Superpowers School
Superpowers School Podcast - Human skills to maximise productivity and thrive in the age of AI
Presenting - How Does Stand-Up Comedy Improve Public Speaking? - Alfie Noakes (Comedy Coach & Promoter) E112
Presenting - How Does Stand-Up Comedy Improve Public Speaking? - Alfie Noakes (Comedy Coach & Promoter) E112
Alfie Noakes (Comedy Coach & Promoter)

Paddy Danda welcomes Alfie Noakes, a stand-up comedy MC, promoter, and coach. Alfie shares insights into the superpower of making people laugh and how it can be a valuable skill in various contexts. He emphasizes that anyone can try stand-up comedy and provides practical tips for incorporating humour into talks and presentations. The episode delves into the psychology of audience engagement and the importance of storytelling in comedy.

👉🏽 Courage to Try Comedy - Alfie encourages everyone to try stand-up comedy as it not only brings laughter but also hones skills like public speaking and creativity.

👉🏽 Hooking Audience Attention - Alfie discusses the importance of hooking the audience's attention at the beginning of a talk or comedy set, using surprise and truthful storytelling to keep them engaged.

👉🏽 Storytelling and Overlap with Cinema - The episode highlights the significance of storytelling in comedy and how it overlaps with the dynamics of filmmaking, offering a unique perspective on crafting humour.

This conversation provides valuable insights into the world of comedy and the power of laughter in various aspects of life.

Alfie Noakes (Comedy Coach & Promoter)

Alfie Noakes is a London-based comedy coach and promoter. He is the creator of the We Are Funny Project. Alfie has written and presented a series of online courses designed to support anyone who wants to have a go at stand-up from their first gig to reaching for the paid circuit and bagging an agent. Alfie is a potent champion of stand-up as an art form and encourages people to feel the fear and still "give it a go". There are so many transferable skills, all while having a lot of laughs.
Several years reporting on aspects of cinema and entertainment for the BBC, MTV, and the rest, led to a lot of run-ins with famous people, both positive, and less so. Having quit TV in 2007 to set up an eco company, the credit crunch of 2008 led to my bankruptcy. My side hobby of running an open mic comedy night expanded into my creating one of the biggest comedy resources in the UK, We Are Funny Project. My production skills were extended to live comedy shows, professional workshops, and the production of a litany of resources to help comedians get funnier, faster. Or, find the tools to give them the skill and confidence to get up and try and make 'em laugh. I have staged over 1800 gigs, hosted over 10,000 performers and created over 30,000 "spots" for stand-ups. I have witnessed, up close and personal, the worst stage deaths, the smartest comedy, the freshest faces rise through the ranks from first gig to nationally recognized comedy talent. I was never a comedian, always an MC, promoter and most recently, a comedy coach. I have a unique take on the whole stand-up thing. For many, the notion of performing stand-up is terrifying, one of the many reasons why it should be done. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Do it well, and feel like an actual rock star!

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⚡️ In each episode, Paddy Dhanda deep dives into a new human Superpower and gives practical advice on how you can apply it immediately.

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[00:01:00] Paddy Dhanda: Dear friend, thank you for joining me for another episode of the Superpower School podcast. I'm your host Paddy Danda and on today's episode I have somebody who has Superpowers that I can really do with myself. I think I'm going to find it super useful and I'm sure you will too He is a stand up comedy MC and promoter and a comedy coach However, he's not a comedian or at least that's what he tells me.

Welcome to the show Alfie Nooks, how you doing?

[00:01:32] Alfie Noakes: I'm good Paddy. Thank you for having me on the show

[00:01:34] Paddy Dhanda: You're welcome. Alfie, I'm loving the shirt, like, I just saw the shirt and just the coordination and I thought this man's got a fashion sense that I definitely don't have. Well done.

[00:01:44] Alfie Noakes: Very few things coordinate with a shirt like this, but you're very kind.

[00:01:48] Paddy Dhanda: Ah, so Alfie, I'm guessing you're a fellow Brit. Whereabouts are you based?

[00:01:52] Alfie Noakes: I'm in London right now as I speak to you, but I'm originally from the fine town of Hull up north. Oh, a northerner,

[00:01:58] Paddy Dhanda: a proper northerner.

[00:02:00] Alfie Noakes: Well, actually, tomorrow will mark the 30th anniversary of the time I moved to London.

I'm something of a hybrid at this point. Got it,

[00:02:07] Paddy Dhanda: got it. Well, I normally say to londoners, I'm a northerner. But then, when I meet people that are further up from

[00:02:13] Alfie Noakes: Birmingham. Yeah, Birmingham, not north. No, not north.

[00:02:18] Paddy Dhanda: Yeah, there's only a few people I can get away with saying that to, but definitely not another northerner.

Alfie, what superpower are we going to talk about today?

