Countdown. Number Six of The Seven Most Powerful Ways to Improve Your Stand-Up Comedy

Nov 13 / Alfie Noakes

Welcome to the second part in a countdown of the seven most potent methods comedians can employ to improve their comedy writing and stand-up performances.

Since time and money are surely significant factors for every performer, they are taken into account while assessing the virtues and drawbacks.

So, coming in at number six in the countdown of the top seven… requiring little time, and typically, not much money either.

Take a Workshop.

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A “workshop” is not to be confused with a “course”. Though in fact that kind of muddling regularly happens.

For clarity, a workshop is typically wrapped up in a day, or part of a day.

A course, that’s a longer commitment. I’ll be addressing courses later in this countdown (is it too late to say “spoiler alert?)

Workshops are typically specialised. And relatively brief.

Which is one of the reasons why they rank so high in the means and methods for catalysing comedic potential. Workshops are highly efficient.

I teach some workshops myself; on MCing, Punching Up Your Stand-Up and Comedy Storytelling.

Recently, I have been enjoying teaching at these events as much, if not more, than MCing my beloved live shows.

However, I still routinely produce workshops led by a range of experts on aspects of comedy that I just do not have the insights to teach.

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I always take delight in pointing out that one of my teachers,
Dave Thompson, is the man who played Tinkie Winkie in Teletubbies. Yes, he teaches the Clowning workshop.

Over the years, I have staged the following, each, more than one time.

·  Musical Comedy

·  Character Comedy

·  NLP for Stand-Up Comedy

·  Writing Clean Comedy

·  Clowning & Physical Comedy

·  Sit-Com Writing and Development

·  Writing Comedy for the Radio

·  Welcome to Stand-Up Comedy

·  Improv Games

The workshop runner/tutor must be an expert, of one sort or another, otherwise, they have no place being there.

The title of the workshop is all-important, it states what the focus will be. It ensures potential students have a clear sense of what they are paying for, signing up for.

Courses can meander through finding ideas, taking the stage, mic technique, opening gag, structure and on and on. Rightly so, there’s a lot to cover.

Workshops, on the other hand, must be laser-focused as time is short and the topic is more niche.

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Workshops are ideal, depending on the title/topic, of course, for people who wish to get an introduction, improved understanding or knowledge booster in a distinct area.

Dip in, soak up the knowledge, leave. With laughs.

Many years ago, when I began producing workshops, it took some time to iron out the issues. My tutors were always top-notch. Nonetheless, like new material, the first versions were often the worst versions.

Initially, I was not clear enough in what the learners might expect. As a result, a student might somewhat hijack the event, bombarding the tutor with questions on an adjacent topic rather than the actual theme.

The effect was to sometimes frustrate fellow students who were evidently happy with what was being delivered.

All the same, in the earlier days, with so much information being imparted, by typically witty and charismatic teachers, in a room of enthused students… the first workshops were always satisfactory to good, at best, superb.

I have the reviews to back up this assertion.

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Certainly, each workshop took some time to develop to the required standard. I would liaise with the tutor and often help them with their prep, providing a specific remit and explaining the market I felt needed serving.

My background was in TV production, I held pretty much every creative role in the industry at some point. Having been a development researcher, producer, director, editor, writer… really helped us to hit the ground running.

All the same, a couple of tutors took exception, feeling I was messing with their art. I honestly feel that was never the case, if anything, they were being protective of their ideas and precious about their speciality.

I understood that. The tutors had earned their insights the hard way. Being asked to parse their wisdom and experiences down to palatable essentials and indulge frequently nieve questions can be a big ask. Personally, I have enjoyed the privilege of working with some stonking talent, and of course, by virtue of producing the events, learned a ton from them myself.

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The fact that I was MCing shows several times per week, meant that I could test many of the “Do’s and Don’ts” I was hearing about.

It was so heartening to realise that every single tip was on the money. Intentionally doing a particular “Don’t” got me booed by the entire room. Someone threw the lemon slice from their drink at me. It stuck to my forehead while on stage. Tough heckle.

Over the years I have built up good relationships with professional tutors, performers, writers and once we have run the event more than a couple of times, it’s all golden.

We have gleaned what the students are most interested in. Defined what they absolutely must know. Picked up on the most common false assumptions. Very importantly, we provide practical steps and techniques to employ when developing, well, whatever the student has opted to learn.

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However, with any workshop subject being so specialized, the nuts and bolts, the critical steps, the major challenges, all laid out and addressed, well, the term “workshop” often hasn’t done it justice.

Masterclass, on many an occasion, may be nearer the mark. I modestly recuse myself from this comment regarding the classes that I teach.

It's been interesting to note, observed over many years, that considerably more females than males, sign up to learn at a workshop. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion as to why that may be…

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