At one point in the
documentary I am Comic (a brilliant film, by the way, and highly recommended)
there is a segment with the inventor of “Comedy Evaluator Pro”, a fairly basic
program that measures how good a comic is based on the amount of laughter
and/or applause during their set. They
say a comic is worthy of headlining generates at least 18 seconds of laughter
per minute, which gives a score of 30.

When I saw that, it
went against everything I believe about standup. I was reminded of Robin Williams in Dead
Poets Society, instructing his students to tear out the introduction in their
poetry books that stated all poetry can be broken down into formulas. Of Andrew Dice Clay essentially bombing at
Dangerfields for his album The Day Laughter Died and saying, “Comedy isn’t
about laughter.” Many of the most
powerful things I’ve heard comics say weren’t very funny at all.

Still… it stuck with me. I’ve always been curious about it because I
knew it was available online, but I didn’t feel like paying for it (and I am
useless at torrents, unless you deem downloading viruses to be successful). But now I felt like I had a little money to
spend and it could be something interesting to write about, even if I ended up
with a sobering score. Imagine my glee
to discover it was free to try to 14 days.

It’s as simple as I
saw in the film- listen to a recording of your set, hold down the spacebar
whenever the crowd is laughing and/or applauding, ignore individual
reactions. The inventor is clearly
sensitive to the criticism he’s received for this program and defends it by
saying comedy may be subjective, but at the same time, no matter what a comic
does, dead air is dead air. His
suggestion for long setups is to throw in a joke or two to keep your score up
and it’s hard to argue with that.

I evaluated an 18-min
long set that I did in 2013 and posted on YouTube, one of the best sets I’ve
done, definitely the best one ever recorded, and one that I still send to club
owners hoping to get spots. I hadn’t
watched it in a long time and even without using the program I thought how old
it seemed, about all the “uh…”s and using too many words. Feeling like I need to get a new recording,
hoping another year of standup since then has improved me somewhat.

Despite all of that,
it was a good set and the crowd was one of the biggest for which I’ve
performed, focused and generous with applause.
I got a score of 21, or a B, which was pleasantly satisfying. On the website they have a list of scores
from several different comics and seeing Bill Hicks with a 55 and Steven Wright
with 64 wasn’t surprising.

What is surprising is
that I didn’t come away from my experience with this program with a sour taste
in my mouth. As I said, the whole idea
of using software to review and apply a score to a performance is revolting,
but I can’t argue with the basic idea of needing less dead air in a set. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to secretly
record my peers and see if they get lower scores than me.