The 3 F's 'Fundamentals For Funny'
August 5, 2014
I have always encouraged my coaching clients to be upfront and honest with me. It's more than okay to disagree with me on the advice I provide. Regardless, I win either way as long as they follow the structured procedures I have encouraged them to use to substantiate their premise.
Last week one of my more advanced clients e-mailed me a new bit he had created. It was based on the humorous outbursts of a guy who answers the phones for his show. In fact, the jock informed me of his plans to air one of these sound bites every hour of his four-hour show.
I listened and did not think the bit was funny. I was worried it might offend someone because I thought it sounded as if someone in his crew had done an impression of a minority. I try and listen like a listener and wondered if listeners would think the same thing.
My reply e-mail expressed those concerns and I wanted to know more about whoever did the voice and if he could be relevant to the shows target audience. So now you get to read the exchange of our e-mails.
Jock: Honestly the thought of being offensive never came to mind. It's just the way he talks. We just put an open and close and set a time restraint. That's it. I am working on utilizing my team to their fullest talents. Everyone is a different character with a different personality. I am just bringing it to the air. I get what you are saying; that is really the guy who answers the phone, he's Puerto Rican and that is how he normally talks. He is a real character. We are just using him on the air.
Coach: Okay but the bit you sent me was not funny and his stuff always has to be relevant to something. Your crew is funny, but I need to hear more of this phone guy. What is his background?
Jock: Sam, I honestly think we are on different page with this one. I called in 10 people, including radio veterans and professional athletes, and they listened and laughed. I also called in people in our demo who truly enjoyed it. At the end of the day, the staff of my show makes up our audience. They know the demo and what content will work. I also played this for my affiliate relations people -- and one of them is a mom -- and they also loved the bit.
This phone guy is 22 and just goes off on things. This is who he is. This bit came from how he yelled at us one time. It didn't just come from out of nowhere. Also, this bit was completely relevant. Almond milk, vegan, and vegetarian are all the rage of our target demo.
Coach: I know the material and understand the intent; maybe I need to hear the bit in context. Are you sure his stuff is funny enough for everyday, every hour? Maybe he would be better as a benchmark for a certain day of the week, or great to bring on after something he has said is just so outrageously funny. Are the percentages there for as much usage as you want to give these bits? Is it your hope whatever is said on these bits causes your crew or the audience to create more funny moments on the show?
Jock: The answer to all your questions is yes.
Coach: Okay, but remember, your -- cast is fun and fun works whether something is funny or not. It sounds like you have gone through steps to make sure this works. However, humor me and send me more of his sound bites.
My client trusts his instincts based on all the structural procedures he has learned to make intelligent gut decisions. I like to think my coaching has helped him in this process.
His research method is similar to the one many comedians use to test material just before going out on a big tour or doing standiup for a TV appearance. They will go to a small comedy club and test things to keep, eliminate, or restructure to maximize for funny.
Watching a Master
I once observed comedian/activist Dick Gregory spend time in the hotel lounge of a convention he was performing for that evening. Being nosey, I got close enough to listen to the same conversations he was putting his ear to. At first I thought he was just hanging out having a conversation with his manager, but I noticed he would leave and come back about every 20 minutes. It was then I knew he was doing something, but I was not sure what. That night, when he went on stage and did his act, I figured it out that I had witnessed how he customized his material for the audience in front of him. His conversations had been a decoy to observe and research. His frequent coming and going had given him time to edit and perfect his performance. That entire day realigned my thoughts on using regular people for casual research.
Outside The Bubble
Whatever material an individual or group is planning to do on the air should go through a process before it goes on the air. I am not necessarily talking about short quips, but set-ups or planned thought provoking bits that are intended for reaction or to make the listener laugh. Having a process will increase the possibilities for something to work.
I learned from the Dick Gregory experience to take whatever I thought was funny outside the radio station to unsuspecting regular people. I might causally make a comment during a conversation at the barbershop or even with a cashier or a stocker at a grocery store. The goal was to get a reaction.
A radio station can serve as a great source for funny. but never use it as the sole decider for what to take to the air. Keep in mind whenever you bring an outsider into the station for an opinion on a recording of something, their reaction might be enhanced by the glamour of being there. The same holds true whenever someone knows you are in radio and you play something for them to get their thoughts.
The Best Use of Old/New
Honestly, much of what's funny can come from just observing others and reading the pages of a newspaper. I read the papers on the Internet, too, but eyeballing the printed word on paper and turning those pages can still turn up some surprises.
There are always little stories or ads that can lead to funny material. The web has certainly widened the landscape for information, but it lacks the texturing the old-fashioned newspaper can provide. Just possibly one more piece of the puzzle to add to your process of deciding if that bit you are planning on doing will score with your listeners.
To summarize the process ... identify through observation and reading what you think is funny. Then research it outside the station by casually talking to unsuspecting, non-industry people. Using this or some type of procedure that reaches out beyond your inner circle will keep you in touch with the listeners.