Archive for the ‘The Improv’ Category

What should you wear on stage?

January 14, 2019

Hi Dave – I was wondering what to wear / how to dress on stage. I notice there are not very many women in comedy. The ones that are maybe my favorites – Wanda Sykes, Paula Poundstone, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, etc… I can’t help but notice, they dress like a man. Did you ever notice that?

So should I wear a tie? Of course I’m not going to wear a tie. I’m also too old to look hot in a tight pair of jeans. I have tight jeans, (lately all my clothes are a bit tight), but I don’t want to gross anyone out. I’m not fishing for compliments. I just wonder if I should dress up, dress down, look masculine, feminine, should I wear black, should I wear some color…? What I’m not going to be like is Phyllis Diller and dress crazy. Thanks – J.

The always fashionable Phyllis Diller!

Hey J. – I realize I’m talking with a woman of comedy and it’s not (the late and great) Phyllis Diller. And to make another point, I’ve never been known for my fashion sense. Keep in mind your question was not sent to Calvin Klein, which is the only name I know from the fashion design world. And that’s only because he designed my underwear – which is probably getting a little too personal for this FAQ and Answer session.

I also know there will be comedians and humorous speakers reading this who will think it’s not an important question. They’re wrong because it is. In fact I can’t remember doing a comedy workshop where this question wasn’t asked. It’s also been asked by working comedians I’ve booked for various gigs.

“What should I wear on stage?”

The answer depends on who you are on stage and where you are performing. You have to consider both to find the correct answer.

When I started out on the club scene in New York City, I don’t remember stage wear being an important issue. For everyone starting out, writing and stage experience were the biggest concerns (and still should be for any comedian). We didn’t hang around the NYC Improv wondering what the comedians should wear on stage. It looked to me like whatever you put on that day before walking outside was what you wore on stage that night.

But I also learned a lesson about what to wear on stage from another comedian I worked with at the NYC Improv. The look is best called successful and the advice came from one of the funniest comedians I know, Rondell Sheridan. In fact it was such good advice, he shared it in my book How To Be A Working Comic

“I think I only did stand-up three times before I passed the audition at The Improv,” he said. “I always had a good gift for ad-libbing, and a couple of things happened in the audience during my audition. Plus, I dressed up. None of the other comics dressed up for the audition. I sort of looked like I’d been doing this for a long time.”

This is a lesson in showbiz.

Murray Langston The Unknown Comic

Of course the number one factor is to be funny on stage. But your image can also influence an audience and talent bookers. If your material and who you are on stage – your comedy voice– says you’re successful, then what you wear should help convey that image. If you’re street – then dress street and not in a 3-piece suit (you punk!).

Whether you believe it or not, what you wear on stage also puts you into a category. In showbiz, they call it typecasting. I was surprised to go from a comedy scene in NYC where t-shirts, sports coats, jeans and sneakers were referred to as the comedy uniform, to Hollywood where there were actual lists in talent booking offices categorizing (typecasting) comedians because of what they wore on stage. The ones I remember distinctly were:

  • T-shirt comics
  • Sweater comics
  • Sport coat comics and…
  • Suit comics

I’m being serious about this. It’s the truth – and anyone who has ever been behind the closed doors of the booking industry knows it. In fact, you can check it out yourself by going online and watching reruns of the classic stand-up comedy shows that influenced many of today’s comedians like A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, Caroline’s Comedy Hour, Comedy On The Road and others.

When it came time to book these television shows, the producers knew it was always good to present a variety of comedians. This would attract a wider range of viewers. For instance, unless it was a theme for a particular episode, not everyone would be interested in watching a line-up of only prop comics or of only political comics.

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The great thing about these shows was if viewers didn’t like one particular style of comedy, chances were they’d continue to watch because they might like the next one. It’s often the same when booking live shows. The headliners don’t want the comics before them doing the same act.

What you wear on stage should help define your comedy voice.

And to base this off what was just explained, not all television viewers will be interested in what successful comics wearing 3-piece suits have to say. Others would have no interest in a show featuring only comics in ripped jeans and t-shirts. Just like with music, comedy fans have different tastes. So to cast these shows, it made the job of deciding who would be scheduled on what episode a lot easier for talent bookers by referring to the lists.

This way audiences would see a variety of comics during each episode.