[00:02:26] Alfie Noakes: The ability to make people laugh, to bring some more laughter into the world and make it a better place.

[00:02:31] Paddy Dhanda: Oh, I love that. I think that everything should have laughter within it. So I'm really keen to hear more. However, as my regular listeners know, I always like to do a bit of a deep dive into a guest's background.

Were you always interested in this line of work or did you have other things on your mind as you were growing up?

[00:02:53] Alfie Noakes: To be fair, I fell into comedy. I was always a deep and profound comedy fan and had a secret hankering to give it a go, but frankly was too scared to, which I now recognize as ridiculous of me.

My kind of origin stories, I appeared on a TV show about films. I was something of the human IMDB back in the early nineties before the IMDB existed. And as a result, that show actually to me enough as somebody who appeared as a punter to offer me a job making the teas and the coffees in the next season.

And so I skipped film school took on this job, thought it would just be for six months. Then I would go to film school as planned. And then I got offered another job and suddenly I've got a freelance production career. I made all sorts of shows, but my niche was cinema programming. So most of the movie shows you might've ever seen in the nineties and the noughties, more often than not, I was involved somewhere along the line.

That was my specialty.

[00:03:43] Paddy Dhanda: Ah, got it. Oh, what was that one that, that one bloke used to be on? I'm trying to remember the name. It's a really famous one. And he used to review movies on the BBC,

[00:03:53] Alfie Noakes: I think. Well, Barry Norman was the guy back in the day. Jonathan Ross took over the show later on. It was filmed, named a year.

[00:03:59] Paddy Dhanda: That's the one. That's the one. Yes. How could I forget? Oh, so you were involved with that particular show as well?

[00:04:05] Alfie Noakes: No, that's literally the only one I wasn't involved with. Okay.

[00:04:09] Paddy Dhanda: Okay. The others were way better. Yes

[00:04:13] Alfie Noakes: Movie watch I was on for five seasons. I used to be Mark Kermode reporter at Radio 1 for a couple of years I made some documentaries for Universal Studios.

I used to do a lot of Kind of the documentary tie ins to movies when they were being released. So I'd go and interview the stars and I think I did King Kong, Shall We Dance with Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, Sunshine, Danny Boyle, all those kinds of films that when they did the tie in for the release, I'd do like a half an hour documentary to tie in amongst all sorts of other shows I made over the years.

And then when I found out I was going to be a dad, I decided it was time to change gear because I was routinely being sent overseas. Which is what I was hoping for, by the way. So when I found out. I was going to be a dad I was like, well, I need to be present. So I changed gears, launched a business, terrible time to launch a big new business in 2007, given the banking crisis of 2008, that sent me bankrupt.

And in that interim period, I, as a hobby helped a friend run an open mic night, we teamed up and then within a couple of years, we parted company and I launched what is now the way our funny project, which is just celebrated 10 years this year. So we run regular open mic nights, depending on. Which era up to six shows a week.

Currently it's two Luke Terry and Paul Little are the resident emcees at the shows now. And then over the years I've produced all sorts of in person live workshops bringing in professional comedians and emcees to teach professional skill sets to amateur comedians. All aspects of comedy, writing comedy for radio, tv, musical comedy, character comedy, NLP, neuro linguistic programming for comedians.

We did a couple of those and obviously by virtue of producing those. I have the privilege of taking the classes as well. And then because I was often emceeing four nights a week, I could take their tips. More often than not, I'd be testing what they said you shouldn't do. I'd largely figured out already as an emcee what was good practice, but I wasn't always sure.

They said, don't do X. Was that really true? So I could go and test it and they were always correct. So I had the privilege of learning at the knee of these brilliant pros. About 10, 000 people have performed on We Are Funny project stages over the years. So I've watched several thousand people.

I've seen the hardest deaths. I've experienced some of them myself. I've seen the greatest successes. And I've been up really close for you to the acts that have talent and a solid work ethic to see them rise the ranks and see what they were doing right, see what people were doing wrong.

So no, not a comedian, really always an MC, but I've had a front row seater. more lifestyle comedy than most people on the planet.

[00:06:41] Paddy Dhanda: So I was thinking then Alfie, I might ask you at the end of the show for your funniest joke ever.

[00:06:47] Alfie Noakes: I'm an emcee in a live stand up comedy room. It's a different dynamic to throwing out a joke on a podcast without the setup, the warmth, the energy building up into the room, just to throw you out a joke now would not be the same experience as me telling that joke in a room that I've warmed up where they've come with the expectation of being made to laugh.

So sorry, I'm going to have to reject your kind offer to tell you a joke.

[00:07:10] Paddy Dhanda: And that's fascinating because most people would probably assume, oh, well, surely you must have like your favorite jokes I'm just thinking about my audience. I'm guessing the majority of them aren't planning on getting on stage and becoming a stand up comedian.

