Over the summer, sophomore Clayton Smith decided it was time time to try stand-up comedy. When I watched him perform Friday Oct. 2 at Open Mic night, it was clear that he was a natural. Smith explained that his interest in the field comes from his father who has been doing stand-up since he graduated high school. “Once I was born, he kind of fell out of it … [but] he recently started back up,” Smith said. “He started doing variety shows where he would mix comedy and music and dance all into one.”
Smith shared that his favorite comedians right now are Louis C. K., John Mulaney and Bill Burr, but his father is the ultimate influence behind Smith’s interest in trying stand-up. Smith’s father urged him to begin stand-up with the Laughing Buddha Comedy in New York City. Taking his dad’s advice, Smith went to a Laughing Buddha Open Mic hosted at the Klimat Lounge where he tried stand-up for the first time.
During Smith’s open mic performance here in Geneseo, it was clear that he pulls a lot of material from real-life events. “[It’s] things that happen in my day-to-day life that I find funny,” Smith said. “For example, I talked about how I struggled with quitting social media and stuff like that—definitely nothing too outrageous or out of the ordinary, just little things that I find funny.”
As a member of No Laugh Track Required—an improvisation troupe on campus—Smith found that his experience in this group has influenced and improved his stand-up. “I think that [No Laugh Track Required] has shaped the way that I think in terms of being able to heighten and expand a joke,” he said. “I’d say the way I do improv in the troupe—which is very skit-based and character-based—that totally bleeds into the way I do comedy in terms of creating a completely ridiculous situation without real-life characters and seeing where it goes.”
Even though Smith has experience with comedy performance through No Laugh Track Required, he noted that stand-up doesn’t necessarily come easy for him. “I’d say the biggest hurdle is to start from scratch and come up with a completely new joke, and just see how that works,” Smith said. He explained that knowing how a joke works often inhibits him from coming up with new material because of the doubt and nerves that accompany the performance of it.
To prepare for a gig, Smith writes down a brief outline of his jokes in the order he wants to tell them. He also works out transitions, so that one joke flows smoothly into another. Before taking the mic, Smith reads over his notes a few times to make sure he has the order and the transitions memorized.
Smith said that he doesn’t memorize his jokes verbatim, but focuses more on the basic gist that he wants to get across to his audience. “I have a basic outline but the word choice or delivery changes every time … Each joke takes a bit of a unique form every single time and I think that’s for the better because you learn how to gauge the audience; you learn what makes them laugh.”
For others like him just starting out in stand up, Smith emphasized the importance of relaxing and having fun with the performance. “[Fellow stand-up newbies should] stop worrying what people will think because you’re doing it for yourself, and if you can make people laugh along the way, great,” he said.
Smith’s confidence at the mic was impressive for someone just beginning to do stand-up. Smith noted that he plans to continue stand-up in the future. “[Stand-up is] something that I would always like to do,” he said. “Whether it’s doing open mics as a recreational thing or in a professional capacity, I think I would always want it in my life in some form because it’s a good way to express yourself.”
If I hear Smith’s name linked with professional stand-up comedy a few years down the road, I won’t be surprised.