This is also true for auditions set up through comedy clubs. For example, when I was working at the Hollywood Improv I remember getting calls from casting directors for movies, sitcoms and talk/news programs like The Today Show looking for specific types. If they wanted to audition young guys in their 20’s for a role, we had a list of comics that fit that type. If they wanted to see political comics, we had a list for that also. We didn’t have to waste a lot of time going through our complete roster of comics.

We already had it narrowed down.

But getting back to today’s original question, here are some quick thoughts…

Dress for who you are on stage. If you’re upscale, dress the part. If you’re on the streets – look it. Don’t dress like a bank president if your material is about being broke. And if you’re not crazy, don’t dress like (the late and great) Phyllis Diller.

You need to give this some thought and make a personal decision about your image and how you want an audience to see and remember you. One of the greatest examples of stage clothes influencing an audience and actually enhancing the comedian’s material was when Steve Martin wore his white suit.

A Wild and Crazy Guy!

If you’re too young to remember, look him up on YouTube – or check out the cover of his book, Born Standing Up (which I highly recommend reading). He’s wearing a white suit… looks expensive… looks classy… BUT he’s wearing bunny ears or has a fake arrow sticking through his head. Then he’s acting like a “wild and crazy guy” and the perception works because audiences believe he is crazy because he’s so dressed up, but obviously not normal.

Many comedians and speakers fashioned a look their audiences would remember. Rodney Dangerfield – uncomfortable in a jacket, white shirt and skinny red tie. Drew Carey – white shirt, skinny tie and glasses. Kat Williams – pimp (I’ll say no more). Early Robin Williams – suspenders. Early Margaret Cho – Valley Girl. Later Margaret Cho – hip, rebellious. Dave Chappelle – street. Larry The Cable Guy – redneck. Pee Wee Herman…

Well, you should have a mental image by now for all these performers and others. What they wore on stage helped create that image. Again, the number one factor is that they are all funny. The look enhanced their comedy material and their comedy voice.

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Another consideration is where you are performing.

I’ll make this fast: If you’re doing a black tie event or a corporate gig, don’t show up in ripped jeans and a t-shirt. If you’re performing at a NASCAR rally – call Larry and ask to borrow one of his Cable Guy shirts.

Just like your comedy material and promotional material, it’s a good idea to put some thought into what you wear on stage. Remember, it’s show-BUSINESS. And in the business world, packaging (a recognizable image) promotes sales (getting paid bookings).

And finally, to address one of your other questions, I never really thought about the female comedians you named all dressing like men. As I mentioned, I’m no Calvin Klein and my fashion sense is pretty limited. If it fits the comedian’s image, then it’s fine with me.

But I’d also like to point out Amy Schumer, Rita Rudner, Loni Love, Sarah Silverman and… well, I could also make a long list of women that don’t dress like men. Does it make a difference from an audience point of view? Not that I’ve noticed. If the clothes fit the material and the performer – who they are on stage and where they are performing – it works.

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.

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Freedom of speech comes with a price

January 1, 2019

Dave – What are the implications of mocking a device or its creator? For instance, I’ve made comments in my act about a medical device that could be construed as less than savory, yet funny. But the backers of this device are my current employers and have been known to be surly regarding their investments. I know of one nurse who wrote a novel about her experiences and was summarily fired. Not that I fear such action, but… well… I still have a mortgage. – M

What did you say?

Hey M – Any topic is pretty much fair game in comedy. But you’ll have to make your own decision about this one since it involves your current employer. I believe in and support freedom of speech. But in practical real-world situations (your mortgage would qualify as one of those) you have to consider the consequences. If you think the material will come back and bite you in the you-know-what and cause you to lose your job, then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.

I like to point out that knowing your audience makes a difference in how far you can go with free speech. If you’re making a living as a comedian and talking about your personal life, then making fun of your former employer (former husband, former wife, former co-workers – you get the picture) is no big deal.

They’re all fair game when it comes to sharing humor.

But to be on the safe side, it’s probably a good idea not to mention them by name. I’ve seen that scenario come back to bite a few comics in the you-know-what.

It also helps that you don’t have to deal with these former associates after your performances. But that’s not a rule written in stone. I’ve watched comics on stage use their current family members, employers and co-workers as the source of comedy material. It depends on the relationships and in many cases these “victims” enjoy being part of the show.

