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Published on September 18th, 2012 | by Jessica Mickey

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The Dos and Don’ts of Charleston Stand Up Competitions

The preliminary round for the Charleston Comedy Festival Stand Up Competition at Theatre 99 continues on Friday, Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. with its second show out of the gate as an official part of the event’s 10th year. Coincidentally, Dave Ugly’s “Put You Money Where Your Mouth Is” comedy competition recently opened up registration for three semi-final rounds that will kick off at Red’s Icehouse on Oct. 5. Cue “Eye of the Tiger” and cut to the montage of local comedians, professional and amateur, gathering in local bars and coffeehouses to scribble furiously in notebooks, hitting the open mic circuit at a more frequent pace, and practicing bits while partially clothed in front of the full-length mirror, complete with a hairbrush acting a mediocre substitute for a microphone.

It would be fair to say that most Charleston comics wouldn’t consider themselves athletes, but these events, dear friends, are their World Series and Super Bowl. Most hit any makeshift stage they can find all year long just to construct a set strong enough to enter into these competitions. Come to either one, and you’ll most likely see stand-ups pacing preshow, ear buds in, pumping themselves up à la B-Rabbit in 8 Mile. In other words, shit gets real.

Thinking about trying out your own solid five for Lowcountry fame and trivial fortune? Metronome asked some local veterans of these contests of wit — Jason Groce, Michael Clayton, and Andy Rider — what advice they would offer to anyone signing up.

Do:

Rehearse your set. For some people, this is their first time ever getting on stage. Go through your set a few times the day of the show before you do it on stage. It will make you look a little more professional and make you feel a more comfortable when you’re being judged by a 100-plus people whom you may or may not know. —Andy Rider

Stick with short-form jokes. Storytelling comedy is fantastic, but for a 5-minute limit of time, the audience tends to respond to a high laughs-per-minute ratio. If you do commit to a longer bit, make sure there are brief punchlines scattered throughout. A comedy set with no laughs for 4 out of 5 minutes is exhausting for most people, like a man being part of a wedding for 19 hours and then only getting a 10-minute honeymoon afterwards. Everyone won’t typically laugh at all your jokes, but shorter jokes maximizes your total audience impact. —Michael Clayton

Dress in what makes you comfortable. You’re on stage in front of a bunch of strangers, and by being there, you’ve just stated to them that, regardless of your differences, you can make them laugh. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, so take what small solace you can in wearing what feels best to you. If you don’t normally perform stand-up in suits or ball gowns, feel free to wear jeans and a t-shirt or whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable. About 98 percent of the crowd is judging you on whether you’re funny or not, not on how you’re dressed. Trying to please the other 2 percent isn’t worth it if you lose the rest. —Andy Rider (However, fellow comedian Jason Groce would disagree. See his fashion don’t below.)

Be unique to yourself. Even if your jokes are great, if you’re essentially doing a Mitch Hedberg impression for your entire set, people will feel they aren’t seeing anything unique. If you’re doing comedy, it’s likely because people always found your personality funny to begin with. —Michael Clayton

Be polite with the other comedians. They’re the competition, but there are very few other competitions in which everybody competing is put inside the same room for an hour or more, so try to be nice. You might find yourself having a good time, regardless of winning or losing. You might even make a friend or contact. —Andy Rider

Watch all the other comics you have a chance to watch. Yes, there are inevitably some crimes against humanity that leave a trail of awful on every step of the stage they take, but most are talented and approachable people anyone can learn something from comedically. It isn’t just a contest; it’s an opportunity to meet people who share your passion for comedy. —Michael Clayton

Relax. In a competition with a dozen other people, the professional, comfortable, prepared people (who are also funny) stand out. Even if you’re nervous, say that It will make you less nervous to “confess.” The audience already senses it. Maybe you’ll get sympathy votes. A sympathy vote still counts as a vote!
Jason Groce

Stick with the material you’re the most confident with. The writing of the joke has to be good, but delivery is just as vital. In the past, there have been comics who have had well-written jokes, but their delivery defused their potency. —Michael Clayton

Don’t:

Diss the town. If you’re from out of town, it’s probably best not to make fun of the town you’re performing in. You never know how people are going to take it. —Andy Rider

Get drunk. Some people can handle their alcohol well, and others can’t. If you fall in the latter group, it’s probably a good idea that you don’t drink before you get on stage. For example, a comedian in my preliminary round had obviously pregamed before he even got to the theater. While in the green room, he poured a small catheter’s worth of whiskey into a coke can and finished that off. Later, he got a beer, and then tried to get a few more, by which time the bartender was onto him and cut him off. And then he got on stage, where he repeated the same joke, admitted to the crowd he was unprepared (also a no-no), and proceeded to get the kind of laughs a crowd will give when they are laughing at you. —Andy Rider

Wear shorts. No one wants to look at your weird legs at eye level. It’s stand up, but a sort of semiprofessional atmosphere. —Jason Groce

Trash the venue. I think this goes back to being polite, but understand that you are a guest in the club, theater, or bar where the competition is being held. Littering and/or asking where the maids are to pick up after you will not earn you any points from the staff. —Andy Rider

Do crowd work. You have limited time, and a dud audience member will kill you or, even worse, upstage you. It sucks to have your mark be funnier than you. —Jason Groce

Get mad at the audience. Sometimes crowds are weird. They get tired or maybe they had a little too much to drink, or maybe, just maybe, they don’t find you funny. Yelling at them does not work. —Andy Rider

Whine if you don’t get what you want. If you get told you’re going first, accept it. Don’t fight it, and certainly don’t complain because the other comedians are not going to have sympathy for you. There are people who have gone first and still made it through the round. Spend less time complaining and more time making sure that you, as the first comedian, are the most memorable. —Andy Rider

Use your cell phone while the host is explaining the rules. Yes, this actually happened at one of the competitions I did. No, the host was not happy with this performer. It’s rude, and you might miss some important information, so pay attention. —Andy Rider

Steal. Use your own jokes. Even if the audience doesn’t know you stole your jokes, comedians like me will. Stealing jokes makes you a hack, and hacks are to be hated. And karma’s a bitch, too. —Jason Groce

Go forth and be funny.

Charleston Comedy Festival Stand Up Competition Prelim Rounds continue at Theatre 99 (280 Meeting St.) on Fri. Sept. 21 at 10 p.m. Admission is $5. Visit theatre99.com for more. If you would like more information about the “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” comedy competition at Red’s Ice House, email Dave Ugly at dammugly@gmail.com. Photos by Marshall Bowles.

Local comics Andy Rider, Michael Clayton, and Jason Groce (photos by Marshall Bowles)

Local comics Andy Rider, Michael Clayton, and Jason Groce (photos by Marshall Bowles)

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About the Author

Jessica Mickey

has considered Charleston home since she first moved here in 2001. She regularly performs improv at Theatre 99 and dabbles in stand-up comedy in various venues around the Lowcountry. Jessica has also cohosted morning radio shows on 96Wave and 98X, as well as wrote the weekly column "The Chase is On" for the Charleston City Paper. She can barely play the ukulele Ballard bought her for Christmas last year, but after a couple of drinks, she can sing the shit out of some karaoke.



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