It’s all in the delivery

June 29, 2015

Dave – I need to work on my delivery. The time you saw me, you mentioned that it sounded like I was just reading from a magazine (thanks! lol). I see what you mean after listening to my last set a couple times. I’m working out a new bit that I’m taking care not to write out in script form, but in outline form. I’m beginning to get the laughs where I want them and I know the confidence to ad-lib only comes from stage experience. But working on delivery seems like the next logical step. Do you agree? – DB

Stage Fright

I can’t stop sweating!

Hey DB – When you’re just starting out in the comedy or speaking biz, having the right delivery on stage is something everyone worries about. It’s up there with getting over any nervousness you might have just standing in front of an audience AND also remembering what the heck you’re gonna say.

But you know what?

It’s nothing to sweat about at this stage – the beginning stage – of your career on stage.

Wow, it’s not everyday I can use the same word three times in one sentence. Guess I need to work on my delivery…

Your delivery or comedy voice, which is a term I picked up from a major player in the comedy biz while I was working in Los Angeles, will develop through experience.

It comes with getting stage time.

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Right now – and again, I’m talking about the beginning stage – I’ll suggest something else to concentrate on that I’ve heard many times from working comics. Write, write and WRITE some more.

Got that? The idea is to have something – ideas, topics, stories, whatever – that you can talk about and try out in front of an audience. Then you rewrite, edit, come up with new stuff, and repeat the process again and again.

As you do this your material will change and evolve. You’ll also become more comfortable knowing your material AND being in front of an audience. For some people it seems easy, but I’ve talked with many more who’ve said it was damn hard work. It’s doing open-mics and any other gigs as often as possible.

During this process you (should) also develop your delivery. But again, sometimes it’s not that easy. So I’ll make a suggestion based on your question…

Tips-for-Memorizing-Speeches

If I can just remember the punch line!

A lot of comedians and speakers start out by memorizing their material. There’s a great story about that in my book How To Be A Working Comic from one of the great stand-up improvisors and ad-libber’s in the business. His many fans might find it hard to believe, but he told me that’s what he did in the beginning.

You have to find a way to get yourself on stage and if memorizing your material helps, then try it. Then through experience you can gradually develop and grow as a writer and performer and break free of that restraint (memorizing) and have as much fun as the audience.

It takes stage time.

Memorizing your material can be a valuable crutch to use when you’re first going on stage. As you know, all kinds of things – mental and physical – are happening when you’re new at this. It’s not a normal everyday thing to walk onto a spotlighted stage, stand in front of a microphone and start talking to people.

But even if it’s memorized the KEY is to NOT make it sound memorized.

Ad-libbing and working off the audience can loosen things up and help you as a performer and writer come up with new material, or learn how to deliver what you already have to get bigger laughs. In other words, you want to sound like you’re making this stuff up on the spot. It’s called being conversational, which is the opposite of sounding like you’re repeating a magazine article from memory.

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Now I know all comedians and speakers are not the same. There are one-liners, physical comedy, story-tellers, insult comics, prop comics and more. Just keep in mind I’m talking in general – okay?

I don’t know how many comedians I’ve seen over my career, but I know from experience as a talent booker and club manager I’ve seen a LOT during many different career stages. I’m talking about from beginners to household names. And what has always stayed with me is how they deliver their material – their comedy set – to each audience.

The successful ones are very conversational. They make it seem the audience is in on the creative process – like the comic is making it up on the spot. But what the audience doesn’t see is that most times (not all because again, I’m talking in general and don’t want the ghosts of Bill Hicks or George Carlin to do a Christmas Carol bit on me the next time I’m in a deep sleep) the next show can be almost exactly the same.

But it’s still seems different because of the comic’s delivery. They know how to involve the audience and have a conversation with them using their proven (through stage experience) material.

I know I’m repeating this story from one of my books, but I remember years ago when a VERY famous comedian was doing a set at The Comedy Cellar in NYC. It was late – the other clubs were closed and this was the only one that would put up with us at 3 am. There were only about four “real” customers in the audience and everyone else was a comic with at least a beer or two already in them.

Mime

Anything you can do I can do better

The famous comic was doing his act and another (who would also be famous within a couple years) jumped on stage behind him and did a mimic bit.

He silently mouthed the words and did the same physical gestures. The already famous comic knew it (they were good friends) and played along. It was hysterical, but also proves my point that a skilled comedian can do his same act and make it seem new each time in front of different audiences by being conversational.

Again, I’m talking in general terms here. But that story always helps me make a point.

So you may know your material frontwards and backwards, but you don’t want your delivery to ever sound memorized. Since you’re still in the beginning stage and searching for your comedy voice, take a few chances. That’s what open-mics are for. Try working off just an outline in your head or have a notebook (it’s an open-mic and you can do that) with key words about the topics. This means already having a few ideas you want to talk about – and then just talking about them.

It’s part of the process of finding out what works best for you as a performer. It also helps you become more conversational on stage rather than sounding memorized.

And even though you already know what you’re going to say, for instance jokes or descriptions you’ve written in advance and hope will get laughs, the method you use to get there will make it look like you’re making it up on the spot for that particular audience.

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And as you said, you’re beginning to get laughs where you want them, so keep those moments in your set. That’s why you record your performance every time you’re on stage. When you listen you’ll know what works (lines, words, emphasis, physical gestures – whatever) based on how the audience reacts. If they laugh you’ll use them again because you’ll know through experience they should get laughs again from a different audience.

And for anyone who wants to be a working comic or humorous speaker – that’s what talent bookers, club owners and event planners pay for. Proven laughs.

Okay, once again this is pretty general and based generally on DB’s question. There’s really no specific answer, as there never is when dealing with creativity and performances. But I’m sure many of you have your own thoughts and suggestions about this, so leave a comment. I’ll be happy to share them in a future FAQ And Answer.

Thanks for reading – and keep laughing!

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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

Movin’ on up (or out) in your local clubs

June 15, 2015

Here is my question, Dave. How do you get out of the open mic circuit and into the real club circuit? The two comedy clubs here in my town won’t even let you audition. They have a monthly open mic that you have to wait months to get on and then of course nothing happens no matter how good you are. There must be a better way. – M&M

Hey M&M – Just about every comedian I know will have a different answer for this. You’ll get lots of advice backed by lots of experience on how to move up a level. In your case (and many others) it’s going from open mics into paid bookings at “real” clubs.

