Archive for the ‘Comedy FAQs And Answers’ Category

Bombing on stage

December 19, 2018

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

Now THIS is bombing!

Hey MB – If a television network ever comes up with another reality 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.

I’m not sure where the contest was, 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.

Learn what NOT to do!

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 game.

When you’re just starting in comedy and going out to open-mics, you never know what you are 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 still 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.

And BTW every single comedian I know has bombed BIG TIME – and usually at least a number of times – at some point in their career.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday – January 12, 2019

SOLD OUT!!!

Also meets Saturdays – January 19 and 26 (noon to 4 pm)

Performance at The Improv – Wednesday, January 30 at 7:30pm

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For information about upcoming Chicago workshops visit…

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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.

But 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 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 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.

Tape 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 were easy everyone would do it. Because it can be fun, exciting, and 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 much more than that. 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?!

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I’m positive there were people in that audience wishing they had the nerve to get 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 with your earlier set, figure out what went wrong with this one. Make changes and try to cut the chances of it happening again. It will (I promise you – ha!), but as you keep working at it the chances of bombing will go down. It takes experience.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – 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 Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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Start collecting your comedy credits

November 19, 2018

Hey Dave – I’m trying to put together a resume for my comedy stuff. I’ve only been doing comedy for a few months and just a lot of open mics. Should I bother with a resume at this point? – Bob

Hey Bob – In all reality, since you’ve been doing comedy for only a few months, it wouldn’t be a good idea to throw yourself into the competition as a “professional comedian looking for work.” So there really is no point in having a resume – yet.

Yeah, I know there are exceptions. For instance, you might have the “right contacts” after a couple months to score a gig hosting your frat brother’s bachelor party or have a friend of a friend ask you to do a few minutes at a local benefit show. But since you’re still in the very early stages of developing both your writing and performing style, you probably shouldn’t charge a fee for that. Be thankful for the on stage experience. If they want to be generous and throw you a few bucks, consider it a donation toward your career goal rather than a paycheck.

Don’t get me wrong because these gigs still count as valuable experience, which is what you need to get ahead in this business. But these very early performances don’t exactly grant you admission into the ranks of professional comedians.

Am I being a too blunt, cold-hearted or closed minded about this – classifying you as a “non-professional” without even seeing you perform?

Not really.

Don’t knock yet!

Every talent booker that wants to keep his job knows experience counts. You’ve only been in this for a few months. The comedians you see in the legit comedy clubs, on the college circuit, and doing corporate gigs have a LOT of experience and have paid a LOT of dues to get there. In fact, I doubt any of them would disagree when I say they’ve put in YEARS of work dealing with rejection, bad nights, bad breaks, hard knocks, hack jokes, idiot hecklers, and shows that make them feel (as George Wallace described in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers) like they want to drive off a bridge after the gig because they’ve bombed so bad.

But now that I’ve said all that and (hopefully not) deflated your ego or crushed your comedy dreams, there’s no reason why you can’t start building a resume NOW. In fact, I think it’s a pretty good idea.

You have to start somewhere when your goal is to score paid bookings. No booker is going to hire a comedian with no experience. As I also say in Comedy FAQs And Answers and have often repeated in these articles:

They may call it amateur night, but nobody’s looking to hire an amateur

Bookers know the deal about working your way up the comedy ladder. You have to start somewhere and it’s NEVER at the top, which would be headlining in a legitimate comedy club. Yeah, I’ve known a few “acts” (term used loosely in this case) that had rich, famous, or connected parents and thought they could buy their way into the exclusive professional comedians club.

In one case I saw firsthand, the act had daddy schmooze or practically buy the club to get his wanna’be famous son on stage. But it didn’t work. Junior may have had a joke writer, director and daddy’s agent, but he hadn’t paid his dues to become an experienced comic. He hadn’t developed his comedy voice – including timing, delivery and an ability to work with and off of an audience.

He was an actor acting like a comedian.

