In this Zen Comedy article, I will discuss performance. There are an infinite number of performance styles, every style can be hilarious, and none are superior from the start. Whether or not you hold this statement to be true, it is important to believe it, as it allows you to be open. The style with which you perform a joke is as much a reaction to the mood of the audience as an article of your own invention. The Zen Comedian teaches us that the greatest jokes come when a comedian listens to his audience.
Zen Master George (Carlin), for instance, though he began his career doing a straight act with a haircut and wearing a suit, and than he moved on to silly bits like the hippy-dippy weatherman, as time wore on he learned from his audience that his best jokes came from simple blunt honesty. Zen Master George in his evolution has taught us that the greatest style comes from responding to one's audience, and combining that response with one's own artistry.
After every performance, the Zen Comedy disciple thinks of the way his audience reacted to his joke, and the next time he tells it he will alter it accordingly. For example, when I first began telling one of my favorite jokes "new god," it was a great deal different than it is now, and I will attempt to plot its course from what it was to what it is. The bit began as part of a larger chunk concerning mainly the life-threatening car accident that I was in several years ago. I would say that because the doctors told me that when I was first brought in to them, they estimated that I had near to a fifty-fifty shot at survival.
|Andrew Halter, Junior Stopka & Maggie Ednie|
This opening is also perfect for the bit as it introduces absurdity, and it usually gets a pretty good chuckle. From there, whatever way I introduce the concept, I move on to describe what I'd do if I were god. Though I've whittled the joke down to just two concepts, high-pressure blood and unpredictable gravity, which always get big laughs, I've attempted many different concepts with varying success. One idea that I've now abandoned but used to believe was the funniest part of the joke was the idea that water, as soon as I am god, would become hallucinogenic.
would say that as soon as I became god, if a person took a drink of water and got a knick on the hand, they would envision hundreds of snakes springing from their arm, at which point gravity would change and they would fly down the street. It took me many performances of the joke to realize that this was too much detail, and that I should allow the audience to create their own vision, for if I created the world for them I spent all my time explaining.
This was a great lesson for me, as my tendency has always been to lose myself in the explanation of my own fantasy worlds, and I should rather allow my audience to create their own. These lessons are not lessons for you, reader, but only for me. The lesson I'm attempting to impart to you is that the comedian should always be reconsidering, rewriting his or her own bits. Every performance contains within it some lesson, but to understand the lesson one must be open and undirected. You never know where your next great piece of wisdom will come from, so stay receptive to everything.
Andrew Halter - Contributing Writer
Halter is a writer, comedian and co-producer of the The Three Cees' - Chicago's newest comedy showcase (along producers with Junior Stopka and Maggie Ednie) -Every Tuesday Night!