I go to a fair amount of mics and shows, and one of the things that I enjoy the most are the mainstays. Phrases and seeming non-sequiturs that tend to always be in the air – floating right there in plain site – just waiting for comics to fumble for them and blurt them out in the middle of their sets.
I realize that I need to clarify. When I say that ‘I enjoy them’, I mean that I enjoy them with the sense of nostalgia and inevitability that you may get when you go to the town where you grew up and seeing that someone from high school is still working at Dairy Queen (eternally about to be manager) – or – when you are about to watch some fireworks and you pull the old, smelly blanket out of your trunk. You experience them, they register in your brain in the ‘Oh, this again?’ folder and then you shake your head as if to say ‘Get away from that Blizzard machine, Larry.’ – or – ‘I’m going to wash you with bleach and oxyclean, blanket, because you deserve it.’ So, I enjoy them as comforting things that seemingly never change. Things that eat up minutes. Things that should be shelved.
Inevitability, staying the course and riding on the easiest road may get you to your destination, but, it is in the perceived reckless, wild and unscripted where the true adventure kicks in. You want audiences to think that you are leading them down a nice set of stairs and then wallop them from left field when it turns into a slide. You want to keep them on their toes and not be on the verge of being lulled to sleep because they have heard it all before.
Here is a list of the top ten phrases (in no certain order) that make me blink questioningly:
- Are there any _____ in here? Good. Because we’re about to talk about them.
Why would you do this to yourself? Is there some camaraderie that people get from using this? Like a secret group where when a comic says it, people touch their noses to signal who is in the club and who isn’t? The group in question isn’t there … and even if they were – you were going to talk about them anyway – because that is how your act is structured. My head hurts.
- This was a lot funnier last night at the bar at 3 a.m. when I dreamt it.
Sadly, it probably wasn’t. And the contrived premise that you have set up – whatever it may be (i.e. – out late, with your friends, with your dog, in the shower, eating pancakes, at the zoo) – won’t help it to be any funnier. You shot and you missed. Now, run on to your next setup.
- Is this thing on?
Yes, people do actually say this. And, yes, it is on.
- I’m not even sure what I’m doing here tonight …
Then put the microphone back into the stand, call up the host and scoot. You are wasting stage time that someone else might like to use.
- _____ are crazy!
They sure are … I call this the ‘noun is/are adjective’ comparison model and it should be used sparingly. To be fair – though – peanuts really are nutty … Aren’t they? Anyone??
- Have you ever noticed the difference between _____ and _____ ?!
Yes. Everyone has noticed that … because it is obvious that giraffes walk like they are in high heels and turtles walk like they are wearing flip-flops …
- Anybody here ever do (crazy situation that no one does)? Oh, so it’s just me?
No one does that. Not even you. You just made up a contrived premise because you are so crazy. Such a wild man. How could anyone ever be as crazy as you? You actually take the pimento out of every single olive before you eat it? Ridiculous!!
- They aren’t all gold gems.
We already knew that, when the joke died coming out of your mouth. Don’t try to back peddle your way back into the hearts of the audience with this silliness. Just move on and get them with the next joke. The longer that you allow a failed joke to fester, the larger the chance that you will slip into a hole that you won’t be able to crawl out of.
- What else did I want to talk about tonight?
Why are you asking the crowd this?! They have no idea – and if they do – then maybe you should get off the stage and let them finish your allotted stage time
- How is everyone doing tonight?
Of course you want to address the crowd when you take the mic – to do otherwise would risk alienating them. But, if you are on a show with twenty other comics, and the crowd has been asked twelve times ‘How they are doing?!’ – chances are, they are going to get sick of it, stop answering and tune out entirely. It’s like the comics ask, the audience answers and the comics don’t believe them – so they just keep on asking repeatedly. Not annoying at all … Not one bit!
You have probably heard – or – even said some of these yourself, and that is totally fine and cool – but – for Pete’s sake, throw in a twist. Because otherwise that sound in the corner that you hear will be me, snoring in my fresh clean blanket.
Lastly, I absolutely have to say that this isn’t an attack or something that calls out any specific person – except for you – I am actually directing a lot of this right at you … Sorry. It is just a big amalgam of some things that I hear from time to time that tend to grate my nerves lessen my enjoyment of going to shows and make me shiver … Mostly and unfortunately, it is because a lot of the time – hold onto your seats – they are coming right out of my mouth … Ba-zinga!
Throw in a twist!