There’s No Such Thing as a “Comedy Trick”

There appears to be a belief that a “comedy trick” can be stitched into any act without detriment. Audiences like to laugh, so why not dedicate five mintues towards that goal? After all, this routine is a proven classic.

If this is your belief, I would like a few moments to challenge it.


VANISHING SKILL

Either your character makes jokes, or your character does not.

There’s an act in town who does some pretty baddass manipulation. Cards, CDs, rings- you name it. He enters the stage and blows everyone away with his great look and even better technique. He’s a solid magician, with no attempt at comedy. He’s just damn good.

And then he does The Vanishing Ketchup Bottle, a “comedy trick,” with all the standard jokes. And the audience sits confused, letting loose the occasional awkward (read: pity) laugh. They are thinking, “this guy is good, why is he trying to be act like he can’t do magic now?” They are wondering “Why is he trying to be funny?” Everyone wants to know “Why is he showing us this? Do more cool stuff!” They are confused until the bag is finally crumbled up and he moves into his next awesome manipulation piece.

You see, the plot and comedy of the classic Ketchup Bottle relies on the audience still being introduced to the magician and his powers. We don’t know how good the magician is, or what he thinks of his craft. There are alot of questions still up in the air.

But Badass Magician has already answered several of these questions. We know that he has chops, we know he takes himself and his craft seriously, we know he’s not really a funny guy. He has set a standard for himself and created an expectation of what we will enjoy from him. The Vanishing Ketchup Bottle is inconsistant with these expecations and create a bewildering letdown. If I know that you are good, then I will feel condescended to when you act like you aren’t.

People love people who are funny, but most can’t stand people who try to be funny.


ALL OR NOTHING

Either your character makes jokes, or your character does not.

If you’re going to make an effort to add comedy to your show, it needs to be done with a fine paintbrush using broad strokes. Dumping all of your precious paint of puns and one liners into a single routine comes across as insincere and inhuman. Nobody becomes a funny guy just because they grab a pair of scissors and a rope, or a ketchup bottle. It’s unnatural and your audiences will resist this material, (which they will suspect of being scripted), as well as you. Everyone knows there is a script, but it is your job to never let them feel like there is.

Instead, paint in precise moments of comedy into your entire show. The consistancy is what is key to making the comedy feel natural, and this naturalness is what will make it effective.

Of course certain routines are going to feature more laughs than others. But even in your more serious pieces, give your audience a few glimpses of the funnyman they remember from your last piece. He still needs to be there there. (Intro monologues are a great place to lighten the mood before diving into deeper routines.)


THERE’S MORE THAN JUST JOKES

Either your character makes jokes, or your character does not.

Most “comedy tricks” gain thier status from an inclusion of visual gags and/or jokes combined with a lighthearted nature. Many are tongue in cheek mockeries of more serious effects.

But not every character in magic is the type of person to make jokes or use gags. Look at your own character and decide now if he, she, or it is the type of creature who would actively make a joke. Likely this will correspond tightly with whether or not you are the type of creature who makes jokes.

If you answer yes, then feel free to write jokes into your script. If you answer no, then read on.

Some of the best comedy is situational. People like to watch and laugh at how others react to things. And we don’t register these moments as “jokes.” They are just a part of life.

If your character isn’t the type to say a joke, then your job is to manufacture funny moments. Gaetan Bloom’s cut and restored microphone cable comes to mind here. The comedy comes not from his words, but from what is happening to the magician. (Note: Gaetan Bloom is the type of character to make jokes, and he does occasionally. But the core comedy of this routine comes from the situation of the scissors penetrating onto the mic stand and both the magician and audience discovering this together.)

Here’s another: let’s say Badass Magician wants to add comedy to his card manipulation act. Instead of trying to stich jokes into the patter, why not “accidentally” drop a card- an obvious mistake. Suddenly Baddass Magician stops what he’s doing, drops to the floor and does ten push ups*. He gets up, and resumes his set. This is far more fitting with his character.

*I’ve seen this gag done by the Flaming Butterflies, a fire dancing duo from Australia. As far as I am aware, this is thier gag and should not be stolen. I’ve included it here for theoretical purposes only.


COMEDIC MOTIVATIONS

An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.

People act differently depending upon what forces act upon us. Joke tellers become joyless poets when sufferring heartbreak. Shrewd conservaties unleash thier wild side when subjected to a touch of anarchy. And a serious magicians become a lighthearted friend when reacting to a trick that’s gone wrong.

Perhaps your character is professional and serious until he makes a mistake, and suddenly hides his nerves with silly puns. Maybe he is cool and collected, yet becomes a bumbling idiot upon having a woman volunteer onstage. Well all know people who do things like this, it is a sincere defense mechanism. And there are an endless list of situations. Explore what fits you, and then explore ways of conveying this to your audience. Like a good magical effect, the number one rule is clarity.


IN CLOSING

“Comedy tricks” are simply chunks of other performers’ comedy magic shows put on the market. Most likely they won’t be comptable with your show as is. Maybe you are too good for their plot to work, or the plot is inconsistent with your character’s motivation or attitude.

If anything, I hope we all just take in a bigger picture before implanting other performers’ words and actions into our shows.

Thank you for reading.







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