However, I'm sure for the type of work we do, you can bring in fun and comedy probably into lots of different aspects. Who should care about comedy and

[00:07:37] Alfie Noakes: why? First of all, you said that you imagine lots of your audience don't imagine getting on a stage and becoming a standup comedian.

And just to dive into that for a second I've cooked a meal. I'm not a chef. I've played football. I'm not a footballer. And there's a level of open mic comedy in the earlier days where I would challenge. that people could necessarily call themselves a comedian. They could say I've had a go at stand up comedy, and that's entirely true.

I think the claim of saying I am a stand up comedian comes when there's some notable level of experience and some degree of success behind them. But getting up and having a go at comedy, doing some comedy I honestly believe should be something of a bucket list choice for an awful lot of lots of people, much as you yourself just a moment ago suggested you the classic question.

When I tell people what I do for a living in a live environment, a party type of thing, invariably two responses in almost every case. It's tell me a joke just as you have, and they get the exact same answer. And the other one is, Oh, I could never do that. I couldn't get up on stage and try and make people laugh.

And I'm like, you really could. I know public speaking is scary to a lot of people, public speaking with the desire to make people laugh is a higher bar, I get it. But the fact is, if you rock up at an open mic night, and you won't just rock up and get a spot, you've got to approach somebody like me.

to book a spot some time in advance. So you've got an opportunity knowing on the first of next month, you're going to give this thing a go. You maybe don't want to bring friends with you. So you keep the social pressure off. And in an open mic room, there is such a range of people performing.

Some of them are really super talented. There's some brilliant comedians on the open mic circuit. There really are. They the pro level, or they might be at the pro level and have popped into a night like one of mine to work out some new material for a radio show or a TV appearance that happens often enough.

But to turn up and do five minutes of material, the reality is it's way more scary in the minds of the people doing it. The people in the room aren't that invested. They didn't pay to get into an open mic show. And even the best comedian of the night, I've heard so many people as they leave the room, one asked the other, an audience saying, who did you like most?

They never remember the name of the actor. They just go the tall guy with the red shirt. He was my favorite. So a lot of the room will be other comedians and they all know what it's like to fail on stage. It's a fairly steep learning curve. So while somebody getting up and trying, it feels it's super scary.

Actually, everybody else watching isn't putting anything like that value on them. So I hope that's some level of kind of reassurance that tick off that bucket list, tell somebody, you know, I've had a go at standard comedy get some impressive points, because it does take some courage and some creativity for sure.

And then once you've got into comedy, I suggest doing half a dozen gigs would be good. That first one is really just about passing the psychological barrier being courageous and showing you can do it. And then try it in a handful of rooms, get a feel for it, see what it's like in different places.

Get a sense of the people in the scene, because there's some really cool people. And all night long, while you're not performing, you're faced with a sea of people who are trying to make you laugh. It's a really fun evening. You very quickly make friends within this community. And the transferable skills are considerable, not least public speaking, but coming up with creative ideas, how to build rapport, it gives you a sense of body language.

There's all sorts of transferable skills if somebody is good at comedy. And let's not forget one of the greatest social lubricants is making somebody laugh. If you make somebody laugh, they tend to like you, they're more inclined to like you. And that can be helpful in your career, in your dating life.

in all sorts of circumstances. So there's a multitude of reasons to have a go at stand up comedy, and I'm on something of a mission to encourage even more people to do it, even though more than 10, 000 people have already performed in my rooms.

[00:11:09] Paddy Dhanda: Oh, that's remarkable. And, Alfie, if somebody out there is preparing for a talk or going to be in front of a crowd for whatever reason, And they're thinking of incorporating some comedy into their workshop or talk.

Where would they start? Is there some ways that you can suggest some tips of how do they build that inspiration? It'd just be great to hear like some of your hints and tips on that.

[00:11:34] Alfie Noakes: Sure. Well, first of all, I think if somebody is giving a talk and they want to inject some humor in it, but they're not being billed as an outright comedian, they're not being sold on the concept that they're going to make you laugh.

The bar is actually relatively low. So again, I don't think people should stress themselves out with it too much. You probably don't want to put in too many jokes, but a nice joke at the top of this. I was about to say set, talk certainly ending on a joke leaves a nice warm taste in the mouth of the audience and peppering a few gags in throughout.

Referring to truthful things, if there's something really evident in the room that clearly everybody will have noticed, a weird piece of sculpture or something happened earlier in the day, And a reference to that in a certain light hearted fashion can do it. Acknowledging the truth that nobody's really mentioned about everybody's thought of is always a fairly easy goal.

Having to think in general about what either surprises or irritates and always angers you is usually quite a good avenue of finding a premise for a joke and then, finding a way to flesh it out. So if Whatever the industry might be, say it's an accountancy convention. And if they're talking about that, then finding a common pain in the ass aspect of being an accountant, maybe there's a piece of software that's notorious or something along these lines and making a joke along those lines, because that's a unifying point as well as people recognizing it, they also recognize only my tribe would get this.

