I like to write every day because I amuse myself.
On a great morning, I might discover a (funny) germ of an idea and blow it up to a full (laughter) epidemic. Developing material is work and you just don’t know when or where you’ll find the funny. So I write every day.
Some ideas just sit there waiting for the Muse help turn them into something. Other ideas are easier to shape, and make me laugh out loud. Maybe not loud enough to wake the neighbors, but loud enough to make my dogs wonder if I am learning to bark. Bottom line: on a good writing day, I get to laugh at my own jokes. I’m no scientist, but the formula for turning a germ into a guffaw is roughly 50 parts labor and 50 parts joy.
On the other hand, I know much of what I write will never see the light of day, or (because this is show biz) will never see a spotlight on a stage. Yep, most bits won’t get heard by a paid audience, and maybe not even by fellow comics at an open mic. Some ideas are just not good enough and others just don’t fit in with all my other material. If I can’t set up a joke so it will slide into my ever-evolving set, it does not make the cut. (Although I do save everything.) The act that my audiences see is like a jig-saw puzzle—all the jokes and transitions and callbacks need to fit together into seamless whole.
There needs to be a flow to each gig, so there’s not a lot room for experimentation on stage. I build from one thought to another, and everything has to mesh with my comedic voice (or personality) as well as my look (or physicality). When it all works, the intersection of the material I can get across and the type of material expected from me results in big laughs from a happy audience.
After all, this is what I do for a living. The bookers at venues expect—and have paid for—my “A” game. There’s no relief pitcher. It’s rare to find an opportunity to simply “play” in front of an audience who is eager to accept a bit of uncertainty about what the performer (me, in this case) might do.
The energy of a show can be a moving battlefield, at least where I’ve been playing. Holding people’s attention is getting harder now that the smartphone serving as a periscope to the rest of their 24-hour lives. There hasn’t been one show in the past year where I haven’t noticed an audience member sneaking a peek at a phone, regardless of who is on stage. It reminds me of folks who just can’t function for very long without a cigarette.
I can deal with the slight distraction of a face being lost to the ghostly illumination of a screen. That even happens when I’m far out at sea where internet access is expensive. But I do worry that it might get worse. Keeping people’s attention with an extended premise is going to get harder in a live show. Someone is not going to laugh at the big finish if he or she missed the most of the middle.
Video may be the next best way to connect with an audience interested enough to devote their full attention, even if the performer doesn’t feel their energy firsthand. I can still turn my comedy germs into entertaining epidemics—even if I’m not in the room to see the result.