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Words of wisdom

The best advice is to be so good (so funny!) the club bookers can’t ignore you. Yeah, I know… there are a lot of experienced (and very funny!) comedians ready to shoot me some nasty emails right now. And I also know sometimes it takes a lot more than being really funny to get bookings.

For instance…

  • First impression
  • Personality
  • Image
  • Reputation….
  • Oh what the heck, let’s just call it what it is:
  • Politics

That’s nothing new. It’s going on in every business – including politics. Think back to school. I’m sure you had to deal with the class “kiss-up” that seemed to be handed everything on a silver platter, while everyone else had to work for it.

Hate to say it, but many of us have also seen that happen in the comedy biz. I’m assuming a few of the earlier mentioned comics are deleting their nasty emails and nodding their heads in agreement. You know what I’m talking about.

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Yeah, some of it is politics. But again, if you’re so good (so funny!) there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to find bookings in “real” clubs. But for whatever reasons; a surplus of great comedians, a lack of stage time, or (gulp) politics, you might consider digging in for the long haul or looking outside your home base for opportunities.

As usual, I have a couple stories to back both of these up.

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No name dropping?!!!

But in an unusual move, I won’t name-drop (one of my favorite pastimes). The experiences for the comics turned out great, but the club owners and bookers won’t look good, and that’s not my intention. I know from experience that sometimes it takes outside influences to change first impressions and held-on-for-too-long opinions. They found out their earlier thoughts about a couple comedians were wrong and it may have come back to bite them in the “kiss up” area, if you get my drift.

The first comic doesn’t have to remain nameless. Her story is in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers, but you’ll need to read it to find out (book plug – another favorite pastime). Anyway, she broke out of the open mics in her hometown and was getting MC gigs at her local club. But the club owner’s first impression was hard to break. He considered her a good MC and kept her in that position.

She was funnier than many of the feature (middle) acts, but he wouldn’t move her up. So she moved out – to a different city. She started booking feature spots in her new locale, but the same thing was happening. She was seen as a “feature” and that was it. So it was moving time again…

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but just to be clear: she was VERY good (VERY funny) at this stage of her career. Experience and dedication had paid off and a different club owner moved her into headlining slots. Everything was going right – full speed ahead career wise – until she returned for a hometown visit.

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I’m sure you know where I’m going with this…

The hometown club still saw her as an MC – and that’s the spot they offered her. Frustrating? Yeah – just like what you’re experiencing. In fact, I’ve seen this happen to two comedians that had done The Tonight Show, but the only way they could get booked in their hometown to perform in front of family and friends was as the MC. (Note: that talent booker is no longer in the biz. I wonder why…)

A lot of this boils down to first impressions and politics. Some people just can’t get over it.

Another story? Yeah, I promised a couple…

Back in NYC during the late 1980’s one of the most dedicated comedians I’ve ever worked with (I’m still a major fan) worked his “kiss up” area off to get REALLY good. Every comic on the scene knew he was destined for stardom (he made it!) and he started scoring short 5 minute sets at the “real” clubs.

Speedy-Crowded

I’ll get off at the next stop

But one club owner never saw him being anything more than an open mic “star” and capable of only doing 5 minute sets. He was stuck in First Impression Land and nothing was going to change the owner’s mind. Then one night the scheduled comic (doing a 20-minute set) got stranded in the subway. It was a full audience and there was no other act in the club except our 5 minute friend.

There was no choice, so the manager put him on stage to fill the 20 minutes. As he started his set, the club owner walked in – and immediately freaked out. He thought the show would be ruined, but after calming down, he watched. The 5 minute comic simply KILLED (I know, I was there) and his material, experience and crowd response broke him out of First Impression Land.

He was too good (too funny!) to be ignored. And when he got a break, he was ready.

Does all this answer your question? Maybe. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of worthwhile advice from working comics, but just know you’re not alone. Sometimes it feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall to simply move up a level in this crazy biz.

The best option is to be very good (very funny!). If it’s not working in your area for whatever reasons, then – if you’re serious – start looking elsewhere. The working comics I’ve known weren’t afraid to jump in a car (or train for those of you in NYC) and check out another scene. They may be working on a lack of sleep and not knowing who won The Voice, but it didn’t matter as long as they got on stage. And if they were good (funny!) there was also a good chance they could make a good new first impression on the person booking the room.

To sound corny (I’d rather name-drop) don’t put all your eggs in one basket. There are plenty of other clubs.

Also be ready in case a lucky break on your home turf falls your way. Be part of the scene and not a stranger in the clubs you want to work. As you can probably guess, I have many stories from comics that were in the right place at the right time – and had the opportunity to prove they were ready to move up. Our 5-minute friend from NYC would tell you the same thing – if he has any time between television spots and headlining gigs.

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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

How should clean comedians respond to hecklers?

June 1, 2015

Hi Dave – How should a clean comic respond to hecklers? – A.B.

110hrfn

Don’t say it!

Hey A.B. – Clean comics respond to hecklers with the same comedy voice (language and who they are on stage) they use in their sets. Don’t start dropping F-bombs, swearing or lowering yourself to their level – if their level is lower because they’re rude, using foul language, or might be drunk (hecklers usually seem to have a few drinks in them).

That’s not how clean comics perform. And if a clean comic suddenly decides to use that type of material on stage, then bookers won’t look at him or her as a clean comic in the future.

Dealing with hecklers is always a big worry with many of the newer comedians I work with. It’s one of the first questions asked in my workshops. But to be quite honest and basing this on my experiences managing major clubs in New York City, Los Angeles and Cleveland, I don’t think of hecklers as a big problem.

I’m sure they’re more of a concern at poorly run open-mics and the very low-rent clubs that comedians play as they work their way up to better venues. But for the most part, allowing hecklers to disrupt shows is not good for business. And one thing you always need to remember is that club owners are not in the business to lose money.

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As Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) said so eloquently in The Jerk: “Ah… It’s a profit deal.”

This means that business-minded club owners don’t want paying customers to have a lousy time because of loud-mouthed jerks in the audience heckling the performers. The paying customers will bad-mouth the club to their friends and never come back. That means they’ll spend their entertainment dollars somewhere else.

