Archive for the ‘Stage Time’ Category

Stick to your time on stage

August 1, 2017

Hey Dave – Without revealing my secret identity, I heard you talking not too long ago and know you were pretty upset with a comedian who went over his time and was on stage too long. It’s probably safe to say he overstayed his welcome. Care to elaborate? – G.

Hey G – What are you a secret agent with a secret identity listening to my not-so-private conversations? Oh well, I guess it could be worse. Instead of a sleazy private eye snooping on me, you could be a self-centered comedian (or speaker) who goes over his allotted time on stage.

Want to kill a potentially great relationship with a comedy club or make sure you’re never invited back for a return gig at a college or corporate event?

Go ahead – ignore it!

When you’re given the light (the signal) to end your set and leave the stage – ignore it. Go ahead and do another 5, 10, 15 minutes, half an hour… an hour… Everyone will surely love and worship your amazing and boundless talent that you’re compelled to share so unselfishly for however long your ego needs to be stroked on stage.

And in case you don’t recognize sarcasm in the written word, insert a capitalized “NOT!” after that last sentence. In a creative profession that thrives on having no rules (being original and unique is a big plus) going over your time on stage breaks a big business rule – and is a big minus.

As always there are exceptions that depend on your status within the industry and everyone starting out in the business needs to realize that. There are special events where more time on stage is a benefit. For instance, fundraising efforts that are planned in advance to set records for time on stage. I remember reading about a comedian who did forty hours of stand-up years ago and raised at TON of money for a hospital. That’s truly awesome, but not what we’re talking about today.

Another exception is having your own hit television show or enough name recognition to sell out theaters and arenas. That’s like being the favorite child or grandchild. You get special privileges.

When you’re a major star and selling out arenas, theaters or (sometimes) a club and charging big $$’s for tickets, fans expect a “concert” experience and more than just a half hour or hour show by the headliner. It’s like seeing Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, or U2 perform three hour concerts. Their fans are into it, paid money to see that particular artist, and these acts have the material to entertain for that length of time. But until you’re working within that stratosphere of popularity, stick to your time on stage.

Reasons why? As always, I’m glad you asked…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Showcase performance on Wednesday, August 16th at 7:30 pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Fall 2017 Chicago and Cleveland workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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It’s a business, which is a fact I emphasize in many of these FAQ’s and Answers. Some club owners are in the entertainment biz because they enjoy it and like to nurture and promote new talent. Others are only in it to make money. But the bottom line for both is if they don’t make money (and yes, this includes the nurturing types) they go out of business. When a club goes out of business, comedians have one less place to work.

Clubs earn money selling tickets, selling food and drinks, and keeping expenses (rent, utilities, inventory, payroll, etc…) under control. The comedian you reminded me of in this week’s question – and I won’t mention his name – actually told club management (me at that time!) after the show that he was doing the club a favor by going more than an HOUR over his scheduled time on stage. He pretty much wanted a “thank you” for giving the serving, kitchen and bar staff more time to sell food and drinks.

That consideration for the club deserves a bigger laugh than any he received on stage. After all, Dumb and Dumber was a popular movie and now in my opinion this comic is the live version. Good thinking! (Again – this is written sarcasm so please add a big “NOT!”).

You know why? Because the business doesn’t work that way…

Shows at this particular club (a world famous comedy club, I might add) are timed. Staff arrives at a certain time, the doors open at a certain time, the show starts at a certain time and the comedians – opening act, feature act and headlining act – are given set times. The headliners, of course, are the privileged members of the family, but most know how the business works.

It’s a profit deal!

As Steve Martin said in The Jerk:

I get it… It’s a profit deal!

The behind the scenes business – kitchen crew, servers, food-runners, bars, box office, security, management – revolve around the show schedule. For instance, the box office closes when the headliner goes on so customers won’t complain about getting ripped-off by buying a ticket after the show has started. So that profit opportunity is ended when the headliner walks on stage.

Are you following me so far? Good, because I’m not done yet…

A sad fact about the nightclub biz is that some people like to skip out on their checks. In other words, if they can sneak out without paying they’re getting a free night out. The truth in most cases is that the servers – the waiters and waitresses – are stuck with these checks and have to pay for these uncollected profits out of their own pockets. They foot the bill and end up paying for these jerks (and I’m not referring again to a Steve Martin movie) to have a fun night out.