So look for those surprises. That's usually a premise. Look for the things that irritate and anger. That's usually a premise. Something that's specific to this crowd. If it is some kind of talk convention, a lot of that crowd are going to have a lot in common. Find something that speaks to them.

[00:13:14] Paddy Dhanda: I'm just thinking about a recent example of a talk I did over in the Netherlands and I forgot my belt from home. Like I was in such a rush and my trousers don't fall down, but. They do need a bell. And I was on stage, started the talk and I kept shuffling around because I kept trying to pull up my jeans.

And after about five minutes. I just had to stop and I just had to acknowledge it in the room. I said, look, I'm really sorry if you see me doing this weird shimmy throughout today. I said, it's because I forgot my belt and it became this running theme just by accident. I hadn't planned to say this, but it was just like by accident.

And by the end of the talk I was getting lots of laughs. Every time I'd shimmy, they'd be laughing. And then right at the end, we asked everybody to write on a piece of paper they're one big takeaway from the talk and you should buy

[00:14:05] Alfie Noakes: a new belt.

[00:14:07] Paddy Dhanda: Pretty much, yeah we then got people to scrunch up the paper and throw the papers at us and I was only afterwards when I was reading them through that one, but one guy had put on there.

Don't forget your belt next time.

[00:14:17] Alfie Noakes: Okay, well, that's good advice in any scenario. So if you plan this a little bit more so and I accept. That you couldn't really, but you might have been able to go back to your previous question about how to funny it up. You might have been able to generate a story as to where your belt had gone, like why you had lost your belt.

 That's immediately interesting, one of the aspects of being a successful comedian is to be fascinating as well as funny. to capture the audience's interest and hold it. You want to hook at the beginning of a speech, you want to hook at the beginning of a comedy set, something that grabs the audience's attention, and the comedy set ideally something that establishes something of who you are.

So it could be a comment about how you look, that's very obvious and easy. I find it a bit hack, by the way. When I see comedians come on stage and they've got a passing resemblance to a celebrity, and they say something while patting their belly, like, Oh, Jason Statham's let himself go. You know, something like that.

I find that really in a comedy room, but that might work enough at some kind of talk or convention in a professional universe. That would be for you to decide. But then to reveal something that the audience don't know about you, but they could find out about you easily. So you're sharing with them.

It could just take a quick chat with you at the bar, a quick look at your social media, they'll find out you've recently been on holiday to X place. You play football for a team, this kind of thing, not a secret, just a piece of information and attach a joke to that and then you go one level deeper and you share something with the crowd that they could only know because you've told them and that can be something funny as well.

It could be a story of you messing up in childhood, you've obviously got time to practice for this. So there's three levels of introduction, what they see, what you easily share and quote unquote a secret. So you could have attached a story as to how you lost your belt and come up with something surreal in the Eddie Izzard kind of level, or it could have been something really quite light and frivolous.

But you did lay the groundwork for a running joke. You could refer to that again and again. And audiences, I can definitely say this, they always like a callback. And just to be clear, a callback is a joke that refers to a joke you told earlier. Audiences love them. They're a very good way of wrapping up.

Any set or any talk in this case, so if you can finish on a laugh and a laugh that will get a couple of extra points out of 10, if we're marking the laughter out of 10, because it references a joke you told earlier, the audience somehow have a sense of, oh, I remember something you said eight minutes ago, I'm brilliant, and I get the joke.

It just really supercharges that closing joke, and if you leave the stage to laughter and happy crowd, then, that's Very close to a job well done, I would argue.

[00:16:53] Paddy Dhanda: So I was thinking about something that we were talking about recently in a talk that I did, and it's all about how do you keep an audience engaged?

And one of the points we made was there's an effect called a serial position effect and a bit of psychology behind that. is the fact that people usually remember what happens at the start of something, forget everything happens in the middle, and normally remember the ending. And so it's good to really emphasize the thing that you said at the start, a bit like what you're saying there.

I guess from your perspective, psychology, how important of a role does that play into the way that you go about designing your humor? And the way that you're delivering.

[00:17:37] Alfie Noakes: Well, I'll be clear that I don't ever really consider it through the filter of quote unquote psychology, as you've put it, but I routinely raise the concept with my students of with always dealing with the subconscious of the audience.

 So it's a spoken word art form, we want their attention, maybe more in your universe, it's giving a lecture or a talk in my universe, it's being on a comedy stage, but you absolutely want to make sure they're paying attention to you and nothing is a distraction. And a way of doing that is to hook their attention for example, I might come onto stage and say something like, you wouldn't believe what happened to me today.

