Getting a referral is good – being a “pain” is not

February 23, 2015

Hey Dave – I was in a comedy club competition, I made it to the semi finals. But I was just asking if you know anyone I could maybe open for. I don’t want any money, and I’ll go anywhere! I’ll take any help I can get. Thanks – H.A.

First a note to everyone: This email is from a young (18 years old!) new comedian I’ve corresponded with. I’ve written back that I love his enthusiasm and the fact that he’s really out there going for it. I’ve also sent him back a private answer to his question because I doubt he emailed me thinking it would end up as this week’s FAQ And Answer.

willy_wonka

“Has anyone seen Richard?”

That said; here are some thoughts about asking for referrals…

I’ve written a lot about the importance of getting references for showcases and bookings. When you have the right comedian (or speaker) telling the right talent booker to hire you or to schedule a showcase, it’s like receiving the Golden Ticket in that Gene Wilder movie Johnny Depp remade about the candy maker.

Sorry, I just can’t think of the title at the moment…

Oh yeah, Willy Wonka. I’m pretty sure I was already listening to albums by Richard Pryor – Wilder’s frequent on screen partner – when that movie came out and it didn’t even register a blip on my entertainment radar. Trust me, I’m a loyal Gene Wilder fan, but didn’t get back into kid’s movies until I had kids.

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Anyway, a good reference will usually result in being seen. It doesn’t guarantee a paid booking, but when it comes from a reliable source you can pretty much bypass all the marketing advice I’ve shared in past articles when focusing on that particular talent booker. Phone calls, postcards, emails, websites, videos, Facebook and LinkedIn are not needed to make a first impression when you can walk into a club and showcase for the booker because a comedian he/she respects put in the good word for you.

Of course those marketing tools will be needed to stay in touch afterwards. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

It sounds easy – yeah, I know. However, don’t be too anxious or overbearing to get that Golden Ticket reference. Otherwise you might wind up being a pain in the you-know-what and have your efforts working against you.

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And you are…?

Of course you want to have a good relationship with the referring comedian (or another talent booker you’d like to have as a referral). You don’t have to be best friends, but at least know each other on a professional level (it’s a business, remember?). It’s pretty annoying when someone you hardly know comes up and asks for a referral:

Yeah, sure… what’s your name again?

It’s also a no-brainer the person you want the referral from has actually SEEN you perform AND actually likes it. In fact, you should really wait for them to tell you:

Hey, that was a great set. I really liked it.” (Or something close to that).

And be sure they really did and are not BS’ing you just to be polite. Sometimes it takes a mind reader to know, but do your best to make sure they’re sincere.

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Now in a perfect world, the comedian could offer to put in a good word for you with a talent booker he (or she) works with. It’s not impossible; I’ve seen it happen. But if not and you truly think they are sincere about liking your act, then go ahead and ask. You have to be aggressive in this business.

The key is not to be so aggressive that you become a pain in the you-know-what.

Here’s an example of how being a pain can come back and bite you in the you-know-what

When I was booking comics in New York and Los Angeles, I used referrals from comedians already working with us to help set up talent showcases. I still went through tons of promotional material and watched videos to find new comics, but if one of our regular comedians (already working for us) called or walked into my office and said we should see a comic he had just worked with, I’d add the referred comic to my showcase. It would be a done deal and I’d thank the referring comedian for making my life easier.

goldenticketBut there were also times comedians would stop by and give me some inside scoop. In other words, they’d fill me in on someone who was being a pain. The scenario went something like this…

The already-working comic couldn’t even walk into the club without having the referral-hungry new comic asking him (bugging him, annoying him, etc…) for his help in getting a showcase. So what would happen is that the working comic (the one being asked, bugged and annoyed) would make a point of telling me the new comic isn’t ready to play the club. BUT he was being such a pain in the you-know-what the comic could now say he had mentioned the new comic – and now he was off the hook.

Are you following me so far? Yeah, I know it’s confusing. Basically, he could tell the new comic he dropped his name to the talent booker. This way (he hoped) the new comedian would stop bugging him. The ball was now in my court.

And do you want another behind the scenes insider insight? Okay, here’s the blunt honest truth…

Since the so-called referring comedian wasn’t really referring and was also telling me the newer comedian was a pain in the you-know-what, I had been forewarned. There would be no Golden Ticket showcase. No way. I didn’t want to be hassled either. So my response would be to tell the newer comedian I couldn’t work off any recommendations, (a big fat lie – sorry to admit). He would have to send in promo and video just like everyone else.

Sounds a bit cruel? Yeah, well showbiz ain’t easy. You gotta know how to play the game…

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So the whole process could backfire against the newer comedian. He hadn’t earned the recommendation, so the word put in by the referring comedian was more negative than positive. And on top of that, the word would get around that he could be a pain because it was probably safe to assume he was asking for recommendations in this same way from other comics at other clubs.

Similar to many other businesses, news and reputations can travel fast in the comedy world.

The result was the newer comedian would find it more difficult to get an audition anywhere because he had earned a pain in the you-know-what reputation, rather than a good recommendation. He would’ve been better off putting that energy into working on material and getting on stage more.

Referrals can be the Golden Ticket. But if you don’t have one, don’t try to force it. Work on getting so good on stage no one can ignore you, and learn to professionally promote yourself. If and when a recommendation is made on your behalf, it’ll be like an extra coating of chocolate in that movie Gene Wilder made that I can never remember the name of…

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Memorizing material – is it comedy or acting?

February 16, 2015

Hey Dave – Do comedians write down their monologues and memorize it thoroughly? The more I learn about being a comic, the more it sounds like acting. Is there much of a difference? – D.J.

t fan bad acting (8)

“Just follow the script and no improvising!”

Hey D.J. – Okay, before we continue with this, let me say that I respect the creative art and craft of acting. Make that good acting. It’s not easy being an actor because you have to learn how to express emotions on cue and make it all believable. When you’re in a long running play it involves a lot of repetition; every show, every night (including matinees). When you’re interacting with other actors you must be on the right spot at the right time and say the correct words to cue the correct response.

The words are in the script and need to be memorized to continue the scene as it was written – and how the writer intended it (and how the director interprets it).

Acting also involves the use of lighting, props, entrances, exits and even bows at the end. Plays, TV shows and movies are directed. Actors do what directors tell them and say what writers tell them to say. And one last thing – the audience is not usually involved. People in the seats are there to watch. There is a fourth wall on the stage, which is an acting term for an invisible wall separating the audience from the actors. The audience does not exist in the play or scene. Interaction is between the actors. If it’s a solo monologue, it’s a “private moment.”

