Archive for the ‘How To Be A Working Comic’ Category

Memorizing material – is it comedy or acting?

May 5, 2019

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

Comedy or acting?

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

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

Acting also involves the use of lighting, props, entrances, exits and even bows at the end. Plays, TV shows and movies are directed. A good actor’s work is not easy. Actors  use their talent, creativity and training to bring characters to life, while still relying on what directors tell them to do and say what writers tell them to say.

And one last thing – the audience is not usually involved.

People in the seats are there to watch. There is a fourth wall on the stage, which is an acting term for an invisible wall separating the audience from the actors. The audience does not exist in the play or scene. Interaction is between the actors. If it’s a solo monologue, it’s a “private moment.”

The Great Divide

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

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

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

Working comics know exactly what I’m referring to – stage time.

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

There is no fourth wall.

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

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Summer 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Saturdays – June 8, 15 and 22 noon to 4 pm

Performance at The Improv – Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops are limited to 11 people age 18+

For more details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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

Again, there are exceptions. I’ve seen standup comedians who write and memorize a monologue and perform it in a comedy club. Lots of comics do it. But unlike acting, a great comedian deals with audience response.

An audience is unpredictable.

They may not laugh when expected and laugh hysterically when it’s not. An actor will continue playing a part while a good comedian will react to the audience. If the material is not going over as expected, a comedian can switch gears. This means they can pull out different material, work-off (talk with) the audience, or change their delivery style, (example; from high energy to low energy).

It involves having a lot of material, an ability to improvise, and lots of on-stage experience. Actors have to stick with a written script and hope the same material works better on a different audience.

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

Not everyone will laugh!

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

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

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

I’ve seen comics night after night deliver the same set word for word.

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

For example, there is a VERY famous comedian I’ve booked dozens of times. I won’t give his name – but if you’ve ever taken one of my workshops you’ll know the comic I’m talking about because I tell this story and mention his name.

Get everyone laughing!

At every show he delivered the exact same 20-minute set. We’re talking “word for word.” It took him years to write and develop his act on stage. It was funny and audiences loved it. We would stand in the back of the showroom and recite the act along with him (and we could do that with a lot of the best comics – we knew their acts by heart).

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

Each audience thought he was making it up on the spot – and that’s what counts.

Hang around comedy clubs and you’ll see what I mean.

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

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

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

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

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 How To Be A Working Corporate Comedian: A Step-By-Step Guide Into Launching & Building Your Career.

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 2019 – North Shore Publishing.

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The best place to start doing comedy

April 22, 2019

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.

Showbiz City!

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.

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.

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.

The only place?

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.

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, appreciated it. The audience always loved it and the club owners, management and staff did too 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.

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Spring 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

SOLD OUT!!

Performance at The Chicago Improv – Thursday, May 30

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops are limited to 11 people age 18+

Summer 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv TBA

To join waiting list if space opens in Chicago visit…

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So another option…

There were always a lot of open-mics 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.

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?

Getting a crowd!

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 she hadn’t seen.

She was remembering him from years before!

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.

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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.

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 2019 – North Shore Publishing.

Playing the talent booking game

March 26, 2019

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

Let’s Play!!

Hey D.M. – As you probably know from following these ramblings I post online, to get bookings you have to treat it like a business. BUT I’ve also learned from personal experience that it’s like a game and you have to play it. If I had to describe the booking game, I’d call it a cross between Tag and Hide and go Seek.

Let me explain…

Sometimes you have to break down and make a phone call. When you don’t have access to a talent booker’s personal messaging; emails, snail mail and online networking are not the only other resorts. Sometimes you need do it the old-fashion way by picking up the phone and start talking.

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

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

If not, and this is the secret cheat (if you want to compare it to playing video games) ask, “When is the best time for me to call you back?

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

Secret Cheat!

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

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

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

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

Yes, that’s pretty much correct.

Especially for working comics that already have relationships with talent bookers. They’ve received approval to send in avails via email or text every few weeks and can get work.

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Spring 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Saturdays – May 4, 11 and 18 from noon to 4 pm

Performance at The Chicago Improv – Thursday, May 30

Workshop Marquee 150

Space limited

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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BUT I’ll go back to today’s question:

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

The problems – mainly for performers unknown to the talent bookers – are spam filters. This happens with some of the clubs, but is especially true if you’re trying to break into the college and corporate markets. Many unsolicited emails with links (to videos or websites) won’t get past the school or business in-house email systems.

