Standup vs. Storytelling: Part Four | Delivery (Part One)

    Education Corner January 3rd, 2013 By Dustin Fisher

    Much like babies and pizza, much of the difference between stand-up and storytelling is in the delivery. Some differences are subtle, such as cash or credit being the preferred method of payment; some are substantial, like the difference between 18 hours of indigestion and 18 years of financial and emotional responsibility over another human being. But unlike the delivery of pizza and babies, to which I have only been a spectator I have a decent amount of experience in the delivery of both stand-up and storytelling.

    The first part of your story’s delivery is something you have little to no control over; your introduction. You are at the mercy of whatever the emcee’s motives are, which are largely different in stand-up and storytelling. At SpeakeasyDC, you are likely to be welcomed to the stage with a version of “This next performer is a third-time performer on the Speakeasy stage and was a part of the sold out Fringe Festival show ‘Logic, Luck and Love.’ Please give a warm welcome to Dustin Fisher.” It is very matter of fact and professional. This is a sharp contrast to stand-up, where you’re more likely to be brought up to the decidedly less formal “When this guy isn’t having sexual fantasies about the Muppets, he’s teaching his dog how to lick peanut butter off his balls – put it together for the man who put the bait in masturbation, Dustin Fisher.” The two sets have a much different feel already. It would be tough to walk on the stage after the latter and open with “I don’t remember the last Christmas I had with my father.”

    The first decision you need to make when walking on the stage is what to do with the microphone. If you leave it in the stand, you are more free to gesture with your arms, but you’re stuck in one spot on the stage. If you take it out and hold it, you’re stuck with the mic in one of your hands, but you can move around. I was taught in stand-up that you should stand toward the back of the stage during the setup and come forward during the punchline of a joke. It’s a subtle, but effective cue to the audience that they’ve reached the punchline without having a rim shot. Also, stage movement gives the illusion of being more improvised. It tricks the crowd into thinking that you’re just a funny guy talking rather than a rehearsed performer doing material. This is a more common approach for stand-up performers, who usually like to connect with their audience through being seemingly less prepared. The less prepared one appears, the more naturally funny one appears when the material makes the audience laugh. While a decent approach in standup, this isn’t always the goal of storytelling. Even with humorous stories, the performer often wants to give credit to the story and preparation of it rather than their ability to wing it. For this reason, along with having one less thing to worry about, most storytellers leave the microphone in the stand*.

    Silence is also a much more welcomed effect in storytelling than stand-up. In stand-up, the performer MUST get up on stage before the applause following their introduction ends. They almost always will cut off the applause with a “Thank you, thank you, thank you. How’s everybody doing tonight? Good? Good” before they get into their set. Something to eat the potential silence. Stand-up is a party and even worse than puking on all the jackets at a party is silence. Conversely, storytelling uses silence as a cleanser. After the introduction, the performer will come up on stage and there will be a quiet period of time while the emcee adjusts the microphone stand. The audience will wait patiently through this process. In stand-up, the audience would start booing or worse, leaving.

    I actually incorporated the microphone stand adjustment into my routine by standing there as Amy would adjust it while I gave her the up and down commands with my hands, only to finally take it out at the end of all of her hard work. The audience laughed before I had even said a word. Amy has since grown wise and tired of being the butt of my joke, but it was fun to do for the three times it worked.

    I’ve now managed to write an entire article about the difference in delivery before the performer has even said a word. Oops. If you want to see what the difference in delivery is once words start to come out, you’ll have to check back in a couple weeks. In the meantime, enjoy your pizza. Or baby, whichever you’re into.

    *Editor’s note: SpeakeasyDC coaches and directors also strongly advise leaving the mic in the stand b/c nervous pacing by the storyteller can be extremely distracting to the audience. And unstructured pacing is the most likely outcome of a storyteller (especially a new storyteller) taking the mic out of the stand- as opposed to the structured movement to emphasize a point that Dustin explains can be used in stand-up.

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