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“I wouldn’t join that club if you hit me over the head with it.”

As with just about everything else, there are exceptions. Improvisational acting often involves suggestions from the audience. And Marx Brothers movies (I like the classics) wouldn’t be as funny if Groucho didn’t break out of scenes and deliver a few lines directly to the camera/audience.

And now we’ve set the stage for what follows…

I’ve known some very good actors that were very bad comedians. They’ve written material, practiced (like for a play), but couldn’t buy a laugh once they were on stage. They were acting the role of a comedian, but didn’t have the needed “on the job” training. And working comics know exactly what I’m referring to – stage time.

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A comedian (and yes, speakers too) needs performing experience, rather than directed rehearsal time. This is because comedians (and yes – speakers) have to deliver funny and practiced material AND deal with an audience at the same time.

There is no fourth wall.

A comedian who only memorizes a monologue and recites it with no regard to audience response is acting. They are basically doing a one-person (acting) show. It may be written as a stand-up comedy routine, but it’s not really stand-up comedy.

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Not just the audience sleeping…

When I worked in New York, I heard the comics call it “sleepwalking through your set.” In a great comedy show, the audience is part of the ensemble.

Again, there are exceptions. Robert Dubac is a great stand-up comedian who does great one-man shows. He has a script and direction, but also works off an audience. Another is the popular English comedian / actor Dave Gorman. But talking about what they do would fill another article, so I’ll just drop their names and leave it at that for now.

My point in saying all this it that yes, you can write and memorize a monologue and perform it in a comedy club. Lots of comedians do it. But unlike acting, a comedian deals with audience response.

An audience is unpredictable.

They may not laugh when expected and laugh hysterically when it’s not. An actor will continue playing a part while a good comedian will react to the audience. If the material is not going over as expected, a comedian can switch gears. This means they can pull out different material, work-off (talk with) the audience, or change their delivery style, (example; from high energy to low energy). It involves having a lot of material, an ability to improvise, and lots of on-stage experience. Actors have to stick with a written script and hope the same material works better on a different audience.

If you memorize your comedy routine word for word, it should be conversational. The good ones make it seem as if they’re making it up on the spot and saying it for the first time.

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Imagine you’re at a family party. The old folks (think older than you) are sitting in the living room. They’re a conservative bunch, but you have a very funny story you share with them. They laugh and you didn’t insult or embarrass anyone who could potentially write you out of an inheritance.

Then you move into the kitchen where the crazy relatives (think of your peers) are hanging out. You want to tell them the same story, and there’s no worry about insulting or embarrassing anyone in the process. How would you deliver it in a way that makes them laugh?

That’s the difference between being an actor and a comedian. It’s the same story, but an actor is trained to rely on a script and direction. A comedian has material (could be scripted) but can base his delivery on audience response.

I’ve seen comedians night after night deliver the same set word for word. Does it work? Yes, because the good ones have valuable on stage experience performing in front of audiences and can change their delivery by reacting off the response. At every show it will look like they’re saying the words for the first time.

For example, there is a VERY famous comedian I’ve booked dozens of times. I won’t give his name – but if you’ve ever taken one of my workshops you’ll know the comic I’m talking about because I tell this story and mention his name. At every show he delivered the exact same 20-minute set. We’re talking “word for word.” It took him years to write and develop on stage. It was funny and audiences loved it. We would stand in the back of the showroom and recite the act along with him (and we could do that with a lot of the best comics – we knew their acts by heart).

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“Haven’t I’ve seen this act before?”

In fact one night during a very late show with a very light audience, another famous comedian stood on stage behind him and mimicked his act exactly. It was like having a shadow. We were all in the back of the club laughing – and so was the headlining “star” comedian, (he has a great sense of humor). But it didn’t matter because his material – his act – was practiced, audience-tested, and each time he did it he made it seem as if it was all brand new. Each audience thought he was making it up on the spot just for them – and that’s what counts.

Hang around comedy clubs and you’ll see what I mean. Watch some of the comedians more than a few times and you’ll see quite a few do the same routine in different shows. It’s memorized, but to make it work they don’t deliver it that way. It’s based on audience response – with no fourth wall.

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Other comedians will follow a mental outline for their material. They deliver the same jokes / stories with the same punch lines, but allow themselves to improvise and react off the audience. It also keeps the performance entertaining for the comedian and they don’t get bored doing the same show over and over.

There’s nothing wrong with memorizing your act if it helps you feel more comfortable. In fact, I just re-read an interview in my book How To Be A Working Comic from one of my favorite stand-ups with a reputation for being a great improviser. He said memorizing his act was the only way he could convince himself to go on stage in the beginning. The key is to make it look conversational and as if you’re saying these words for the very first time.

It’s like going to a different party and telling the same story to a different group of friends. If you did it successfully the first time and want the same reaction at this party, chances are you’ll deliver it in a very similar way. In other words – it’s your act.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Contacting late night TV talent bookers

February 10, 2015

Dave – I worked with a comedian last week who thinks I’m ready to do a set on one of the late night shows. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because I was wondering if you could provide some insights as to how to go about contacting these talent coordinators. The show I’d really like to be on would be Jimmy Kimmel Live. – MC

ac3269ad-1080-487d-92b6-eecd9a065a83Hey MC – First of all, it’s good when someone else in this crazy business says you’re ready to move up in your career. Especially when they think you’re good enough for late night television. Otherwise, you’d have to look at the source of this praise – and moms and drinking buddies don’t count. But when they’re peers and know the biz, you might want to start thinking about it.

Anyone with real experience in the industry knows it’s not easy to score one of these coveted late night performing spots that guarantees exposure to millions of talk-fest insomniacs. And by the way, that’s a good description for past, present and future comedians that grew up with Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno. So when another working comedian tells you this, you should be happy to have such a big fan.

But what do you think? Seriously. Do you really feel you’re ready for late night television? Are you working on a regular basis at the best clubs? Are you getting great audience response and killing on stage? Is your material “right” for these shows? These are questions you need to ask yourself and seriously answer.

It also helps when you have other people in the business saying you’re ready. That’s a positive and supportive step in the right direction.

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My first thought is that you have to be seen. And it’s always best to be seen in person. I say this from experience and also still keeping in touch with some of my friends in NYC and LA. So I believe it’s still true. The BEST way to get on television is to be SEEN in the clubs where the television talent bookers are hanging out.

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You’ve been seen!

