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Stand Up Comedy: How to Have a Great Stage Presence

Delivery is probably the most overlooked aspect of stand-up comedy. It has to do with the way he delivers his jokes. This could mean inflections, volume of voice, type of emotional support, physical movement and / or the use of accessories or musical instruments.

As an indicator of how important it is, imagine how effective Sam Kinison’s act would have been if he had delivered his material in a lower key. Or watch the Mitch Hedberg act. His writing was undeniably brilliant. However, much of the appeal came from the inflections in his Dylanesque voice. Imagine how effective his jokes would have been if they had been told, say, in the voice of Joan River.

Despite the importance of delivery, it is a difficult aspect to develop. Because any delivery or style that doesn’t seem like a natural extension of yourself will be desperately made up.

Like comedy itself, there is no right or wrong way to deliver material. If there were, Jeremy Hotz would have been kicked out of comedy many years ago for his unorthodox style. He goes against all conventions, standing at the back of the stage and often covering his mouth with his hand while telling his jokes. However, it works. His delivery fits his stage personality and has become a trademark of his act.

Going back to Mitch Hedberg, sometimes he would play an entire set with his eyes closed. The crowd didn’t care. They accepted it as part of their personality (it drove comedy club owners crazy because they couldn’t see the light on when to get off stage). Todd Berry delivers all of his material in a slow, barely audible voice. Lewis Black’s trademark is spasms of anger. Steven Wright’s employees are expressionless (a style that came naturally to him as a result of intense shyness on stage). And Chris Rock combines unique inflections with a unique sounding voice, while always hiding the anger in his jokes with a star-studded smile.

Often times, it’s the delivery that becomes more of a comedian’s trademark than the material itself.

How to try to develop a delivery

The time to experiment is when you are just getting started in business. For the first few months, be willing to try different delivery styles.

Try an outfit that tells your jokes with a deadpan expression. Then try telling your jokes in a more upbeat tone. Then next time, try slowing down and speaking almost in a whisper. Keep experimenting for several weeks while incorporating different emotions. And when doing so, be sure to use the same set list. In this way, you can correctly assess how different delivery styles can alter the strength of a joke and a complete ensemble.

Over time, you will learn which style works best for you, and ultimately which style you are most comfortable delivering with. Just make sure it’s you and not some artificial comedy stunt.

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