The loss of returning and potential customers is a sure way to go out of business. Smart club owners don’t want to go out of business.

article-2303793-1914049A000005DC-206_634x661

Hope you had a good time!

That’s why the more established comedy clubs have bouncers and security to prevent this from happening. Believe me, at the clubs in the cities I mentioned above, we had big security guys hanging around the back of the showroom and a police officer floating through the crowd. If anyone in the audience got out of line and started heckling, their next opportunity to yell at someone was from the sidewalk outside the club – which is where the security guys escorted them (after they paid their check, of course!).

Now, that being said – I’m not naive.

I know there are times when someone in an audience – even in the better comedy clubs – will start heckling the comic on stage. And check this out – seriously – a lot of these loud-mouths actually think they’re helping the comedian do a better show. I’ve even seen hecklers approach the comic afterwards looking for a bit of fame or at least a thanks. They assume they were part of the act and the comic should be glad they were there to help.

Duh…!!!

The best way to prepare yourself as a performer is through stage experience. Comedians, speakers, musicians, etc… literally do hundreds of sets per year (if they’re serious about a career). Chances are something unexpected will happen during one of these sets. Someone will yell out, a server will drop a tray of drinks…

I’ve even seen a comic at The Improv in Los Angeles have to switch material because of an earthquake while he was on stage. Talk about a disruptive heckler… Mother Nature?

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When something unexpected happens you learn through stage experience how to deal with it. You might ad-lib a line on the spot and if it’s funny (and works) you’ll keep it in your set to use again next time. If you stand there with a blank look on your face as a heckler (or an earthquake) disrupts the show, you might want to write a comeback line later and keep it ready in case the situation happens again.

Many comics have their comeback lines in their back pockets and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Don’t believe me? Then read the chapter with Jeff Dunham in my book How To Be A Working Comic. He tells about the only time in his career when he never wrote a comeback line as a result of something that happened earlier in a club. It’s a great story – and I use it as an example in all my workshops.

If you truly have a fear of not being able to ad-lib or think on your feet while on stage, I recommend taking a class in improvisation. It’s all about being in the moment and working off what is given to you.

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“Did you hear something funny?”

But to get back to your original question, as a clean comedian don’t lower yourself to a heckler’s level. Again, this takes stage experience, but stay in your comedy voice.

Do your best to keep control of the situation. You have the microphone, so you’ll be heard over what a heckler is saying.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever seen in dealing with a heckler was when the comedian gave up the microphone. Seriously – I’ve seen it. The comedian said, (thinking he was putting the heckler in an embarrassing situation):

If you think this is so easy and you’re so funny, let’s see you do it.

And then he handed the heckler the microphone?!!

The honest truth was that the heckler was drunk, was not going to give the microphone back – and actually thought he was funnier than the comedian. The show took a nosedive and for the comedian on stage, it was a lesson learned the hard way.

Never give up the microphone.

Violators Ejected

Taking care of business

If a heckler becomes a problem there’s no reason why you can’t ask for assistance from the club manager, door-guys, bouncer, bartender – or whoever is in charge. I’ve seen comedians end their sets and walk off stage because a club didn’t take care of the problem. And I’m not just talking about beginning comedians – I’ve seen headliners do this.

Their reasoning was that dealing with hecklers is not part of their show, not what they get paid to do – and if the club doesn’t have control over the room, they’re not performing.

And I’ve seen these comics get very angry about this. They leave swearing never to return – and warn their comedian friends about the potential problems.

You have the right to do the same.

Again – smart club owners don’t like to lose business. And when comics start bad-mouthing a club there’s the potential to lose good performers and therefore, also a lot of business.

If that is how a club is run, then it’s no more than a notch or two above a crappy open-mic and good comedians wouldn’t want to play there anyway.

On the other hand, I’ve also had some great comics tell me before they went on stage NOT to shut-up any hecklers. These performers have the attitude and experience to turn any interruptions into excellent comedy by verbally destroying anyone who would dare heckle them. As a word of warning, think twice before you have a few drinks and decide verbally spar with Bobby Slayton, Lisa Lampanelli, Dave Attell and some of my other personal favorites…

So when it comes to hecklers? It doesn’t matter if you’re a clean comedian or raunchy – either be prepared and experienced in thinking on your feet, or have your best comeback lines in your back pocket and ready to go. And trust me, it doesn’t happen as much as you might fear in the better comedy clubs.

Badly-run clubs can be another story. They’re also another incentive to continue getting on stage experience, get funnier – and get booked into better clubs.

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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

Don’t be a jerk – respect the room!

May 18, 2015

Hey Dave – I’ve heard some comics think I’m a jerk because of how I run my open-mic room. I try to keep the show on schedule. I like comics being on time and like comics sticking to their time on stage. I’ve had to yell at a few for almost breaking my equipment and throwing stuff at other comics on stage. I’ve put a lot of work into making this successful and would like people to respect the club and the way I run it.

I don’t have to give everyone time on stage and can turn people away if I want to, but I typically don’t. And since no one has said directly to me about how much of a “jerk” I am, it’s apparent that I’m not too big of a jerk to stop them from coming back for stage time.

The way I see it, I’m doing them a favor. And if they want to find their own room and buy their own speakers, microphones, stands and wires, then they can run their room the way they want. Then, when 15 people are ignoring their light to get off stage they can probably understand my frustrations. – Open-Mic Producer

Hey Open-Mic Producer – I LOVE your attitude! AND I think you are absolutely correct in how you’re running your open-mic room.

02240369Comics – at least the ones who someday want to be considered professional working comics – need a lot of on stage experience. And because they should be thankful someone is giving them this valuable experience, they have to respect not only the club, but also any rules that keep it running smoothly.

This is your room Mr. Producer. You started it, you’re the one running it – and you’ve supplied the needed equipment, such as a microphone, mic stand and speakers, to make this a performance space. In other words, YOU are responsible for making it successful enough to continue giving aspiring comedians a place to gain the on stage experience they need.

The way I feel about it – they can play the game your way or they can play it somewhere else.

Done. Period. No argument from anyone else is needed.

That’s also the way all successful comedy clubs and other performance venues are run by management. I know because I’ve worked for the best in the biz and have firsthand experience.

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I’m sure working comics would cringe – or laugh in horror – if an aspiring comic totally disregarded the amount of time he was given on stage at The Improv in Los Angeles. Especially if the word came directly from Budd Friedman himself, who was responsible for making his club successful. And in the process of ignoring the light, the comic damaged the equipment or threw something at another comic?