For instance, all the high profile late night shows are based in New York and Los Angeles. The talent bookers, producers, writers and other important “showbiz connections” from these shows go to the clubs in these cities. That’s a fact because I would see them all the time when I worked in NYC and LA. They would hang out and watch the comedians. They knew who had the material and experience because they’d see it first-hand. They could also request showcases so they could audition a number of comics on the same night in front of a live audience.

Even if they were interested in a comedian through a video submission, they would eventually need to see a live performance. It’s all part of the process because they need to be sure the comedian will be successful on the show, since that’s what television talent coordinators are hired to do – find good talent for television.

To backup that opinion, I’ll rely on the interviews with Drew Carey and Jeff Foxworthy in my book How To Be A Working Comic. I interviewed them separately, but their experiences were similar since that’s how this business (sometimes) works…

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Both told me they couldn’t even get the attention of anyone at The Tonight Show when they submitted videotapes (the old days!) even though they had been headlining for years in the best clubs outside NYC and LA. And the reason why they weren’t working the NYC and LA clubs was because these are normally showcase clubs. You do them to be SEEN and not to make money. These guys had to make a living.

But each really felt he was ready for The Tonight Show. And they each felt they only needed to be seen by the talent booker.

carsonEventually they both had to bite the economic bullet and move to Los Angeles. It was the only way each could be seen every night for The Tonight Show (in the days of Johnny Carson when it really was a star-making appearance). They took a big pay cut by not playing their regular clubs outside of NYC and LA, but it paid off for both in the end.

But if you can’t afford to do that, the next best thing is a great video. You also need great references, experience and ways to market yourself without being a pain in the butt, or getting lost in the pack. We’ve had a few FAQs And Answers about marketing recently, so scroll down for a few suggestions. You can also check out the marketing sections in How To Be A Working Comic.

How’s THAT for a blindsided sales pitch? LOL!! Now that I have that out of my system, here’s what else you should do…

Play detective. When you’re in clubs and meet comedians that have done these shows, ask for advice. Ask what they did to be seen and how they were seen. If they appear to enjoy your performance (again – be honest with yourself) ask for the name(s) of people booking the comedians. If they don’t think you’re ready, they probably won’t tell you. You have to understand they have their own relationship with the talent booker and can’t make it seem they’re recommending every comic they come in contact with. It doesn’t help their reputation, so if they’re evasive drop the subject.

Don’t be a pain – and don’t try to push yourself on someone who may not see you as “being ready.”

You should also watch these late night shows and take notes. What is the name of the production company? Who is the talent coordinator listed during the ending credits? They don’t run these credits every night because of time restraints, but you can usually catch them once or twice a week.

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Again, play detective and Google the production companies and names for their contact info. Make a call. Don’t worry about having to sell yourself right away. These talent bookers are not easy to reach, so you’ll only get The Gatekeeper (another term for receptionist).

Then ask for “help.”

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“Who’s calling and why?”

Gatekeepers are assistants hired to keep you away from the people you want to contact. Again from experience and hearing this a lot from working comedians and speakers, Gatekeepers seem to respond to that term better than grilling them with questions. Ask for their “help” in learning what is the best way to be submitted for the program. It could go through a separate booking agency, or directly through the show’s producer, writing staff or others.

Then follow their “help” guidelines. Start the process of submitting your video and promo information – or work your way into the clubs where talent bookers hang out looking for new talent.

But in the meantime, continue getting experience and getting better. As I love to say whenever possible in these articles:

They may call it amateur night, but no one is looking to hire an amateur.

This is particularly true when it comes to late night television. And if you really feel you’re ready, don’t throw all your eggs into one basket (have I spent too much time outside of NYC and LA to have picked up that old saying?).

Don’t just concentrate only on one show, (you mentioned Jimmy Kimmel Live). Do the same with the other shows on different networks. Start getting your name out to the “right people” whether it’s through live performances at showcase clubs, recommendations, or online videos. Just be sure you’re ready, because no one with a viewing audience of millions of talk-fest insomniacs wants to hire an amateur.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Still using promotional postcards?

February 2, 2015

Hi Dave – You recently talked about using postcards as a way to follow up with clubs and agents that you were trying to get work from. How would you suggest staying in touch when you already work for them (on the standard circuit, roughly once a year)? And does the approach vary when you’re dealing with a self-booked comedy club, a comedy club that uses an agency, and the talent agency itself? Thanks! – J.N.

Hey J.N. – Good question and good timing. I’ve been reviewing my postcard etiquette recently and have come up this final conclusion. The old way may not be the best way – but it’s still a good way.

Let me explain this better…

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U.S. Male delivering U.S. Mail

In the old days before technology made our promotional efforts easier with websites, emails, twitter, youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and… well, whatever else I’ve missed, (it’s hard to keep track of them all), comedians, speakers and performers in general were sending out hand-written postcards to stay in touch with talent bookers. I remember these old days, because that’s how they stayed in touch with us if they wanted a showcase for the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv. Our office was at The Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and the comics that lived too far away to drop off a video or do a live showcase had to rely on the U.S. Mail to let us know they were out there and should be seen.

Not everyone used this promotional tool.

I don’t remember seeing postcards from the comedians I worked with locally in Los Angeles or when I was at The New York Improv. They could always stop by the club(s) to do a set or just network in person. But if you were in Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto or… Okay, I’ll stop with the city listings. I trust you get my drift. If you weren’t in LA or NYC, you had to rely on your reputation, networking, recommendations, an agent or manager, and a relic from the old days:

A professionally printed and neatly tucked into a two pocket folder promotional (promo) package.

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I cover these marketing techniques in my books and in the modern era (these days) everything is online. For immediate examples, do an online search for your favorite comedians. On the websites I’m sure you’ll see a headshot, bio, resume, reviews, schedule and most importantly, a video.

The usual way to stay in touch after making first contact and after you’ve already worked with a talent booker is by email. You should already have (they’ve offered it or you’ve asked for it) the booker’s email address and your messages won’t be blocked or relegated to a spam folder.

But another (secondary) option is to send postcards.

Are postcards outdated? Only if the talent booker tells you they’re not necessary. Personally I would prefer everyone use email (I’m into saving trees) but in this competitive business you need to follow all different promotional methods to be noticed and hired.

sc002b6784Postcards are dispensable. In other words, they’re only a method to keep your name and face (your headshot) in front of a talent booker. It’s a simple reminder that you’re available for work. The booker will usually look at it, maybe read the message on the back (keep it short and simple) and then toss it in the trash. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just the way it works. If they saved every postcard it wouldn’t be too long before their offices were filled with boxes of them.

