Maybe it’s nerves or the adrenaline rush of doing what we’ve waited all day long to do, but many comedians tend to talk a bit too fast on stage. Comedian and owner of the Komedy Korner, Leo DuFour once suggested when I got off stage that I slow down and enjoy my time like I would a delicious meal. Maybe that was a health tip and I’m forgetting that I was scarfing down a Poutine platter at the time….it was Canada after all. Let me find another example.
One of my best friends asked me after a show why I don’t speak on stage like I speak normally off stage. He was right. I didn’t believe in my material at the time so on stage I would yell and ram my jokes down the throats of the audience as quickly as I could.
We need to remember that we’re performing for people who more often than not are in various stages of inebriation. Maybe they’re stone cold sober, but there’s room noise around them so it’s hard to stay focused on you. When we speak slower there’s less of a gap for the audience to hurdle to catch up with you.
Dave Landau is both one of my funniest friends and funniest comedians from Michigan. He speaks on stage about a half a beat slower than he does in real life. I’d argue that in addition to being a great writer, another reason he’s so good at the craft is because he has a slow, clear delivery. His jokes are punchy and his timing is impeccable.
There’s also an added sense of confidence when you speak slower. Rushing reeks of desperation. Very early on in my comedy career Steve Brewer said, “What you say isn’t as important as how you say it.” To a degree I believe that’s true. Delivering “edgy” material confidently tends to make that material hit harder. If you show the audience that you’re not sure of what you’re saying, they won’t be sure either.
If I can’t understand you, I can’t laugh at your jokes. If you tend to be a person who doesn’t enunciate well, slowing down may compensate for that. I have a friend who I understand without any problem off stage. When he gets on stage, I have a hard time deciphering a good chunk of what he’s saying. Here’s the one thing I learned from broadcasting school 22 year ago. Are you ready for this? This is eight grand of wisdom I’m going to impart on you for free. W. That’s is. W. Double You is a word that just about everyone mumbles their way through. Most people say dubyou or dub-o-you. There’s an L in the word. They stressed saying W correctly in broadcasting school because this side of the Mississippi and the Canadian border, all radio and television stations start with the letter. When I’m nervous before a show or feel like I’m just wrestling with my own tongue I’ll repeat W over and over again making sure I hit each sound of the letter. Dub-bul-you. I find myself speaking clearer when I’m on stage. You can paypal me four grand if you want to. In all fairness I also learned how to edit audio tape with a razor blade and tape on a reel to reel when I was at broadcasting school too.
I love metal. The best metal bands are the ones who didn’t just play million mile an hour blast beats, but varied their tempo. Dave Lombardo from Slayer blew away headbangers in the late 80s with his double bass fill near the end of the song Angel of Death. It’s only because the rest of the song wasn’t all double bass that makes that one of the most monumental moments in Slayer history. Since then, a lot of drummers have entire albums worth of double bass, but it’s not as impressive because that’s all it is. If you start at as fast as humanly possible, where can you go from there? It’s the same with speaking. If you’re speaking as fast as you can, how can you speed up for impact to stress a point or feeling? You can’t. Speaking slower gives you a wider range of things you can do with your voice to make your delivery stronger.
In two weeks I’ll have been doing comedy for ten years. I learn something new all the time…and I’m always trying new things. In the past month or so I’ve tried slowing down even more on stage. I’m speaking slower than I normally speak. Honestly, I think it’s helping. I am noticing that I’m speeding up during the beats where I’m not as confident in the material. That’s making me take a second look at that material to see if I’m not confident in it because it’s not ready yet. By slowing down a half a beat more than I’m comfortable it’s allowing me to be hyper aware of things like this.
I don’t have a good short set. For the past few years I’m always most comfortable doing a 35-50 minute set. Even as my material changes, 35-50 minutes just seems right. Having a strong short game is just as crucial in comedy as having a long game. Arguably a short game is even more important. No one does 35-50 minutes on Conan. My short set stinks because I try to cram ten minutes worth of material into a five minute set. My challenge to myself is to practice what I preach and do five minutes of material slowly and confidently in a five minute set.
