Friday, 25 March 2011

All new?

I was thinking of something to chat about that concerned children's entertainment and stand up and decided to ponder on the topic of trying new material v honing your act. Something that sparks debate among both children's entertainers and comedians with quite a few parallels between the two. And quite a few non-parallels (perpendicular bisects? is that the opposite?) as well.

Amongst children's entertainers there seems to be two schools of thought;
You should be constantly changing your show and buying every new gizmo, DVD and gadget that comes out or you should spend decades honing your show by performing it until your fingers bleed and a load of your brain neurons reassemble themselves to create a space in your head entirley devoted to putting hankerchieves into a bag.

It's either one or the other. Children's entertainers aren't very fond of grey areas. What they are fond of is forming one infallable opinion whereby they can look down on anyone who has a different opinion and therefore assume they are a better performer/thinker/person than the purveyor of the opposing line of thought.

Comedians seem to accept that the answer lies somewhere in between the two although can have a good old barney about where exactly the answer lies.

As I'm fairly new to stand up I can only hypothesise about the correct balance although having said that being a fairly old hand at children's entertainment I still don't really know where the balance lies there either.

Some say the main argument about changing your act is that audience may have seen you before and therefore will want to see something new.I feel this tends to be more applicable to adults than children. Children enjoy the repetition (as any parent who has watched "The Little Mermaid" 47 times will concur) and in their short lives seeing the same show half a year later is a long time for them. Here are my thoughts on that pasted in from a forum:

I wrote:
"I do have 2 shows now but it's just to keep the adults happy and to give me something to do.
Then again my show is different every time as I riff off what the children have said and ad lib a lot. It's also quite a knack making the material always seem fresh and original. If you're bored of it then the audience will be too.
The problem with performing to the same group of kids several times in a month is they become over familiar with you rather than the show. Familiarity breeds contempt they say... I was flavour of the month at a particular hall and was doing pretty much the same show to the same children every week for 2 months there and it was going fine. I then decided to do new stuff as the children has seen me so many times before and this is when I lost them (and subsequently lost my flavour of the month position). Not doing my classic stuff meant I couldn't ad lib as well and couldn't control the room as well.

I think the problem with too many repeat multiple bookings in a birthday party enviroment is the children feel more at ease to shout out at inappropriate times etc thus leading to problems with the flow of the show. The bookers will blame these problems on the fact you are doing the same stuff whereas in actual fact it is other factors that are the problem."

In that example it is the adults who get bored with the same stuff not the children and by pleasing them you can end up not doing so well with the children. Pleasing the adults is a factor you have to consider. Even if it's wrong you have to take into account the booker's perspective. I have heard adults mention this about other magicians too. They'll say "We used so and so but he always did the same thing and the children got bored" I'd bet my bottom dollar that the children didn't get bored but as far as the show goes it was probably the adults that got bored.

On one occasion a boy was at 2 of my parties in one day and basically watched my show twice in the space of 3 hours.
I kept an eye on him to see how he'd enjoy the second performance and he laughed pretty much as much as he did 2 hours previously if not more.

To please the adults and amuse myself I do change my show. But I do it slowly working in one new effect until it's strong then going on to another. I know have about 8 hours of tried material for kids shows but I would say about 1.7 shows (I can do 2 strong shows with one routine the same in the middle once I work up another strong puppet routine I will have 2 kid's acts)

In Belfast the open mic scene is pretty small so you tend to suffer old material guilt. When travelling to a new city to perform I certainly feel a lot more relaxed as I can perform my golden oldies without that nagging thought in the back of my head that everyone has heard all this shtick.

I wonder how much of this guilt is in our heads.

