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Standup comedian Matt Ruby explains how to choose whether to refine existing material or develop new material. Performing ...
regularly in New York amongst very competitive peers, Ruby finds incentive to actively evolve his portfolio while improving his delivery. He does note, however, that this has its limits. He finds slowly growing comedy pieces allows him to expand them into a larger block of material.
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Erik: How do you choose whether to refine existing material or create new material?
Matt: It’s a tough thing. I mean, one good thing about being in New York is that you perform in front of other comedians a lot so that pushes you to kinda come up with new material a lot, too ‘cause people will like start whispering, oh, he’s doing the exact same set he’s been doing for months or years and you know, it’s sort of like a sign that you’ve stagnated. So, I think it’s good, you know, almost like a shark, you gotta keep going and keep generating new stuff and also presumably you're getting better. So, keep making new stuff ‘cause you keep getting better at making things interesting and funny, you know, like ‘cause you can get an act together and then just ride on that for a while but, you know, then you’ve kinda just set the bar that that’s how good you are and that’s just gonna stay there, you know. So I like – but I do think there’s, you know, you can take that too far whereas like a lot of times, you know, refining a bit is when you can kinda slowly grow it. You know, you’ve got like this core of something that’s working and if you keep doing it, you know, for months at a time, that’s when you can find different angles on it or add tags, like one line at a time, and so that like what was maybe just a little joke at first, after months of doing it can kinda expand into a real chunk which is like, depending on what kind of comic you wanna be, but for me that’s something that’s really appealing when, you know, there’s like a whole block of material on like one topic and you really go deep into it and that’s when you really kinda cover some ground, I think.
Erik: What does it mean to kinda create a kernel in comedy and build around that versus building separate pieces and creating a narrative?
Matt: Well, I mean, I think everyone’s got their own way of working. For me it’s like, you know, what’s the core of what’s funny about this? Is there like, this thing is getting a laugh. You gotta start off with something that’s like, got a punch line and it’s hitting and then I think you’re trying to, you know, add on to that. Like the setup – the setup is like climbing a hill and then you get the punch line and then you can like build on top of that and keep going or you can go back to the bottom and try to set up a new thing and get up there again and the hard thing is getting up the hill. So, once you’re there you really wanna add to it, like okay, I got one laugh off this. Now, can I add in something else? Can I keep going? Can I, you know sort of like doubling down. And, what is that, Black Jack, right. But you kinda like wanna keep building off the previous success but that’s like a slow process a lot of times where it’s, you know, for me anyway, it’s like I can do a joke for like three months and it’s working but it’s that and then all of a sudden, one day it’ll just either come to me on stage or, you know, when I’m running through a set beforehand or something like that and I’ll be like, oh, here’s another line that I could add and then when you get, it’s like, oh, that’s like a free laugh almost. I had to work for like 30 seconds to get this much laughter and I only have to work for six more seconds to get another amount of laughter that’s equal to that. So, you know, you’re getting laughs at a discount if you wanna be within a currency way. And that’s, you know, you're trying to – like how many laughs you're getting per minute is, you know, you don’t wanna boil it down too much to a formula but that’s a good way to tell how good a comic is. So, you know, it’s just you’re being more efficient.
Capture Your Flag creates a model of success college graduates and early- to mid- career professionals can follow by interviewing up and coming leaders about formative decisions and experiences shaping their careers.