebacks to a Kardashian saying she’s bored, but we can cut it out in 2012.

1. You spelled X wrong/Autocorrect - Hey celebrity saying something sincere, you spelled “butts” wrong. I’ve had it with people picking a verb or noun from someone’s sincere post about winning a Grammy and telling them they spelled heroin wrong, or autocorrect changed it for them.

For that matter, I’m done with anything related to autocorrect. Autocorrect jokes are the autotune of comedy. It was interesting once, but no longer. Kiss “you spelled wrong” and “autocorrect” goodbye on New Year’s Eve.

0. Follow Fridays - Although not intentionally a joke, let’s leave Follow Fridays to the #TeamFollowBack community next year. No, Follow Fridays do not work, yes retweets work wonders. If you want to lather up someone’s butt, just tell them publicly that you love them, there’s no need to hang on to the pretense that someone needs, or wants a Follow Friday recommendation, and they make Fridays suck.

What annoying memes have I forgotten?

Honorable Mentions from the peanut gallery.

Nice try, X - “Nice try, people that try nicely.” “Nice try, lowfat foods.” “Nice try, anything that isn’t vodka.” Again, tons of things that are annoying, but we can find other ways of expressing their tedium-inducing existence than telling them off with this overused meme.

It’s not illegal - “You can put a hat on your butt, it’s not illegal.” This phrase is used to take any description of something abnormal and “funny-ify” it. You’ve found a so-so punchline, take thirty seconds to come up with something that makes it a joke, and not this tired meme.

Understanding Comedy Writing: "Hack" Punchlines

by Jonas Polsky

Not all punchlines are created equal. Some are repeated for decades, handed down from father to son. Others are scoffed at, and immediately forgotten. The difference between the two is dependent on the effort put forth by the comedian.

On one end of the joke spectrum is “original”, at the other is “hack.” A “hack” in the purest sense of the term is a comedian that knowingly steals jokes, and uses them in his own act, or writing. The secondary use of “hack” simply means that a joke is uninspired, or passe. Let’s take a look at what makes a joke, or punchline “hack” and how comedians can avoid it.

Jerry Seinfeld once likened a joke to asking a listener to leap from one piece of land to another. The size of the gap between the two pieces of land was critical. If it was too far they wouldn’t get the joke, but if it was too close they would see the ending coming.

“If you hold up a Shell station, you can hear the ocean.”

In this example the reader sees something that at first is very familiar; the phenomena of “hearing” the ocean when you place a shell to your ear. This familiarity is contrasted by the idea of sticking up a gas station, and this illogical relationship sends electrical impulses from the brain down to the “funny bone.”

Comedy is predicated by these types of associations, where the audience takes a brief “leap” from the premise to the punchline and the strangely illogical equation elicits laughter. I like to think a joke is a bit like solving a riddle. Or more accurately, taking something that already makes sense, and turning it into a riddle.

Emo Philips famously quipped:

“You can often find humor just by turning something upside-down, like… a small child.”

Here Emo jumps from the concept of a new angle on an idea into the real world by flipping a (presumably screaming), child on its head. This quick change proves his point by inverting the expectations of the listener.

The comedy mind is always “attacking” an idea from every angle. The comedian comes up with several conclusions and then delivers the best one. This selection can be the difference between having everyone at Applebee’s in stitches, or sitting in silence with a face full of fajita steam.

The shortest distance from a setup to a punchline is the first thing that pops into your head. Unfortunately everyone else will likely come up with the same punchline as you are working through the setup. Even though they haven’t heard that exact joke before, it will already seem so familiar to them that it won’t get a laugh.

This is the narrow gap that Seinfeld warned about. If an audience reaches the same conclusion a comedian does, they can predict a joke’s ending, and might as well stay home where the drinks are much cheaper.

Great jokes must have a novel take on a situation, a punchline that is well crafted, and has a close enough association to its premise that it is logical, yet illogical.

So give each joke another pass and try to top the first punchline you come up with. It can be the difference between a joke being praised as original, or derided as hack.