Opening Lines…

I’d like to talk about opening lines and the beginning of your set.
The opening lines of your set are your way of introducing yourself to the audience. They should be quick, to the point and fit with your personae. If you’re an edgy comic you might choose to be a little more jarring in the beginning, but I caution against going too far right away. You just want to break the ice with your opening lines and opening with a super controversial premise like abortion or rape or any other type of bit that relates to something that the supreme court has talked about, is risky. Try to make those opening lines indicative of the rest of your set while also being the most tame and relatable. This will help to draw in the crowd so you can amp up the wild ride as you go.
To dig a little deeper into this idea, I’d like to observe how some comics on the rise approach the opening of their sets.  So I’ll be watching “Coming to the Stage” on the Comedy Dynamics sreaming app. but it’s also available to stream on Hulu.
I chose this episode primarily because it’s the next episode in my cue, but also I wanted to observe some lower level comics for this rather than household names, because household names have the advantage of already being known… they can start differently… but I’ll go into that more later…. first things first, lets see what they did.
Dan Levy hosts the show and opens quite traditionally by greeting the crowd
“How are you feeling Burbank?”
Obviously that’s a great way to start as a host. Break the ice and establish rapport with the audience. But after that, as is the case with many recorded specials, his set is edited to fit the show, so we don’t really know what his actual first joke was to that crowd…. but keep this in mind. When you’re anyone but the first comic on stage… the audience has already been asked how they feel, what’s going, what’s up or other versions of that…. don’t waste too much time on ice breakers when you’ve got valuable jokes you need to impart… Moving on.

1st Comic: Megan Koester 

[very high energy rush to the stage]
If you think 911 was an inside job, lemme hear you make some noise….”
[as the crowd cheers, she catches her breath a bit and lowers her energy]
“and if you don’t, then I have a poorly made Netflix documentary I’d like to show you”
[raises energy again]

“Wake up and smell the loose change mother fuckers…”

After this opening whirlwind, she continues into a string of one-liners extolling how funny she’ll be as if selling her act to the audience…
“I hope you brought an extra colostomy bag, cause you guys are going to lose your shit”

“I hope you don’t mind looking a little gay, cause you won’t be able to keep a straight face”

All of this serves to introduce us to her quaint yet dark, sarcastic and confrontational sense of humor. She came out strong, got a quick laugh that was consistent with her “Personae” and was able jump off from there into the rest of her act…
Now, I’m aware that I cautioned against “controversy” at the beginning of this post, but I think what she does still works, because there is some clear irony in the way she mentions it… Plus, to be honest, she’s a she and when you’re a she the audience is already gonna be on board…. sorry hes…

The second comic on the lineup is Vincent Oshana

He starts off a little more subdued, but still with a good energy. He speaks directly to the crowd, acknowledging the with a “Give yourselves a round of applause” and then he makes a quick reference in the moment to the incredible shrinking mic stand…(somehow the mic stand got loosened and slid down when he moved it out-of-the-way)
after getting these niceties our of the way, he hits his first joke:

“All the way from New York, I am a military veteran, I am a military veteran…
(this will always get a smattering of applause, as it should… and as they clap he pulls out his dog tags…)
“Yeah, these are real… yeah, I didn’t get them at Hot Topic or wherever the fuck people are getting these…. I saw a guy the other day wearing them and I said ‘hey bro, I was in the military, what branch were you in…’ and he kinda mumbled something ‘Navy’… and I said oh shit, you were in the Navy… and said ‘no.. Old Navy, I got it at Old Navy on Friday…”

Another great example of coming out quick with a fast joke that introduces us to him.
Right away we know he’s a Vet from New York and he’s got a straight forward style of comedy where he’s gonna tell it like it is.

This opening bit then segueways into talking about the comparisons other branches make to his Air Force service and how they all stack up and his act continues from there with more personal stories and observations.

So in both cases…

Koester and Oshana, they started simple with quick laughs and good energy. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention, they each got the mic stand out of the way as quick as possible. while they were delivering those quick opening bits, they were moving the stand out of the way… MOVE THE MIC STAND OUT OF THE WAY

Now back to my point about observing lower level comics over the household names….

These comics I just observed in the streaming series started out with good energy, introducing us gradually to their personae and were relatively light-hearted, yet personal…

You might be sitting there thinking “in Louis CK’s last special he started out talking about abortion and suicide, I want to be like Louis CK, why can’t I do the same thing?…”

Well, honestly, who am I to tell you what to do… if you want to start on heavy issues like that, then go for it, but I believe that comedy works best when the audience is on your side. You need to get that first quick laugh, but you’ve also gotta get the audience on board with your views. You’ve gotta break the ice with the crowd and introduce yourself. If you start out agressively controversial like that, you’re liable to dig a hole you can’t get out of.

You wouldn’t approach someone in a bar in hopes of getting a date, or even just a person at party in hopes of having conversation by sharing your most controversial opinion right off the bat. So you can’t approach your set like that either. You’re just meeting this crowd, you need to start a little safer so they like you. Once they like you, you can go anywhere with your set you want.. and yet you’re probably still thinking “Yeah, but Louis CK did it…”


Louis CK introduced himself to us over the past 10 years of his career with various shows and performances… by the time he got to his 2017 Special, when he opened with abortion material, we already knew him and were already on board with his brand (or else you aren’t and you chose not to watch it)

So I postulate to you that the first lines in the set of a household name are not in fact there first lines, but their 101st or 601st…  Once you become a household name, you no longer need to introduce yourself to the crowd at the beginning of every set. Each set or special is essentially a continuation of the last time we saw them… and so, until you reach that point in your career, I think it’s a bad idea to model the opening of your set after “the greats.” Take your cues from the lower and mid-level comics that are doing short sets on late night, or in Comedy Central Half Hours or the standup special shows like “Coming to the Stage” etc. Look at those “soon-to-be-greats” that no one really knows yet who are winning crowds over anew every time they get on stage….

Just to further illustrate my idea, look back at these old performances by Louis CK:


Notice in both those performances, Louis started off more like the comic in “Coming To The Stage” He came in with good energy and got some laughs going real quick with material about his recent experiences and personal stuff… or a weird Dolphin Joke intro.

Now… again, I’m not trying to tell anyone not to do more controversial stuff. Everyone has their own style and sensibility and you’ve gotta do what you want to do, but I am suggesting that maybe try to start a little more “accessible” at the beginning and introduce yourself to your audience with your jokes to get them on board with you and strapped in before you take the cruise off-road through some jungles and stuff…

Just my thoughts.

If you’re looking for more help or coaching on how to start your act or on individual bits, I offer comedy coaching on a one-on-one basis with reasonable rates for all.
Contact me via my FB page or look up my offers on Fiverr to schedule a consultaion today.

You can also come see how I start my set off for a new crowd by coming to see me live on August 14th at Dangerfields in NYC