Archive for the ‘headliner’ 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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Working the audience

April 8, 2019

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

How’ya doin’?

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

The decision is based on audience reaction.

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

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

Working comics pay their dues.

After a bad set!

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

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

The next time they’re scheduled to headline ticket sales will go down.

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

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

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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 to 11 people

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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

That’s not how it works.

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

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

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

  • On stage experience (hands-on learning) or…
  • Take a workshop in improvisation – and then get on stage experience

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

Talk to me!

Here’s an example:

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

He was on stage doing his act.

It was a weekend night with a room full of paying customers, so he was giving his best show and not trying out any new material. In other words, I had heard all his material before – and it always worked. But things weren’t going as normal. The audience wasn’t laughing. I thought for sure he was in trouble because his material didn’t seem funny to them. I didn’t know if he had a backup plan because I had never seen him bomb or improvise off a crowd.

Mainly because he never had to. His material was always killer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience.

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.

 

Finding stage time in Los Angeles

March 11, 2019

Hey Dave – I won a contest for a trip to Los Angeles to appear in a commercial. Unfortunately, since I’m not in SAG (Screen Actors Guild), I’m being buried in the background as an extra. I’m pretty stoked about the trip though. I’m hoping to hit one of the popular comedy clubs in Hollywood and see if they’ll let me do a guest set. I’m wondering if you have any recommendations. I’ll be there next week for six days. – S.

Here’s your first sign!

Hey S. – Congratulations! Winning the contest is very cool, but sorry you’ll be buried in the background of the commercial. Consider it an incentive to get a SAG card. Then again, I had a SAG card for a lot of years and they still kept me buried in the background…

Here’s the scoop and as always, you may find it’s different for you.

Unless you’re already a headlining comedian with lots of credits and contacts in the business that “know who you are” – it’s REALLY tough to get any type of stage time at the popular Hollywood comedy clubs when you’re just visiting. The acts that live there have been investing their time and energy hanging-out, showcasing, schmoozing, taking workshops, bringing paying audience members (bringer shows) and basically doing whatever it takes (hopefully within reason) to get on stage.

The L.A. comics are paying dues and positioning themselves to eventually be seen. You’re a visitor for six days and honestly (because we know each other), not yet a headliner, feature act or even scoring MC sets at major clubs. That seriously means – and I’m sorry for being so bluntly honest – there are no reasons for you to be seen by anyone that could put you on stage at a major Los Angeles club.

Major Hollywood comedy club

The bookers (and I was the one at The Improv in L.A. so this is experienced information) are not going to give you stage time if you’re just visiting for a week and then leaving. It doesn’t do them any good job-wise.

Bookers need to spend their time showcasing comedians they can use in the immediate future, rather than someone they may not see again.

It’s part of their job requirement.

I don’t mean to discourage you, but it’s very unlikely you’ll get on at The Improv, The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, or the other high-profile and popular clubs (the ones that draw industry people as well as locals and tourists). Your only chance is to score a recommendation from a comedian who is already a regular at the club. And I’m talking regular regular and not someone that just moved out of the open mic scene into MC’ing Sunday and Monday night shows. If you’re on the talent booker’s holiday card list, you might have a good chance of getting on stage at a major Hollywood comedy club within six days. Otherwise, don’t waste your time or energy only hanging around, hoping you’ll be noticed and asked to do five minutes. It doesn’t work that way.

Now that I’ve said that, here’s how you can still make it a productive comedy visit…

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Spring 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Dates – TBA

March 2019 workshop at The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!

Workshop Marquee 150

For details and advance registration for upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Go online and start searching. I just did by Googling Los Angeles comedy open mics 2019 and came up with 7,180,000 results. That doesn’t mean there are over seven million open mics, it just means there are seven million sites available for you to begin looking.

Start reading.

These will be your best options for stage time in Los Angeles. Like in New York, Chicago and other major cities, there are plenty of performing opportunities in small places you’ve never heard of. But always call the venue in advance to make sure they’re still doing open-mics or even still in business. Some of these clubs are here one week – and gone the next.

