material that travels

Greg Dean Answers Stand-Up Comedy Questions: What is Material that Travels?

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material that travels

What is meant by “material that travels,” is that the subject matter of the jokes will be understood by most audiences. If they don’t have the shared knowledge then it must be explained in the premise or extended setup.

This also means the comedians need to know the audience’s demographics. This is where they must rely on the club owners. If there’s one thing they know it’s their audience. If a club owner tells you that certain material isn’t for his audience. Believe it.

The material trap for many beginners is they develop jokes that work in a particular town or area. These local inside jokes are great to have in one’s cache of material, but not exclusively.

For instance, some LA based comics develop funny bits about the idiosyncrasies of the LA people and culture. LA audiences laugh really hard at these familiar references, but then they go to Bakersfield and they don’t get those inside LA jokes.

My thought is, “Why are comics working so hard on bits they can’t take everywhere?” I mean, it’s cool to have a few jokes about your locale, but most of the show should be able to travel.

I’ve worked with a few students on creating bits that have jokes with plug-in answers for local restaurants, bars, landmarks to be personalized for any city or area. For instance, ask the club bartender, “What’s the sleaziest bar in town?” And let’s say he names the Rendezvous Club. Then the student does a joke like this:

“I was at this classy joint, the Rendezvous Club, (the locals laughed) and a big guy was beating the crap out of a guy in uniform. I asked the barkeep, ‘Why don’t you call a cop?’ The barkeep said, ‘After what he did to that one?’”

This technique allows your material to travel because it’s customizable. Too many beginner comedians so desperate to get any laughs will spend years writing material that works in their local club.

The standard test for material that works in most areas is if it’ll work on the late night talks shows. This means the material is about popular or trending subjects in the media.

Since Netflix has created shows for nitch markets, these markets will carry with them their own shared knowledge. But if you want national recognition, that’ll come through late night TV shows or the occasional variety contests.  

Spend your valuable time putting together a show that can travel and work on national television. Why work so hard on material that’s not going to make you famous?

If you have a question, send it to gregdeancomedy@gmail.com. Please put “Question” in the subject line.

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