It's one of the wildest, weirdest things ever. Look, I'll come back to that. And then I'll go into whatever else I feel I need to say. And the audience are already going, Oh, I want to find out what that thing was. Anything that you say on stage that doesn't scan, that breaks any kind of line of logic. For example, I'll stick with what I.

was Speaking to fellow experts in your industry, and if you reference something that they know not to be true, let's say you say the CEO of a famous company is called X, and actually that's not the name of that CEO. In that moment, every audience member who knows anything will go into the head and go, that's not right.

That bloke's called Dave. And for that few seconds you've lost them. They're having something of an internal dialogue and you've also damaged your own credibility. They already know that you've proven yourself to be not trustworthy on some element or at least ill informed, and that will damage the level of attention they're prepared to pay to you.

So what's true in the lecture circuit is equally true in the comedy circuit. You can go as weird and surreal as you like, but whatever happens, the logic must be true. It must scan in the review. And so much of comedy is based on a surprise. So much of what a comedian often will do is mislead and misdirect.

So the audience are led down this path, thinking that we're going here, which is in a movie. If you're watching a horror film and you're waiting for the serial killer and the slasher film to jump out and you go, no, they're going to come from behind the shower curtain. No, they're going to jump out of the cupboard.

And then the doctor plays a trick and a cat jumps out with a scream and then the serial killer jumps out. Every audience member and every second of the beginning of that scene is in their head. Subconsciously trying to predict when the serial killer is going to jump out. And so it is anytime we're talking, whether it's in a lecture or whether it's on a comedy stage.

So laying those hooks there, being consistent, leading them down a path. And then so much of comedy is surprise, dropping them in a place they weren't expecting. And as they can subconsciously reflect, I know that still makes sense. That word. was a homonym. It has two meanings. I was led to believe it was deer as in the animal.

It's actually deer as in my beloved. And now it makes sense. So these are some of the devices you could use to hook attention and raise a laugh. I would hope.

[00:20:19] Paddy Dhanda: Yeah. And it sounds like being a good storyteller is really important from what you're saying.

[00:20:24] Alfie Noakes: Yeah. People love stories. It's arguably the oldest art form and stories take us on a journey from a beginning to a middle to an end, depending on your structure. And you can throw it forward as I did earlier, as I mentioned to you, you wouldn't believe what happened to me. I'll come back and tell you about that. I'm still waiting for that bit,

[00:20:40] Paddy Dhanda: actually. Yeah.

[00:20:41] Alfie Noakes: We're an example in an outright story, but there's ways it means of coaxing interest as I mentioned, I was a film journalist in a former career. So I'm deeply versed in kind of storytelling from that universe. And it really wasn't long when I was in comedy that I realized that the overlap was considerable with what comedians are doing because they're looking to come up with original ideas, evoke images.

They're just painting images in the audience mind so much as on the screen. They're taking them on a journey, they're wrong footing them, misdirecting them, surprising them, but bringing them to a satisfactory conclusion. There's immense overlap. To that effect, I've actually created three online courses, one for beginners.

Which I would be anybody who's not tried stand up yet or anybody within their first hundred gigs, which is typically maybe their first year in the circuit. There's one for MCs. So there's obviously huge amounts of information there for people who are public speakers, so much as stand up comedy MCs, cause we're a fairly rare breed within the comedy community.

And then there's an advanced one, which is where I've created stepping forward in stand up, but it's the cinematic system of stand up. Because often when I've coached people, I've pitched them, as I said to you, you are the world's lowest budget film director. So you're merely creating ideas in mind rather than on the screen and needing a crew of 300 people.

But I actually realized after a while that was somewhat reductive. Actually, every open minded comedian is also their own producer, their own screenwriter, story by leading role. And then they've got to navigate so many of the same arenas that cinema does. You've got competitions, critics, reviewers, ultimately you want an agent, right down to marketing, publicity, hair, makeup, and wardrobe.

So I've created the advanced course using filmmaking dynamics. but to teach how to write better material, how to perform better and actually to move your career forward as well. Huge overlap, storytelling and cinema. And

[00:22:25] Paddy Dhanda: what are some of the other elements that are important? For example, when we're public speaking, we talk about tone and the pitch of your voice and having some variation.

Body language, like how important are all of these things and visual performance?

[00:22:39] Alfie Noakes: Body language is crucial. It's a skill for life, not just for public speaking or standup comedy. I've been teaching my son standup, excuse me. Well, my son actually did his first standup set when he was seven years old, but I've been teaching him body language since I've been teaching him actual language.

Because it's just so important. I think the line I have in the course is it shows you how to read people and also how to lead people. The audience are always going to be much more receptive to you if they like you. And if your body language is appropriate and you're more open, friendly, arguably to a degree vulnerable, these are things that people connect with.