Pay as you go!

But that doesn’t matter because there will always be another one opening in a bar, coffee house, pizza parlor or bowling alley. All it takes is a dedicated and stage deprived comedian or future comedy entrepreneur to convince a venue owner he can make money charging a two-drink minimum while providing up-and-coming comics with valuable stage time.

Wherever you find comedians, you’ll find comedians looking for stage time. They have to – or they won’t improve as comedians.

It’s also important to contact the club or if possible, the person that books the shows and find out what you need to do to get on stage. Reserve a time? Bring paying customers? Just show up? Sometimes if you admit you’re only in the area for a short time they’ll be kind enough to give an out-of-towner a few minutes on stage.

You never know unless you ask.

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You’ll also want to go to The Improv, The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, etc… just to check out the scene. As long as you’re in Los Angeles, get a taste for it. See one of the weekday shows. Weekends are always for tourists and star comedians you can see at home on television. You want to see the up and coming acts; the ones that are still hungry and pushing their way to the top.

That’s where you’ll want to be eventually.

The comedians performing on the big name stages will give you an idea of what it takes to get to that level. You’ll also see some of the same acts at open mics trying out new material, along with many just starting their comedy careers. It’ll be a great comedy learning experience and as long as you’re there – take advantage of it.

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.

Contacting talent bookers

November 6, 2018

Hi Dave – Do you have any tips for contacting club bookers? When I was leaving a recent showcase, the bar manager said they would like to have me back. He gave me his card as well as the card for the person who books the room. I emailed the talent booker and she hasn’t responded. Should I call her if I don’t hear from her or should I try emailing again? I don’t want to be annoying, but if performing there again is an opportunity I would really love to do it again. Thanks! – K.

Expecting your call

Hey K. – That’s great news because you have an “in” – the bar manager. As I’ve mentioned in quite a few past FAQ’s and Answers a personal recommendation from someone who either works with or works for a talent booker is like having a Golden Ticket.

It beats the heck out of cold calling or blind emails. Now you just need to make the Golden Ticket work for you.

The best scenario is for the bar manager to take you by the arm and march you into the talent booker’s office and give a personal introduction. This of course would be followed by, “Put her on the schedule – she’s funny!

But in this case you’re working with a (Golden) business card. It’s not a slam dunk, but you’re still in a better position than when you first walked in the club for your showcase.

You’ve already taken the first step by sending an email. But you haven’t heard back. So to make use of a sports reference in honor of… well, sports – this means one thing:

Let the game begin!

Talent bookers for busy clubs are busy people. Their first priority is to book the shows. For showcase clubs in NYC and LA this could mean anywhere from 10 to 15 performers per night. This is also true for club showcase nights in many other cities like Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, etc…

But since you’ve already done a showcase, we won’t go that route. Let’s talk about actually getting booked in a club for a paying gig. Now I have your attention – right?

Other than showcases with multiple comedians doing short sets, most clubs (especially outside of NYC and LA) use three acts:

  • Opener / MC
  • Feature / Middle Act
  • Headliner / Closer

Each week the booker schedules the three performance slots. That’s normally 52 weeks a year. They have regulars that can play the club a couple or few times a year, but they need to use a variety so audiences will return and not see the same comics over and over.

When you add it up – that’s 156 performance spots per year just for a 3-act club.

Can we do lunch?

The bookers not only have to deal with the talent needed for those spots, but in most cases with a headliner and in many cases with a feature, they’re also dealing with agents and managers. There are negotiations, contracts, travel arrangements, accommodations, publicity – and the always expected but unknown until it happens at the last minute emergencies. That could include any one of the performers cancelling for any number of reasons including a missed flight, illness, weather (the list could go on and on) and another comic needs to be scheduled immediately.

But that’s only part of it…

The booker is also fielding countless phone calls from comics wanting to return, newer comics wanting to play the club for the first time, and agents and managers who want to schedule their clients. On top of that there are TONS of emails, websites and promo videos to navigate through.

