You’d think the most important thing about comedy would be the funny. Which, I suppose is true. But I’m thinking a close number 2 would be time. Holy crap, but are comics ever obsessed with time.
I know, I know – everyone is consumed with time. Not enough hours in the day, getting older, deadlines, schedules, everything in our lives is dictated by time. But if you want to discuss time, ad nauseum, talk to a comic.
Even before you take the stage to try stand up for the first time, people start throwing it at you… have you got 5 minutes yet? What?! Of course I do! Hell, I have, easily, 20 minutes of stuff I can talk about on stage! Ha, ha! No you don’t! Oh, how quickly we learn that 5 minutes is a long, long time, indeed.
After weeks of writing, honing; you finally have your 5 minutes… ish. And no one ever warns the newbies just how friggin’ important a precise 5 minutes is… but boy-oh-boy will you hear about it at an open mic, pro-am night, whatever, when you go over by two minutes, or only end up doing 3. Because time on stage is a different beast to time in the real world… it feels different in ways that are hard to put words to. The best I can come up with right now is that it feels like a hazy walk through Jell-o, unreal and out of place.
Then, you move up to 7 minutes. 2 extra minutes? Piece of cake! Ha! We all know that on a traditional clock, 2 minutes is about how long it takes to make a left turn at a busy intersection, or peeling an orange. On stage, it’s like driving from home to the cottage. Or it can be. Alternately, it can be a blink.
The next step, generally, is 10-12 minutes. How is it that we’re so pedantic? Ultimately, it’s about providing a show that’s long enough for the audience, but not so long we tire them out (poor things). Actually, I really do understand the why, but boy do we ever dwell on it!
On to 15-20 minutes. Now we’re getting a bit of wiggle room, but it’s taken the better part of 1 to 2 years to create this (seemingly) short set. Hell, I can waste 20 minutes surfing friends’ profiles on Facebook (and yes, I mean YOUR profile – creepy, but true, God bless Facebook!)
Onward, up to 30 minutes, then 45, then (though I can’t imagine it at this point) an hour or more…I’d say I have a solid 30 minutes now, after 3 years of writing, working, trying and discarding. Hardly seems like much, but anyone who does comedy knows that my numbers aren’t shocking. We all have a lot more material written, but must (sadly) dump many, many minutes if they just don’t work. It’s a necessary evil, but I still mourn the passing of many a bit to which I was rather attached…and all that time down the drain!
I’m constantly amazed how comics are judged by their time-keeping; he always goes under time, all the other comics have to make up what he couldn’t/wouldn’t do! She always goes over – what a stage hog! Now the MC will have to cut time out of his set!
Most rooms and clubs have some sort of lighting system, to let you know where you are in your time-universe. Sometimes a comic doesn’t see the light, sometimes a comic doesn’t care. I, personally, obsess over doing the right amount of time. I strongly associate it with professionalism and never want to be known for not sticking to my time. I’ve bought watches with big dials, timers that buzz in my pocket, have friends in the audience give me a signal; but find that I usually end up in that crazy joke-telling hole that seems to transcend time. If I become conscious of the time, the light, whatever, I tend to lose my stride and get out of my head. Thankfully, I’ve done enough shows now to write a set list that is usually pretty accurate. But God knows I’ve been guilty of both going over and going under time. I just look forward to the day that it all flows without effort and time isn’t an issue. But the questions remains; will that time ever come?