Five Thoughts on learning how to use comedy as a juggler/illusionist.

Comedy is a tricky topic in the context of being a variety  entertainer with juggling illusions.  Almost all of the shows that I have ever seen have some element of comedy or humor in them.  But even though we have all had moments where we said or did something hysterical, doing theatrical comedy is a little different.  There are plenty of websites and books on the topic of being comedic.  This list was written for those of us who juggle or simply want to include comedic moments in their shows and the extra steps that are required to do so.  My shows tend to be “family-friendly” so the style of comedy that I use is less Stephen Lynch/Daniel Tosh and what I am writing reflects
this.
#1 Drop all your props at the door.
There is an old maxim about you must walk before you run, this is just as true with being funny as it is with going from point A to point B.  I made the mistake in a college stand-up comedy (your tax dollars hard at work) of trying to do both juggling and comedy at the same time when I just learning comedy.  I found myself so overwhelmed by attempting to do both at the same time that I almost failed the class outright.
The professor would almost always groan when It was my turn to present material for the week. I ended not using props after a while and I found that it was actually easier to be funny without something in my hand in terms of how I interacted and told jokes.  There are so many things that really go into learning how to be funny in front of a crowd.  Timing, persona, crowd interaction, etc are all hard enough to learn already; when your brain is occupied by whatever is in your hands it just makes it that much more difficult to learn and develop the talent.
#2 Study Young Padawon.
We normally only see the “end” product of a show where the
performer does something amazing or hysterical, we don’t see the countless hours of training, practice, and rehearsal that go into the process.  It’s that way with comedians as well, people aren’t normally “born” funny.  Those that are usually have serious mental health issues.
Performers often refer to their “stage persona”.  A stage persona is a sort of personality that an entertainer/performer develops on stage that is normally different from their own persona for the purposes of working with the audience.  The only people who normally have these are people with multiple personality disorder and that’s a whole different sort of
issue.
How do you “let go”?
Seriously how do you let go of reservations and simply “talk” without
having to think if what your saying is “too much”.   Once again some of the people who are born like this have Tourette syndrome and don’t normally make talented entertainers (though some might think it’s entertaining to listen to). These are things are learned behaviors that have to be studied in order to effectively use them.  There are schools and classes that you can go and learn.  There are also many clubs that you can go and practice at.  In other words you can find teachers and places to develop not only a style but also technique.   A lot of magic stores sell canned magic acts including comedic magic.  But the persona and the style of comedy may not match with what you can (or should do). In retrospect this may be why so many performers come off as more “Crazy Uncle” and less “Funny Man”.
Take classes and spend time watching comedians of all sorts and types, not just the ones like Amazing Jonathan or Penn & Teller to learn what can be done and what you can do the easiest.
#3 Find something that’s easy to be funny with.
You will find that there are some props that it is just easier to be funny with or get an emotional reaction out of the audience with.   A lot of jugglers have had the experience of juggling clubs and then pulling out the knives and watching everyone take about two steps back.  You can take advantage if you know this is coming and turn it into a huge laugh. On the other hand it is really hard to swallow a giant pink inflated animal balloon without a few people in the audience cracking up.  Throw in some random gagging noises and references to the taste of latex and you can get most of an audience cracking up without the kids ever knowing.
Just as in illusion you can practice the art of cold-reading/suggestion by using something that you know will always work to “figure” out the details of using these techniques, by using a prop or an act that has some inherent quality of being humorous you can figure out what kind of humor you are better suited for doing without an audience really realizing it.
#4 Learn to use innuendo and “references”.
Innuendo is the art of saying one thing while meaning another.  Having a “family-friendly” show doesn’t necessarily mean that all your jokes are “kid friendly”.  It can also mean that most children aren’t going to get your jokes.  I mentioned earlier about the inflated pink balloon.
If you describe it as a demonstration of sword swallowing technique and
throw in a couple off-beat references to the taste of latex and make coughing noises occasionally, the kids think you are being comical while the parents “know” your being comical and are blushing while they laugh.
A lot of entertainers (especially children entertainers) have mentioned how they end becoming glorified babysitters at parties.  I make my shows in such a way that everyone, both parents and kids, are entertained by what I am doing so I never have that moment where I am getting swarmed by  children (and trust me you never, EVER, want that moment).
The other half is that if you don’t cover your adult jokes well enough; parents will feel that you are too much for their children (even
though the kids might think you are being hysterical)
#5 Discover how much comedy you want to/need to use.
“It is better to have 5 minutes of amazing material then ten
minutes of ok material” ~ My comedy professor in college.
When you are scripting and creating your show, the last thing you need to do is discover how much comedy material you actually need to use.  I have two different shows; a primarily family-friendly show in which I use comedy as a way of keeping the adults involved in the material that is there for the children and a adult show in which the comedy is used both as misdirection and as a way of getting the audience to relax a little bit and settle down into the show. Both are very different shows that use comedy in very different ways.  In my adult mentalism show doing comedy all the time turns me from a mentalist into a “mental-case” (which might not be a bad idea for a show mind you) and since my persona is that of a psychology expert it doesn’t work in the same way.  My family-friendly show allows me to get the family involved with the act; not just the kids (which makes for a great act that everyone will remember : Adults get bored as well)

 

One the funniest moments that I remember in illusion was an act by Penn and Teller in which Teller escaped from a trash bag filled with nothing but Helium.  One of the aspects of Tellers character is that he never speaks,  so hearing his voice, high pitched from the helium) from inside of the bag was a golden moment of comedy.
Combining elements of persona, technique, timing, and effects opens up a lot of memorable doors for an entertainer.

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