Not fair – is it?

This is why comedy clubs have “check spots.” Experienced comedians know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when the checks are put on the tables to be paid by the customers. The show doesn’t (or shouldn’t) end until all the checks are paid – by the customers. That makes it difficult for deadbeat customers to blend in and sneak out with customers who have already paid. It’s a sad truth about the nightclub business.

So based on the time allotted for the show, last call is given when there is still enough time during the headlining comedian’s set to give customers their checks and collect the money. No more drinks or food are served after last call because the checks are closed. When the show ends and the final comedian has walked off the stage, customers can head to the bar or another club if they want to continue drinking and eating.

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This means the final two profit opportunities for the club has ended – food and drinks.

But what about keeping expenses under control? When the staff has finished serving and collecting checks, they have to hang around and wait for the show to end and the customers to leave. They’ve also lost any opportunity to make additional tips because the checks are “closed” and they can’t start new ones for thirsty customers because no one knows for sure when the show will end.

In the case of the comedian referred to above, that meant the staff sat around for over an hour – on the clock and getting paid by the club owner – before they could prepare the room for the next show or  finish their shifts, shut down the club and leave.

Doesn’t make great business sense for a good business plan – does it?

I’m sure you can imagine the chaos this can cause for clubs that have two or three shows on a weekend night. If the first show runs even 10 or 15 minutes late because a comic goes over his time, the audiences coming in for the later shows don’t know this. They’re on time and lined-up to enter the showroom, while the earlier audience is still inside. When that audience is leaving the new audience is trying to get in and…

Well, I’ll refer to another Steve Martin quote that also works from the management point of view:

Comedy isn’t pretty.

Closed doors

I don’t need to tell you what the management and staff are saying behind the back of the comedian that went past his time and stayed on stage too long. I’ll just let you know it isn’t pretty.

The same holds true for corporate and college performers. These business people and students are usually on a schedule. It could be a training seminar, class, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour / social time – whatever. The contracts I’ve seen for these types of gigs are very strict in their performance times. Go short (leave the stage before completing the time you’re contracted for) and the clients won’t want to pay you. Go long and they won’t even think of booking you for a return engagement since you’ve disrupted the event schedule.

Of course there are other reasons why you must stick to your time on stage. The No. 1 reason for beginning comics and speakers is to prove to talent bookers and club management you understand how important this is and won’t cause a potential nightmare in the future. But in an effort not to take longer than expected when you started reading, I’ll stick to my time and sign off. I think you get the idea.

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 Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Only clean material? Know your audience

June 5, 2017

Hi Dave – I have one question. As a new comedian does my material have to be clean? – J.N.

Did you hear that?!

Hey J.N. – Your question will sound familiar to more than a few readers because it comes up quite often. But you know what? New comedians ask because it’s important. And there is no right or wrong answer.

Comedy is both a creative art and a business, but to be successful in this business as a creative artist there is one first goal:

Be funny.

How you get there is totally up to you. As one very famous comedian told me (and it’s in my book How To Be A Working Comic), “If you swear in real life, you’re going to swear on stage.” On the other hand, if these words aren’t already in your vocabulary, don’t add them simply because you think it’ll make you funny. That’s not who you really are and an audience will pick up on that.

There seems to be a market for everything, so whether to work clean or dirty is a personal decision. But since you brought up the question and I’ve never been known to give short answers, let’s look at your potential choice from another point of view. We’ll call it…

Your audience.

The deal is that everyone has to start at the beginning. Since you specifically said “new comedian,” that’s what we’ll focus on. Speakers already know they have to work clean. If they don’t, then they’re not speaking much – if at all.

Along with learning how to write and perform, you’ll also experience different audiences, different venues and different types of shows. For instance, many comedians love late night, beer-soaked crowds in loud comedy clubs. Others would rather perform for more sophisticated (and I’m using that term loosely) audiences at corporate events.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Summer 2017 Dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Cleveland Improv

For details, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Have you thought about that? I’m guessing it’s still too early in your career to even consider since your first step should be just getting experience on stage. But eventually it will become both a creative and business decision because different markets have different audiences and hire different types of entertainment.

What markets do you want to play?

Confusing?

These are questions every entertainer (not just comedians and humorous speakers) have to consider. As a creative artist with a unique way of expressing yourself, who is your audience? And as a business person (successful creative artist), how can you build an audience to support your creative endeavors?

