Archive for the ‘bombing’ Category

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

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Workshops are limited to 11 people age 18+

Summer 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv TBA

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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.

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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.

 

Bombing on stage

December 19, 2018

Hey Dave – I entered a local comedy contest tonight and did virtually the same set that I did during a showcase that went very well at The Improv. Tonight I think it kind’a bombed. I had it recorded and did not get the same good laughs. I remember you saying that audiences are different. But as good as The Improv felt, tonight felt pretty bad. I would love to get your feedback… Thanks – MB

Now THIS is bombing!

Hey MB – If a television network ever comes up with another reality series about being a comedian, you’re eligible to move into the house. Welcome to the real world of comedy. Don’t feel bad. Seriously – don’t. Not every single set or every club will be a great experience.

It’s a learning process.

I’m not sure where the contest was, but you mentioned your showcase at The Improv. That’s a real comedy club – as opposed to most local open-mic rooms. Newer comedians in my workshops experience this when they actually get to rehearse and perform on stage at The Improv. Again, this is a real comedy club. The comics are prepared and psyched to perform and already know the audience will be supportive.

And the reason it’s a supportive audience is because when you go to The Improv – or other real clubs like The Funny Bone, Gotham, Zanies, The Laugh Factory and others (I know I’m missing most of them, but you get the point) you’re in a real comedy club.

That’s why the audience is there – to see and laugh at comedians during a comedy show.

Learn what NOT to do!

It’s not like some open-mic rooms where a bartender shuts off the television and announces, “Now time for a little comedy” to a group of beered-up sports fans wondering what funny person is responsible for turning off the game.

When you’re just starting in comedy and going out to open-mics, you never know what you are going to encounter. Compared to doing a workshop or any type of training in a real comedy club, it’s going to seem strange and very different. The audiences – as they are in most live venues – are unpredictable. And the important thing to remember when you’re just getting started is that you’re still very new at doing comedy.

You deserve a lot credit just by going up on stage. It takes nerve and a lot of people can’t do it. They only think and dream about it, but never take that first step.

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday – January 12, 2019

SOLD OUT!!!

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

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

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For information about upcoming Chicago workshops visit…

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That’s how the business works. It’s a learning process of many successes and failures in an effort to get it right – or as close to right as you can get as a creative artist. The “star” comedians I’ve talked with about this can look back and have tremendously funny stories about bombing. They will also tell you it’s how they learned to write, perform and make it in this crazy biz. So keep in mind that you’re not the only one to have gone through a bad set.

You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in very good company.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. There’s a great book I recommend for comedians called I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics. It’s by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff, who are talented, experienced and funny comedians. It includes stories of bombing by Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Chris Rock and dozens more. It’s very funny and very true. You’ll also have a good understanding of the learning process and realize what you went through – bombing at a local comedy contest – is nothing to lose sleep over. Some of the comedians in this book were so bad in the beginning they were lucky to get out of the clubs alive. But it didn’t stop them from pursuing their dreams.

You’re goal as a beginner is to keep getting on stage.

Don’t let this experience stop you. You need to feel comfortable in front of an audience and it takes time. I went through that process myself while putting together my corporate and college programs. I was trying to remember what to say and in a panic mode when the audience didn’t laugh or pay attention. There was a lot of sweat.

But you have to keep going on stage. Eventually – even slowly – you’ll start getting it together. You’ll feel more comfortable and that will improve your delivery, which will make your material work better.

Tape your shows and go over the audio and / or video.

It might be painful (I pretty much hated watching mine) but you have to do it. Look for something – anything – that worked (got laughs). That’s a keeper – even if it’s only one joke or bit. As the late Richard Jeni told me for my book, Comedy FAQs And Answers, any laugh you get is a brick to build on. Find out what made it work. Was it just funny? Did you deliver it in a way that made it funny? Was it the wording? Did you have a certain expression? Whatever it might be, build on that. Keep it in your set and come up with another laugh. That’s your second brick and how you build an act.

Write and rewrite. As a comedian, you’re an entertainer. How would you tell this to an audience in a way that would entertain them? This is how you develop your comedy voice.

It takes time.

And finally, if comedy were easy everyone would do it. Because it can be fun, exciting, and creative and – let’s face it – you’re in the spotlight. You’re the center of attention when you’re on stage. Some people crave attention. But for a real artist – a real comedian – it’s much more than that. It’s also a chance to express yourself and tell audiences about life, thoughts and opinions as you see it and experience it.

How cool is that?!

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I’m positive there were people in that audience wishing they had the nerve to get on stage and do what you were doing – even though you thought you were bombing.

Bombing on stage is a big part of the learning process. After figuring out what went right with your earlier set, figure out what went wrong with this one. Make changes and try to cut the chances of it happening again. It will (I promise you – ha!), but as you keep working at it the chances of bombing will go down. It takes experience.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.