How to Perform Stand-Up Comedy – Knocking Down the 4th Wall

This stand-up comedy blog provides tips on how to perform stand-up comedy by teaching you how to break through the 4th wall. The 4th wall is a term given to pretending that there is a wall between the performer and the stage. The fourth wall is dangerous for several reasons.



How to Perform Stand-Up Comedy

Why Not Breaking Down the 4th Wall Harms Your Performance

First, it disengages the audience. Watching live comedy is supposed to be different from watching it in a live venue. Comedians that get on stage and begin saying their pre-rehearsed lines without acknowledging the audience create a chasm between the performer and the audience. The audience disengages because it becomes extremely difficult to bond with a comedian that’s simply rehearsing lines they created in the past. An analogy would be trying to use pre-rehearsed pick-up lines as opposed to actually having a conversation with a woman. The levels of engagement aren’t the same. With pre-rehearsed lines you place the emphasis on you, while knocking down the 4th wall makes the show more communal. This is why when you learn how to perform stand-up comedy they teach you to not be entirely in your head. Doing so disengages the audience.

Second, not knocking down the 4th wall takes away from your experience as a comedian. It’s simply more fun to be there with the audience than having a protective barrier in front of you. When you knock down the 4th wall you’ll suddenly begin enjoying comedy much more. Just like the audience has a hard time engaging in your comedy when the 4th wall is up… you do as well. When the 4th wall is up you’re simply repeating lines at the audience. Your performance doesn’t get a chance to be any more fun than that.

Why the 4th Wall is a Problem

So why do so many comedians not break down the 4th wall? The 4th wall is often a way for new comedians to protect themselves on stage or simplify their performance. For comedians learning how to perform stand-up comedy, this is a welcome relief. The 4th wall offers protection because comedians never know exactly what an audience might do or say. This is a scary idea for new comedians. However, veteran comedians tend to be more willing to go with the flow and allow the audience their time in the spotlight as well.

The 4th wall also simplifies performing stand-up comedy because it requires no extra input from the words previously memorized by the comedian. One simply has to jump on stage and start saying words rather than interact with the audience, which can bring a great deal of complexity. When learning how to perform stand-up comedy it’s necessary to develop these skills.

How to Break Down The 4th Wall

So how to you learn how to perform stand-up comedy by breaking down the 4th wall? The best option is to use your home venue (a show where you feel comfortable riffing) to try it out. Another great time to do this is when an audience is really spread out in the audience. It’s usually extremely difficult to perform when the audience is spread out. If you go straight to canned material then it’s likely they’ll stop paying attention. It’s much better to engage the audience by talking to them directly and periodically seguing back to your material. This provides a balance between learning how to perform stand-up comedy using improvisation and crowd work and using your own material.

Learning how to perform stand-up comedy by using crowd work is a skill that will serve you well in the future. When comedians start booking paid work they won’t always have control over every show they perform on. Basically, you take what you can get at first. This means you need to learn how to perform stand-up comedy in circumstances that are less than ideal. Any comedian can destroy when the environment is perfect. It’s the situations where the audience isn’t ideal that proves a comedian has what it takes to book better gigs. A comedian that can destroy in front of a couple of audience members that are spread out around the venue will have no trouble when the pressure is on in a big venue.

Learning how to perform stand-up comedy in this manner also means a comedian will have to be bold at times. It all begins with trying it out a few times. Eventually, the comedian will get the hang of this skill and be able to draw on this skill at any time, especially when they’re faced with an audience that is disengaged. You can’t always predict what the comedian before is going to do. Sometimes, the previous comedian will bomb and leave the next comedian with an unresponsive audience. Comedians that do not know how to perform stand-up comedy using improvisation will have difficulty reeling the audience back in after this occurs.

Jared Volle