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Two tips for filming live stand-up comedy

As a videographer or filmmaker, you may sometimes be called upon to record a stand-up comedy gig. This could be somebody's 10-minute set that they wish to review, or indeed a full hour-long show that a comedian is hoping to release online or on DVD.

However, filming a live, interactive event such as stand-up is a far-flung experience from your usual scripted sketch. If you've never done it before, gather together your best recording equipment and read on.

1. Think carefully about camera setup

If you watch any high-quality stand-up set, you'll find they are almost entirely shot with multiple cameras.

If you watch any high-quality stand-up set, you'll find they are almost entirely shot with multiple cameras.

Filmmakers on a low budget and small production scale could get away with just two cameras. Set one up to film a wider shot, while the other captures a decent mid-shot. If you can, have a third or even fourth camera in other locations to record audience reactions, super-wides of the whole stage or anything else you think will look good.

Of course, remember that comedians can sometimes move very quickly without warning, depending on their style. 

"Most of the actions [in a live event] are 'once in a lifetime moments'," freelance cameraman Nurhak Karayol told Orama.tv. "You need to be prepared for them and have a good prediction ability, to be able to see what could come next in the whole situation."

Bonus tip: Certain DSLR cameras can't record for very long in one take. Indeed, cameras such as the Canon 600D can only shoot for about 10-12 minutes before cutting. Always test your equipment before you use it.

2. Purchase the right sound recording equipment

There are two parts to live stand-up sound, both of which are as crucial as the other.

The first is what the comedian is saying. They will be speaking into a live event microphone linked to a sound booth somewhere else in the room. 

The second is the audience reaction, which is background noise you can't shun. 

For the former, plug your digital recording device straight into the switchboard using a RØDE XLR43 cable, then adjust the gain on either end during sound check. If you have a long enough cable, you could also plug straight into the camera.

As for the laugh track, your budget will define what is appropriate. A camera-mounted shotgun mic will likely do in some instances, such as a RØDE VideoMic Pro. However, this may pick up unwanted clatter from people moving near you, or from your hands on the camera itself.

For the best results, place a high-quality microphone on a stand somewhere near the stage, pointing back towards the audience. Ensure you test all levels before the show starts, so intense clapping doesn't distort the audio.