Being the first point of view comedian in the Philippines, I see a lot of newbie comics making rookie mistakes or breaking golden rules thinking that they know everything on how to be funny. I can’t really blame them since this type of comedy is so new, they don’t know any better. I was lucky enough to start out in San Francisco where I hung out and learned from the best comedians who had integrity, most of the time. I wrote this list to guide the new comedians out here in the Philippines and to remind myself also of the standard that I must hold myself up to, I’m not perfect.
1. Thou shall not steal material.
Stealing another comedian’s joke verbatim is a big no no and so is just translating a Westerner’s joke into Tagalog. It’s plagiarism no matter what you call it. There is however this thing called parallel thinking: two people may think of the same exact premise and punch line. It happens. In this case, whoever performed it first should be the one to decide who keeps it. But any self-respecting comedian will challenge himself to write more original material that shows his unique point of view.
2. Thou shall not hack (or at least try not to).
What is hack? A general definition is cliche topics or comedians who use jokes that have been done to death. They hack a premise up to get cheap laughs. Bits like, men are different from women, what if men acted like women, what if Kermit and Miss Piggy were having sex, and any forced setup that leads to an Indian accent just because Indian accents sound funny. Take note however, you can make these hack premises less hacky by making them more insightful and specific. When it comes to fashion, women are weird but men are just stupid. Having an Indian accent is hard when you’re picking up on women.
Hack material is dangerous because they usually get laughs. And after all, isn’t that the whole point of being a comedian? Yes and no. Our job is to make the audience laugh. But at what expense? It’s like saying a knock out is a knock out on Mayweather’s cheap shot at Ortiz.
Do not mistake easy material with hack. They are not always the same. So hackiness is your own judgement call. At the end of the day, it is you who has to live with yourself as a comedian.
3. Thou shall respect your fellow comedians (at least on stage).
This means giving the next comedian the proper introduction. You don’t introduce him as an asshole even if you’re just kidding and are close to the guy. Remember, the audience doesn’t know that. Ask him or her how he or she wants to be introduced. And do not heckle your fellow comic while he is performing. Help each other out aswe are a small group doing revolutionary things. Let us support each other.
4. Thou shall keep to your time limit.
When you see the signal that your time’s up, nod, wrap up, and get off stage. We don’t care if you’re killing or working up to your best joke to save your horrible set. If you go long, you are taking away from another comedian.
5. Thou shall be sober during your set.
You might think you’re funnier when you’re high, but you’re probably not. You’re on the job so please remain professional by not drinking or taking mind altering substances while performing. Now after the show’s done, we don’t care what the hell you do.
6. Thou shall keep your set clean when client asks.
We don’t care if your joke about your dick in someone else’s mouth is funny. If you’re getting paid to do a clean set for a corporate gig, do a fucking clean set! You might kill with blue material but the client might not ask you or the group back for their next event. You can be vulgar at the open mic.
7. Thou shall respect your audience.
If they’re not laughing, it’s probably your fault. You need to adjust to your crowd. They paid to see you so give them your best stuff. There are rare times when it’s really the audience, specifically mooing cow audience members. Oh, and please control your girlfriend from throwing water at the audience, even if the audience is really rude or on fire.
8. Thou shall take advantage of open mics.
Open mics are meant for trying out new material. For the veteran comedians, write new stuff and try them out. For the new open mikers, polish your first 5 minutes before you write “new” material. Take note, if you haven’t been doing this for more than a year, all your jokes are new. You don’t have “old” material to claim. You are not required to do open mic, but it will help you improve immensely.