In hindsight, I wish I’d kept some of the postcards sent to me while I was at the LA Improv. Some of those comedians have gone on to mega-stardom and would be great examples to show when I talk about this in my workshops.

Anyway, you get the point. Postcards are still a great way to stay in touch and as mentioned a few weeks ago, I still receive postcards from comics looking for work. Now back to the future… uh, I mean these daysafter technology has made our lives way easier.

I’m a major proponent of using technology to promote whatever it is you’re doing. You know that already, which is why you’re reading this online. I also have a large email list of subscribers that is used to remind them I’m still out here every week and easy to find. The talent bookers – “the self-booked clubs, comedy clubs that use an agency and the talent agency itself” – that you’ve already worked with should be on your email list.

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You need to stay in touch on a regular basis to remind talent bookers you’re available for work. Clubs and agents have large rosters of performers and unless you’re a personal favorite or have a track record for drawing big (paying) audiences, it’s easy to get lost in the pack.

What’s a regular basis? Ask them.

Some bookers will want your avails (when your schedule is open and you’re available for work) once a month, every few weeks, an exact date (ex: the 1st of every month) – or whenever. Know when they expect it – and then do it. Send an email with your open dates and (always!) your contact info.

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No spam filter on these

In the old days, that’s what postcards and faxes were for. To be honest, I threw away my fax machine last year. We seldom used it since most everything now is via email. If I need to fax something I’ll just go to the library to use theirs.

But postcards are a different story.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the importance of comedians and speakers using postcards when they’re trying to connect – especially for the first time – with clubs, talent bookers and event planners. These performers are still unknowns to the people doing the hiring and may not have the proper inside email addresses. Their messages could end up going to the box office, telemarketers (pushing tickets for a show you should be on!), assistant managers, or other departments inside the club. In most cases, they’re going to hit “delete” because it’s not their job to hire you.

Your messages could also wind up in spam folders since the booker’s email program has no way to separate you from unsolicited advertisements (especially the ones comedians joke about). It may also be set up with a filter not to accept attachments (for your website and video) from senders they don’t know.

To play it safe, postcards are a great backup marketing plan. They’re not a pain in the you-know-what like an unsolicited cold call or “dropping by because I was in the neighborhood” personal visit. Even if you’re a working comic and not getting any response from bookers you’ve worked with in the past, it won’t hurt to send them an occasional postcard with a career update or open dates. They may still not hire you again, but at least you’ve made a good effort to contact them.

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I’ve made a few calls to talent bookers asking for opinions about postcards vs. emails. Yeah, they were unsolicited cold calls, but I’m known for being a pain in the you-know-what anyway, so I went for it. I’ve been surprised at the results.

And I’m also surprised at what markets gave me these results:

  • College programmers and…
  • Corporate event planners.
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Nope, not Newman!

Almost all told me they prefer postcards. Mainly because the emails sent by performers won’t make it through the school or business spam filters. Put a few links in your email such as “Click here to visit my website” and there’s a chance your message will be rerouted to the “undeliverable” folder and returned to you “unopened.”

When you put the effort in to design and send a decent promotional email, it’s wasted time and energy if potential talent bookers never even see it. That’s not good business strategy.

So I’ll say it once again:

The old way may not be the best way – but it’s still a good way.

If you’re an unknown to a talent booker you want to work for, send an email one month and a postcard the next. It’s not overdoing it – you won’t be considered a pain in the you-know-what – and chances are they’ll receive one of them. If they receive both, that’s even better. It’s a good marketing plan.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Working the audience

January 26, 2015

Dave – I’ve noticed that in some (comedy) rooms you can just get up on stage and begin your material. Other rooms are a little stiff, but sometimes these rooms respond well with a more interactive style of comedy – where the comedian talks with the audience. Do you have any tips, questions or strategies one should use for this type of interactive comedy? – B.T.

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Tough crowd

Hey B.T. – You’re talking about the dilemma comedy club MC’s / opening acts go through every time they step on a stage. Depending on the audience (and experienced comics and speakers already know each audience is different and has its own personality) the MC has to make a decision about how much material he can do and how much he’ll have to work the audience.

The decision is based on audience reaction.

I’ve heard a lot of comedians describe it as, “reading the room” or “finding the level of the room.” Whatever you might call it, the ultimate decision should be quite easy. If they’re not laughing at your material, then a good alternative is to start talking with them.

All comedians start out in the “real” comedy club circuit as a MC, also known as the opening act. They may call themselves a headliner in their own self-booked show at a local venue, but no legit club will bring in an “unknown” as the headliner or feature (middle) act. Working comics pay their dues.

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The only comics I’ve ever known that will try to headline a show without valuable stage time experience are either kidding themselves into thinking they’re ready (and the legit clubs are wrong!) or are already stars. For example, I’ve seen (and in some cases, unfortunately worked with) a few television sitcom stars that wanted to entertain their loyal fans in comedy clubs. Overnight they’re going to become stand-up comedians, but really have no stage experience away from a television sound stage.

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Where’s the teleprompter?

At best they’re considered novelty acts and are coasting on their television (acting) fame. Clubs will book them because (remember, it’s a business) audiences will pay to see them once (a novelty). But if they’re not funny and can’t deliver the laughs (lack of performing experience), it’s a good bet the novelty will wear off and the next time they’re scheduled to headline ticket sales will go down.

So to get back to my original point, all good comedians start out as opening acts. It’s the next level up from open-mics and how they earn much needed experience in front of live audiences. It’s hands-on learning. And as MC’s, they gain experience reading the room and learn how to work the audience. It comes with the territory. As the first one on stage they have to set the tone for the show. Once you have that experience, whether a room is stiff or loose won’t matter.

You’ll know – through experience – how to adjust.

There are no magic formulas for doing this – any more than there are magic formulas to write comedy material. Using comedy legends for example, imagine putting Rodney Dangerfield and Richard Pryor in the same room and telling them “This is the formula you use to write a joke.”

That’s not how it works.

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But it’s difficult to ignore the old standard lines or questions performers have used for decades to get an audience involved in their act:

  • “Where’ya from?” And…
  • “What’da’ya do for a living?”

To be honest, if they didn’t work in getting an audience to interact with the performer, no one would use them. And I’ve seen both used quite often quite recently. But to make them work in your favor, you’d better be ready to think on your feet and be funny. The best way to do that is through:

  • On stage experience (hands-on learning) or…
  • Take an improvisation class or workshop – and then get on stage experience.