Oh, the horror… Oh, the humanity…

dumb-and-dumber

Not too smart – but very professional

Oh, the fact this jerk just blew his chance to ever perform at that club again. It’s not smart and it’s definitely not professional.

That’s how you should run your room – whether it’s an open-mic or an established comedy club. It’s also how comedians should respond to your efforts – as professionals.

I know this sounds more like a lecture than advice and to be honest, it’s both. It’s important for aspiring comedians to know the value of what you’re giving them, even if it’s a bringer show where you are required to bring a certain number of paying customers to get a performance spot.

Without customers the open-mic can’t stay in business. When they’re not in business, aspiring comedians have one less place to gain important stage experience. If you don’t believe me – do the math.

Okay, to go along with the lecture and advice, here’s some inspiration and motivation:

As a comedian running an open-mic (and I know the writer of this question fits that category) this is just a temporary situation. At least it should be. You are also putting in the effort to run a successful open-mic to get necessary and valuable stage time.

At least you should be.

Whether you are hosting every show or doing a short set, your main focus – besides keeping control over everything that makes the club successful so it continues – is getting better as a comedian. Work on your material and performance every time you get on stage.

59442241The goal is to gain on stage experience and be funny enough to get out of the open-mics and into more established – and paying – clubs.

Yeah, some aspiring comedians might think you’re a jerk when you crack down on them for breaking your rules. But if your efforts, talent and dedication help your goals become reality, the ones who are still goofing around at open-mics, ignoring the light, throwing stuff at other comics on stage – and gave you crap – will be wondering where they went wrong.

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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

How long should you do the same material?

May 3, 2015

Dave – How long can I keep doing my current material and how often do comics usually change their act? Since I plan on doing a lot of clubs locally, I wonder if people will be hearing the same act over and over. – M.

Hey M. – Your goal is to get your comedy set really, REALLY good. That means you should be working on improving your material – your act – whenever and wherever you can.

Boring paperwork

I’ve gotta write a new act.

Usually, this means you would be working on the same bits over and over and over….

And I know that sounds boring, especially for creative artists like stand-up comedians. But the idea is to treat your act as a creative work, similar to writing a novel or painting a masterpiece. You always want to “tweak” it and make it better. Make improvements, change words, add, subtract, practice, rewrite, etc…

In other words, make it funnier.

BUT I also want to repeat myself (boring?) in saying comedians are creative artists. They are not (and should not be) robots programmed to say the exact same thing show after show after show… If that’s the goal, then become an actor and memorize a script.

Most comedians have topics or bits they use in their act because the material has been practiced and audience tested. They know it works and can get a good response during a show they’re being paid to do.

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And in case you missed an earlier FAQ And Answer, I’ll repeat a good business tip for you.

Talent bookers pay comics to perform sets that work. Their business depends on satisfied customers. For newer comedians trying to reach that career goal, becoming working comics, they perform for free at open-mics, lower paying gigs, and anywhere they can get time on stage. Once their material has been audience-tested and gets laughs, that’s what talent bookers will pay for.

"The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" - Final Episode

Working on new material

For this reason, you shouldn’t try to do a completely new set every time you go on stage. Unless the performance is improvisational, no comic does unless they’re hosting a late night (or daytime) television talk show. But you need to remember Dave, Jimmy, Conan and the others have writing staffs and use teleprompters and cue cards.

The idea is to learn what material works based on audience reaction. Even if you’re just playing in front of a few people at an open-mic, find out what gets a laugh every time and keep it in your act. As the late Richard Jeni said in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers, you build your act “brick by brick” (laugh by laugh / working bit by bit).

This is how most comedians create their act.

And most entertainers, not just comedians, have an “act.” If you don’t believe me, go watch your favorite hot-ticket arena rock band do a couple shows and try to see what – if anything – is different between the two performances. I doubt there would be much, if anything.

That’s because they’re doing their act – and why you’re paying high ticket prices. It’s a proven commodity and attracts customers. Talent bookers and club owners love that.

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When I was managing The Improv we would have three comedians for each show. More often than not all three would do the same set every show. They were doing their act, which is what they were being paid to do.

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“No time to laugh – I’m working!”

You also have to remember the audience is different for each show, so it’s all new to them. Management and staff might be the same, but that shouldn’t worry you because they’re not listening all the time. They might stop and watch a bit now and then, but don’t worry about them hearing your act over and over. If they’ve been working at the club long enough they know it’s the nature of the business. And besides, they’re also professionals and are there to work and make money, and not to watch your set.

Tweaking and perfecting the act you’re working on, while also adding new material (you can’t stop writing and being creative) will keep it interesting for you. Like a novelist or painter, you’re making changes, whether subtle or huge, toward your finished creation.

The idea is to keep improving your act. As a creative artist I doubt you’ll ever considered it “finished.” But when your act is regularly getting laughs and great audience response, it might be time to start contacting talent bookers and get paid for what you’ve created.

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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

Comments?

Say something funny on demand

April 20, 2015

Hi Dave – I want to ask you if you had any advice for when you tell someone you’re a comedian and the first thing they say is “tell me a joke” or “say something funny.” I think it’s a little rude of them. Also since my sense of humor is about storytelling, they seem really disappointed that I just don’t tell them a joke. Is there anything polite I can say when people say things like that to me? Thanks – K

Carnival-of-Illusion-80x601

Everybody join in!

Hey K – First of all, thanks for driving this week’s FAQ into Audience Participation Land. I’ll have something to say about this (as usual) below, but the best answers will come from working or aspiring comics who’ve had to deal with this.

So…?

This is where I’m throwing it out to everyone reading this. Have YOU been asked, “Tell me a joke” or “Say something funny” after someone found out you’re a comedian or humorous speaker?

* There’s a comment form at the end of this article.

Let’s hear what you’ll say when someone asks you, “Tell me a joke.”

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“And what do you do for a living?”

As anyone who has been around the entertainment industry will tell you, this is not a new question or dilemma. It’s been a potential headache for performers whenever word gets out about what they do for a living.