Then they're going to take your message, whether it's a stand up joke or a lecture. And that much more easily if you've got your arms folded your chin down and you make no eye contact or at least give the impression you're never making eye contact with anybody in the room. Then you've just made your job that much harder when you're really just carrying with the words, and then of course the words.

are inflected by whatever tone you're using. So the words are all important, but it's a package, it's tone, it's body language, rapport, charisma, and how you put the whole thing together for whoever your audience might be.

[00:23:45] Paddy Dhanda: And would you say everybody in the world could acquire this skill? At a basic level anyway or are there some people are just beyond hope?

Like what's your experience of having taught all these people?

[00:23:57] Alfie Noakes: I can't speak to everybody in the world. I've met some people. I mean, certainly a couple of my teachers at school struck me as the most humorless people ever. And I couldn't ever imagine them doing anything that might gain a laugh. What I will say is I've taken some criticism from some professional comedian friends of mine, that's how they make a living.

They're very high standard. When I first started doing this saying, you can't teach funny. And my response was really clear. No, but I can teach funnier. And it was really clear to me and to their credit, they all conceded the point. It was like their level of funny is at the peak. They're professional standard comedians.

Their standard of funny is as high as it gets. But I can teach somebody who's a little bit funnier to be funnier still. I can teach somebody to be quite funny, to be very funny. And if somebody's truly humorless, I can't make any promises. But I can definitely give them some ideas, tips, tricks, techniques.

There are structures to writing jokes. I've already explained misdirection and then dropping them in a surprise place. The first course that I have, the beginner's one, it's got seven joke writing exercises in that course. That anybody can do, but whoever does them will come up with a different joke, because very often stand up comedy is predicated on what do you think of the world?

What do you reckon? What's your unique experience of the world and your take on the world? As I mentioned earlier, if you go around and observe things that surprise or irritate or anger you, well you can send two people on an hour long walk in the same area, and they're both going to come back with a different list of what those things are.

It doesn't create cookie cutter comedians, but the structure of the joke... We'll be fed by a different observation or feeling or experience, making each act hopefully unique. And there are structures to writing jokes that are available to everybody. Naturally, some people are much more adept at it than others.

But I think everybody can take a step forward, and many people can take huge steps forward. It's just about learning, as we would with any skill set, and something of a work ethic, putting yourself out there.

[00:25:59] Paddy Dhanda: Some people they just Are able to make a joke on the spot, like off the cuff type of jokes and they've just got that wit and things just come naturally and for others, like me, I often have to like really think hard about what I'm about to say.

So if I have something prepared, I think it helps me a little bit. What's your advice there? somebody did want to be a bit more fluid in their comedy, could they achieve

[00:26:23] Alfie Noakes: that?

Well, what you've really referred to, though, is really on point, I would say, because one of the skill sets of a comedian is to give the impression that, oh, this is just occurring to me now, when in reality, they've told that joke, or a version of that joke, a hundred times, and then they've listen back to it.

They should have recorded it. Listen back to it. I took too long to say that there's too many words in the setup. I've given away too much information in the setup so that the audience are able to guess the punchline. So they edit it down and then they come back and they haven't given enough information in the new version and now the punchline doesn't make sense.

So there's a constant state of calibrating and I get a lot of people coming into my rooms. I've watched over 500 people do their first ever gig. Okay. And a lot of it, they come from all sorts of places. It's a broad church, we have like sometimes in their eighties, it's British, non British, every ethnicity, every sexuality, 18 year olds.

It's a really broad church in open mind comedy. But some of the people that come in, I've been encouraged to come and do it because their friends tell them they're really funny in the pub and they should have a go at stand up and that's a good place to begin from. But the dynamic of being funny with your mate around the table in the pub, five pints in, as opposed to getting on a stage and being the only person in the room facing that direction with a spotlight on you, you're the only one with amplification.

That's a different dynamic. Being spontaneously funny, yeah, I think that'll be a help to start, but it's certainly not a requirement because, as you said, you'd rather have time to prepare. Well, you know when the gig's going to be, you've got the time to prepare and write jokes in advance of that, and then after that gig...

Listen back. Watch back. Everybody's got a mobile phone. You should be recording your set. See what didn't work. See if you can figure out why and fix it. See what did work. More of that, please. And sometimes you get a laugh when you're not expecting it. Something just golden spontaneously falls from your mouth and you wouldn't remember it.

You're in the heat of performance, but you found it on the recording. Good. I'll use that each time. Comedians very often are given the impression of being spontaneous and speaking off the cuff. I assure you they have sweated blood and tears for a long time to get the jokes as good as they are for you as their audience.

[00:28:33] Paddy Dhanda: I can't say I've seen Lots of comedians, but just some of the more commercial comedians. Paul Chowdhury has to be my favorite just because I've got that Indian

[00:28:43] Alfie Noakes: connection with him. And he's a fantastic actor, Indian or otherwise that there's no two ways about it. Brilliantly tons of comedian.

