Saturday, September 08, 2007

Breaking In The New Straight Man

My brother and a friend did this stand up routine in college years ago. I have given up trying to claim I had thought of it originally. I likely didn't.

Vaudeville and Borscht Belt comedians often worked in teams. The rumor among performers was that it might be harder to be the straight man than the laugh guy. If you're a good straight man and your partner quits or croaks, you likely know enough people so that you can hook up with another one soon.

But what if it's the straight man who leaves? How does a comedian interview for a new straight man? I've always thought the routine had possibilities, with some meathead blowing the set-up lines.
My girlfriend and I went to the Caribbean last month.
Nah, but we fooled - you were supposed to say "Jamaica."
Most straight shtick is intentionally neutral - what the average Joe would say. But as above, sometimes your feeder line has got to be precise. These don't come one right after another, either. Those "my girlfriend and I" lines are supposed to be sprinkled in at odd moments, moving from one bit to another.
My girlfriend and I vacationed in Maine.
Nah, but we fooled around a little.*
The repeated punchline is supposed to build, so that by the end of the routine, the audience knows that when they hear the word "girlfriend," one of these "Nah, but we fooled around a little" lines is coming. This is a big set up for the close of the routine, when the comedian will cap it all off by A) sneaking the punchline in by surprise, without the setup, B) deflecting the pun and punchline, so that the audience fills it in on its own or C) something more lame.

I like the idea of the laugh guy having to cover for about every third joke as a stand-up routine.

* There's more: I went over to my girlfriend's apartment to play cards the other night.
Nah, but we fooled around a little.
I got a million of 'em.
My girlfriend was very sick last week. Bedridden? My girlfriend made me a cake for my birthday. Layer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wait, no Nantucket limerick?