Someone cracks a joke about you, you have to say a clever response, what happens?
Coming up with something clever on the spot is hard, thats why whenever I do I immediately high five myself which, to be honest, detracts from the witty thing I’ve said. I’m just proud of myself for improvising so well.
The thing is, pure improvisation doesn’t really exist, what everyone does is “improvise”. Look at rappers, they don’t just make up everything completely new every time they freestyle, they do their homework. They sit and work out words that work together, they put in the effort to find obscure rhymes so when they start freestyling they have everything ready to sound like a genius. Here's Eminem talking about using this trick to rhyme unrhymable words like orange and being justifiably proud of it.
So these rappers are still improvising but only after doing their homework. Its one of those strange ways the brain works, the biggest block to you improvising is stressing about coming up with something. So if you have responses prepared that takes the stress away this results in you actually coming up with something on the spot.
The same goes for comedians, they can have broader put downs for whenever they’re needed but still be free to go for something a little more personal. A good example is Jimmy Carr, who does a nice mixture of straight up insults and something a little more relevant to the person shouting.
As a beginners guide, just refer to their mothers and you fornicating with them and you’re already 80% of the way there, if you incorporate their jobs or hobbies thats even better. For new comedians, a strategy is to look up a list of the top professions/hobbies of people that attend comedy nights and then prepare some heckles for them.
Of course sometimes it can just work out on its own, someone says they like eggs and you say “same, I like them over easy like your mother”. But you can’t depend on such brilliant improvisation every time you’re onstage, you have to prepare.
I’ll share one trick I have for when I want to think of something new, its extremely obvious but took me disturbingly long to figure out: I look at what is directly in front of me. Since this is usually at my desk the majority of my tweets and jokes are about lamps, globes of the world, highlighters and nihilism.
- Whats the deal with lamps? I just wish my hopes and dreams could be turned on that easily!
- I was looking at a globe of the world yesterday and it took me a while but I finally found Azerbaijan. Now I just need to find a reason for my existence.
- Sometimes I feel like I relate too much with the parts of the textbook that aren’t highlighted.
So if you ever want to look like you think fast, plan ahead. It seems strange, but planning your responses is actually the best way to come up with something on the spot.