There could be much more than 156 performance spots bookers are dealing with. They could also be scheduling private parties, special events or other clubs. And if the booker is good at his / her job, they have to deal with it all.

I won’t even get into the job duties that might include attending meetings, “doing lunch”, or watching shows to see how the performers they’ve already booked are doing. My point is – from personal experience – there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that most performers don’t realize. Talent bookers can be very busy people.

But one thing that should be a positive for you as a newer comedian is that bookers are always looking for new talent. If not – they’re not very good at what they do. Your goal is to be one of their new talents.

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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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The key – as you’ve already mentioned – is not to be annoying.

I remember talking with comedians who were so frustrated because a certain talent booker never got back with them that they decided to call every day. Their thought process was that the booker would eventually have to deal with them.

I’ve got news for you. Talent bookers don’t have to deal with them or anyone they don’t want to. Imagine someone calling you every day for a job. It’s called being annoying – a pain in the butt – and why so many bookers screen their calls or hire assistants as gatekeepers.

That method won’t work. That’s why you have to play the game. You need to stay in touch and let them know you exist, but you can’t be annoying.

There’s a game plan for that and I know it can work because it worked on me when I was booking comedians in Los Angeles (where I learned this “game”).

You’ve made the first phone call. I’m assuming you either reached the booker’s voice mail or assistant.

  • Always leave a message with your name and phone number.

That bit of advice has been – and still is – debated by comedians and speakers I’ve worked with. Some only want to talk with “a real live person” and won’t leave a message. But many others (like me) think that’s a wasted effort and phone call. The idea is to start building name recognition. You can’t do that by just hanging up.

  • Make it short and professional – get to the point:

Hi. This is (your name) and I showcased at (club name). The bar manager (name) gave me your card and suggested I contact you about a possible booking. I’m calling to find the best way to schedule an audition or send a link to my website video. You can reach me at (your phone number) and my website is (website). Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Then hang up.

Okay, put it into your own words. But that’s not a bad script. It succeeded in getting your name and contact info to the person you want to work for.

  • But don’t just wait. Take action – send a postcard.

Yeah, I know. Some performers think postcards are outdated. But are those performers working as much as they’d like to? If they are then maybe they have enough contacts with talent bookers already or have an agent or manager doing the dirty work. But I’ll tell’ya what. I’m not even booking clubs anymore and I still get postcards.

  • Postcards have your photo, name and contact info.

Send one after your first call and it can add to your name recognition. Put a personal note on the back – “I hope you received my call, etc…

Wait a couple weeks and call again. You aren’t being annoying – but you also are not disappearing. It continues to put your name in front of the talent booker.

  • Mix it up a little. Instead of following that call with another postcard, wait a week and send an email. Again – be short and to the point. Include a link to your website.

If you still don’t hear back wait a couple weeks and call again. Then repeat the process until you hear back or the talent booker answers the phone.  Either way they will have heard of you (name recognition). Then use your Golden Ticket – or plead your case – for an audition or booking.

  • If this is a local club, go to a show (or two, or three). Say hello to the bar manager again and ask if you can meet the talent booker. If there’s another opportunity to showcase – sign up and get on stage.

Of course there are no guarantees, but it’s a better game plan than being annoying or disappearing just because a busy person doesn’t return your first phone call or email.

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Give it a try. As mentioned, I’m sharing this method because it worked on me.

In fact, a few times I was almost embarrassed because the performers stayed in touch – without being annoying – and I started thinking that they were thinking I wasn’t doing my job very well. So when I realized after some well spread out phone messages, postcards and emails that they might be calling soon, I looked at their videos. When they called it was almost like an “Ah-ha!” moment for me.

YES!” I had watched their video!

Now, whether they got a paid booking, showcase or “no thanks” depended on their performance and experience. But at least they had built up name recognition and were given the opportunity – and that’s what this method is all about.

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.