Self-evaluating your performance

Dave – In addition to putting together material and preparing a solid five minutes (stand-up), what is the process of objective self-evaluation? If I go to the open-mics with my girlfriend and my brother, I’ll never have any idea how good or bad I really was. You know what I mean? – DB

Is it good or bad?

Hey DB – Yeah, I know what you mean. Your girlfriend, brother, or anyone closely connected to you (relative, friend or enemy) really wouldn’t be an objective audience. They have preconceived opinions because they know you.

Of course, this statement is not always true. There are exceptions, as there will be in just about anything that involves creativity. Your girlfriend or brother might eventually become a writing partner. But for the partnership to be successful they would need to be honest with their feedback and possibly get over a lot of their preconceived opinions of you.

I also think someone close to you should have an understanding of the writing and performing side of the business. Otherwise, this could turn into an annoying nightmare…

I have a pal who thinks he knows all there is to know about the comedy biz, even though he’s never tried it or been involved behind the scenes and doesn’t really know any comedians outside of the ones I’ve introduced him to. But he never hesitates (annoying) to offer his opinions on what’s bad in someone’s act and how to make it better. At least 99.9% of the time the comics will stand there and look at him like he’s nuts (nightmare).

“Here’s what I think!”

And in my opinion, he is. He’s giving advice (acting like a writing partner) in a field where he has absolutely no experience. It could be the same thing with your girlfriend or brother. They think they’re helping, but they don’t know how it really works.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. You want to know how to get objective opinions about your act…

A stereotypical girlfriend or boyfriend will usually say anything to make you feel better. For instance, how funny you are and that you’re destined to be a big success. Don’t get me wrong because it’s great to have that moral support. But when you have a fight or break up, they’ll (probably) say you’ve always sucked, and they were just being nice (more than an annoying nightmare).

A stereotypical brother might grab you around the neck and give you a “noogie” while saying how funny you are – or that you will never be as funny as he is.

Again, this is stereotypical profiling based on my wasted youth spend sitting in front of a television screen watching sitcoms. In fact, the characters and what I just described was probably an episode in every long-running comedy series from the 1960′s to today.

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And in case you didn’t get it, the hidden meaning is that the girlfriend / boyfriend or brother was not being as honest as they could be.

Another example. I remember watching the very funny Al Lubel doing a bit that he was “The best looking guy in the world.” Why? Because his mother always told him that – and mothers don’t lie to their children. Right?

Wrong, because I just talked with my mom and she says I’m the best looking guy in the world.

So, who’s right?

To know for sure, you need an objective opinion. And when you’re trying out stand-up material, I’m talking about an audience of more than your relatives and best friends.

In addition to writing, comedians will tell you to get as much stage experience as possible. This means in front of different audiences. It would be great to have your support team with you, but they’re not the best ones to tell you what works and what doesn’t.

So how would you know if your set was good or bad?

Easy. You record it and listen to the audience reaction. Yeah, you should know while you’re on stage if you’re getting laughs or not and if the audience is enjoying your set. But the way to really put it together – enhance the good stuff and weed out the dead spots – is to listen to it.

“That’s some funny stuff!”

Objectively.

I know I’m repeating myself because the comedians I’ve interviewed for my books talked about this. But it’s worth saying again when answering your question because if it didn’t work why would they continue to recommend it?

I’ve spent a lot of time in NYC open-mics. Some were a lot of fun and many were just brutal. I remember a place on West 14th Street that would be packed with open-mic comics every Tuesday. You’d have to arrive at 6 pm to draw a number for a time to perform and either sit in the audience waiting for your turn or go to a movie or dinner (that’s how many spots there were!) and come back just before you were due on.

The audience? All the other open-mic comics waiting to go onstage.

No one ever seemed to be really listening. They were writing, preparing to go on – or just hanging out and talking with their friends. But we all said if a joke got a laugh from that tough crowd you knew it was a good one. It was a keeper.

Even though it wasn’t the best barometer (a room full of comics), if it got a laugh you could be pretty sure it was a good joke or bit.

So there really is no other answer. It’s great to have people you’re close to come out to see you and enjoy what you’re doing. But if you are worried that they’re not being quite honest in saying you’re the best (or even best looking), then listen to the recording of your set.

An objective audience won’t lie.

If it’s funny – they’ll laugh. If it’s not – then fix it.

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