An example of dealing with this from a Hollywood point of view is a classic scene in the film Loving You with Elvis Presley (humor me, I’m a classic rocker). A local greaser bullies him to sing a song. When he finishes, Elvis (“Sideburns”) asks what this guy does for a living – and tells him to return the favor, “Cuz I usually get paid for singing.”

You can see how it turns out at this YouTube LINK. Fast forward to about 1:30 into the clip – then duck & cover.

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Tell me a joke” has also been the topic of more than a few comedy rants for probably longer than any of us has been around. I can’t remember who was on stage the first time I realized comedians dealt with this on a regular basis, but I’m pretty sure it was at the NYC Improv. And as a cheesy lounge singer in a cheesy lounge might introduce the bit:

It went a little something like this…

Comedian: So this guy says, “If you’re a comedian, then tell me a joke.” So I tell him a joke. Then I ask what he does. He says he’s a chef. So I say, “Okay, now you show me what you do. Make me dinner.”

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“This is sooo embarrassing!”

In an Elvis movie, that would lead to a fight. In a fantasy movie, it could lead to the guy actually fixing the comic’s dinner. In real life – the guy asking the question would probably think the comic was trying to be funny and laugh it off (with a bit of deserved embarrassment, I hope).

You can also say you get paid for your work. Making audiences laugh is your job and you don’t work for free. If they want to cough up the bucks, you’ll tell them a joke.

My way of thinking – and this is probably from hanging around too many comedians for too many years – would lean toward the insult comic response. I can crack up just thinking of how Lisa Lampanelli, Bobby Slayton or Don Rickles would answer such a question.

I’d take a seat and enjoy the free show.

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But you mentioned being polite about it. That’s also clear when you said that you tell stories and your style of comedy – storytelling, rather than jokes – may disappoint them. So in your case… uh… well, I guess you should be polite.

I wouldn’t exactly want a seat to enjoy that type of free show, but since you’ve asked…

Thank them for their interest in your career and change the direction of the conversation. Most people like to talk about themselves, so go ahead and put the focus on them. Find out what they’re interested in and what line of work they’re in. And… uh… well, then (sorry for this, but I can’t help myself)…

Ask them to do it for you – FOR FREE!

You’re a chef? Then make me a burger.

Have a better comeback? The form is below…

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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

Comeback? Use this form…

Where’s the best place to get started?

April 6, 2015

Hi Dave – Where do you think is the best place to get started as a comedian? I know that every comedian wants to move to New York, but I’m about to move to Los Angeles in a little while and wanted to ask if that was a good place to at least start experiencing stand-up on a higher level. Sincerely – J.H.

Hey J.H. – It seems this question is asked in every one of my workshops. I have an answer that I’ll share with you in a moment, but I’m sure there will be comics in New York and Los Angeles – and in between – that will argue with me. Then again, I know there will also be many who agree.

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I’m somewhere in between

First of all I’ve worked in all three places – New York, Los Angeles and in between – as a comedy talent booker. I’ve also interviewed a lot of working comedians and written books about the business. That doesn’t mean I know the definitive answer to your question, but I can share observations, experiences and opinions.

So with that being said, let’s start with observations

New York and Los Angeles are the main focuses of the comedy biz as far as television and films are concerned. These are the entertainment media capitals of the world. That’s a no-brainer when you look at where the major networks, film studios, production companies, talent agencies and managers are located. If your aspirations are to be BIG in this business, you’ll eventually wind up working in these cities.

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Every BIG comedian already knows that. It’s where they work and where they live – until they get so BIG they can afford to live someplace else and only go there for work in films and television.

But these comics also need stage time to work on new material. And they still do this at their local clubs. It may make the morning headlines if Jerry Seinfeld surprised an audience by walking on stage in any other city, but in New York and Los Angeles it’s just another night at the comedy club.

From experience, I’ve seen it. During my time at the LA Improv Seinfeld and Jay Leno (to mention only two) were regulars. They could walk in unannounced at any time and would immediately be asked to go on stage. My line to them was always, “Would you like to say hello to the audience?” Of course they would because they were always writing and working on new material.

And that, by the way, is great advice for any comedian regardless of where you are in your career. Continue writing and performing – the best ones always do.

Multi-ethnic group of people's hand holding heart

One BIG love fest!

The “star” comedians who were offered stage time the moment they walked into the club had worked hard for that recognition. They deserved it and I’m sure, appreciate it. The audience always loves it and the club owners love it, and management and staff love it since their appearances are great for business.

All were winners – right?

Wrong.

The lesser known comedians that might originally have had those performance slots were either pushed back until later or cancelled for another night. And there was never any guarantee it wouldn’t happen again.

So another option…

There were always a lot of open-mic during my time in both cities. But the best ones were always crowded – and I’m not talking about audiences. A comic might sign up for an open-mic at 6 pm and not get on stage until 4 am. I know because I saw it happen all the time. But if you were a night owl and fortified with patience, at least you could get in five minutes of stage experience in front of a few night owls fortified with alcohol before last call.

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The complaint I hear a lot is that most open-mics in New York and Los Angeles are bringer shows. Comedians are required to bring in paying customers – sometimes as many as ten or more – before they can go on stage. If you’re just moving to either city, do you know ten people who will pay to see you? Every night?

So it’s tough to get stage time if you’re just starting out. Not impossible, just tough.

Another obstacle is the main reason why you’d want to perform in New York or Los Angeles. Comedians want to be seen by the industry people who can help guide them to BIG careers. But are you ready to be seen? If not, then you might want to wait.

I know I’ve used this example before, but it’s a good one worth repeating. So here’s the experience part of this answer…

A New York comedian who also happens to be a very good friend, had GREAT sets the very first two times he ever went on stage at an open-mic. This rare experience convinced him that he was ready to be seen and BIG. He scored a lottery number at a MAJOR comedy club in the city and his third performance EVER was a BIG audition. He bombed BIG TIME and this first impression came back to haunt him.

Years later I saw him killing regularly at open-mics. I was working with a very successful talent booker and recommended my friend for a showcase. The booker turned me down saying she had seen the comic before at that MAJOR comedy club during his audition and was awful. There was no need to see him again when there were so many other comedians he hadn’t seen.

She was remembering him from years before!

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Keeping a low profile

In some cases first impressions count BIG TIME and can last a LONG time. The comic would’ve been better off keeping a low profile at the beginning of his career, until he had more experience and was truly ready to be seen.

