Standup vs. Storytelling: Part Six | Preparation

    Education Corner February 26th, 2013 By Dustin Fisher

    Much like crabs, there are many ways to prepare the meal, but at the heart of it is dropping a living creature into boiling hot water. Standup and storytelling preparation is much the same.

    When I did my first standup routine in the summer of 1996, I was afraid to over prepare for fear of sounding rehearsed. I wanted to prepare just enough so that I would seem natural on stage without forgetting anything. And again when I did my second routine over 11 years later. I did the same thing for my first story at the Speakeasy in April 2009. Though that story was successful, I have since changed my approach for one major reason.


    In standup, if you forget your place, you just say “Where was I? Ah, fuck it. That shirt makes you look like a fat, asexual beanie baby!” and start the next bit that you can think of. In storytelling, if you forget, you stand there with that blank look of terror until you reach out for any word that might be in your story to just say something and hopefully stop the lights from boiling you alive.

    In fact, in standup I have what I call a two-way go (because I have to relate everything to football to make it make sense). I will open with a joke that’s a little more high-brow and depending on the crowd’s reaction, I’ll go down one of two different routes: one decorated with glorified dick jokes and the other with unglorifed dick jokes. There exists no such equivalent in storytelling. Storytelling is more like a 10K. There’s really only one way to go, and if you take a shortcut, people will usually know.

    This is why I’ve taken to practicing stories many more times than standup. All the vets told me when I first started standup to perfect my best five minutes. And so I did. Or at least I started to. And it was boring. I had much more fun writing and trying new things. Which is completely allowed in standup, but I found storytelling more challenging and rewarding. But this is a story for another day.

    As far as note-taking for storytelling is concerned, I have written on this before, but I’ll recap. There are a few different ways to get the story into writing, and I’ve tried most of them. I started making bullet points, so as to not have a complete script to follow. This enables you to remember each section easier since you can hopefully picture the seven or so main bullet points, but you risk a little consistency in sentence structure and can sometimes lose entire points or jokes. I’ve tried writing out the entire story word for word. This helps to remain consistent, but only if you remember every word. Losing your place will prove much more costly if all you see are paragraphs full of words in your head rather than major bullet points you can grab a hold of. I’ve also tried writing down nothing at all. This is not a technique I favor or recommend, but a recent bout of insomnia has led me to have a lot of time lying down unable to fall asleep. I thought about my story so much overnight that in the morning, writing it out seemed a waste of time.

    One similarity I’ve found as far as rehearsing both standup and storytelling is to break it down into digestible bites. Even when I took no notes at all, I broke the story down into four sections while rehearsing the timing and practiced them separately. I practice some sections more than others, just like I do with my standup bits. As long as I can remember the order of my seven one-minute stories, I can usually avoid that boiling light, melting alive feeling. And I make sure to label each comedy bit and each story section with the average rehearsal time. This way I can either figure out where I need to trim for a story or I can reach for a certain bit by the amount of time I have left on stage for standup.

    On the day of the show, regardless of standup or storytelling, I cram. I go over and over the words in my head and about an hour before the show, I say my problem sections out loud using the “Adam Ruben technique.” For those unaware, the Adam Ruben technique is to practice saying your story out loud, but while holding your phone to your face, as to look like you’re just making a phone call. So while the rest of the Speakeasy or Hightopps Grill thinks I’m being a douche for talking on the phone, I’m really just overcompensating for being underprepared. Thanks, Adam.

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