The Number Of Words In A Stand-up Comedy Routine Can Vary Each Minute

While I will be the first to tell you that brevity (particularly when it comes to the set-up aspect of jokes) is a critical factor when it comes to developing a stand-up comedy routine that generates frequent laughs on a minute-by-minute basis, there’s no way to determine a set or standard number of words a comedian should or should not use.

All I can do is tell you what I know and I will start with this:

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There are 60 seconds in a minute. During any minute of a stand-up comedy routine, a comedian is either talking or the audience is responding with laughter (or not responding).

Both of these events take up time. The more time the audience spends laughing, the less time a comedian spends talking and vice versa. Now here's the rest of the story...

Everyone expresses themselves verbally at an average speech rate which is natural to them.

Some people may speak more slowly at an average of 90-100 words per minute, while others may speak a bit faster at 110-120 words per minute.

If a comedian wasn’t able to generate a laugh in a minute of their stand-up comedy routine, that means they would spend that minute talking (which would also be known as bombing).

So the number words used in that minute would be roughly equal to the comedian’s speech rate.

If a comedian was able to generate 15 seconds of laughter during a minute of their stand-up comedy routine, that means that they spent 45 seconds of talking, which would equal approximately ¾ of their speech rate for a minute.

If an audience is small and/or not seated in close proximity, a comedian will generate laughs that are shorter in duration and with less intensity than they will if the audience is bigger and/or seated in close proximity (because of the contagious nature of laughter).

My point here is that I simply don’t think counting the number of words in a stand-up comedy routine has much usefulness by itself unless you are using some broad guideline for the delivery of a set-up and a punchline (ie: 15-20 words).

But I can tell you this:

Headline level stand-up comedy generates an average of 18+ seconds of laughter for each performing minute and is usually achieved by delivering 4-6+ punchlines each performing minute.

That doesn’t leave much “talk time” for a comedian to set-up jokes and deliver punchlines 4-6+ times per minute.

I believe a better strategy for developing high level stand-up comedy is for a comedian to determine what it is that they want to express on stage, then structure that material for generating 4-6+ laughs per minute right from the beginning, provided they know how to do that.

Then, they would make targeted post performance adjustments to their stand-up comedy material to shorten set-up lines, eliminate unnecessary words, remove lines unnecessary lines, add punchlines, etc.

This approach (which is covered in detail in my online course) is much more effective for developing a tight stand-up comedy routine than somehow trying to apply some sort of static “words per minute” type of approach which simply is not practical because there is no set number of words per minute a comedian should be using each minute in their stand-up comedy routine.

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