Testing Out Material

April 15, 2013

The best way to find out what material does and does not work is through trial and error. Here I am testing material at an open mic night for both Spoken Word Poetry and Stand-Up comedy. This footage is the first public performance of any of my material.

A friend of mine kindly filmed the performance so that I could watch it back and critique it. It is interesting to note the difference in audience when performing. My friends who attended are a similar age to myself and all have the same occupation while the rest of the audience were a mixture of ages and occupations. It is interesting to consider, when watching the video back and during the performance, the differences in responses between the different sections of the audience. As the video shows, some material was found to be funny by all the demographics and some was found to be funny by certain sections of the audience.

Some of the material did not work, either at all or as well as it should have, it is important to remember when watching the footage back that it is my responsibility to communicate the material. There is a huge difference between material not working because of its structure or content and not working because of the delivery or performance these two distinctions do cause the same result: no laughter. It is an important thing to remember when analyzing a performance because a joke may not need to be removed or restructured but may need to have the delivery changed, that is tone, inflection and posture.  The best way to improve is to practice.


One liners consist of puns, miss interpretations of common situations, subversion of well know phrases and are often concerned with nothing more than the construction of language.

The one-liners that seem to get the best reception are those that condense information into concise sentences. This is partly to do with timing and partly to do with the audiences ability to quickly fill in information when the topic contains such common knowledge.

For example, Tim Vine’s joke ‘I was playing Football on a plane, so I ran up the wing.’ is so concise because the subject matter is so broad, everyone knows that panes have wings, and that the sides of the football pitch are also called wings. It’s simple but so effective because it utilizes a function of comedy that has been a part of humor since forever, the smiple fact that some words have two meanings.

Henning Wehn, as Stewart Lee introduces, originally came to Britain to work as a Marketing Manager for Wickham Wanderers FC.

Henning’s Stand-Up style sometimes subverts and sometimes intentionally conforms to long standing British stereotypes of the German population.

I particularly enjoy the elements of his routine that are describing and explaining the reasons that his jokes are funny and why he enjoys them. This kind of self-commentary is particularly effective for a comic whose nationality provides another layer to his point of view on the world around him. The explanation of why the joke works as a joke contains intentionally stereotypical cultural differences between Britain and Germany utilizing long standing cultural memories to a brand new effect.

His use of ‘timing’ as a recurring theme, with the stop watch tracking his acts progress and his consideration that a joke is all about timing because it cannot exist between two years in history (1867-1918) is subverting a British held stereotype that Germany is an efficient fact based country but it also serves as a useful structural tool for linking two sections of a routine together that may not share enough in common to simply follow one after another.


Stewart Lee’s style of comedy has a reputation for being self-indulgent but it is actually incredibly self-referential and there is a distinction between these two definitions.

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle aired two series on the BBC and three running jokes from that series are occurring in this simple but effective excerpt from his 2012 touring show Carpet Remnant World.

Several different times during the Comedy Vehicle series Stewart Lee comically muses on his inability to perform observational comedy which is often presented with the phrase ‘How about that…that they have now'; his comparatively low ticket prices compared to the arena comedy tours that he is unable to sell out, often specifically Live at the Apollo, and the public’s miss-understanding of political correctness.

In the excerpt Stewart Lee’s running around the stage and gazing into the audience is a mock parody of the energy and enthusiasm displayed by comedians entrances at arena shows.  The prolonged pausing and sighing throughout is referential of the drawn out routines he has developed a reputation for and His final line ‘Have you seen these Muslims they have now?…that’s the end of that bit.’ is a nod to his Comedy Vehicle episode ‘Political Correctness’ so there are several signifiers of, and references to, previous jokes occurring in this short, simple, moment.

The reason these running jokes work is because Stewart Lee’s style and reputation has been established for so long and he has made several jokes about having a niche audience he is trying to shake off or widen. Regrettably, the ‘bit’ in the bellow video featured in neither the preview of Carpet Remnant World, nor one of the toured show’s I attended but his show was, and his performances often are, full of self referencing one-liners and drawn out monologues that manifested themselves in the style of  ‘an aggressive lecture.’


The Boy With Tape On His Face considers himself to follow the conventions of any Stand-Up comic but without talking. He takes Audience Participation to extremes and in an interview talks about being aware that audience interaction is the big fear members of the public have over watching, or having to take part in, Stand-Up comedy shows.

The Boy With Tape On His Face’s performance style is an energetic mix of music, physical performance, props and audience recognized media in the form of parody.

The uniqueness of his performance is the restrictions he places on his ability to talk but it is also that the set up to his jokes are often getting audience members on stage and setting them the challenge of working out his intentions for a performance, with the punch line nearly always being the individuals reaction and the inability to perform and understand the simplest pieces of communication when struck with the fear of being watched.

Nina Conti also takes audience participation to the extreme by using a variety of ventriloquist dummies to mask, or make more acceptable, her presentation of the Stand-Up comic conventions of interviewing the audience.

Nina Conti also questions the audience performer relationship when she gets an audience member onto the stage, as The Boy With Tape On His Face has removed his ability to speak, Nina removes the audience members ability to talk. Maintinaing control of the direction of the act.

Personally, I have an aversion to interviewing audience members and using there responses, or often personal lives,  as the subject matter for a collectives enjoyment because it can make the individual uncomfortable and has been expressed to me by several people as the principle reason they would chose not to attend a Stand-Up comedy show. Having said that, I do feel that audience participation is carried out expertly by The Boy With Tape On His Face and Nina Conti. If I were to interact with the audience during a show I would not want it to follow the conventions of Stand-Up comedy but find some way of subverting those expectations that is fitting for the performance style I am developing.