Freedom of speech is the center of the comedy universe.  The topics can include whatever is on your creative mind. How far you take it… well, it depends…

There are comedians who are family friendly and others billed as “for adults only.” And no one can tell you one style is better than the other. It depends on personal taste. And the comics making a living either as clean or dirty can do it because they know their audience.

But on the flip side of this comedy creative universe is the comedy business. What you say can sometimes affect your career. Here are some thoughts…

When I scheduled comedians for the television show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, we gave the performers some guidelines on material. These were strictly for business reasons such as ratings and legalities.

First of all, demographics showed that our largest viewing audience was in the Bible Belt. Therefore, we couldn’t let the comedians make fun of God or religion. If they did, a lot of fans in these areas would stop watching the show. Advertisers would stop buying commercial time because the consumers they were aiming for wouldn’t be watching their commercials anymore. And since that’s how the show made money – everyone involved would risk losing his or her job.

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Secondly, the producers of the show didn’t want to be sued if a comedian badmouthed a product – like the medical device you mentioned in today’s question. For example, comedians couldn’t say McDonald’s sucked or Taco Bell gave them heartburn. Those companies could come down hard with a team of lawyers to protect their reputations.

Comedians were warned before show tapings not to practice their freedom of speech when it came to these specific topics. Of course some ignored the warnings. But it didn’t matter because they didn’t have any control over the final outcome – it was all business related. That’s why you can watch episodes where certain comics are only on for four or five minutes instead of the standard seven-minute set.

They didn’t follow the “rules” and the forbidden material was cut out before the show was broadcast.

It’s also important to note saying the F-bomb on network television is still forbidden. You can say it at certain times on certain cable shows and all day long on others, but not on the major networks. So as a comedian, you have to play by the rules if you want to sit on a chair next to Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Myers.

But on stage in a comedy club, comedians can say those things. You can make fun of companies, religion or whatever you want as long as – and this is the business side talking – you bring in paying customers. Most club owners support the art and creativity of stand-up, but are still in it to make a living.

You call these jokes?

Now in your case, as a beginning comedian who still needs a regular paycheck until your career takes off, you have to protect yourself. How far will your employers let you go before they get offended and fire you?

I’ve had more than a few comedians in my workshops that were police officers. I always found it interesting because some felt they had to use a stage name and never mentioned police work during their sets because they were worried their superiors would crack down on them. Others didn’t care and talked about being a cop and what they did on the job.

It’s a personal decision that I couldn’t make for them because I couldn’t predict the repercussions.

So in your case you need to figure out what or if there will be any fall-out or flack from your bosses if you do this material on stage. You want freedom of speech, but you also have a mortgage.

One last thought. Even “stars” have to be careful in certain situations. Without mentioning names (but if you’re really into the comedy biz I’m sure you can think of a couple), they’ve made headlines practicing free speech on stage by making horrendous remarks about race or sexual preferences. It probably wouldn’t have been that intense or newsworthy if they hadn’t been well known from starring on television and in movies. In some cases there were a lot of protests and the comics eventually had to publicly apologize to salvage their careers.

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I happened to see one of these (no names!) comedians a couple weeks after one of these newsworthy episodes at a popular comedy club. He confronted the situation right away and admitted to the audience he got in a lot of trouble for what he said. He promised he wouldn’t talk about it and was finished with the subject. But as a comedian – he then told the audience he was going to pick on a different group instead and launched into that material.

Some audience members laughed while others didn’t.

But he was practicing the art of free speech and made a choice about how far he would go regardless of what the consequences might be. That’s a personal decision and you have a right to make it. But just make sure you have both your artistic and business thinking caps on when you make it.

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.

Hiring a comedy writer

August 13, 2018

Hello Dave – Here’s a question: You advise us to get writing or keep writing. How do you feel about hiring a pro writer? And how would I go about it? Your pal – CA

There’s gotta be an easier way.

Hey CA – Hiring someone to write for you depends on your (comic or speaker or performer) career level. If you’re just starting out it doesn’t make any sense – to me anyway – to hire someone else to write your material. What’s the point? If you want to memorize another writer’s script and repeat it – become an actor. If you want to be a comedian or a speaker – then there has to be something YOU want to say.

It’s all about sharing YOUR humor, YOUR thoughts, YOUR ideas, YOUR observations, or anything else YOU want to tell an audience.

To me (again) it’s a creative art AND a talent. That should be the stimulus to get into this crazy biz. Otherwise get a head shot, memorize someone else’s lines and start auditioning for acting gigs.