Every time you go on stage it should be a learning process. If the audience is not responding to your act, direct it more to them as individuals. Ask questions, talk with them, make conversation, interact and (importantly) be funny. If you can get their attention and make them laugh, chances are they loosen up and not be so “stiff.”

Here’s an example:

When I was working at the Hollywood Improv, one of the writers for a well-known late night television show was also one of our top comedians. He was – and still is – a great comedy writer. His material on stage never failed to get an audience laughing, until one night…

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The act’s not working!

He was on stage doing his act.  It was a weekend night with a room full of paying customers, so he was giving his best show and not trying out any new material. But things weren’t going as normal. The audience wasn’t laughing. I thought for sure he was in trouble because his material wasn’t working. I didn’t know if he had a backup plan because I had never seen him improvise off a crowd. Mainly because he never had to. His material was always killer.

Anyway, his proven jokes weren’t working that night. But he didn’t seem too worried about it. He took the microphone out of the stand (I had never seen him do that before!) and stopped doing his material. Instead he started talking with the audience and asking them the same two “old” questions listed above:

  • “Where’ya from?” And…
  • “What’da’ya do for a living?”

His responses were very funny and he connected with the audience. Before too long everyone was laughing. I watched as he continued the conversations, while putting the microphone back in the stand. Then he started – again – doing his material (his regular act).

The audience loved him. He was in total command and they laughed through the rest of his set.

After he was off stage, I told him that I had never seen him perform like that – working off an audience. He laughed and taught me the lesson I shared with you today. He told me it’s how every comedian starts out. He had MC’d at small clubs for years while learning to write great material. He had the experience setting the tone for the shows by reading the audience and knowing how to get them – and keep them – involved. When the material wasn’t working, he would work the crowd by engaging them in conversation.

So without a magic formula, how do you do that?

Experience.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Playing the talent booking game

January 19, 2015

Hey Dave – You’ve been writing about promoting. I’m on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. How do I get bookers to look at my video? I send emails but don’t hear back and don’t know if they’re watching. Thanks – D.M.

Hey D.M. – First of all, send in a joke for this newsletter. There are talent bookers on this list and they might check out the link I’ll include to your site. Stranger things have happened, so you never know…

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Who invented this silly game??!!

Okay, as you should realize by now, to get bookings you have to treat it like a business. BUT I’ve also learned from personal experience that it’s like a game – and you have to play it. If I had to describe the booking game, I’d call it a cross between Tag and Hide and go Seek.

Let me explain…

Sometimes you have to break down and make a phone call. Emails, snail mail and online networking are not the only resorts. Sometimes you need do it the old-fashion way by picking up the phone and start talking.

If you get a booker or agent on the line – that’s great! Use some of the concepts I’ve shared earlier about using a conversational hook (short – just as an icebreaker!) and being professional AND personable. Remember, you’re making a business call, but at the same time you’re in the entertainment biz and not an insurance agent or tax collector.

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Then ask if they’ve received your email or promo package and if they’ve watched your video.

If not, and this is the secret cheat (if you want to compare it to playing video games) ask, “When is the best time for me to call you back?” Many bookers, agents, college student programmers – whatever – have certain hours during certain days when they accept phone calls. Ask them when these hours are (by actually asking: “When is the best time for me to call you back?”). There’s no reason why they shouldn’t tell you. For instance: “Tuesdays between 2 and 4 pm” or give you a general idea: “Give me a couple weeks.”

Male hand marking on calendar the date of March 8

Executing the game plan

Mark that date or “a couple weeks later” on your calendar.

If they give you a specific time of day, mark that down also. They might just come right out and tell you if mornings or afternoons are best. THEN – and this is the second secret cheat – after you hang up, send the talent booker a postcard. I’m not talking about a vacation postcard with a pretty landscape. I’m talking about the type of business postcards that I’ve described in my book How To Be A Working Comic and in past FAQs And Answers.

Use the type of postcard that promotes you as an entertainer.

** “Wait a minute! Postcards are so old school. Everything today is online and by email. I don’t even know where to find a post office!” (Note: I’m imagining this response from everyone reading this online).

Yes, that’s pretty much correct. Especially for working comics that already have relationships with talent bookers. They send in avails via email every few weeks and can get work. BUT I’ll go back to today’s question:

How do you contact them just to look at your video (the first time) and how do you know if they’ve watched it (or even received it)?

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Use an alternative route

The problems – mainly for performers “unknown” to the bookers – are spam filters. This happens with some of the clubs, but is especially true if you’re trying to break into the college and corporate markets. Many unsolicited emails with links (to videos or websites) won’t get past the school or business in-house email systems. This eliminates all the unwanted non-school related or non-business related ads and other “spam” that would fill up their inboxes. You – as an “unknown email sender”- have a good chance of falling into that category. A good email program will let you know what addresses you are sending to are either blocked or rejected as undeliverable, but otherwise you have no idea.

You could be waiting for a response that may never come because your important email was weeded out by a spam filter. You have yet to be added to booker’s accepted contacts list.

* Also from experience, many comedians and speakers still rely on postcards to stay in touch. I don’t consider myself to be a talent booker anymore (very rare when I do), but still receive postcards from performers looking for work. It’s a way to stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what.

So I’ll repeat because it’s very important. Send a follow-up postcard with a brief note saying it was good talking with them and the date you will be calling again.

In reality, you probably won’t get the booker on the phone. In that case, always leave a short message that you were following up on your promotional material. If you’re making the effort to dial and pay your phone bill, you might as well get something out of the call, even if it’s just for the booker to hear your name. In your voice message say you’ll call again in about two weeks, then hang up and send a postcard.

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Repeat the process until you get an answer.

This might take some time (remember you’re playing The Talent Booking Game) but it will keep your name and face (postcard headshot/photo) passing in front of the booker on a regular basis without being an annoying pain in the butt. That’s the most important part of this game plan. You don’t want to be in their face every day (annoying!). You just want to drop a reminder on a regular basis.

You want personal experience to back this up? Okay…

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Only 29 more to go…

When I was talent coordinator for A&E’s An Evening At The Improv I’d receive literally hundreds of promo packages with videos (this was before online promo really took off – suddenly I’m feeling old…). These packages would pile up on my desk and I’d plan out “sittings” where I’d watch about 30 at a time. No lie.

