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Mr. Cantu! Fellow Toastmasters! And most welcome readers! ... My name isVince Keats. Recently I have taken the plunge into the wacky world of stand up comedy. Cantu has graciously asked me to write a column describing the similarities and differences between Toastmasters and Open Mike Comedy Clubs.
A little background: I have been a Toastmaster for five years. I am a CTM (Competent Toastmaster). My Toastmaster comedic credentials include: 1995 District 4 Tall Tales Champion, and 1999 District 4 Humorous Speech Champion. (Editor note: The Tall Tales contest and the Humorous Speech contest are both standard yearly contests that take place in all Toastmaster clubs.)
If you are a Toastmaster (even if you're not) and are thinking about taking the stand up plunge, read on! I have been performing at comedy open mikes for a little over eight months. One of my first comedy performances was "The Vinnie Show" a self-produced and performed show of original humor.
So you like to make people laugh? You've discovered you have a flare for sparking up your speeches with humor. You enjoy making humorous speeches, even entered some contests. Maybe you are thinking about doing some stand up comedy. I say, "Go for it!" But you ask, "What can I expect at a comedy club?" Let's do a little Toastmasters Club/Comedy Club compare and contrast:
Toastmasters Club - The Setting: A community center, corporate conference room, or restaurant are the most common venues. (If your club meets in a restaurant where you are exposed to patrons and surrounding activity, you are closer to the comedy club experience.) But usually surroundings are quiet where attention can be focused on the speaker.
Comedy Club - The Setting: Coffee house, bar, or make shift club. Some places have a stage, others do not. Some places don't even have a microphone. Surroundings can vary from quiet to noisy. The environment is not glamorous.
Toastmasters - The People: "Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and welcome guests." That often-used Toastmaster speech opening about sums it up. At Toastmasters the people are focused on the speaker. They are supportive and responsive. The best part is after your speech you have an evaluator; someone who provides you with personalized feedback on your speech and offers constructive remarks on how you can improve.
Comedy Club - The People: Comics, strangers, and a familiar face (if you bring one along). You may feel strangely alone up on the stage - especially the first few times. Chances are you will not know anyone in the audience. Your feedback comes from the audience's response (as it would for any kind of speaking engagement). No one will give you an evaluation unless that familiar face you brought along is a fellow Toastmaster.
Toastmasters - The Program: Basic meeting format includes these standard elements: opening; table topics (members are given a topic/question at random and have to reply with a 30-60 second off-the-cuff response. The purpose is to help you with the skill of creating/delivering spontaneous and or ad-lib remarks); prepared speeches; evaluations; reports; business; and closing. In Toastmasters the speaking portions are given a time limit: table topics: 1-2 minutes, manual speeches: 5-7 min., evaluations 2-3 minutes.
Comedy Club - The Program: Sign up with the MC/host/booker, wait your turn, perform your bit. Time limit: can be as generous as seven minutes, usually five minutes.
Tips and Comments on Performing at Open Mikes: Anyone can perform at an open mike. Get there early to sign up! You want to make sure you get a slot to perform. Introduce yourself to the MC and find out what your time limit is. As in Toastmasters adhere to the time limit. If you are given five minutes and you only have four minutes of material, get off the stage after four minutes! No one is going to get mad at you for finishing early. Be courteous to the other comics - don't go over time! It will be appreciated.
I have had a lot of fun performing at open mikes. Audiences have ranged in size from six to about thirty- five. Some times they laugh and some times they don't. Keep on trucking! Stick around and watch the other comics perform. See what works and what doesn't. You will find that a lot of these comics are beginners just like you. Your Toastmaster skills will come in handy. Also, you will find you can bring something back to Toastmasters.
Vince Keats Speaker / Humorous and Stand Up Comedian based in the San Francisco Bay Area. For booking availability E-mail: Vinscape@aol.com
"The Vinnie Show" Cantu notes:
This is a great idea that can be duplicated by others who bemoan the dearth of comedy venues these days. I hope to get Vince to write a second article in six or seven months and share his experiences.
"microphone" Cantu notes: When comedy clubs do have a microphone, this can be daunting for many Toastmasters, since most Toastmasters speakers have never before used a microphone. May I suggest you read this information on microphone techniques:
(Complete article available by purchase of the CantuHumor ezine reprints, "Cantu's Comedy Wit and Humor Wisdom") Soon to be republished.
"The environment is not glamorous" Cantu notes: This is the understatement of the decade. Comedy clubs can often be dank, dingy, dirty, grimy, seedy, and worst. Especially the ones offering open mikes, since for them open mike equates to free entertainment and the clubs are often operating on inadequate budgets.
"The best part is after your speech" Cantu notes: Because of the personalized evaluations I still recommend that aspiring comics join a Toastmasters club. If people don't laugh in a comedy club is it because your material is weak - or is it because of weak performance skills - such as they can't hear you - or because you have unconscious mannerism such as playing with change in your pocket or pulling at your hair, etc. that distract them from laughing. . .
In Toastmasters you find out about these specific weaknesses and distracting mannerisms through your evaluations. You also learn how to speak without using vulgarity which prepares you for corporate work.
And as for vulgarity, I am no prude when it comes to language - with my friends, my language would make Richard Pryor wince, but I don't use that language at business, corporate, or social functions (unless it's an all comedians event *G*)
"Toastmasters - The Program" Cantu notes: Between the opening and the closing, different clubs may present these elements in a different order according to their custom. There is no standard Toastmasters format of what order these elements must be scheduled.