Here’s a story…

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Years ago I had a guy take my comedy workshop. The first day everyone takes a turn on stage to talk about ideas for writing a comedy set. When it was his turn, he did an “act.” Five minutes of prepared stand-up comedy. But it didn’t seem realto me. It was just telling jokes that really didn’t pertain to who he was or what could possibly be going on in his life that would even interest him.

Let me explain what I mean…

I love funny jokes and great joke tellers. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a few of the best. For instance, Rodney Dangerfieldmade regular guest appearances when I was at both the NYC and LA Improv comedy clubs. He would tell jokes (of course) but the jokes fit who he was:

  • No respect
  • Nervous
  • Underdog
  • … well, Rodney!

My wife said she wanted to make love in the backseat of our car. She wanted me to drive. I get no respect.” – Rodney Dangerfield

Get it? I can think of dozens of great joke tellers I used to watch on TV when I was a kid. What made them great was that their jokes fit their personalities. Think Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Redd Foxx, Phyllis Dillerand Jackie Masonif you need a history lesson.

Their jokes worked because the jokes fit the comedian’s on stage personality.

Okay – back to the guy in my workshop. He did his comedy act, but nothing fit who he was. It was just some guy telling jokes anyone else could tell. Plus I’d heard a few of them before, which is never good when you’re striving to stand out in a creative business.

When he finished I asked who had written his material. He swore he did. When I said some of it sounded familiar and quizzed him more about his writing techniques, he finally admitted he got the jokes from a writer he found online – and had paid $50 for them. I told him there were undoubtedly a number of other aspiring comics who had also paid for the same jokes.

He really wanted to be a comedian. The problem was that he really only wanted to be a famouscomedian and was willing to pay for a shortcut.

That’s not how it works.

Since he had never actually done stand-up anywhere, he had no stage experience. He hadn’t even given himself the opportunity to find out who he was on stage.

Comics call that your comedy voice.

To find your voice it takes on stage experience – and lots of it. Since he hadn’t discovered his yet, how could he expect to find anyone who could write material specifically for him? That writer would have no idea except to peddle him jokes almost anyone else could do.

I told the guy in my workshop he had to start writing. That’s the first step and the key to becoming a comedian or speaker – or even a writer for someone else. There are plenty of styles such as joke telling or story telling, along with techniques, structures and different creative ways creativepeople write. He needed to find out what ways worked best for him and what subjects interested him enough to write about.

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The next week he came in with the basis of an original comedy bit. I remember it was about playing in a pick-up baseball game when he was a little too old and a little too out of shape compared to guys on the other team. It was based on something that really happened to him and filled with his personal experiences, thoughts, opinions and descriptions of events.

Oh yeah – and it was funny. AND it was a story only HE could have written.

He realized he had wasted fifty bucks on words that didn’t mean anything to him. And he had replaced it with something he couldn’t wait to share with an audience.

So the point is – why would anyone want to get into a creative business without being creative?

** Important announcement:I’m not knocking actors (remember what I said above about memorizing someone else’s script). No way. That is also a very creative and demanding craft. I know because I’ve done it. I respect creativity in all forms and efforts. I’m just focusing today on the comedy and speaking biz.

What’s the set up?

That wasn’t as eloquently put as a Shakespearean monologue, but I hope you catch my drift.

And to complete this drift, it’s not a smart idea to hire someone to write for you until you both know who you areon stage. The creative artist doing the writing must knowthe person he/she is writing for.

What is your comedy voice?

When you get to be Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel– or anyone else that burns up material at a breakneck speed – then you can hire writers. Good writers already know whothese personalities are and their style of humor. Good writers can write a Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel joke. But writing for someone just starting out… Well, they’re just writing words.

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.

Getting laughs is an incentive for getting on stage

July 15, 2018

Hi Dave – I would love any input on public speaking. I am a very timid person and it shows in presentations I have had. Could you give me any advice? – J.P.

A bit shy?

Hey J.P. – When you say timid, I’ll go ahead and assume you’re talking about a lack of confidence on stage. You didn’t mention if it’s because of stage fright or just a case of being shy, but there are many ideas and techniques on how to overcome this and improve as a public speaker (or a comedian that might need a push to get onstage).

