If you know a stand up comic, then you know that they work hard to prepare material. Some comics can take months to prepare a 'tight 5 minutes'. They will try out phrasing and timing until they get it perfect. It's much closer to scripted theater than improv. Get a load of this: Take a successful stand up comedian and give him or her a list of made up routines that have never seen before put them in front of a late night audience and tell them to make jokes based on the list.
It's call Set List and was created by Paul Provenza, veteran stand up comedian who also studied acting in London at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and Tony Conrad, a veteran video producer, director and a stand up comedian. And I saw the show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at midnight in a dark cave-like room filled with plastic folding chairs and musk.
Paul kept yelling like a maniac at us, “do you know how F**king hard this is?!!!”
We watched 6 stand up comedians give it a try. They all did pretty well. Only one person had to resort to calling out, “I’m dying up here....this is freaking hard!” But that seemed to bring him back and he carried on for a few more minutes and finished the set.
A made up ‘set list’ was handed to them at the same time it was projected on the side of the stage. The comedian was given 15 seconds to look it over and prepare to make a routine. We watched the clock count down and tried to make up our own jokes. When the clock got to zero they put the set list down, picked up the microphone, turned to us and started their brand new ‘routine’.
The set list looked like this:
- Mobile Grave
- Genius Dentist
- audience suggestion (slips of paper containing two words like “happy Libya”)
- Bacon Syndrome
- Tivo Addict
- Trumpet Baby
- audience suggestion (little known sex act)
When it came time for the audience suggestion they reached into a case and pulled out a random slip of paper and make up more jokes. The slips of paper were created by the audience before the show and contained two words...like the one that I wrote: Happy Libya. The comedian that drew my slip of paper looked at it then dryly addressed the crowd, “it’s at this time at the night when I like to say” he paused for effect then said, “happy Libya”. It got a big laugh, he was good.
The last audience suggestion of ‘a little know sex act’ never really worked. It’s already a joke. So most of the sets ended weakly.
How well did it work? Well....if you like sitting at a restaurant while you watch the kitchen crew make the meal then you might really enjoy this...but if you’d rather just enjoy the food...this may not be your thing.
I respect the comedians for doing it. But I felt that the show I watched was more about them being put on the spot than the quality of the jokes.
Check out the site for Set List for videos and more.
*Greg Proops was not on the bill the night I caught the show. This image is from the Set List site. And did you know that Greg Proops was an early member of BATS Improv in San Francisc0?