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Question
Hello, I'm dan.
I'm 15 and I have wanted to do standup and have been working and re working on sets for a year now , but I've never performed. I am scared that my jokes won't work in that kind of setting, and I don't know if the jokes I tell people in high school will make adults laugh. They're not low quality, but I'm not sure. I just really wanted to ask how you know when a joke is funny enough to make a crowd of strangers laugh, and how your first time was. The thing Is I haw jokes that seem funny to me and other people, even strangers an such, but I'm not sure of myself and my jokes. It would be nice if you could help me.
Thank you.

Answer
Dan --

Thanks for your message and good questions. It sounds to me like you've done some important things already:

(a) You've prepared and refined your material, realizing that standup is not the same thing as being spontaneously funny with your friends. (It only *looks* spontaneous...)

(b) You recognize that different audiences will have different characteristics and that it's not possible to entirely predict how your material will be received.

I think at this point, you're going to need to move to the next stage of preparation and refinement, which is real performance. This is really the only way you're going to learn what works and what doesn't.

One idea here would be to set up a mock performance with an audience of friends or family members. This would have the advantage of them probably not booing you -- although I don't know your family :) -- even though it's not exactly the best simulation of a real audience. (I actually performed something for my family that I had already done successfully with a regular audience, and I didn't like it -- it just felt too weird to be doing it in my mom's living room!)

Eventually (soon!) you'll need to find yourself a "real" audience. As a 15-year-old, you might have access to some youth-oriented opportunities such as talent contests, church groups, or school assemblies. These settings would be good because the audience will also tend to be supportive, but you'll still be able to tell if they really think your stuff is funny or not.

You could also do some regular open-mic thing, and that wouldn't be bad, but you'd want to attend as an audience member a couple of times first, so that you see how it works, and then bring some friends with you when you perform so that they can tell you you did a good job even if the audience treats you roughly -- which, by the way, is the audience's problem, not yours.

You will need to look at either type of experiment as exactly that -- an experiment, from which you will learn about real audiences and how to communicate with them successfully. It will not be comfortable at first. Actually, it might be very uncomfortable. But that doesn't mean that you're on the wrong path. I can tell you from my own experience that it's exhilarating to learn how to communicate successfully with an audience and to receive positive feedback for what you do, but there's no way to learn without some trial and (a lot of) error.

One more thought: Depending on whether you really think that standup is the only form of public performance you want to do, you might also want to check out Toastmasters in your area -- I wish I had connected with that group as a teen. You can learn a lot from their program, which has you doing lots of different kinds of presentations. (This might be something to do in parallel with your work on your special interest in standup.)

I admire the preparation you have already done and hope that you find satisfaction in whatever you are able to learn from this experience, no matter how far you take it. The people skills you will gain will help you in lots of everyday, non-funny social interactions as well -- but only if you take it out of your comfort zone so that you learn things you don't already know.

Good luck. I'd love to hear what your next step is and how it turns out.

-- Tom

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Tom

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I can answer questions about The Capitol Steps, a political (mostly musical) satire group based in Washington, DC which performs in Washington, around the U.S., and twice a year on public radio. I can answer questions about who is performing which role in Capitol Steps sketches and songs on albums and can help identify a Capitol Steps routine (and which album or radio show includes it) based on partial lyrics. I can also provide tips and suggestions for those interested in writing and performing spoonerism-based comedy similar to the Steps' "Lirty Dies."

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I have been a Capitol Steps fan since about 1995. I own all the albums and have listened to each dozens of times. I have particularly studied (and particularly admire) the Steps' "Lirty Dies" routines and I have written and performed material of this sort. Despite the fact that I live halfway across the U.S. from Washington, I've attended many live Capitol Steps performances, including several at their permanent locations in the DC area.

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Not applicable.

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