“The thing about comedy is that you have got to know your crowd, meaning that you have to know what kind of material is relatable to your crowd,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Petty, about his experience on-stage.
Petty, a married father of three, is a transportation specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Group Support Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, who has spent his spare time over the last year or so making people laugh in local comedy clubs.
“I entered an open-mic event at ‘Charlie Goodnights’ in Raleigh, and I didn’t do too bad. So I went online and searched for comedy clubs that were within decent driving-distance to Fort Bragg and found ‘The Idiot Box’ in Greensboro, ‘The Comedy House’ in Columbia, South Carolina, and another one in Charlotte,” Petty said.
Having a background as the funny guy at work, friends suggested that he try his luck doing it on a stage, in front of a crowd.
“I’ve always been funny, you know, joking around in the motor pool and people always saying, ‘you ought to do comedy’ (on-stage) so that’s where it started for me,” Petty said. “I’ve always been the ‘class clown’ even to the point where it got me in a little trouble in school sometimes.”
“Nothing’s really changed, now I’m just able to do it on a stage and in front of a larger crowd,” Petty said.
He also explained how his service has helped him overcome some of the common challenges of performing, such as stage-fright.
“I don’t really get nervous anymore, but sometimes I still do get that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling hoping the jokes will work and people will find them funny,” Petty notes. “Being in the military and being an NCO (noncommissioned officer), we’re used to speaking in front of large groups.”
Comedy, like many things in life, is often subjective. What one person may perceive as funny, others may find offensive or boring and Petty is very aware of this.
“Comedy is always about taking a chance, because you can either get a thumbs up or a thumbs down,” which Petty explains, ties back into knowing your crowd.
He explains that his performances are usually well-received, and that is one of the things that keeps him going.
“It’s just the rush you get from people laughing. Like when you’re in the motorpool with a friend going back and forth telling jokes, the response from the crowd just really motivates you,” Petty said.
“It’s the same thing being on stage, when you tell a joke and people laugh, it motivates you for the next joke.”
Being a comedian, an active-duty Soldier and an NCO is not without its challenges, said Petty.
“One of the downfalls of being a comedian and a Soldier is that there are certain jokes I can’t tell, so you have to really screen your jokes,” he said. One of the hardest things is coming up with material that still works just as good within certain limitations.”
Though there is usually heavy use of profanity in adult-themed comedy, Petty has the ability to balance himself as a comedian and appeal to all kinds of different crowds.
“I do clean comedy for the church too. So that it is Family-friendly content and the kids like it, because laughter really is a kind of medicine that is for everyone,” Petty explains.
Good comedy, according to Petty, has four basic elements. “It’s all about content, timing, delivery, and how you recover.
“So if I have a young crowd, I’ll pick certain jokes they can relate to, if I have an older crowd, I pick what they can relate to, knowing your crowd is very important,” he said.
Petty also explains there are more aspects to “timing” than just the length of time in between the introduction of the joke to its conclusion.
“Timing is knowing when and how to deliver the punch-line and close the joke,” Petty continued. “Starting out, you have to build your way up, so you may have a strong five minutes of jokes and as you keep practicing, you may get up to 10 minutes, until you’re at a point like George Lopez or Kevin Hart who can go 55 minutes of good, solid comedy.”
Petty says that he is building himself up, increasing the amount of time he can entertain a crowd. “Where I’m at now, I can give you a good 30 minutes of strong comedy.”
“Recovery is when you tell a joke and it doesn’t get the response you were looking for, you have to know how to come back from that,” Petty concluded. “In the beginning, I didn’t know how to recover. I did an open-mic once and the crowd didn’t take to my jokes too well. So I kind of froze up and thought to myself, ‘Man, what do I do next’.”
Though making people laugh at comedy clubs is fulfilling for him, Petty said the ability to make his Soldiers laugh and raise morale in any given situation, whether in the motorpool or deployed overseas, is his greatest gratification.
Petty is slated to perform at Sports USA, on Fort Bragg, Thursday, at 7 p.m. For more information about this event or similar events, contact Sports USA at 907-0739/2373.