This eliminates all the unwanted non-school related or non-business related ads and other spam that would fill up their inboxes. You – as an unknown email sender – have a good chance of falling into that category. A good email program will let you know what addresses you are sending to are either blocked or rejected as undeliverable, but otherwise you have no idea.

You could be waiting for a response that may never come because your important email was weeded out by a spam filter. You haven’t been added to booker’s accepted (not blocked) contacts list.

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

So I’ll repeat because it’s very important. Send the talent booker a postcard with a brief note saying it was good talking with him/her and the date you will be calling again.

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

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Repeat the process until you get an answer.

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

You want personal experience to back this up? Okay…

When I was talent coordinator for A&E’s An Evening at the Improv I’d receive literally hundreds of promotional packages with videos (this was before online promo really took off… and suddenly I’m feeling old…). These packages would pile up on my desk and I’d plan out “sittings” where I’d watch about 30 at a time.

No lie.

Television Appearances!

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

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

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

So as I like to say, this is nothing I’ve made up.

I’ve learned this from personal experience and talking with people that are successful in this crazy business. Play it correctly and eventually you should get at least some type of response. Of course that response could be good, bad or indifferent depending on where you are as a comedian or speaker, but that’s a different game we’ll play some other time.

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 2019 – North Shore Publishing.

Acting credits on a comedy resume?

December 2, 2018

Hi Dave – Last week you wrote about what credits can go on a comedy resume. I’m just getting into comedy and my resume is more for acting. Although acting is something I would love to do, comedy is my passion. I’m not sure how to make a comedy resume because I haven’t done anything worthwhile so far in comedy other than some shows I set up for my school and a few open mic nights. Can I take some of my acting credits and put it onto the comedic resume? – C.

Hey C. – Of course talent bookers are looking for comedy credits. School shows and open-mics count (at the beginning) because it shows you have stage time and are getting experience. Once you start doing “real clubs” those credits can be taken off and never mentioned again – ha!

BUT – and I expect some debate about this – I also believe acting credits have a place on comedy resumes.

Basically, these credits show you have stage time and performing experience. These shouldn’t be at the top of your comedy resume, unless it’s all you have at the moment, but can be listed following any comedy credits you might already have. Even after open-mics and school shows, which take preference over acting credits in a comedy resume.

An exception would be if you were starring or co-starring in a hit television show or movie. In that case you won’t even need a resume. What the heck – you don’t even need much comedy experience. There are talent bookers who will schedule a celebrity knowing the club will be in for at least one big $$$ weekend – even if the celebrity is not funny. Audiences will pay at least once to see a celebrity. But after word hits the street he’s not funny, a second time through the club circuit can be a difficult sell for the club owner.

Not paying for this again!

Why? Because no repeat business and bad word of mouth is not good for business when you run a comedy club.

But since you’re already concerned with building a comedy resume at this early stage of the game, I’ll assume you’ll have stage experience and a funny act by the time your acting credits land you on the cover of People Magazine.

I’ve had comedians send me resumes that include credits from doing soap operas, local television, community theater, commercials, voiceovers and school talent shows. With a lack of comedy performing credits, it shows they are still involved in showbiz and have at least been on stage in front of an audience.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – January 12, 2019

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

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

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming Chicago workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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You would be surprised at the number of submissions I used to receive for A&E’s An Evening at the Improv with NO real credits at all. I’m talking about nothing! There were videos filmed in someone’s living room with NO audience and the “comic” was sitting in a chair talking into a camera and…

Well, I think you get the picture, but I’ll repeat myself again. NO audience! That’s a great way to prove you have NO experience at all as a performer. But they were still trying to get work as comedians.

I’m an active supporter in helping people achieve their goals, but I don’t know any comedy talent bookers that would hire someone for a paying gig without onstage (in front of an audience) experience. If all you have is a growing list of open mics, school shows, and acting credits – it’s a start.

And every booker knows you have to start somewhere.

It counts!

Listing your acting credits shows you have something going for you as far as showbiz experience. Based on resumes I’ve seen over the years from working comics, include them until you have enough real comedy credits to take their place.

There’s also more information about writing resumes and bios in my book How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy. I’m not trying to sell you a copy to make a big payday – I just wanted you to know. Your local library should have a copy or can find one for you.

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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Sign up now through this LINK for Dave’s free newsletter

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And visit Dave’s author page at Amazon.com

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