Dr. Jagdish Chaturvedi is an ENT surgeon, medical device innovator, Author and Stand up comedian who has performed two stand up comedy specials - Laughter Therapy and F for Failure in over 150 shows across the country and Internationally.
When I started out as a stand-up comic, something funny happened. People would come to me after my act for what I thought was exchanging a few words and selfies. To my surprise, I was soon consulting patients for ENT problems! Well, what was I expecting by rolling two professions - doctor and comic - into one.
My experience as a stand-up comic has been interesting, to say the least. In recent times, I’ve had aspiring comedians approach me for advice on making it in stand-up, leading me to reflect on my journey and distill my lessons in the process. If you’re struggling to crack your audience up or have just embarked on this riveting journey, here are 10 tricks for making it big as a comic.
1. Attend as much as you perform
Comics often fail to realize, especially when they’re starting out, that attending shows is just as important as performing. Learn from those that have been around longer - watch how they perform their set and connect with the audience - and use that insight to perfect your own craft. Don’t do your 5-minute open-mic set only to make a dash for the exit right after. It is only when you sit and watch a show that you learn to think like the audience and get a taste of what works for them.
2. Have a plan B
Never hit the stage with a single, rigid plan on what you’re going to do with your time there. This is something I learned the hard way - no matter what happened, I would stick to my planned set and come back home feeling dejected when it didn’t elicit the desired response. Often times, the audience is not ready for your material. Your job as a comic is to first gauge what your audience wants. If you realize your material isn’t going to cut it for a particular audience, improvise. For instance, if your audience is under the influence of alcohol, keep your intellectual jokes aside and give them quick, easy-to-laugh-at jokes. Get out of your comfort zone tweak your material according to the audience.
3. TIme it
If the audience loves the comedian, they’ll have fun regardless of the quality of act. But when you’re new with no public recognition, most people are skeptical. With a skeptical audience, you must begin with understanding what it’s looking for. To gauge your audience, put your best material in the beginning and end and keep the middle part for experimental jokes. A purely experimental set can backfire and instead of having the audience warming up to you.
4. Know when to talk to the audience
Sometimes, a comic loses the audience’s attention but still goes through with their scripted jokes. This is a cardinal sin. As soon as you feel the audience’s energy drop, finish your joke and start interacting with them. The notion that the crowd must be talked to only in the beginning, never mid-show, is bogus. I say, crowd work has to be done whenever the crowd needs to be worked. On those occasions I encounter an audience that is not ready for my material, I simply talk to them and close instead of cracking rehearsed jokes. Comedy isn’t a one-way street; it calls for ample interaction between the performer and the viewer. The more involved your audience feels, the more receptive it is to your jokes.
5. Identify your clappers
Every audience has a couple of clappers – the ones who initiate the round of applause at every joke. These people need to be identified early on. Some comedians shift focus from the clappers to the others in a bid to win their attention and as a result, lose out on the clappers’ attention. However, you must frequently interact with the clappers – could be just a couple of guys in a corner - because they are the ones who actually help work your audience and encourage a round of applause.
6. Let your body speak!
Body language lies at the heart of a good act. Instead of just spitting rehearsed lines out, use your body to communicate with your audience. Move around, be liberal with your gestures, maintain eye contact, and let some of that energy rub off on the crowd.
7. Use your pauses well
Sometimes you can wrest that extra laugh out of your audience by simply pausing at the right time and giving them time to think about the joke. You may have dropped your biggest punchline but it could fall flat if you quickly jump to the next joke. Working on your pauses is as important as working on the actual content.
8. Be diverse
Comedians are often confused as to the format they should stick with - jokes, anecdotes, commentary etc. I say, go with a mix of everything to infuse your content with diversity and appeal to a wide section of people.
Not just content, be linguistically diverse too. This is of special importance in a country like ours, where incorporating Hindi content is important for a comic to enjoy a pan-India appeal. I once happened to do a lineup in the South which was quite well received. As soon as I hit Gurgaon, it completely bombed! Write your material with the linguistic sensibilities of your audience in mind and switch as per need.
9. Be yourself
Every comedian has their unique following, which may sometimes not be present in the room. Don’t change yourself to please the audience of some other comic, losing your identity in the process. It’s completely fine even if most of the room doesn’t appreciate your comedy. It’s the ones that like you that matter; these are the ones that will spread the word and bring more like-minded people or your next act. If you look at famous comedians, you’ll realize they’ve all created their followings; these didn’t exist when they started out. Have your unique style and don’t give it up just because a few shows went bad.
10. Be social media friendly
Social media is important to grow your following and reach an audience wider than you can through your shows alone. Some comics wait for an entire year (or even longer) to put out their first video when they should ideally be doing it at the very onset. Your videos help increase your popularity and cultivate a dedicated following. Moreover, if your comedy career is going to serve as your primary source of income, a social media presence is imperative. What helps a comic sustain is not public but corporate shows – that’s where the real money lies. However, corporates need to see proof of a comic’s popularity and work before inviting them. Because a social media presence affects your livelihood to such a large extent, ignore it at your own risk.
For updates on upcoming shows follow Jagdish Chaturvedi on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram @DrJagdishChatur or visit www.jagdishchaturvedi.com