The comedians who played the above game were not a pain in the butt. They also were not forgotten or lost in the pile of videos. I would get these regular reminders and eventually dig through the pile to find their PR material. I was tired of being embarrassed when they’d call a couple of weeks later and I still hadn’t seen their video. It made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job, even though it seemed I never stopped watching videos. I just hadn’t seen theirs.

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Now, this by no means guaranteed them a showcase or a spot on the television show. Sometimes it worked out in their favor, but sometimes they just weren’t ready yet. But at least they had put in the work and had been seen.

I also remember talking about this years ago at a comedy festival with a manager friend out of Los Angeles who has successfully taken his company into the big time by producing television shows and movies. How did he discover new talent? His advice was to be a player. If you weren’t seen in person on a comedy club stage where he scouted talent on a regular basis, you played the game without being annoying.

So as I like to say, this is nothing I’ve made up. I’ve learned this from personal experience and talking with people that are successful in this crazy business. Play it correctly and eventually you should get at least some type of response. Of course that response could be good, bad or indifferent depending on where you are as a comedian or humorous speaker, but that’s a different game we’ll play some other time.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Creating a one person show

January 12, 2015

Hey Dave – I’ve had some crazy experiences in my life that resonate in my memory and in my opinion are very comical. But also these were very serious moments. It’s hard to bring these stories out on the stand-up stage because they take a lot to build to a punchline. I am still very new to the stand-up world, let alone theater acting. I’ve taken a few classes, but don’t have a solid background yet. I’ve written about these crazy moments in a journal form, but am unsure of how I build a show off them because I am no play write. I guess my overall question is if you have a little experience, how can you start to build up to putting together a great One Man Show? Thanks! J.W.

Hey J.W. – The best advice I’ve ever heard from any working comic or writer is to just keep writing. You’re already doing that by keeping a journal and creating stand-up sets. The idea is not to get too far ahead of yourself. A one man show is a big project – so you’ll want to create a few shorter ones (like laugh out loud five minute comedy sets) first.

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Computer genius

You say you’re not a playwright, but that doesn’t always mean having to sit down at a computer keyboard and “write” a show. As I say in my workshops, some people can do that – most can’t.

Most stand-ups and speakers have to talk it out. And by this I mean in front of an audience. It makes the material and delivery real. I think this way of working will suit you best. You don’t need to be a playwright to talk and convey your message in front of an audience.

Talk your stories into an audio recorder. Then transcribe – write them out. Edit, make changes, add your humor and tweak the material. Then do it again and write some more. Take it on stage and try it out in front of an audience. Are they interested? Are they laughing? If yes, then it’s working. If not, then you go back to work. Write some more and continue to repeat the process until you get the audience reaction you want.

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Keep in mind this is not easy. Working writers, speakers and comedians dedicate themselves to these careers. Emotions range from failure to success and every hard knock in between. But if you’re serious, have a thick skin and really want it – then you’ll continue.

Okay, so let’s say you have very funny stand-up sets and get great audience reaction (laughs). Now you also want to add “serious stuffso the result is more of a one man show (theatrical) rather than a Comedy Central stand-up special.

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The serious “stuff”

Create an outline for a planned show. What is it you want to say? Who is your audience? But don’t knock yourself out trying to make it perfect – like a finished and polished script for a successful Broadway show. Everything always changes when you start to do it live in front of an audience. That’s why Broadway shows go on the road for previews in various cities around the country (like stand-up comics at open-mics), followed by multiple re-writes, re-casting and more previews. These changes are based on audience response. If audiences don’t like the second act or a certain character, the playwrights and producers fix it before bringing it to Broadway for the definitive make-it or break-it reviews.

Shows, comedy sets, motivational speeches, books, plays, movies – whatever – go through many drafts before they are considered finished.

That’s important to remember so you’re not discouraged after each preview. My first book was re-written a number of times before I had a literary agent accept it. She made me rewrite it a few times before  submitting it to publishers. Then after a publisher bought it, an editor had me rewrite a few more times before they printed and got it into stores. It was at least a dozen re-writes total.

You will experience the same thing. But as I said earlier, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You’re still in the first draft stage of creating your show.

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Concentrate on what you’re doing now, which is getting stage experience in stand-up, improvisation and acting. Keep creating short (3 to 5 minute) comedy sets and trying them out in front of audiences at open-mics and in clubs. The comedians I’ve worked with find their comedy voice first. After that they write for that comedy voice.

Okay – got that? Now, if you want to continue into one man (or one woman) show-land, let’s visit television sitcom-land for a quick example…

The-Drew-Carey-Show-the-drew-carey-show-6795589-1300-1591One of my favorite sitcoms was The Drew Carey Show. The pilot for that show was written around Drew’s stand-up act. In fact, when you watch the first episode you can actually see him doing bits that he did countless times in comedy clubs. The storyline for the episode was written around his comedy voice and what he was already doing on stage.

It was the same with Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement and many others that starred stand-up comedians.

Take one of your stories and see if you can make into a five minute stand-up comedy bit – as a storyteller. But keep your personality (comedy voice) and don’t try to be an actor. Right now it’s you talking about you. Later as it develops, you might want to try acting out some of the other characters involved.

The best advice I can give is to realize a one person show is also a theatrical production.

Creating and starring in a one person show was a very popular career goal in the comedy biz during the 1990′s and many comedians failed because they didn’t realize that. It’s more than just doing your stand-up act on a stage with a couch and a table. It needs to be more of a night at the theater, rather than a set at a comedy club.

51AYBNEP17LThe best example of a comedian-writer-actor developing his own successful one man show is Inside The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron by Robert Dubac. I’ve seen it many times – from it’s earliest first draft performed at The Santa Monica Improv to a sold-out Palace Theater in Cleveland – and highly recommend it whenever I can. If you’re not familiar with the show, you can purchase the DVD for under $5 on Amazon.com. Here’s the LINK.

It takes work to write and create anything. But hopefully it’s work you enjoy. Just keep writing and trying out your material on stage. With talent, creativity, experience and luck you might wind up with something great. You never know unless you try.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Shake things up in 2015

January 5, 2015

Hi Dave – I’m one of those people who will always wonder, “What if?” I’ve fallen behind in my stage fright quotient and will definitely tackle those fears and hit the stage once I get a solid five minutes (of comedy material). I may sink, swim or neither, but it’s time to “shake things up.” I was just watching what I consider to be the underrated Stardust Memories with one of my favorite lines: “You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.” Much obliged – P.J.

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On your mark… get set… go!!

