Rik Roberts is one of the country's top "clean" comedians. An in-demand act, he does about 130 stand-up and speaking dates per year at clubs and corporate events around the country.
Rik's podcast, The School Of Laughs, gives aspiring comics a "behind-the-scenes" look at the business of comedy as well as the art of comedy writing and performance. His online course on comedy writing is a must-have for any podcaster looking to get better at episode creation and hosting.
I asked Rik about his thoughts on comedy, taking risks while podcasting, and how podcasters can better connect with listeners...
What makes something funny?
I think our brain recognizes inconsistencies. Something that is usually logical is momentarily distorted. When that happens it is like a mental magic trick. We are caught off guard for a moment. In that little "hiccup" we laugh because we were tricked.
Great comedians take your mind through a maze of surprises and tricks. The universal element of humor is surprise.
What's the biggest mistake podcasters make when trying to be funny?
The most obvious is what I call the "Disney dumb down." Every Disney program is convinced that yelling, screaming, and using high pitched voices is the key to laughter.
It's not. It's annoying. Don’t think you have to be obnoxious to be funny.
Another rule for performing is to know your audience. When you first start podcasting. you may think you know your audience. But realistically, until you have an audience and communicate with them, you're just guessing.
Actually knowing your audience is a key component of the puzzle that takes time to evolve. So don’t go over the top trying to develop routines or bits until you know who you're performing them for.
Also, I hear a lot of podcasters who appear to think they're celebrities and everyone knows them. In reality, almost no one does. So, we need your backstory. Who are you? Where did you come from? Why should I listen to you? Without that info, your comedy may not connect. It would be like only delivering punchlines without the set-up.
What's the best way for a podcaster to improve his comic ability?
Listen longer, talk less.
How do you win over an audience who doesn't know who you are?
An easy way for podcasters to do this is to have an early episode where someone interviews YOU. A friend, colleague or respected podcaster could lead you through questions designed to endear you to your potential audience.
Boundaries - better to push too far with humor or play it safe?
Extremes attract in our society. But, they attract extremists. So, be wary.
If you play it safe all the time it may appear that you don’t have any unique perspectives. So, once you know your audience, make the right choice.
If you push too far with humor, how can you get the audience back on your side?
Admitting mistakes is the most powerful tool you have.
Don’t wait too long like Lance Armstrong. Rip off the band aid and get it over with quickly.
A great example of this is Pete Davidson from Saturday Night Live. He made a really poor, tasteless remark one week. The next, he gave an authentic apology and there was a funny rebound from the situation.
Thoughts on the timeliness of humor and culture...
NOTE: When I asked Rik this question, I specifically gave the example of a 1983 television special by Eddie Murphy with bits like this...
You can’t predict the future, so do what’s funny now. But tacky and poor taste is always consistent. Eddie Murphy on Delirious was wrong with some of the language he used. It was wrong then and it's wrong now, it just took a few decades for audiences to mature and demand comedy from a more mature perspective.
EDDIE MURPHY UPDATE: He apologized for this content and other content like it in 1996.