[00:28:48] Paddy Dhanda: And I just remember I took my wife to watch him live in Wolverhampton and I don't think she's ever been to a standup comedian show before. It was her first time and it takes a lot for her to laugh and I certainly can't achieve it. And so within the first literally two minutes, she was in hysterics and she was literally crying because he was just so funny.

And it was just, Amazing the way, he kicked off his show, but then he picks on someone in the audience and it just felt like he was just making this stuff up on the spot, but I'm pretty sure he must've done this a few times. There's

[00:29:28] Alfie Noakes: a few people out there who are masters of that's speaking to the audience is referred to as crowd work.

There's an American comedian called Big Jay Oakerson, who I think is the acknowledged king of just really walking on stage with this certain idea and a certain amount of jokes in his back pocket and will just talk to the crowd and just go. But most of his kind of practice, they've got an idea of what the potential answers might be.

If they ask somebody, they've got some What seems off the cuff put downs or banter, however you might want to phrase it. But the average professional comedian, if they're at their highest the apex of stand up comedy, and they're getting something like a Netflix special that goes to a global audience it's a rarefied.

That's taking about two years to generate one of those specials. And they're practiced seasoned pros who can get up at any stage at any time and work it out. It takes practice, rehearsal, editing, revision. But ultimately, if people have Some chops and the work ethic then hopefully then get to the level of Paul Chowdhury who is fantastic.

[00:30:25] Paddy Dhanda: And is there any tips on structuring a joke? So like, number of words before you drop the punchline of the joke?

[00:30:33] Alfie Noakes: I wouldn't talk about it in the number of words before dropping a joke but I'll speak to in an open mic room. Typically, and it varies around the world, but typically they're dealing in five minute sets.

Okay. The average person speaks three words a second. That's not necessarily true of me. Always. I'm a fast speaker. I get that. But the average person speaks three words a second, which means in a five minute set, they've got 900 words. Except they probably should be a bit fewer, maybe 850 because they want to pause, hopefully laughter breaks and the rest.

So it's only about 850 words. And in that five minutes set, the target they're going for is 15 big laughs, three laughs a minute would be great. If somebody is doing that in the open mic circuit, I will be certain to progress them and move them to a 10 minute spot and move forward. And it can be, you don't have a laugh at all for 50 seconds.

You're telling some story that. on its face is somewhat harrowing. I mean, a lot of comedy, a lot of storytelling, a lot of ways of captivating an audience, is to say something that generates and builds tension. And actually, when you drop the punchline, it all resolves itself and makes sense. The release of that tension is the laughter from the people in the room.

So it's entirely reasonable for a comedian to tell a story that sounds maybe a bit woe is me. My wife just left me. I got fired this morning. It's just a cavalcade of disasters in their lives and evoking empathy from the audience. And then, they take 50 seconds to do all of that. And then they drop the punchline and then they tag it with another.

Line and another quick succession and you've still got three big laughs in a minute. It didn't have to be necessarily in 20 second increments. So that's roughly how it might work. I would urge people to make sure the laughs come often enough. I think it would be pretty tragic to have a laughter free set for four minutes and then wedging 15 punchlines in the last minute every four seconds.

That's not going to work. You want to space them out appropriately, but once you've written a set or a script or a lecture, whatever it might be. You can look at it and go, okay, I've got a minute and a half without a shot at laughter here. If that's what I'm truly aiming for, I should probably look at this piece here and see if I can find a funny aspect.

And of course, it's like mine are designed to help you find the funny. You might have the idea, the notion of how to be fascinating first. I think it's more important for an open mic comedian to be interesting than it is to be funny in their first. Iterations on stage, an audience is going to be rather forgiving if you held their attention, but you didn't make them laugh so much, but being interesting, still good.

And then you can maybe start building some jokes in on top. You definitely want to take shots at goal and have jokes in there. But if you are interesting, telling a tale of fascination, woe, wonder, a unique experience they've never heard before, the wildest thing that ever happened to the worst day you ever had, the worst date you ever had, whatever it might be.

then the audience are going to be involved and they're always quite happy with that. I would urge people to in standard kind of advice is open with your best or your second best joke and then close with your best or second best joke. And it refers to that concept you mentioned earlier.

People will remember how you begin and winning them over with a laugh at the beginning relaxes everybody because They feel they're in good hands. They already like you. You've already made some kind of connection and rapport. So if you can make that first joke work. You've already done an awful lot of good work for yourself.

And over the years I've seen a huge amount of comedians who have made the audience laugh as soon as they walk on stage, within that first five seconds. And they've made them laugh as they leave the stage. They didn't get much at all for the four and a half minutes in between. But I'm watching the audience as much as I'm watching the acts.

