Chapter 6

Personas

Picking a Persona

If you observe the most famous and successful people in comedy, they have a consistent Persona or point of view that they use. This Persona is usually exactly like their real self, or 100% the opposite. 

There are three main Personas to choose from when creating a character or personality: Rebel, Defender, and Aggressor. Imagine a riot, parade or a spaceship landing on the street in front of the house of an aggressor setting on the porch he will join in.  A Defender will sit on the front porch watching. Unless one of the above tries to come into his house. He will defend his home with his life. The Rebel will ignore any of the above. If the rioters break into the yard he will move into the house. If they follow him he will take a stand.

The Aggressor will be involved with anybody or anything going on in the world. The Defender will have a smaller circle of people (family and close friends). The Rebel will have no more than five people that he is close to. 

How something is said is more important than what is being said. Who (Persona) is saying the joke is 99.9% of what makes Humor work. Any time the audience becomes familiar with a Persona and it is changed, the audience will become irritated.

A Persona is important to remain the same because people like consistency.  This is why chain restaurants are so successful. Whether it's Subway, Olive Garden, or McDonald’s, we know exactly what is going to be on the menu. The same things happen with children and bedtime stories. They want to hear the same story over and over again. The audience wants the Persona to be the same, the audience also wants to hear the same joke 90% of the time (what they want they want is just a variation of the same joke).

You must be able to recognize the persona of the person on stage in less than three seconds. If it takes longer delivery will be weaker.  

Shtick

The Ancient Greeks used the Twenty Masks of Comedy.  These masks represent different Shticks people have. When the Ancient Greeks wanted to deliver a different Shtick they would change their Comedic Mask.

Successful professionals use only one shtick at least eighty percent of the time, and they never use more than three shticks in a routine. Less than two percent of successful professionals used more than three shticks and still become famous. Examples are Robin Williams and Steve Martin. They use more Shticks than you can shake a stick at. They are part of the 2%. because they are so gifted, nothing seems to stop them except Persona. Persona is the unchanging point of view. If you wish to be successful, you need to choose one and never change. Not even from one skit to another.

Common Masks of Comedy ( Shticks)

1. The Stand Up:  The most popular comedy character. The Stand Up observes, stands up and delivers. Jerry Seinfeld is the classic example. The common Stand Up says “Have you ever noticed how…”

2. The Bumbler / Buffoon / Scatterbrain / Shlemiel: Bob Newhart, Lucille Ball, Sandra Bullock are very successful bumblers. They drop, spill, and break things that other people would handle with ease.

3. Sad Sack: The comic plays the insecure, timid, always seeking approval, or unable to get any relationship work person. Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School” is the quintessential example of this. It is not money, but relationships that the Sad Sacks struggle with.

4. The Druggie/Drunk: This is Shtick of the person that is hooked on something that can’t be a part of society's idea of success. Cheech and Chong are examples of this.

5. The Intellectual (Erudite): The character that is intellectually superior to other people in the group and acts that way. The Intellectual can be incongruent in appearance and intelligence, or it can be completely matched.  This is the antithesis of aggressive dominance.

6. Political and Social Satirist; reflects who and what are the news at the very time a joke is being told. The famous examples are Jon Stewart, Dennis Miller, and Bill Maurer.

7. The Storyteller: Like actors they carefully rehearse and dramatize their stories. The storyline is critical comment strung out for as much as ten minutes. Eventually it has a point.

8. The Rube: White trash. People that should be a part of society, but have decided not to be. Even though people think that the Rube may have a disability, he really doesn’t have a disability, he just acts that way to stay out of society. Larry the Cable Guy is an example of this.

9. The Old Timer: One who plays the old man. This person gets comedy from how old he is. Red Fox and George Burns are examples of this. The Comedy of the Old Timer stems from their age or extensive experience that they have forgotten or other people can’t remember.

10. The Ethnic Type: One that plays the person that is a part of society, but holds onto their heritage in some way even though they may be a third generation from their parents that immigrated to the culture. They understand how everything works in the society, but they hold onto other cultural habits. They may also have different physical facial, body, or clothing appearance that ties them to different cultural norms.

