I love watching comedians perform. The material doesn’t bother me, I think that’s simply the additive. Entertaining stories have no purpose other than the story itself, right? But I am not so sure.
I adore the language comedians use. From the rhythm and rhyme to the pitch and pace of the story, I am spellbound by a great performance. Richard Pryor to Michael MacIntyre. Max Boyce or Mike Harding through to Tom Allen and Simon Amstell, Gina Yashere to Mea Martin, they all tell great stories.
And they all use three key words ‘But’, “Then and “And” to link the acts of their story together. And there are always three acts. These rules were laid down by the ancient Greek, Aristotle in 335 BC. Nothing has changed. To tell any story “but” “then” and “and’ are your best friends.
Don’t take my word for it… watch a TED talk, then time it then summarises it… See … 3 acts, beginning, middle and an end … total run time? 18 minutes. Go beyond these limits and you’ve lost your audience. To tell a compelling, charming and intelligent story you have 6 minutes for each act.
Can you say what you want to say in one sentence? A great story has shape but remember, the audience is the most important part of any story. Great stories have big ideas, small words and short sentences.
Now let’s go biological. The best stories trigger three hormones, Oxytocin (trust) Endorphin (laughter, fear, pain or uncertainty) Dopamine (peaks, trough, cliff hangers and ‘tell me more’) So what could possibly go wrong? Your story can. When something goes wrong in your story that’s when you get the audience’s attention.
In these days of instant communication and disposable messages, we sometimes forget how to tell a simple story.
Ancient civilisations used their campfires as we use social media platforms today. The elders would recant stories from their ancestors. These stories explained the devastation of an earthquake that change their world, or the sudden death of a child as revenge by an angry god, or how the harvest failure was explained as the ocean gods at war with the gods for the skies.
As these stories evolved the gods were given identities and humanised to relate to the growing tribe. As the hearth gained in dominance, the story became more expansive and mythological.
From these mythological stories grew an order on which beliefs were shaped. In time these philosophies formulated religions. And all this started with the introduction of the hearth as tribes gathered around the campfire. For warmth and protection from the beasts of the night.
As stories were repeated, they were embellished. But the rules remained.