I don’t know where you’re located, but my opinion (you knew it was coming – right?) would be to check out your local comedy scene before making a career move to New York or Los Angeles. Do your bombing (and everyone does when starting) under the radar. Eventually, you’ll know when you’re ready to be seen.

Plus the comedy world is actually pretty small. Good comics know who the other good comics are. And the word spreads – which is networking (the best PR tool).

Los Angeles producer and talent manager Dave Rath said in my first book How To Be A Working Comic, the goal is to be the best comedian in your city. It doesn’t matter where it is because eventually they’ll hear about you. They always do. Other comics will talk about you and even recommend club bookers, agents and managers take a look at you.

In past articles I’ve called that your Golden Ticket. It’s a personal recommendation from a respected source. People in the entertainment industry that work with talent are always looking for new faces. That’s how they stay current, grow their businesses and make money.

But I won’t fool you into thinking they’ll regularly travel to your city just because they’ve heard you’re funny. You should consider visiting New York or Los Angeles to get a feel for the comedy scene. Hang out in the best clubs and watch the shows. Try to get onstage at open-mics and showcase clubs (pay admission for ten people to be your required audience members if you have to!) and see how you do compared with the other comics. If you’re confident in your material and experience – and audience response, then you might consider making the move to one or the other.

So the answer? You can start out and become a great comedian in New York and Los Angeles. Lots of BIG comics have. But before packing up and moving, work in the comedy scene where you are now. Get stage experience and get REALLY good (REALLY funny!). After all, that’s what the talent people in New York and Los Angeles are looking for – comics that are ready to be seen and ready to work.

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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

Using a stage name – can you live with it?

March 31, 2015

Hello Dave – I am very proud of my name, but for as long as I can remember people have never been able to say it. I’m starting to wonder if I should go with a stage name. Even if you are against them, how do you go about using a stage name? How do you manage introducing yourself and, in the future, how do you handle payment when you go by a stage name? Thanks – K

Hey K. – The question you need to ask about using a stage name is if you can live with it. And if you happen to become successful – can you live with it for a looong time?

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It might be cool now, but what if you get tired of it later? If you’re just starting your career and still learning who you are on stage, what if that name doesn’t fit anymore? For an extreme example, using the name Dopey Joe might get some laughs at an open-mic, but somehow I don’t see it enhancing the career of a corporate comedian.

I could be wrong, which is not unheard of. Then again, it’s something to think about.

Let’s put it another way. If you’re just starting out in your career, you might be wearing jeans and a t-shirt on stage. But as you progress, maybe you grow into wearing a suit and tie. I’ve seen it happen. But if all your promo material (photos and videos) shows you in jeans – then you’ll have to update everything. But one thing that is more difficult to change is name recognition. If all your contacts and clients know you by name, then changing your name means you need to introduce yourself all over again. It’s like starting from scratch.

Carrot+Top+Michael+Jackson+ONE+Cirque+du+Soleil+eCz3-ETWC1Gl

Scott Thompson

So if you’re considering a stage name, be sure you can live with it for a looong time.

This topic has come up in my books How To Be A Working Comic and Comedy FAQs And Answers. In the first one, Scott Thompson told me there was already a comic actor with that name. Since Scott was a marketing major in college, he was educated enough to know he needed something that was different and “marketable.”

So he went with Carrot Top.

To quote him from the book:

The first time someone across campus yelled, ‘Hey, Carrot Top!’ I thought, ‘Oh Lord, do I really wanna do this to myself?’ But now it’s second nature.

Earthquake

Nathaniel Stroman

The second book example comes from the comedian Earthquake:

Earthquake was a childhood name. My real name is Nathaniel Stroman. And when you play for an urban audience, it just don’t roll off the tongue. You know, ‘Give it up for Nathaniel Stroman!’ ‘Boo, *#@#*! Boo!!’ That’s right off your name! So I had to get something that would give me a fighting chance.

A stage name is totally a personal decision. If you already have a nickname or come up with something memorable, give it a shot. But keep in mind if you start finding success under that name, it’s very tough to change. Just ask John Cougar

…uh, I mean John Mellencamp.

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Introducing yourself is another matter. You can choose to have an entertainment persona and a personal life. There are some very famous celebrities who do just that. The former drummer of The Beatles is known throughout the world as Ringo Starr. But his family and friends call him “Ritchie” since his real (and legal) name is Richard Starkey. To the best of my knowledge, his appearances, promotions and autographs are by “Ringo Starr” and for contracts and payments it’s for “Richard Starkey.”

So in your comedy career, you should promote yourself as your stage name and handle all business as your legal name. When it comes to your personal life, do what you wish.

how-to-change-name-legally-in-indiaIn the comedy biz I’ve seen more stage names than you might think. And usually I’ve had no idea the performer was using a stage name until their real name was on a contract.

So if you don’t change your name legally, you’ll eventually end up using both. It can be confusing sometimes, but for promotional purposes everything is done using your stage name. For legalities it’s your real name.

BUT before I go into this more, it’s important for me to make it clear I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. I’m just passing it along based on my past experiences. So before you even think about following the following, make a smart move and talk with a real lawyer….

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Years ago when I was managing comedians and speakers, I asked a lawyer and a banker about performers using a stage name. I thought they would be the two most important people to ask if the talent wanted to get paid – and pay me a commission.

The advice was to have a bank account in your legal (real) name. If a talent booker writes you a check using your stage name, you sign the back with your stage name. Then underneath, you sign your real name.

It’s a double endorsed check, which is legal and can be deposited in your legal name bank account.

But if you’re looking at direct bank deposits (rare in the performing biz since most bookers and event planners pay with checks, cash or through an online service like PayPal), then you’ll have to use your stage name for all appearances and promotions, and your legal name on all contracts and other business paperwork.

Using two names has been done a lot before and will continue. You just need to be very clear about everything for contracts, tax forms, and all the other important legal stuff.

arnold-schwarzenegger-terminator

“Say my name.”

Many performers have chosen not to change their hard-to-pronounce names, have become famous, and people learn to say their names correctly because they hear it so often. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an example. I saw him interviewed on television once and he said his goal was to become so famous that Americans would have to learn how to pronounce it.

At first his mispronounced name was a punch line for every late night television and radio host. But eventually, everyone knew it and could say it. Guess his plan worked – all the way to blockbuster movies and the California Governor’s Mansion.