Once the novelty of booking an act with a famous parent wore off, there were more experienced comics that talent bookers knew were better at entertaining – and therefore, better in the long run for business.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!

Showcase at The Improv is Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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A club’s reputation depends on providing great shows. To stay in business it must be profitable (paying customers). Inexperience doesn’t sell unless it’s billed as “amateur night” or “open-mic night.” And even then many clubs can only make those nights work (profitable) by making them “bringer shows.”

Wow, isn’t it amazing how I can go off on a tangent by just trying to answer a simple question? If you’ve stayed with me so far, let me get back on track…

YES…

If you want to become a professional working comic, now is a good time to start putting together your resume. And in case you’re not sure what goes into a comedy resume, it’s a list of your performing credits as a comedian.

In the beginning of your career it can include:

A list of your comedy performances and the venues.

If you haven’t played any true comedy clubs, list open-mics. Talent bookers from out of the area may not have heard of any of them, but that doesn’t matter. This list shows you have at least some stage experience.

When you’re starting out in the business you’re only looking for a showcase (audition) or a gig as an opening act in a comedy club. You don’t need to have headlined or even featured (middle act) at The Improv or other known clubs to be considered as an opening act. You need to be funny AND show the talent booker you have enough stage experience so you won’t suffer a meltdown when you walk on stage in front of a live audience. If you’re funny and show enough stage presence to pass the audition, but all you have are open-mic credits – then that’s what you’ll list on your resume as experience.

List them under the header Clubs or Open-mics.

If you have plenty of open-mics and have also done shows outside of these clubs – list them under separate headers. You can have one titled Benefit Shows or Special Events.

You can also add any comedy workshops or seminars you’ve attended. If it includes a comedy club performance, put that on your resume. But be honest! Add the disclaimer that it was a workshop or seminar performance. It still shows experience – and in this case, “guided” experience from a coach. That can be more influential to a talent booker than flying blind through a string of late night, unheard of open-mics.

You can list these under Workshops and/or Training.

Do you have special talents you use on stage? This could be anything that helps you get laughs from an audience including singing, doing accents, playing guitar, balancing stuff, juggling stuff, riding a unicycle, setting yourself on fire – whatever. If it’s in your act it’s a Special Talent or Special Skill and can be on your resume.

This will also give bookers a better idea of what you do on stage.

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Now here’s the deal. This is how you start and build a comedy resume. BUT you want to keep replacing lesser credits with “known” credits. For instance, it’s great to have Johnny’s Yuk-A-Torium and five or six other open-mics on your resume to show experience. But do your best to eventually replace them with credits from legitimate comedy clubs, (The Improv, Zanies, Funny Bone, etc.). But until you get on those stages, use whatever you have, open-mics, benefit shows, frat parties, to show you have experience and have not just been doing stand-up in your living room in front of a video camera.

And yeah – someone once sent me an audition tape for A&E’s An Evening At The Improv direct from his living room. Did he get the show? Nope. It was obvious to me he had no on stage experience.

Here’s a good rule to remember – don’t try to move up the ladder too fast.

You’ll need a lot more than a few months to become an experienced act and ready for the best stages. But you can start keeping track of your performing credits now and have a decent list when you’re ready to start showcasing. The experience you get while putting together a decent list of comedy clubs for your resume will eventually help you break out of open-mics and into the world of paying gigs.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – 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 Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Promo video length for club, corporate and college gigs

October 8, 2018

Hey Dave – I’m real serious about doing stand-up comedy and I wanted some info on making my audition tape. How long should it be? Are bookers looking for something specific? If u can help me out please write back – B.T. / The Future of Comedy

Hey B.T. – The future of your comedy career relies a lot on your past. This means the work you’ve already done as a writer and performer, and then using a past (but recent) performance to make an attention-grabbing and (most of all) FUNNY audition tape. BUT we don’t want to live TOO much in the past, so let’s start talking about this in terms of online videos (and occasionally DVDs).