But right off the bat I’ll say one I’ve never subscribed to as a method to build confidence or overcome stage fright is picturing an audience in their underwear. I’m assuming once again, but when you’re on stage as a public speaker I would think you should be concentrating on what you’re saying – your message – and don’t need anything else to think about. Plus there are always going to be too many people in an audience that I wouldn’t want to see in their underwear.

Of course I’m sure a lot of speakers and comedians would have a different opinion if they were booking gigs every day for The Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Team. There are both girls AND guys teams – so pick whichever one works best for you.

So instead of suggesting the extra brain work that comes with underwear picturing, a great way to get over a lack of confidence is to do what the comics told me when I first got interested in this crazy business.

Use humor.

Addiction causing

You may be timid, shy or nervous when you first walk on stage. But as someone who has been around behind the scenes a LOT, I’ve seen a LOT of people in that tongue-tying, dry-mouthed, hand-shaking condition suddenly break out and come alive once they experience their first laugh from an audience. It’s a life-changing event, spiritual awakening, shot of adrenaline and the same feeling as love at first sight – all rolled up into one big sucker punch to the gut.

That’s why comedians and humorous speakers say getting laughs from an audience is addictive.

I’ve watched many people from my workshops make their stage debut in front of large audiences at The Improv comedy clubs. Some were full of confidence, some were faking confidence – and some were just flat out nervous and scared. Members of this last group would fit into the category of timid – and the main reason was because they lacked experience on stage. They had never done it before in front of an audience and didn’t know for sure what to expect.

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They needed that sucker punch to find out for themselves.

Nothing can truly change a lack of confidence until you have the overcoming experience for yourself. In this case, the experience of making an audience laugh. It’s powerful enough to make your first time onstage fun, memorable and… well, addictive.

Getting laughs can usually lure a timid person to try it again… and again… and again…

During my workshops I watch our shows from the back of the room. I can see if someone is going up on stage with a fearful look in their eyes. But as soon as they get that first laugh, it’s like a veil being lifted from their face.

The difference is like night and day – from black and white to color.

The same is true with speakers. Humor engages an audience and keeps them interested in what you’re saying. Even if you’re giving a political speech, a technical training seminar, a sermon, or anything that’s not a stand-up comedy act, a good speaker will mix up his delivery a bit. It can be subtle or BIG. They’ll go from soft to loud, or from high energy to almost standing completely still to make a point. Everyone’s different. Watch a (good) speaker on television or during a lecture and you’ll know what I mean.

Boring!

For a journey to the other side of this, think about the most boring teacher you’ve ever had. Would the class have been more interesting and would you have stayed awake longer if they had just added even a speck of entertainment value? I need a nap just remembering some of the boring monotone instructors we had to sit through in lecture hall… yawn…

Basically, it’s really tough to hold an audience’s attention by using only one emotion all the way through a presentation or performance. That is why even a lot of eulogies include funny memories about the deceased. Humor is one of the delivery techniques that engages the audience and can seriously offer an interesting change of pace – whether it’s during a boring lecture or sad eulogy.

The late (and great) George Carlin told me during an interview for my book Comedy FAQs And Answers that he used language (we were actually having a conversation about dirty words) to keep his audience’s attention. And when he had their attention it meant he was in control and could take them verbally anywhere he wanted. When Carlin performed, his audiences were practically sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what he would (dare) say next.

Humor does this.

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Make someone laugh and they’ll want to see if you can do it again. And while they’re waiting, they’ll listen to what you have to say next.

That means you are in control.

And that makes it a confidence builder– get it?

A great way to get over a lack of confidence (being timid or nervous) on stage is to use humor. Comedians go for as many laughs as possible. But as a humorous speaker (public speaker) go for a laugh. When you have their attention, follow it up by delivering your message. The combination of addictive laughter and an audience interested in what you’re saying should be the needed confidence boost to inspire you to do it again… and again… and again…

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.

Musical misadventures in comedy

May 21, 2018

Hey Dave – You had a question a few weeks ago about adding music. I’m thinking about ending my comedy set by doing a rap song. Just the background music like karaoke would be on a CD and I’d do a funny rap over it. I’ve seen other comedians and even speakers do this and think it’s a great way to close with a big ending. Any thoughts? – MW

Hey MW – Yeah, I always have a few thoughts. The first leans toward the music side. I’m not a rapper; I’m a rocker. So if the rap wasn’t rocked out with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (think Run-D.M.C. and Walk This Way WAY back in 1986) I probably haven’t voluntarily listened to it.