Another consideration for a name change should include any future showbiz career goals. If you ever get into acting or voiceovers, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (AFTRA) – merged since 2012 as “SAG-AFTRA” – only allow ONE name in their membership. So if you choose something simple like “Dopey Joe” and someone else is already registered by that name in the union, you’ll have to pick something else.

That’s true also if you’re using your legal name.

John_cougar-jack_diane_sSo my advice is to make the change only if you think it’s really necessary and will further your career. But be sure you can live with it.

The only one I can think of who “took it back” after he became famous was John Cougar…

img_7…uh, I mean John Mellencamp.

More advice?

My last name has been mispronounced every way possible. So when I have a speaking gig, I give the person introducing me a printed introduction (in a larger font than what you’re reading here).

On it I have my name spelled out phonetically as “Sch-wen-sen.” That way they can usually say it correctly. Since you mentioned being very proud of your name, I would suggest trying that for a while before making the huge commitment of changing it.

If you still decide to go with a stage name, keep in mind there’s already a Carrot Top and Earthquake in the acting unions. You’ll have to come up with something original and one you can live with – maybe forever.

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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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Comments?

How tacky is your sales pitch?

March 17, 2015

Hey Dave – One of the guys I work with was telling me how he does these after hours networking things where people (mostly young adults) from all different businesses hand out business cards to each other, and get to know each other and see if they can make a bridge to possibly do business in the future. He told me they have entertainers there (mostly DJ’s). I want to go to this thing when I get my DVD, and try to plan for booking Christmas parties and other parties these places might have. Any advice on what you would be looking for if someone came to you looking to get booked for your company/event? Would it be tacky to carry around my promo stuff like my bio and resume with me? Or should I offer to send that to them at a later date? – DB

Annoying salesman

“But seriously, these are some funny jokes!”

Hey DB – Why am I having a hard time thinking of anyone in this crazy business who isn’t tacky at least once in awhile? You can put on a suit and be a complete professional to represent yourself, but sometimes you need to have a little “edge” to make your presence known if you want to get ahead.

I’m not talking about being too pushy, but hopefully you get the idea. If not, here’s what I mean…

Good promoting can lead to good sales. There are a lot of salespeople that get business by being total professionals with a good “sales pitch” and promotional material. Then again, there are times when a door is starting to close in their face and they just can’t help it… call it instinct, training, experience or determination… but they just can’t stop themselves from sticking their foot in the door and making one last sales pitch.

Tacky?

Yeah, that term has a way of coming up when talking about certain sales techniques. But if you want the business and have a product (in our case we’re talking about your comedy act or speaker presentation) that deserves to be considered, you have to find ways to let the buyer know. If you don’t, you can bet someone else will.

Okay, first things first. What would I be looking for if it was my job to book someone (a comedian or speaker) for a company event? I’ve said this numerous times in past FAQs And Answers, but will use the opportunity for a quick reminder…

When I was booking corporate (business) shows we always looked for G-rated material. Okay, PG at the max – and that only depended on the type of company and what the boss or event planner requested. But honestly, those were few and far between. Everyone else was too worried about someone – anyone, including the boss and employees – being offended during a company event.

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The comedians I used the most knew how to entertain these audiences with their regular topics (the material they were also doing in the comedy clubs), but could keep it squeaky clean for corporate events. In other words, the laughs didn’t depend on dropping an F-Bomb, graphic sex jokes, or bathroom humor. The guy at work who stands around the coffee machine telling jokes and the company prude could both be entertained at the same time.

Can you do that? If you want to be player in the corporate comedy or speaking biz, it’s a requirement. That’s the first concern and there’s no getting around it.

Now that we’ve made that perfectly clear, I’ll stick my foot in the door and continue his conversation…

The after hours business card meetings sound very promising. Your goal is to connect with any event planners and people from the Human Resource Departments. From experience, other than the boss, these are the people that are usually in charge of the company events, or at least have some say in how it will all work. Of course anyone can put in a recommendation if they have an event or party coming up, so don’t be tacky and avoid anyone who might not appear to be important enough to give you a job. They might just be the break room jokester or office prude the CEO is concerned with keeping entertained and not offended.

tacky1

“Tacky? I’ll show you tacky!!”

Is it tacky to carry your promo material with you?

Not if you’re professional about it. In fact, I recommend you always be prepared to make a sales pitch if the opportunity arises. That’s why every professional still carries business cards. You never know when or where you’ll make your next valuable connection.

But again, being professional is the key. And it’s different in the business world than in the entertainment business world – and I’ll give you an example.

When I was at The Improv in New York and Hollywood, there were always a lot of showcases (auditions) for television shows. And not just for The Tonight Show, Letterman or An Evening at the Improv. Quite often they were for sitcoms or movies and with these types of showcases, if the casting person was looking for a certain “type,” all the auditioning performers would fit that “type.”

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For example, you might have ten comedians auditioning for a specific role. If they were looking for a male – there would be ten men auditioning. Female – ten women. The showcase would be booked around the casting call for a specific type.

But not every comic that fit the desired type could be on the showcase.

There were only x-amount of spots to be seen over x-amount of time. So usually there were lots of comedians that didn’t get the opportunity to audition. But quite often the professional comedians in NYC and LA had their promotional material with them – or close enough (in their car) so they could have it within a matter of minutes if there would be a chance to network. And a lot of times if they weren’t on a showcase but thought they should’ve been given the opportunity, they’d hang around the club until the casting person was leaving and ask if they would accept it as a submission.

What’s the worse that can happen? Being told NO? You’ve already been told that when you weren’t asked to be part of the showcase.

So is it as tacky as a salesman sticking his foot in a closing door? Yeah, but like a final sales pitch for a good product, sometimes it works. There’s an example of this from comedian-actor Reggie McFadden in my book How To Be A Working Comic.

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The idea is not to waste an opportunity.

But remember, the business you’re talking about networking for – bookings in the corporate market – is different than the entertainment business I was just talking about. It would definitely be tacky to carry around full promotional packages at one of these business card-trading events. But you mentioned having a DVD, which is your calling card (in addition to your business card) and good way to be seen.

Most promotion today is done online. When you personally hand someone your business card with your website and contact information, there’s always a chance they’ll go online and tune in. But if you’re looking for an edge (the foot in the door) you might consider also carrying a compact version of your promo material to these events.

