Using volunteers is one of the easiest ways to get laughs. Adding a volunteer to a bit instantly makes it seem more spontaneous, raises the stakes, allows solo performers to do dialogue instead of just monologue, and creates opportunity for conflict—all great ingredients for comedy!
But beware: Audience participation is such a powerful tool that many variety acts overuse it. In fact, some street performers build their entire shows from volunteer routines, which can be a big problem when moving off the streets.
I’ve definitely been guilty of this. Back when Rich Ross and I were working comedy clubs, the standups often criticized us, saying that too many of our bits included volunteers. When we opened for rock shows, the audience was often barricaded back from the stage, making it impossible for us to use any. One of the casinos Katrine and I regularly work has a rule against anyone from the audience coming on stage, and the few TV shows we’ve appeared on also frowned on volunteer bits.
Screw that. In this month’s article, I’m going to write some new volunteer gags using a comedy-writing technique called “Switching to the Bone.”
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