comedy Paul Clemente

Paul Clemente: Local Comedian? Part 2: Material & Censorship

12:17:00 PMPaul

Photo by: Nick Dean

Look at this goddamn idiot. That's me; Paul Clemente local ... comedian?

I hesitated posting this as "Part 2" because I feel like I'm jumping very far ahead from the natural genesis of open mics to this contentious topic of material selection. This is a topic that has been debated forever and will be discuss and argued over long after I'm gone.  I can only offer my viewpoint from my experiences I have had so far in this business.

I'll start with considering material for an audience or venue. I've been lucky enough to book shows in places I've already been familiar with. When preparing for a show or even an open mic I absolutely think about the audience. Let's face facts an audience at a coffee shop is going to have different sensibilities and humor than a dive-bar. Both venues have merit and deserve a good show but it's an undeniable fact that each venue you perform at has different expectations, audiences, and energies. I feel any experienced comedian will tell you the same and that the ability to adapt and read an audience is an essential tool to becoming a good entertainer. You need to bond who is in front of you and assure them that you are one of them and that this is going to be fun.

Comedy works on a wide spectrum of styles and most comedians should find what their voice is and explore different extremes in that spectrum. Not only does it make you more versatile but it gives you a lot of options to perform at different venues.

25-30 written sets. 2 of them are good.

One glaring example is that I hear often is comedians refusing (!!!) to work "clean". Working clean is keeping it PG/PG-13 rated and it is something that a huge chunk of venues ask for.  Some audiences just want to have a good time and not be challenged with their personal moral boundaries. If you don't have a "clean set" try and get one it helps.

An advanced skill set that I have not learned yet is to adjust on the fly to what the audience is feeling. Sometimes a strange, unplanned joke will land (or fail) that will give you insight to who they are as a room. A experienced comedian will change their entire set in their heads mid-performance and continue without thinking too much about it. Again, its all about reading the audience. There is nothing more painful than dying on stage and just going through the motions of struggling with a room despite of the reactions you are getting.

It's easy to lose sight of any comedian's goal to entertain when there are so many more personal benefits to performing comedy but the end result has to be about the audience. I know this seems obvious but I will bring up this point later.

This brings up the fragile argument about what you can or can't say when you are up on stage. I personally feel that you can say whatever you want no matter how abstract, vile, absurd, edgy, and whatever other adjective you can find to express extremes. Comedy arguably the best tool to deal with what's uncomfortable.

Comedy is how - as a society - deals with critic social issues, heals from tragedies, and inspires mental flexibility with complicated subjects. I think there is no subject too taboo to discuss and nothing is off the table as far as a topic. Censorship is a massive disservice to everyone and should never be integrated into the world of comedy.


As a comedian broaching a touchy topic such as race, gender, sexuality you have a responsibility to present it dutifully.

A friend of mine, Autumn Echo, wrapped this entire concept up with a perfect bow:

"Every artist has a responsibility for the content they put into the world. You do not get to take a stage without taking responsibility"

The  key word is responsibility.

You can say whatever you want on stage, that is your right but you are responsible for the words you say. Being offensive just for the sake of being offensive is lazy, irresponsible, and no better than a dollar store fart key chain.

Here is an example of horribly irresponsible comedy.

This jackass (:33) pulls out this outdated racist stereotype out of no where and proceeds to shove this disgusting bit down the audience's throat. When he interacts with the crowd he clearly blames the crowd for not responding with a "thanks for busting my balls, George" and continues this disgusting bit until he graciously gets punched on stage. 

This is offensive just for the sake of being offensive. It's easy for a simple minded idiot to blame society for not being "too sensitive" or people just being "triggered".  The list of what's wrong with this bit is almost infinite but it's a prime example of blatant unawareness and negligence. 

Well then, how do you approach a sensitive topic in comedy? You tell a joke with responsibility. You try and give context. No one wants to go to a comedy show and feel mistreated, marginalized, uncomfortable, or feel that they are watching someone they despise steal their precious time.

I know Louis CK has been under some deserved scrutiny but in this clip he does a masterful job of turning a terrible slur, sterilizing it and making it funny. 

In this bit he shocks the crowd with a hateful slur. In this particular case, he gets the benefit of the doubt because he is a celebrity and we know that this is not how he truly feels. Most comedians do not get this benefit and often the audience does not know you and is seeing you for the first time.

He then explains what he means and makes it clear that he is not being bigoted. Again he says the word and immediately takes responsibility.  He clarifies his meaning of the word and manages the crowd. He took the audience through a spectrum of emotions very quickly and brings them back to "hey everyone, I'm on your side, I'm one of you".

The final point is that the audience needs to like you as a person in order to think you are funny. You need to connect with them in a short amount of time. You need that moment where the room accepts you as a human being and that they are in on the joke and not the joke themselves. This bond that comedians can earn with the crowd is invaluable and needs to be established immediately. There is nothing that segregates you quicker from an audience is hatred, bigotry, and testing an edge that no one asked for.

For some dumb reason, I am perusing this career of comedy and I am a perpetual student of social interactions, performance psychology, and how it all ties together. As comedians we are graced with the opportunity to make people laugh. We are given a -sometimes arduous - task of turning someone's night around to forgetting about their problems and listening to you tell a story and I'm so lucky that I even get that chance.

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