One of your “A” jokes that consistently earned big laughs stops working. Here is a checklist that will help you pinpoint the reason why this is happening and what to do about it.
Reason 1: You’re not doing it the way you did it when it was working. This is the number one reason that “A” material stops working. Its been months since you created the joke and you’ve forgotten the attitudes that caused you to write the joke in the first place and that you played on stage when the joke was still fresh in your gut. You’ve unintentionally changed the attitudes that made the joke work.
Solution: Go back to the original attitudes. If you have a recording of the performance where the joke worked, review the recording and determine what the original attitudes were and play them again when you do your next show. The laugh will return.
Reason 2: The joke is dated. Sadly, audiences do not have an infinite desire to hear Monica Lewinsky jokes. If your joke is about something in the news, and this item has been fodder for talk show hosts and an uncountable number of other comedians, at some point audiences have heard all they want to hear on this subject. They communicate this to you by not laughing.
Solution: Cut the joke.
Reason 3: You’ve moved the position of the joke in your set and the move has hurt the joke. For example, you’re looking for a new opening for you set. Your current opening is getting “B” laughs and you want to open with something stronger. There is a killer joke toward the end of your set, so you move it up to the front and it stops working.
Solution: Move the joke back to where it was. Something about this joke requires information that earlier jokes are supplying. Without this information the joke doesn’t work. It is not a stand alone joke. It is a joke that is partially set up by information in earlier jokes. Put it back where it was and the laugh will return.
Reason 4: The material is inappropriate for a particular audience. I worked with a comic whose set included sexually graphic as well as clean material. He was funny, and eventually he got his first paying gig. He bombed. “Not a single laugh,” he told me in the day after IbombedandI’mquittingthebusiness phone call. “What material did you do,” I asked. ” The blue stuff,” he replied. “Where were you” I asked. “A bar mitzvah.” “Oy,” I replied. A group of thirteen-year-old boys and girls, their parents, grandparents and the rabbi is not the right audience for “dick” jokes. Underline that last sentence if you are printing this out. Sexually graphic or blue material does not work with young teenagers; it embarrasses them, and parents; they don’t approve or think it’s sophomoric, and elderly people; they don’t remember what you’re talking about, and rabbais. Blue material works with the late night, 20-30’s, met the 2 drink minimum before the show started, horny and single crowd. The older and more sophisticated the crowd is, the less they go for fart jokes. Listen to the show. If the comics who go on before you are getting big laughs with clean material, don’t do your roll on the ten ways your girlfriend passes gas. Save it. Try to hold it in. Thank you.
Reason 5: Rosenfield’s Law of Relativity: You’ve been closing your set with a killer joke that sweeps you off stage to the sounds of laughter, applause and adulation. Several months later the joke is tanking and your schlepping offstage to the sounds of lint falling. You’ve been through the checklist- you’re closing with the original attitudes, it’s not dated, or inappropriate to the audience, you haven’t changed its placement- so what’s going on?! People laugh hardest at what is relatively the funniest material in your set. Your best jokes get bigger laughs than your so so jokes. What may be your best joke now may not stay that way if your writing keeps improving. As you add higher quality material to your set, what once was your killer joke may now be marginal. This is the best reason in the world to have a joke stop working. You’ve become a much better writer and your old stuff is not up to your new stuff. Congratulations!
Solution: Cut the joke.