11. The Immigrant: One that is just off of the boat, totally aware of the social norms. 

12. The Aggressor: The Shtick of the Aggressor is when a person becomes aggressive in their personality. This could be taking another’s lunch money, beating someone up, or threatening to take things from another person without another's approval. The school bully follows this Shtick.

The Team

13. Partners: Comedians with a close social, sexual, or familial connection. Smothers Brothers, Sonny and Cher, Burns and Allen are all examples of this.

         

14. The Sketch Performer: One who performs an act out of a play in five to ten minutes. This is often involves slapstick. Examples of this are Carol Burnett, Saturday Night Live, or Mad TV.

15. The Ventriloquist: The one that has conversations with a dummy, and the dummies voice is usually done by the performer with the performer throwing their voice to make it appear that they are not talking. Jeff Dunham is an example of this.

The Actor

16. The Impersonator: One who acts as another. They will exaggerate key characteristics of the imitated to enhance the comedic value.  The difference between an Impersonator and an Impressionist is that an Impersonator has a near perfect performance of the imitated, while an impressionist only gives you the impression of the imitated.

17. The Clown: Everything is exaggerated with the Clown. Clowns are annoying to adults and scary to children, and boring to both if there is no potential tragedy in what is happening to the Clown. For the clown to be successful with an audience he must take the hit. 

18. The Artist: Musicians painters and cartoonist; Victor Borge is an example of this.

19.  The Vaudevillian: These performers juggle, do magic or acrobatic feats which require skill, balance, sleight of hand and focus throughout the performance.

20. The Improvisers; The ones with dozens of voices, many props that use in the moment when they have to deliver their comedy. Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams are examples of this.

         

All of these things can be applied to the Aggressor, the Defender, or the Rebel Personas. It is possible to be an Aggressive Bumbler, an Aggressive Amiable Buffoon, or an Aggressive Witty Buffoon. Any of the Shticks can be applied to any of the personas above. You can have all shticks you can swing a stick at, but your persona, must maintain consistent.  Having too many shticks though can take away from the familiarity and consistency your audience needs from you.

Like when playing peek-a-boo with a child. If we play peek-a-boo with only our face with a child, the child will enjoy the game. If we put a scary mask on one of the times that our face appears, this will scare the child. If we start off with the scary mask, the child will not be frightened.  A child doesn’t know what a scary mask is, all they know is that it was not what they were expecting. This is why you must use only one persona, and no more than three shticks.

What do you think your shtick is? Your favorite famous person, what is their shtick? Friends and family, what is their shtick. Do they have more than one? How well does it work for them?

What Shtick (character, trademark, or method of delivery) fits you best? Without a Shtick, you are just a reciter of jokes. To everyone you interact with, you are a performer. Everyone you meet is your audience. Therefore you must keep your Shtick all of the time.

Some comedians have spent twenty years and more before they found their Shtick. Rodney Dangerfield is one example. Jerry Lewis is another. Bob hope tried and failed three times. And Steve Martin tried several times before finding his Shtick.

   

When have you had the biggest laughs (or when have people given you their fullest attention)? This is what your most effective Shtick is. How many shticks do you use? Name them. What shtick were you using when people listened, smiled or laughed the most?

Having more shticks usually makes the performer less powerful. Too much variety or too many choices lessons our power to focus on the matter at hand.  In comedy competitions,  the person with the most sticks, and the most talent comes in last place. The persons with the least talent but 3 shticks (one shtick being 80% of delivery) will come in first place.

One of the most successful Shtick ratios is eighty percent Bumbler, twenty percent Storyteller/ Impersonator. Lucille O'Ball is an example of this. She is always messing things up, she impersonates people, and discusses things with her friend Ethel. The ninety-five percent of the most successful professionals use the eighty twenty rule and mix the following shticks: The Stand Up, The Storyteller, Impersonator, Bumbler, and Aggressor.