When you’re just starting out it could be any demographic you can think of, from late night open-mics to charity fundraisers. And if you’re serious about this biz you need to understand the value of stage experience. You won’t become a working comic just sitting in your living room doing bits in front of your mirror or for the family dog. You must get in front of an audience and shape your material and delivery based on their response.

If they laugh it works. If they don’t, then you need to make some changes. An audience will tell you, which is why you want to get on stage as often as possible.

So… who is your audience?

Would they want clean or “adult” material? That will help determine what’s best for you.

I’ve worked with comedians who are Born Again Christians and I’ve worked with the most X-rated acts you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t bother me either way. I’m a coach and I’ll coach performers in whatever direction they want to go. And if you already know what direction that is, then find places to perform with audiences that will enjoy your material.

But regardless of what anyone else will tell you, there are also rules in the comedy biz. The rules are made by the people that hire comedians for specific audiences.

Should we allow that?!

For instance, you can’t perform X-rated material on network television shows such as The Tonight Show or Jimmy Kimmel Live. You can get away with a lot more than thirty years ago when Johnny Carson ruled late night, but these shows still have to deal with FCC (Federal Communications Commission) enforced  standards and censors.

On cable television and satellite radio, pretty much anything can be said. But it also depends on the show. I doubt The Howard Stern Show and The Disney Channel fight over guests from the same talent pool. But here are a few more questions to think about…

Would you rather appear on either The Howard Stern Show or The Disney Channel or someplace in-between? Who will appreciate (laugh at) your type of humor and material? What venues and markets do you eventually want to play?

It all comes down to knowing your audience.

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You can work X-rated if you want, but just be smart enough not to go on stage with your X-rated material if the audience is filled with grandparents taking their grand-kids out for a fun(ny) night of live entertainment. On the flip side, don’t expect to do your best Disney material in a late night dive bar in front of a beer fueled crowd upset that the bartender turned off the televised cage match wrestling extravaganza for your comedy show.

Get the picture?

A lot of experienced comedians can play to both audiences. Why? Because they have the experience AND material that can be customized (cleaned up or dirtied down) depending on the audience. In other words, their punch lines don’t get laughs simply because they contain the F-Bomb or other words that will get them banned by the FCC from network television. They can go either way because the material is just as funny with or without them.

A great example of this are comics that work on cruise ships.

These comics need two different sets; family and adult. The family sets are performed during the before and after dinner shows. These are two separate shows since passengers are assigned one of two dinner times. One group is entertained earlier in a large theater while the other group eats – and then they change places. As it says, these shows are for families. Later that night the same comics will do adult shows for (as it says) the adults in one of the lounges or bars.

Did you hear that?!

These comics go from G-rated to X-rated within a couple hours.

Keep in mind I’m not asking anyone to change who they are on stage if it goes against who they want to be on stage. Yes, this is a business, but it’s also a creative business and a way to express your creativity.

If your niche is X-rated, go for it. It’s the same with clean comedians. Just don’t go for it in front of the wrong audience. It’s really common sense when you think about it.

So to finally answer your question as a “new comedian,” I would suggest you work on writing funny material. And I’ll repeat: funny material. I’m talking about material that will stand up on it’s own and will be just as funny to an audience with or without a few gratuitous F-bombs and other choice words or expressions.

Practice and develop your talent as a writer. How would you deliver your set during an afternoon Rotary Club luncheon as opposed to at a late night dive bar? Better still – ask yourself which venue you prefer.

Wait a minute! I almost forgot to mention something…

Just to make your decision interesting, keep in mind the people that hire comics for corporate events, holiday parties, retirements, banquets, etc… are the ones who attend business or social organization meetings. They ALWAYS pay comics, humorous speakers and entertainers waaaaay more than any beer soaked guy in a dive bar. That’s why corporate events are much more desirable for many working comics than a weekend gig at Billy Joe’s Yucks at the corner of Dive and Bar.

Then again, an uncensored Comedy Central Special or a becoming a favorite guest on The Howard Stern Show can take almost any comic’s career to a new level. But to get there, the comics had to be funny. Working clean wasn’t a rule they needed to follow.

So…? Is it better to work clean or dirty as a new comedian? You need to make that decision – and one of the best ways to find an answer is to know your audience.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.