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A Comic’s Arsenal – My Standard Stand-Up Equipment

November 22, 2010

Today’s Resource is about my personal weapons of choice in the war against frowning.


Let me tell you, I love how stand-up is sleek. You don’t need ANYTHING. Even the microphone, (which is almost always provided), isn’t required. You can just shout zestfully at people around ya.  To perform as a stand-up, you just literally need to bring yourself; and the clothes on your back if you don’t want to get confused for a rambling homeless man:

I try not to think about the bike seat.

Stand-up is in stark comparison to when I play with my band Apple Pi, where every gig I feel like this guy:

He must be carrying around Rita McNeil’s appetite.  (Burn)

We have to move drum kits, keyboards, amps, guitars, pedal boards, and more, to and from every show. A car is always required, gear must be loaded in and out hours before the performance, often down treacherous fire escapes.  To be honest, it’s a frigging bummer.  I just wanna play, know whum sayn?

So it’s nice when I have a stand-up gig to fly out of the house, no backpack, no car, nothing but me. That being said, this article is all about equipment, so you might be confused after this lengthy preamble.  My point is that none of the following items is REQUIRED for you to perform. But all of them will fit on your person, and come in very handy.

My standard equipment:
This is the stuff I carry in my pockets to every show. I guess I won’t ever be wearing skinny jeans in order to fit everything, but I didn’t want to be a hipster anyway, so it works out. Let’s break down the items:

1) Moleskein Notebook – Pocket sized

So many ways to write down my deep, deep thoughts…

Normally I don’t buy into brand-based stuff, and Moleskein notebooks are just about as iconic and pretentious as it gets. But this is one product where the hype is backed up by quality. These books are sturdy, fit perfectly into your back pocket, are easy to write in, and even have rip-outtable pages. Also they’re available in lined or blank page format.

Sure they’re a little more expensive, but I think it’s worth the cost, having experimented with crappy dollar-store notebooks that fell apart after a week. You can find them at any art supply store or Chapters, about 8 bucks for three notebooks. Or you can do what I do, and ask for a whole bunch for your birthday.

2) Camera – Nikon Coolpix S200

I am a camera that looks cool but disappoints.  Kind of like Canada’s Navy.

I’m not the boss of you, but my advice is to ALWAYS record your set.  Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to find a spot to put your camera.  Yes, you look like a lame keener when you’re the only one recording sets at a crappy open mike.  Do it anyway.  I could go on and on about how reviewing your sets will help you tighten up wording, show you repetitive errors like ums and ahs, tweak physical gestures, timing, and generally get better.  When Lenny Bruce was doing stand-up, it was a huge investment to video-tape his sets.  A whole generation of comics just didn’t bother because it was too hard or expensive.  These days, for about 200 dollars all in if you’re a savvy shopper, you can record and review every set, which will speed up your development.

I use a Nikon Coolpix S200 camera, and I do NOT recommend it unless you are hard up for cash. It takes kind of garbage pictures in low light, and has several aspects that annoy the heck out of me. However, it is good for the following: it’s small, easily fits in a jeans pocket, it’s sturdy, has a nice big view screen, and takes decent video (most of my stand up videos featured on the blog are taken with it, to give you an idea).

Some things to consider when you buy a camera:

Memory – A four gigabyte memory card ensures that I as long as I’m not going too nuts with photos in between, I can record all my sets for about a month before I’ve got to dump onto a hard drive.
-Sound quality – some microphones will take a wide angle capture, which means you’ll hear more of the audience than your act.  A directional mike is preferable.
Zoom – some cameras don’t have zoom in video mode, though it’s pretty common these days.  It’s good to have a little maneuverability in this area.
Battery life – Not so much length of the life, but does the camera tell you it’s about to run out seconds before it does, or will you have an opportunity to film your set before it conks if the low battery indicator comes on?  My Nikon is just forgiving enough to yield a 5 minute video after the low battery light warning activates.
Ease of review – I review my sets on a regular basis, mostly on the camera. Does the camera have a decent speaker for listening to the videos or will you have to hold it right up to your ear so you can’t see the visuals?  This is a small thing but the fast forward on my camera’s review function basically goes at 1.5x speed. This has been a real pain in the ass if I’ve had to leave the camera running while I got in position and caught the last couple minutes of the previous comic’s set tacked onto mine.  Ideally, you want to be able to fast forward more quickly.
Feedback – Please make a note in the comment section if you have a camera to recommend. I haven’t bothered doing the legwork because my Coolpix is still going strong and none of my complaints about it have been a deal breaker.

3) Tripod

Any tripod will do, but it should be pocket-sized. I use a tripod similar to the picture on the right.  Its pros are telescoping legs so it is taller than it looks, and its con is that the adjustment plane is a bit finicky.  The one on the left solves the adjustment problem, but can not stand as tall without the longer legs.  I lean toward the right model because It’s fairly easy to work around the imprecise angle adjustment by changing the leg length of the tripod legs, and the taller height has come in handy a few times.

4) Script / Set-list

I usually bring my set script printed out on paper and folded up in my pocket. Aside from it acting as a bit of a Linus’ blanket to ease my mind, I also usually review exact wording on my way to the set. This is also handy for on-the-spot editing. I come off the stage fresh with a new wording for a bit and I can edit the bit right then and there.  Obviously, this one depends on what kind of comic you are.

5) Mini-penSharpie Micro Ultra-fine PointSharpie makes these awesome little pens that I love.  Careful to find the point size that you prefer because they also make mini pens with a much fatter nub, which is a pain for writing in a small notebook because the ink bleeds through and it wastes space.

I found these puppies at a party supply store, for 50 cents each and snagged a half a million of ’em so I would never have to worry about it again.  I bet office supply stores or art stores would probably carry them. I like them because they don’t add to my already overburdened pocket, are felt tip (which is so much better for writing I think), have a sturdy lid that won’t come off, and are in no danger of breaking in your pocket because they are so stubby. They also fit into that little change pocket that jeans have, which is nice so you don’t have to fumble around in your pocket to find it.

6) Cell Phone – Motorola Krzr

This is my Cell Phone model, which was cutting edge approximately 40 years ago

This is a no-brainer. If you own a cell phone, you will probably have it with you. If you don’t own one, you should get one – you are crippling yourself for a life of pursuing stand-up. Not convinced? A Cell Phone is useful for:

-Calling the show producer or another comic on the show if you’re going to be late
-Timing your set if your phone has a timer function (I can set mine to vibrate after a certain time which is good for when there is no over-time light, or you just generally want to work on your sixth timing sense)
-Storing contact info of people you meet
-If you’ve got a fancier phone, calling up a map to the location
-If your phone doubles as an mp3 player you can listen to music or stand-up on your way to the gig without adding extra stuff to your person

7) Money – 10 bucks

It’s weird money over here in Canada.  I can admit it.

I always bring ten bucks to a set even if I’m not planning to buy anything. You just never know. And if you change your mind, beware running a tab – aside from spending more than you have, you might forget to pay your bill and leave without your credit card like I did one time.  Nothing kills the euphoria of a good set like having to go all the way back to the venue once you’re home.

Also, if you don’t have a metro pass for transit, this habit will make sure you never get stuck without fare and have to hoof it home.

So that’s it.  Got any gear to add to this list?  Let me know in the comments section!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Deej permalink
    November 23, 2010 12:20 pm

    Moleskin is essential. I’m with you on that one, Joel.


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