Let’s face it, a DVD sitting on someone’s desk is a bigger reminder to watch your set than a business card in a wallet. And here’s something else. I’m still handed CDs by comics and musicians, because they know it’s easy to listen to in the car immediately after I leave a show. In your case, it would be a business card networking event.

You already have a DVD and even a techno “duh” like myself knows it’s easy make a CD (for car listening) on a computer. I suggest making one or two of each and have them in your pocket at these networking events.

26fb69f368b6ad9ef88070e782aee076But make them for business purposes, rather than the copies you might sell after a show to adoring fans. On the cover have your headshot, name, website and contact info. Inside as an insert, or as the back cover have a short bio and your best credits. I’d also repeat your contact info, especially if you’re using an insert, since it could end up being separated from the DVD case. Always make it easy for a potential client or talent booker to contact you.

Anyone you give this to can slip it into a coat pocket or purse with the business cards they’ve already collected at the networking event.

And don’t forget your business cards. That’s the simplest business tool for networking and promoting. But if there’s also a way to get an edge on the competition by giving the extra effort (foot in the door), then go for it. If you don’t, someone else will.

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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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Networking for stage time

March 9, 2015

Hey Dave – Love your posts. I have a question that you may be able to share and help me with. I am at an Emcee status. I have worked a few shows with some other good comics and they (believe it or not) are helping me out. My question is I live not far from NYC and Philadelphia. How can I get hooked up with someone that can get me some MC gigs? I look online but it seems like you really have to jump through hoops. The bringer shows are a waste of time because they love you until you can’t bring people in.

I produced a show in my area and it went GREAT! I had 2 comedians from NYC. Any advice… I know I threw a lot at you but maybe you could give me some feedback. Thanks – PD

Hey PD – First of all talent, good (funny) material and stage experience are requirements. Since you’re getting on stage I’m guessing you already know that.

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We paid a cover charge, so this better be funny.

And just about everyone reading this knows what you mean about bringer shows. If not, it means you have to bring x-amount of paying customers to the club if you want to perform. If they require ten people and you only show up with five – chances are you’re not going on stage that night. But since you made that more of a statement than a question…

When you’re ready to move into new territory – in your case New York City – it’s a lot easier when you know someone already working there. In other words:

Connections.

And it always helps when your connections also have connections and you can all help each other get stage time.

SO what we’re really talking about here is networking.

This is the third week in a row we’ve hit on this topic, but that wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t important. Networking is also covered in a lot of business (other than the comedy or speaking business) training seminars. That’s how a lot of companies stay in business. They network to gain new customers. Comedians and speakers should also network to get bookings.

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For example, I did a training seminar at a big conference. They must have liked what I did because they asked me to recommend a speaker for their next event. I gave them the name of a good friend I knew would be great for the gig, and then called her and said to get in touch with the event planner.

She got the booking AND for more money than they had paid me! Fast forward in the networking process…

original

Yeah, I got rid of the flip phone. Why?

A few months ago she recommended me to one of her past clients. They called – we booked it – and they paid me more money than what they had paid her. It’s called pay back.

It’s also called networking and it works.

Let’s get back to your goal of getting on stage in NYC. You have the first step in place…

You’ve already produced a “GREAT” show and brought in two comics from NYC. I’m assuming you paid them (always a great incentive to get comics to leave NYC), which means you have two connections.

  • Did you do much talking (networking) before, during and after the gig?
  • Did they (be honest) like your set?
  • Did you mention you’re interested in performing in NYC?
  • Did they offer any help?
  • Did you offer to bring them back for another (paid) gig?
  • After that – did they offer any help?
  • Did you ask for any help in getting on stage in NYC?

In other words, did they have any connections for you? In the quest for stage time, helping someone else can (if deserved) result in a pay back. Here’s another example…

I got into the comedy biz because I wanted to be a stand-up. Guess that’s how most of us fall into this. And like some of my friends, I wound up behind the scenes. But that’s a different story….

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I knew the importance of stage time. I was living in NYC, but it was tough to find. Yeah, there were lots of open-mics and some of them were bringer shows, but there were also lots of other comedians working hard for those performing slots. You had to arrive early to sign up and then usually wait hours to get five minutes on stage.

Usually other comedians ran these open-mics and if their friends showed up, they would get favored treatment. If someone had ten paying customers in the audience… well, you know how that works.

Sometimes I wouldn’t get on until almost 4 am. Other times not at all.

To get around this, I started my own open-mic club. And to be honest, it was very successful. We always had a full audience, no bringer policy, and it became a popular weekend stage for the open-mic comics at that time. Included in this group were a lot of the comedians who were also running open-mics around Manhattan. Are you following me so far?

SO I started networking with connections.

If a comedian who ran another open-mic wanted stage time I’d give it to him or her – no problem. AND in turn, if I wanted to go up at their open-mic – no problem. They would return the favor.

* I didn’t invent this. I just saw through experience how it worked and played the connections game.

SO, back to you PD…

If you’re producing a successful show with NYC comics, then you need to start networking and ask for their help in getting you on stage in NYC. Obtaining a name, phone number, email, or in-person introduction to a person booking the shows should be your goal and the least they can do.

rbz-kelso-big-bird-voting-02

Lining up to be funny.

If not – book two different NYC comedians next time. Believe me, there are plenty who would appreciate the opportunity. A personal connection beats the heck out of cold calling, blind emails, countless postings on Facebook or LinkedIn, or arriving early to sign up and hope they find time before the end of the show for your five minutes.

But first of all you need talent, funny material and experience. If you can’t deliver the goods – NEVER ask someone to put their reputation on the line for you just because you gave them a gig. That’s one way to short-circuit your potential reputation and have possible connections avoid you at all costs. If you don’t believe me, scroll down to my article from two weeks ago about being a “pain” when it comes to getting referrals.

Be serious and honest with yourself. If you can back up your act or presentation with those requirements, then start to pay it forward. Help someone else find stage time and hopefully they’ll return the favor.

And for anyone who thinks this is just a topic for a business-training seminar, you’re correct. It is. In fact, successful business people call it good business sense.

Now I’ll sign off before I use the word business again. It sounds too cold and calculated and you really shouldn’t be that way. Right? Well, not unless you want to get your comedy or speaking business going with more stage 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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