In my book I stress how important it is to be respected by other comics, club managers, and of course the audiences you perform in front of. In the first few years of my career, a good portion of my jokes would cover only one or two out of three depending on the joke.
I had jokes that did well at open mic night in front of other comics but never really worked in front of crowds when I emceed at comedy clubs. They were usually darker or mean and only a few of the younger audience members laughed (right now Bill Arrundale is scratching his head wondering when I was ever dark). In front of crowds at comedy clubs, these jokes were moaned at which killed any chance of momentum in the set…Drugs are like a big girl’s pants…easy to get into, hard to get off. This kind of thing happens at a lot of open mics. A lot of times the biggest (or only) laughs come from the side where the comics are sitting.
There are other jokes that make the crowd laugh but the club owners hate. If it’s early in a show while people are still ordering food, the last thing a club manager wants to hear is a joke that gives a herpes visual. It may be a somewhat funny joke that gets laughs to override the moans, but it’s not going to help food sales.
I had a “thing” that I did that was popular with crowds for the most part, but other comics hated. I used to have the ability to wrap my arms around my head and flail around like a jackass (with material!) as my closing bit. It made me stand out in some way and I was easy to remember, but it earned about as much respect from other comics as a puppet doing a magic trick while singing a guitar parody. It was honestly a one-minute freak show. Sure, it helped me early on, but as I matured as a comic I needed to drop it (despite Dan Swartwout’s semi-sarcastic pleas to keep it going). No one wants to follow a freak show.
But why should a comic care what other comics think? Aren’t they all just jealous of success? Not really. You need them to respect you because no one in this business gains success without the help of others. If they don’t respect you (you are your act), they aren’t going to help you improve or get stage time.
So figure out who your jokes are going to please and who they will turn off. Hopefully at the beginning level, the audience and club managers are a higher priority than other open mic comics. You can always ask a more advanced comic for a blunt answer on how much respect your set earns. To gain respect from all three sides, be original, be clean, and still funny. It’s hard to please everyone all of the time, but the best comics out there do it.
There’s much more on this topic in my book which is due to come out in December. I appreciate anyone who can spread the word as I get the links ready in the next few weeks. Also, please feel free to ask questions or leave comments here. It was pointed out to me that every rule has exceptions which is true. I’m just basing my “rules” and suggestions on the fact that every comic wants to eventually earn money.