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

    Education Corner January 17th, 2013 By Dustin Fisher

    Last we left our heroes, they were introduced to the stage, decided what to do with the microphone and either talked the audience down from their applause or let the silence work its subtle, powerful magic. Not a word of the routine has been spoken. If all goes well, this is the apex of the crippling terror that you will feel.

    In the delivery for both genres, you want to connect with your audience. And sure, you could get that same advice from any dime store, whatever the heck they are. But the way to do that is to look at them, lean at them and gesture to them. Don’t just pick a point on the screen in the back to stare at. The audience will know you’re talking to a screen. In both realms, I like to look around at different people in different sections to try to connect with them. I’ll pick out friends in the crowd that I know enjoy laughing and deliver a line to them in particular. Meredith is usually good for this.

    The difference between standup and storytelling with respect to connecting with the audience is that in standup, you’re talking with the audience, almost welcoming them to talk back, whereas in storytelling, you’re talking to the audience while still exuding the aura of being in charge. Storytelling is not the same kind of two-way communication as standup. You certainly feed off the audience and you’ll see some performers (Jason Pittman comes to mind) that encourage more audience participation, but the feeling should be that you’re in charge. Of course, anyone who’s ever been in a SpeakeasyDC audience before already knows this anyway. But it doesn’t matter if all the passengers know where they’re going if the bus driver doesn’t.

    Pandering to the audience is tolerated, but not as overtly in storytelling. I should say that I’m not a big panderer in general. But I also don’t use the cheat shortcut in Frappe Snowland. It’s an easy laugh and I like to think I’m above that, whether I really am or not. And by overt pandering, I mean begging. “Lines at the DMV suck, am I right? Clap if you hate standing in lines.” That’s overt pandering. I’ll certainly throw out a little “You know what I mean” or “Cats. What are you gonna do?” But if you are going to ask the audience to laugh or clap with you, you’re going down a path that takes away from the authority that you have.

    I wound up deep in a conversation with Stephanie Garibaldi about asides after a rehearsal last year and I’m not talking about coleslaw and fries. Asides are like driving into a scenic overlook while already taking the scenic route. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes it’s just a different angle than you can see from the road, but it always slows you down. In standup, they are often referred to as taglines and they are usually encouraged. Think “That’s what she said.”

    Standup is broken down into “bits” which, in my experience, can range from 30 seconds to twenty minutes. It’s nice to have a few extra punches in every bit to not only get maximum laughs, but also to add air time to that bit. So if the headliner comes up to you as you’re about to go on stage to introduce him on your third time ever doing standup and says “give me three minutes,” you can say “Oh sure, Mr. Ferrara. I have a 3-minute bit that will work just fine.” Continuity is not as big of a factor in standup so maybe you can bring your audience to the overlook. If you’re just trying to see some pretty things and not really trying to get them anywhere, feel free to stop along the way.

    Storytelling is more about the journey. Stops are not usually as advisable if they ruin the flow of the story. When rehearsing for a Fringe show back in 2010, I was telling a story about trying to score with some chick in a bar and how it would be good for my ego. I so very desperately wanted to tilt my head to the side, single out some girl lucky enough to be in the front row, cock my eyebrow and say “It would also be good for my id, if you know what I mean.” But however clever the line, the directors and the other cast members told me this wasn’t the place for it and yes, even if I took out the “if you know what I mean.” And they were right. I would get a few cheap laughs, but at the cost of the momentum I was building with my story.

    Once again, I am no expert. These are my observations and opinions. If you want to “That’s what she said” your entire story on the Speakeasy stage, feel free. But I usually try to stick to the paved roads and make sure I get there before the bar closes.

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