Whether its for a festival, TV, or a club audition, the perfect showcase set is the same. It is not a few minutes of your best jokes. It is a few minutes of what makes you unique.
A lot of comedians make the mistake of thinking that they should pull their best few jokes and do them all quickly, get as many laughs as they can. That can lead to a disjointed lump of jokes that don’t build on anything. The showcases that catch people eyes are the ones that distill whoever you are as a comedian into a nice little package.
Your opener should be something that gets the crowd’s attention. Whether it is a quick one-liner with a big laugh, or it’s something designed to tease the next five minutes, just get their attention quickly. I don’t mean be shocking or crazy. I mean say something interesting. Say something unique.
Once you have that, look for jokes that define you. This is a bit harder, as you need to know who you are as a comedian before you’re able to do this. One thing I recommend is try to tell someone what you’re act is about in one sentence. “It’s funny!” is not good enough. “I make hysterical observations about life!” Yeah, so does everyone. Get to the root of who you are on stage. Once you can define that, take the jokes that best reflect it, and there’s your showcase.
It seems to go without saying, but close big. You want your closer to be a trusted killer, a joke that works 99% of the time. To kill a showcase, you need to exit on something big.
It also doesn’t hurt to have another 30-60 seconds prepared, or to be able to cut a minute early if you need to. You can’t predict how long the laughs will take when you go up. Instead of rifling through the index cards in your brain, have a contingency plan ready.
And above all, do not waste your time throwing it back to the MC, asking them how they’re doing, or getting applause for the troops or the ladies or the lady troops. You have 5 minutes to say something to the world. Start talking.