June 25, 2024


Arts Fanatics

Comedians Don’t Memorize, They Know

People often come up to me after an hour long show and ask how I memorize so much material for my act. I always tell them that I don’t memorize my act, I know my act. There is a big difference between memorizing and knowing, and that difference can also mean the difference for you between a dull presentation and an excellent one.

Remembering your presentation is not really as hard as you think. I hesitate calling it memorizing because that implies that all you have to do is keep repeating the words and phrases until you can recite them by rote. I prefer the term knowing. To know one’s presentation is to know the words and phrases because you are connected to them. And the key to this to have a point of view about the topic you are presenting on.

So, what is point of view? For the purposes of stand up comedy, it can be defined as how you view the world. Your emotional response and opinions to whatever topic you choose to talk about. The key is to get an audience interested in your point of view even if they don’t necessarily agree with it. The stronger you feel about a topic generally the better it is for potential comedy. The stronger your point of view about any topic, the more interesting your presentation will be.

Comedians typically don’t use notes on stage. Some do, but do so very discretely. If you insist on using notes for your presentation, limit them. I’m suggesting one 3 by 5 card with key words or phrases only. Definitely avoid the giant stack of 3 by 5 cards in your hand with your entire presentation written out on them. Every time I see someone with these they inevitably use them more than they should, or probably even need to. The 3 by 5 cards become a crutch and they end up reading their presentation instead of performing it. I also screams amateur when I see. As does reading verbatim off of PowerPoint slides.

What is the difference between memorizing and knowing?

Quick test – talk to me for two minutes about my first job? Stumped? How about my favorite sports team? My childhood pet? What do you know about these things? Nothing. You have no experience with any of these things, because you don’t know me. So, you have no opinions and subsequently no point of view on any of these topics.

Now, talk to me for two minutes about your first job, your favorite sports team or your childhood pet. Different right? Because you have direct experience with these things, you have a point of view. You have emotions, opinions and experiences related to each of these things. And, I bet you didn’t have to memorize anything about those stories right? Because you know them.

Of course you will not likely know your presentation as well as you know your opinion on something like your favorite childhood pet, because that is something that has been imprinted in your brain for years. However, your presentation must be more on the knowing level than on the memorization level.

If your presentation is just a collection of words and phrases slapped together that you have no connection to, your audience won’t either. And because you are not connected to it, you will have a much harder time remembering your presentation. When you are connected to the presentation, when you have a point of view, you naturally know what you want to say, even if you forget the exact words. This is how comedians do it. That is the key. Start with point of view and everything flows.