It is true that adults don't like to see the same act repeated. My father attended about 3 open mic nights in the space of 2 months when I started out and started saying I should be doing new material. Grown ups don't want to hear the same shtick more than twice (or maybe he just thought my material was crap, which to be fair, at the time it probably was). I think there are 2 reasons they don't want to see the same act. firstly the obvious; they want to see something new but secondly that it ruins the illusion.
Your average punter, rather than a comedy connoisseur, wants to believe that you are just a funny guy on stage rather than someone who has worked on a funny script and performance. My non-comedy mates will see an act and I'll go "that's a great act" and they'll go "that's a funny person". Magic godfather Jean Robert-Houdin is quoted as saying " A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician" and I think a comedian is an actor playing the part of a comedian. We don't want to know that they're doing an act we want to see a funny person.We don't want to know it is someone giving the illusion of being a funny person via hard work and commitment.
Someone mentioned on the chortle forum a while ago that they overheard a punter complain that they had seen the same comedian a week previously and they were doing the same jokes. This kind of perspective on things seems unbelievable to perfomers but I suppose is quite common for those not immersed in the business.

King of sticking with your act is TVs Mr Matthew Collins. Who keeps the same act and hones it. He goes down great with crowds. Of course the comedians have seen his act so many times they know it word for word.

And the COMICS joined IN with the PUNCHLINE.

However as I've said he does wonderfully, he quite wisely ignores the comedians and has managed to hone his act on a small circuit to a degree few others have reached.

Sometimes getting the comedians at the back to laugh can help win over a small room (especially if they're half the crowd and lord knows we've all played a couple of them here or there). However long term it's probably best just to ignore them. As soon as you say something vaguely familiar they'll roll their eyes and all file out for a smoke anyhow.

However, given the size of the circuit here there will be quite a few who have seen me before so new stuff can be good for the punters too. I'd love to live in London where one can hone a set doing the same crap to a fresh crowd every night. On the other hand the good thing about a small circuit is it does force you to write and try out new stuff if you're doing it on a regular basis.

MCing the same gig fortnightly I have to come up with something new every two weeks. It's fun and it keeps me writing and experimenting. If I did spend the last 3 years honing the same 15 minutes I would undoubtably have a fantastic set but I fear my creative side would be lacking. If, God forbid, at some point in my life I get any mainstream exposure I will want to be in a postition where I'm not spent after showcasing my best 20.

A good thing about new stuff is it sounds fresh (because it is) but here it seems to get old fast but I also think if I got a chance to do a set umpteen times it would start sounding fresh again. I know from my kids act that when you know something so well you don't have to even try to remember the words then you can put effort into the delivery and play around with it a lot more. Adults will recognise if something is new by the delivery and give you extra kudos and I suppose when you can make it sound like it's fresh again you will get the kudos on top of the fact you've a great set.

One thing that makes it more difficult to add new stuff to my kids act is they don't give you the new material grace period so doing a new set is hard work.

New material in stand up is of course hard work too. When I perform it it is pretty obvious it needs work. Two local performers who I greatly admire for the knack of hitting the ground running with new material are Morgan Hearst and Ruaidhrí Ward. I'm constantly gob-smacked at how polished their new material is. Morgan tells me he achieves this by a lot of hard work putting hours into scripting and spending a lot of time saying it out loud at home (or in his garage to the cat). Morgan also tells me that Rua doesn't script it just works it out roughly and relies on his immense natural eloquence. The talented git!

(And if you're reading this fellows let me say that this doesn't mean I think Rua isn't hard-working or Morz isn't naturally eloquent....)

I've no conclusion to this blog. It's just general wittering. I suppose kids show performers or comedians who never try anything new under the guise of honing an act are conning themselves out of fulfilling themselves creatively and conversely performers who chop and change stuff weekly are conning themselves out of finding out what their act could be after time is added to the mix.

Anyhow, I have a whopping 4 children's shows to do tomorrow and I will be trying out a new routine. It's the opening routine too. Ugh! That's the hardest one to swap. If the opener doen't go well in a stand up act there is a vague chance of winning the crowd back. If the kids don't go for the opening routine then they'll be outside looking for a small animal to poke with a stick about 3 minutes in to the show.

I also have several stand up spots over the next fortnight. The one I am most looking forward to is the Queen's Comedy Club this is the last big comedy venue in Belfast I have yet to play (well I've performed on that stage a couple of times but not at the actual proper comedy night). I will probably look over the hours of material I have worked on over the last three years and pick out my best 10.

Whereby any mates I have managed to drag along with me will ask "doesn't he have any new stuff?", roll their eyes and all file out for a smoke.

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