Hey P.J. – I like your attitude. It’s a new year, which for many people can signal a new change or a new direction in life. Personally I don’t see why changes can’t be made anytime you feel you’re ready and it’s needed, but the New Year’s Countdown and ball dropping in New York’s Times Square can be like a starter’s pistol going off. For some, it’s time to start running in a new direction.

Three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Wait a minute… another year? “What if…?

How often have you thought that? We’d all like to swim rather than sink, but to do neither sounds like a step backwards to me. So I’m going to kick-start 2015 with a bit of a challenge:

Let’s shake things up.

Since you’ve read this far AND if you’ve read any past FAQ’s And Answers I’m assuming you have a sense of humor AND a flair for creativity (and that’s a creative word: flair). You’re either a comedian or a humorous speaker – or both – or aspiring to be one or the other – or both.

How do you stand-out from everyone else? What separates you from the pack? Maybe it’s time to shake things up and take a risk.

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Taking a risk can mean different things to different people. If you’ve never been on stage for whatever reason (stage fright quotient?) but it’s burning a BIG “What If?” in your brain – do it now. If you’re waiting until the ball drops next year, you risk losing this year. Go to an open-mic, take a class, form a writing group – whatever, there are tons of options. There are also plenty of good books on the market (and not just mine – search around) on how to write and perform.

Let’s shake things up.

If you’re already on stage doing comedy or speaking and your career is not where you think it should be – make a change. Take a risk. Try something different. It could be different topics, different energy, different venues or even a different location. You never know until you try.

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Just stay out of letter opener range!

One of my favorite stories in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works is from comedian Christopher Titus.

He described himself early in his career as being the “happy-go-lucky comic.” He was funny, but there was nothing that separated him from any other observational comic.

Then his manager challenged him to take a risk. He suggested he be real on stage.

Titus was one person (happy-go-lucky) on stage, but off stage he had a dark, edgy – risky – style of humor. Accepting the challenge, he wrote a bit about stabbing his boss with a letter opener. It worked BIG time. This change in his comedy voice separated him from the pack, made him an in-demand headliner and also star of his own sitcom, Titus.

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Now I’m not saying to write material about stabbing your boss with a letter opener. If you look back at the above paragraph, it’s been done. Copying someone else’s material is not going to get you anywhere in this creative business. In fact, it would be a step backwards. And it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go in a more edgy direction if that is NOT where your true humor is based. Some comics like more family-oriented material or working in the corporate (clean) market.

images-3All I’m saying… suggesting… (motivating?)… is to make this YOUR year. Accept the challenge and shake things up.

If you’re waiting to start, take that important first step and get on stage. If you’re looking for help in preparing for that first step, are too nervous, or have a full-blown case of stage fright, take a workshop and let someone with experience help you ease your way into it. If you’re already performing, remember the famous line from Stardust Memories (a Woody Allen film if you need to know):

“You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.”

Have a productive, successful and laugh-filled 2015.

Your Pal – Dave

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Top 10 Networking Jokes for 2014

December 29, 2014

This is the time of year when a lot of us become David Letterman impersonators. Instead of running to the refrigerator during television commercials, we sit on the couch and think about the year that’s just ending and come up with Top Ten Lists.

Could be good stuff – or could be bad stuff. In our case, we’ll focus on the funny stuff.

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We’re gonna miss Dave in 2015!

To close out another year of yucks and to honor the original during his final months as host of The Late Show with David Letterman, I’ve gone through the Jokes of the Week submitted by readers for 2014 and came up with the Top Ten. Of course I always point out that sending in a joke submission is a networking opportunity because I’ll include links for your sites. A couple of the following yuck-ster’s forgot to do that or were promoting shows that have already ended. Otherwise, when there’s a link I hope you’ll check it out!

So without further delay – in order of the date they appeared – here are…

The Top Ten Networking Jokes from How To Be A Working Comic and Humorous Speaker for 2014:

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1 – January 14, 2014

“I’m getting stronger! I added 10 pounds to my workout weight, which is good and bad. I only do push ups.” – Risky Betts, riskybetts.com

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2 – February 4, 2014

British Airways Shortly after a British Airways flight had reached its cruising altitude, the captain announced: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain. Welcome to Flight 293, non-stop from London Heathrow to New York .The weather ahead is good, so we should have a smooth uneventful flight. So, sit back, relax, and………OH… MY GOD!” Silence followed.

Some moments later, the captain came back on the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry if I scared you. While I was talking to you, a flight attendant accidentally spilled coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!” From the back of the plane, an Irish passenger yelled……. “For the luvva Jaysus……you should see the back of mine!” – Brian Luoma, www.facebook.com/brian.luoma

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3 – March 11, 2014

A very attractive woman walks into a bar and sees a man giving her an overly attentive stare. She takes the seat next to him and says, “I’ll do anything, absolutely anything you want for me to do for $100 dollars on one condition – you have to tell me in just three words.” The man pulls out 5 twenty dollar bills, looks deeply into her eyes and slowly, meaningfully says, “Paint My House!” – Jerry X. Shea, www.jerryxshea.com

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4 – March 25, 2014

A cowboy rides into town, stops at the local saloon, goes in and orders two “red eyes.” He throws them down and goes outside. His horse is missing. He goes back into the bar and says, “I’m going to have two more red eyes and if my horse isn’t back the same thing is going to happen here as happened in Tombstone.”

There is a shuffling of feet and everyone looks at the floor. He throws down the two red eyes and as he goes outside, the barman joins him and there is his horse. Curious, the barman looked at him and asked, “What happened in Tombstone?” “I had to walk home,” said the cowboy. – Lou Harrison-Smith, www.linkedin.com/in/tourswithoutequal

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5 – April 22, 2014

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”

There is a silence; then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?” – Dr. Cynthia Shelby Lane (shared as winner of funniest joke U.K.), shelbylanemd.com

*

6 – June 3, 2014

There was a blonde in the audience watching a show by a ventriloquist. The ventriloquist proceeded to do quite a few blonde jokes. The blonde became very upset, stood up and said, “Those are offensive and I don’t appreciate you using them in your act!”

The ventriloquist stepped forward, apologized and said, “I’m sorry, I won’t do anymore blonde jokes.” The blonde, completely exasperated stomped her foot, pointed her finger at the dummy and shouted, “NO, I’m talking to YOU!!” – Debbie

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7 – August 25, 2014

Monk joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence. Every ten years he’s allowed to go to the Head Monk and say two words, which he does after ten years and says, “Food cold!” The Head Monk says, “OK, we’ll see what we can do about that.” The monk goes back to his worship for ten years in silence and his time comes again to go before the Head. When the Head asks for his two words, the monk says, “Bed hard!” The Head says, “OK, we’ll see what we can do” and the monk goes back to his devotion in silence.