It’s all about the rap

Involuntarily… well, that’s another comedy bit. I’ve had two teenage sons living in my house and know what it’s like to have rap songs blasting louder than my Aerosmith rock anthems. So in other words, I know it’s popular enough to make me a dinosaur when it comes to musical tastes. But…

My second thought relies on the above descriptive term – popular. In showbiz terms that means it sells. It also means – and I’m working off a personal opinion here – that most anyone cool (dinosaur term) enough to go to a comedy club will be familiar with rap. This is opposed to say, a Gregorian Chant which is a musical term that makes even someone like me sound new school.

Okay, enough musical nonsense. My creative recess is over. Let’s get to the point.

Music can add energy and raise the showbiz factor in a performance. It’s like bringing the glitz of Las Vegas to your gig. And it also keeps to my theory (and I explain this to public speakers in my college course) that live shows today are competing against what has become common on television and in movies:

Keeping audiences with short attention spans interested in the program.

Short attention spans

There’s a reason why TV commercials have shrunk from one minute to about 15-20 seconds over the decades. Short attention spans. And to keep viewers from changing the channel, these commercials have to be entertaining or informative all the way through.

With that being said, it’s the same with live performances. You must entertain your audiences and hold their interest. And with modern audiences used to 20 second entertainment bursts on television, it’s like competing against a 20 second commercial.

The problem with a live performance is that the viewers can’t change the channel. That’s why comedians and speakers need to up their entertainment factor. In other words, a mediocre set isn’t going to result in too many return engagements.

Using today’s topic, music can be a great attention grabber.

In fact, it’s become the standard way in most comedy clubs to rev up audience excitement for the comedians. When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the MC would be introduced and the show would start. The MC would then introduce each comedian. There was no musical fanfare – just words.

Now that’s all different. Now its SHOWBIZ!!!

Comics request certain songs to be played after they are introduced and are walking onto the stage. It raises the excitement and audience attention factor. Music will do that.

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Now to your question about adding a rap song to your set…

Yeah – try it. Why not? It’s all about entertaining and if it’s funny and energetic, chances are it will be entertaining. BUT here are a few things to keep in mind.

Sometimes techno things (my term that includes playing background music while you sing or rap) don’t go as planned. Here are a few warnings…

  • Make sure you really practice the words you are rapping or singing over the music.

If you screw-up the lines, the background keeps going. You still have to make it work for the audience. Ad-lib or admit you messed up, but make it part of the performance. You don’t want to just die on stage or let the bit fizzle out. You’ll look like an amateur.

  • Make it easy on the tech / sound person at the venue.

Don’t hand him a CD with 20 tracks and ask him to play a particular one when you give the signal. Sure, most can do it – but remember they have other sound, lights or audience distractions going on in the club and they might cue up the wrong track. What are you going to do? Will it ruin the bit?

Here’s an example…

Rap Album of the Year?

A comic in one of my workshops decided to open with a rap song. Not to rap over it – but to do a funny dance as he walked on stage. Now, this is not an exaggeration. This really happened. The sound guy got the CD’s mixed up and played Over The Rainbow instead of the requested gangsta’ rap. He didn’t know it was a mistake, so it continued to play.

The comic was shocked but went with it and danced to Judy Garland instead of… well, probably Lil Wayne. It turned out to be funnier than the original concept. But the reason it worked – and he just didn’t stand there looking duh – was because he had been warned this could happen. I gave him the warning, which leads me to another story…

Sometimes at the NYC Improv (not always and especially not during weekend shows) we used to screw-up audio cues on purpose. It could be very funny (at least for us – the staff and other comedians) and would throw the unexpected at the comic on stage. It was always fun to see how they would react.

So keep that one in mind. It could happen – even sometimes on purpose!

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The lesson is to just have the ONE song you want to use be the ONLY song on the ONE CD you give to the sound person. That lessens the odds for a screw-up (or great joke at your expense) on their part.

  • And finally – sometimes the tech thing just doesn’t work.

The CD player might be broken or already set up for the headliner (if you’re not closing the show). If it’s still your big closer, be prepared to do it a cappella (just your soulful voice and no backing music). It doesn’t matter if the equipment is working or not – the show must go on.

So the bottom line is to give it a shot. It’s showbiz, so go for it. But be prepared for the best and the worst. When you start adding effects to your stage performance, you’re no longer the only one in control of 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 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.