Remember in the fable about the tortoise and the hare…it’s the tortoise who wins. Oh…oops….spoiler alert! In closing, a visual pun on tortoise and hare…er…hair.
I have spent close 24 in my car in the past week just driving from gig to gig.
On Tuesday, my buddy Dave Landau and I kicked off the comedy season for the Village Pub in Pentwater, Michigan. They’re over on the west coast of Michigan between Grand Rapids and Traverse City. Man, that place packs in an audience of people who really like comedy. I had a really fun set and then Dave crushed it as well. It was nice getting to travel a little with Dave again. That’s been happening a lot less since Funny Business moved me up a little. Dave and I have a really similar sense of humor, which is to say, dark!
After that, I drove home for some stuff and then headed back about an hour or so north of Pentwater to do the Leelanau Sands and Turtle Creek Casinos. It was my first time working with Todd Yohn. When Dave found out I was working with him, he had nothing but a lot of praise. Todd is a pretty spectacular showman, with a super positive attitude. He may be the only 30 year comedy veteran who has the same excitement level as someone maybe 30 weeks into it. It was really refreshing to meet someone so well put together both creatively and mentally. Todd took me out to breakfast on Thursday and we had a really nice conversation…for two hours. Todd can talk! He’s instantly likable and I’m glad that I made a new friend.
Friday and Saturday I headed to Merrillville, Indiana which is just south of the west coast of Michigan border. I’m working with my buddy, the great Bill Bushart. I figured out what Bill is to all of us in the Detroit comedy scene. If you listen to any episode of Jeff Conolly’s Nerd Comic Rising podcast, everyone idolizes and praises Bill. It’s like we’re all in the world of Oliver Twist and Bill has taken in all these scruffy little comedy orphans. Bill Bushart is the Fagin of Detroit comedy!
Now, I’ve seen Bill perform a lot! Friday night he was on fire. He knocked it out of the park. His timing was perfect and his goofy rubbery face and creepy eyes that work independently of each other really sold each moment and boosted the laughter from 100% to somewhere far off the chart. Every moment of crowd work he threw out there just landed hard. It was a humbling experience to go from thinking it didn’t get any better than what I did to just having Bill ride that wave of laughter like the most experienced surfer. That audience witnessed magic! Saturday night was amazing as well. He kept tying together seemingly unrelated threads from the audience. I was watching a master at work! I’m glad I was there to be part of it too!
This week I’ll be at Connxtions in Toledo working with Felicia Gillespie. I watched a bunch of her clips and I think this is going to be an amazing week of shows! I’m looking forward to it. If you’re in the area, swing on over!
On a completely unrelated side note to performing comedy, I’ve been working on a screenplay with my friend Lesley. I’m super happy with the progress on it. Lesley had an awesome idea and I’m so glad she’s letting me work on it with her. It’s a super smart comedy. I don’t want to say what it’s about, but think Bridesmaids meets The Social Network.
Here’s a classic from my buddy Dave Landau. I had no idea how much weight he’s lost until reviewing this clip. I feel like a lady for even noticing that.
I spent a good chunk of the past couple of years traveling around as far south as Florida and as far west as Oregon with my friend and fellow comedian Dave Landau. Dave has been one of those bright stars in the Detroit comedy scene who started shining a light on the rest of us when he gained national exposure on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham and two seasons of NBC’s Last Comic Standing.
Dave and I sat down together in a hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin during a week that started with the audience taking an intermission to smoke crystal meth in the parking lot and ended later ended with us not being able to get into our hotel rooms because the owner of the comedy club either forgot or assumed we would just be driving eight hours home after having performed three shows all day long for him.
I’ve traveled with a lot of comedians, but Dave has consistently been my favorite. We share the same incredibly dark sense of humor and through working with him so much and wanting to see if I could make him laugh, I started bringing more and more of that to the stage. We’ve battled personal demons together. We’ve changed more than a couple flat tires…all on my car unfortunately. I feel like we did a tour of duty together and when our discussions weren’t horrifically dark and not fit for human ears, they were informative about our chosen trade. I wanted to make sure I got the chance to share some of Dave’s words with the rest of you.