Ten more years pass and it’s the monk’s opportunity for two words again. He goes to the Head and says, “I quit!” The Head Honk replies, “Well, I’m not surprised. You’ve been complaining ever since you got here.” – Marc Jaffe, Shaking With Laughter

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8 – September 17, 2014

“Where do Zombies go to buy their home accessories? Of course… Dead, Bath and Beyond.” – Dave Weiser, www.facebook.com/dweiser

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9 – October 14, 2014

“I’m adopted. And there are certain advantages to being adopted. Like, you can date relatives.” – Don Cooper, doncooper.wix.com/dccomedy

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10 – November 11, 2014

A man and his wife are at a restaurant, and the husband keeps staring at a drunken woman downing drinks at a nearby table. His wife asks, “Do you know her?” “Yeah,” sighs the husband. “She’s my ex-wife. She started drinking right after our divorce ten years ago and hasn’t been sober since.

“My God!” says his wife. “Who would think a person could go on celebrating that long?!” – Barbi B.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic, Comedy FAQs And Answers and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For information about these books, comedy workshops at The Chicago & Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching for comedians and speakers by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

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Bombing on stage

December 22, 2014

Hey Dave – I entered a local comedy contest tonight and did virtually the same set that I did during a showcase that went very well at The Improv. Tonight I think it kind’a bombed. I had it recorded and did not get the same good laughs. I remember you saying that audiences are different. But as good as The Improv felt, tonight felt pretty bad. I would love to get your feedback… Thanks – MB

Hey MB – If MTV had a Real World series about being a comedian, you’re eligible to move into the house. Welcome to the real world of comedy. Don’t feel bad. Seriously – don’t. Not every single set or every club will be a great experience. It’s a learning process.

177050190I’m not sure where the contest was tonight, but you mentioned your showcase at The Improv. That’s a real comedy club – as opposed to most local open-mic rooms. Newer comedians in my workshops experience this when they actually get to rehearse and perform on stage at The Improv. Again, this is a real comedy club. The comics are prepared and psyched to perform and already know the audience will be supportive.

And the reason it’s a supportive audience is because when you go to The Improv – or other real clubs like The Funny Bone, Gotham, Zanies, The Laugh Factory and others (I know I’m missing most of them, but you get the point) you’re in a real comedy club. That’s why the audience is there – to see and laugh at comedians during a comedy show.

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Workshop at The CHICAGO improv

Starts Saturday February 21, 2015

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It’s not like some open-mic rooms where a bartender shuts off the television and announces, “Now time for a little comedy” to a group of beered-up sports fans wondering what funny person is responsible for turning off the ball game.

When you’re just starting in comedy and going out to open-mics, you never know what you’re going to encounter. Compared to doing a workshop or any type of training in a real comedy club, it’s going to seem strange and very different. The audiences – as they are in most live venues – are unpredictable. And the important thing to remember when you’re just getting started is that you’re very new at doing comedy.

You deserve a lot credit just by going up on stage. It takes nerve – and a lot of people can’t do it. They only think and dream about it, but never take that first step.

Every single comedian I know has bombed BIG TIME!!

That’s how the business works. It’s a learning process of many successes and failures in an effort to get it right – or as close to right as you can get as a creative artist. The “star” comedians I’ve talked with about this can look back and have tremendously funny stories about bombing. They will also tell you it’s how they learned to write, perform and “make it” in this crazy biz. So keep in mind that you’re not the only one to have gone through a bad set. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in very good company.

Every single comedian I know has bombed BIG TIME!!

512meQVtKvLBut you don’t have to take my word for it. There’s a great book I recommend for comedians called I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics. It’s by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff, who are both talented, experienced and funny comedians. It includes stories of bombing by Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Chris Rock and dozens more. It’s very funny and very true. You’ll also have a good understanding of the learning process and realize what you went through – bombing at a local comedy contest – is nothing to lose sleep over. Some of the comedians in this book were so bad in the beginning they were lucky to get out of the clubs alive. But it didn’t stop them from pursuing their dreams.

You’re goal as a beginner is to keep getting on stage. Don’t let this experience stop you. You need to feel comfortable in front of an audience and it takes time. I went through that process myself while putting together my corporate and college programs. I was trying to remember what to say and in a panic mode when the audience didn’t laugh or pay attention. There was a lot of sweat!

But you have to keep going up on stage. Eventually – even slowly – you’ll start getting it together. You’ll feel more comfortable and that will improve your delivery, which will make your material work better.

FAQs 150 pix jpegTape your shows and go over the audio and / or video. It might be painful (I pretty much hated watching mine) but you have to do it. Look for something, anything, that worked (got laughs). That’s a keeper. Even if it’s only one joke or bit. As the late Richard Jeni told me for my book, Comedy FAQs And Answers, any laugh you get is a brick to build on. Find out what made it work. Was it just funny? Did you deliver it in a way that made it funny? Was it the wording? Did you have a certain expression? Whatever it might be, build on that. Keep it in your set and come up with another laugh. That’s your second brick and how you build an act.

Write and rewrite. As a comedian, you’re an entertainer. How would you tell this to an audience in a way that would entertain them? This is how you develop your comedy voice. It takes time.

And finally, if comedy was easy everyone would do it. Because it can be fun, exciting, creative and – let’s face it – you’re in the spotlight. You’re the center of attention when you’re on stage. Some people crave attention. But for a real artist – a real comedian – it’s also a chance to express yourself and tell audiences about life, thoughts and opinions as you see it and experience it. How cool is that?!

I’m positive there were people in that audience wishing they had the nerve to get up on stage and do what you were doing – even though you thought you were bombing.

Bombing on stage is a big part of the learning process. After figuring out what went right, figure out what went wrong. Make changes and try to cut the chances of it happening again. It will – but as you keep working at it, the chances of bombing will go down.

————————————————–————————–

An 8-week online course

Topics include corporate material, business tools, networking & promotion

Corp Program Square Banner 150

7 Day FREE trial - CLICK HERE for details!

———————————————————————

Dave Schwensen is the author of Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous SpeakersHow To Be A Working Comic and Comedy FAQs And Answers.

For information about these books, comedy workshops at The Cleveland Improv, and private coaching for comedians and speakers in person, by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

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