by Jonas Polsky
This evening there was a dust-up about how a young Patton Oswalt handled an audience member videotaping his set. Patton asked if she was taping and the woman responded, “You’re going to want that whole chunk on tape, it was perfect!” I wasn’t there, but that quote underscores a larger issue with comedy shows:
THE AUDIENCE HAS NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON.
A comedian’s goal is to present ideas, and situations as if they just occurred to them. That’s part of the stapled-on illusion to suspend the disbelief that a person is casually deconstructing their lives to a room filled with strangers.
Patton knows that the chunk he just delivered was “perfect”, because he wrote it!
Although it may appear that the ideas are coming to him as an ad-lib, he likely spent hours working the concept over in his mind, then writing it down, and finally reciting it to a crowd.
I can’t imagine at any point a blacked-out Oswalt leaves the stage and begs audience members to remind him what he just said. He knows what he said, and he doesn’t need anyone to record it for posterity.
Now that we have pulled back the patchwork curtain on comedy writing, let’s take a look at distribution. The YouTube phenomenon is a relatively new thing for comics to grapple with. And although it’s been said before, I’ll repeat it here:
COMEDIANS MAKE A LIVING BY SHOWING NEW MATERIAL TO AUDIENCES.
The material you’re recording and sharing with your friends has a tangible, real-world value. And there’s not an infinite amount of it. In instances where a comedian says they spent a year preparing material for an album, that means for twelve months or more, those jokes were putting food on the table, and clothing on their children’s backs.
Then, they sell the (mostly) unheard jokes again on a recording. Imagine audiences showing up at those concerts, or buying that record have seen all the material in advance, on YouTube? It would make them regret the purchase, or even demand a refund.
Imagine if at your job you had a fantastic idea. An idea that was going to really help the company. It was so exciting and so different you were sure to receive tons of accolades from your boss, and maybe even a raise. You put on your best outfit, strutted into the big meeting with your notes and standing there was Patton Oswalt.
PATTON OSWALT JUST SHOWED THE ENTIRE COMPANY YOUR PRESENTATION!
Do you see how that could negatively impact your livelihood? But, but, Patton loved your idea, and wanted to show it to the CEO before you did. He’s a huge fan of your Excel sheets, he has all of them.
Stand up comedy is not music. People don’t pay money to hear a comedian’s greatest hits, they want something new, and they want it all the time.
Comedians need to have some control over how many people see their material, especially material that is in an unfinished state. When Patton takes the stage with a crowd of twenty people, he assumes that twenty people will see it, not two-thousand. He wouldn’t have gone onstage with those same jokes at Madison Square Garden, because they’re not quite ready, and he wants to try it on smaller audiences while he works out the bugs.
Zen and the Art of Watching Live Comedy.
It’s been said before by Doug Stanhope and Louis CK; but when you go to a comedy show, just be at the show. There’s no need to update all your friends on what’s happening, or record the event. It’s a very archaic, non-tech art form, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Focus on the performer, be in the moment, and enjoy yourself.
So remember, if you record a comedian, you are potentially doing them financial harm, disrupting the show, and you may be ejected. Nothing good can come from you recording them, despite what you may think. And if they catch you, the comic may get upset and say that you have a double chin.