And the audience, by and large, seem entirely satisfied. They've almost been tricked out of realising that the middle four and a half minutes... So very good. So those comedians, sometimes get a tap on the shoulder from the likes of me and go, yeah, fair enough. Can you write some more jokes and package them into the middle, please?

But it's amazing how far you can get tricking the audience if your first joke is good and your last joke is good. But of course I encourage people to go for those three big laughs a minute if they possibly can. Yeah.

[00:34:38] Paddy Dhanda: Oh God, that sounds very challenging. I'm just thinking about if I had to do that.

[00:34:43] Alfie Noakes: It would take a while. Let me be clear, somebody on the open mic circuit, I would expect them to take around about a year, something that's, I would expect in the region of a hundred gigs of experience to be able to create what we call a tight five, a reliably solid set. In reality, they should have a tight seven so they can go, okay, I'm going to not do this bit tonight.

This bit's a little bit more relevant to something in the news. I can kind of link it in. So it's a hundred gigs or thereabouts to get to those 15 big banker laughs in a five minute set. So somebody such as yourself, who's not a comedian, but certainly a public speaker, that's a high standard for you.

You just need to get a handful of jokes, you know, not 15 and five minutes. That's for us.

[00:35:24] Paddy Dhanda: I'm going to be watching Comedy Central now and trying to get some inspiration, Alfie. What if things are going wrong? Do you always have a plan B at all? If for example, first few jokes haven't landed and then you're like, Oh, actually I know the rest won't land now either.

Do you just don't tell them in a public speaking setting or would you say have a couple as backup?

[00:35:45] Alfie Noakes: There's more than one way to skin a cat, I would suggest that acknowledging has its place. So always having a couple of jokes in the back pocket that aren't really designed for either the set or the talk is handy.

So that if you lose your train of thought, you've got something to lead to. If the jokes you've already tried that maybe have a certain tone and flavor, maybe the specialist to the industry they're speaking to, or however it might be. A couple of jokes that are dissimilar to that short, fast punchy joke, ideally that are somewhat proven.

You can fall back on those. So you may want to and it's different strokes for different folks. I've got to be deadly clear about that. But you may go, Oh, the material about being an accountant is not flying. Let me tell you a little bit about what happened on my holiday when I was mugged, folks, let's just change gear for a second, shall we?

So a certain truthfulness and acknowledging what's going on as an MC, I will very frequently Go that way. If things aren't working by and large, things do work when I'm on the scene. So it's been a while since I've had to draw upon that, but acknowledging the truth, understand a comedy room.

There's sometimes somebody with a crazy laugh, like a really wild laugh and everybody in the rooms clocked it. They know it. I'll wait three or four acts in, make sure that weird laugh is established and then reference that laugh. I won't embarrass the person who has the laugh. It's a comedy room.

We want people to laugh. I'm not there to embarrass anybody. But everybody in that room will somehow or other have thought, Jesus, that laugh's mad. What's that about? And so for me, just saying it, just acknowledging it will be a little bit of release of that tension, a little bit of a shared experience, bonding experience.

So there's different ways, tricks and techniques, but acknowledging things and being honest, being a little bit vulnerable is. Often a smart way of going. It feels hard, I accept that, but it's a good avenue, possibly.

[00:37:31] Paddy Dhanda: Oh, brilliant, Alfie. Time's just flown, actually, and we are fast approaching end of time.

And before we wrap up, Alfie, if people want to know more from you and want to get in touch with you to find out about the training courses you mentioned as well, how can they do that?

[00:37:45] Alfie Noakes: Pretty much everything's hosted on the website. That's wearefunnyproject. com. As I mentioned, there's three courses for beginners.

They're all designed for comedians, but they would be highly valuable to anybody who has public speaking responsibilities of any sort. There's a mailing list we have as well, and if anybody signs up to that, they get a free ebook. I'm about to change it up, I'm not sure when this episode goes out, but the new one's going to be Eight Ways to Turbocharge Your Stand Up Comedy.

There's some videos on there that give you samples from the courses, and there's a litany of blogs, all free of course with tons of advice. From all aspects of creative writing and performing. So it's a bit of a one stop shop. We are funnyproject. com.

[00:38:25] Paddy Dhanda: Oh, brilliant. Alfie, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure getting to know you over these last few minutes.

And yeah, I've learned a lot.

[00:38:32] Alfie Noakes: Thanks mate. Take care.

Superpowers School

Superpowers School Podcast - Human skills to maximise productivity and thrive in the age of AI

If knowledge is power, then learning is a superpower. Research shows the average professional invests just 1% (24 mins) of their time per week in formal learning. In each episode, I explore a new superpower to help you unleash your human potential in the age of AI. Join Paddy Dhanda for a regular dose of inspiration from successful entrepreneurs, thought leaders and practitioners to help you build your human skills for the future. Learn about empathy, collaboration, creativity, agility, productivity, leadership, coaching and many more…