Goodbye gone!

I don’t know anyone that’s using “tape” anymore.

Okay, I know that’s just a technicality. But I want to make sure we’re all using same terms and are on the same page… uh, screen here in 2018.

When I talk about relying on the past, I’m talking about how long your video should be. That hasn’t changed since the word “tape” was common and should be three to seven minutes long. That gives talent bookers a decent sample of what you do on stage.

Most talent bookers are pretty busy. You wouldn’t believe how many videos they’re asked to view every day. Since there are only so many minutes in a day they can’t sit around and watch an hour, half hour or even twenty minutes of performance time from each comedian. That’s why many I’ve talked with only watch the beginning or hit the fast forward button and stop at random places.

When I booked the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, I would watch anywhere from twenty to thirty videos at one sitting.

No lie.

Only 5 more minutes…

I couldn’t take (because of time – not interest) more than five minutes with each one. So the comedian had to come on strong from the beginning and prove he or she was already a working comic and ready for television. If it was obvious they weren’t, I’d stop the video and move on to the next one.

And here’s something else I’ve learned from many of these same contacts and personal experience: a good talent booker will usually know within thirty seconds into a comedian’s act if he wants to hire that comedian. Experience and talent will be obvious (or should be) right from the beginning of the set for anyone that has been in the talent booking business for a while. Performers might try to fake it, but experienced people in the biz can usually tell right away.

Now, if they watch three to seven minutes and are interested but not sold on hiring, they can contact the comedian and request more. That’s when you can send something longer (usually fifteen to twenty minutes).

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday, November 10th 

Perform at The Improv – Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm (skips Thanksgiving Weekend)

Space is limited

For details, reviews, videos, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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I once worked with a club booker that (seriously) said he wanted to see a full one-hour video before he would hire an act. I thought that was a bit extreme, but if that’s the way he does business, well… it’s his club and it’s his time. I never met another booker who had that much time to watch videos.

It also depends what market you want to get into.

I’m talking mainly about clubs and television with the above advice. If you want to work in the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker, your video will be much different. That should be a production – rather than just an example of your live performance.

Very entertaining!

This means corporate videos can be edited showing not only segments of your act, but also audience comments, your credits scrolling across the screen – or any other techniques that make the comedian or speaker look professional and in demand.

Again, short and dynamic is best. The corporate videos I’ve been sent or have edited for myself and other speakers are usually five to seven minutes in length.

The college market also plays out differently. When you’re involved in NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and APCA (Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities) the college booking organizations I talk about in the book Comedy FAQs And Answers, they only want three- minute videos as submissions for showcases. BUT the catch is if the college students on the Activities Board like that three minutes and want to see more, you should have at least two additional three minute segments with the online submission or DVD so they can continue to watch until they:

  • Give you a live showcase (explained in the book).
  • Keep you in mind as a maybe.
  • Move on to the next comedian.

And finally, what’s very different than in the days of using video “tape” is the method of delivery. Everyone now can watch online videos or will request DVDs.

In 2018, everyone in the business has the technology to watch promotional video online. If not, then they’re in the wrong business.

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YouTube is still the most popular, but I know there are also other sites that can allow bookers to watch your video immediately. The key is to have it available to them either embedded into your website or linked to YouTube.

Also the three minute – or shorter – video is becoming more popular for submissions outside the college market. You can go online to view examples, but quite a few comedians have short (two to three minute) segments of their sets embedded in in their websites. We know attention spans have grown shorter and this method allows talent bookers to get a quick “taste” of a performance with an immediate opportunity to watch more – another quick segment – if they want.

* Last bit of advice about this.

I recently talked to a club booker who said he expects comedians to have a website. It’s more professional. He won’t even go on Facebook or other social media sites to watch videos. If the comedian doesn’t have a website, then he feels that comedian is not professional enough to work in that club.

I’m just passing that thought along because I know you’re interested…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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 Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.