Archive for the ‘storytelling’ Category

Creating a one-person show

February 12, 2019

Hey Dave – I’ve had some crazy experiences in my life that resonate in my memory and in my opinion are very comical. But also these were very serious moments. It’s hard to bring these stories out on the stand-up stage because they take a lot to build to a punchline. I am still very new to the stand-up world, let alone theater acting. I’ve taken a few classes, but don’t have a solid background yet. I’ve written about these crazy moments in a journal form, but am unsure of how I build a show off them because I am no play write. I guess my overall question is if you have a little experience, how can you start to build up to putting together a great One Man Show? Thanks! J.W.

Theatre stage vs comedy stage

Hey J.W. – The best advice I’ve ever heard from any working comic or writer is to just keep writing. You’re already doing that by keeping a journal and creating stand-up sets. The idea is not to get too far ahead of yourself. A one-person show is a big project – so you’ll want to create a few shorter ones (like laugh out loud five minute comedy sets) first.

You say you’re not a playwright (correct spelling, by the way), but that doesn’t always mean having to sit down at a computer keyboard and “write” a show. As I say in my workshops, some people can do that – most can’t.

Most stand-ups and speakers have to talk it out.

And by this I mean in front of an audience. It makes the material and delivery real. I think this way of working will suit you best. You don’t need to be a playwright to talk and convey your message in front of an audience.

Talk your stories into an audio recorder. Then transcribe – write them out. Edit, make changes, add your humor and tweak the material. Then do it again and write some more. Take it on stage and try it out in front of an audience. Are they interested? Are they laughing? If yes, then it’s working. If not, then you go back to work. Write some more and continue to repeat the process until you get the audience reaction you want.

Keep in mind this is not easy.

Writer’s room

Working writers, speakers and comedians dedicate themselves to these careers. Emotions range from failure to success and every hard knock in between. But if you’re serious, have a thick skin and really want it – then you’ll continue.

Okay, so let’s say you have very funny stand-up sets and get great audience reaction (laughs!). Now you also want to add “serious stuff” so the result is more of a one-person show (theatrical) rather than a Comedy Central stand-up special.

Create an outline for a planned show.

What is it you want to say? Who is your audience? But don’t knock yourself out trying to make it perfect – like a finished and polished script for a successful Broadway show. Everything always changes when you start to do it live in front of an audience. That’s why Broadway shows go on the road for previews in various cities around the country (like stand-up comics) followed by multiple re-writes, re-casting and more previews.

These changes are based on audience response. If audiences don’t like the second act or a certain character, the playwrights and producers fix it before bringing it to Broadway for the definitive make-it or break-it reviews.

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March 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

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Performance at The Improv – Wednesday, April 3 at 7:30 pm

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Shows, comedy sets, motivational speeches, books, plays, movies – whatever – go through many drafts before they are considered finished.

That’s important to remember so you’re not discouraged after each preview. My first book was re-written a number of times before I had a literary agent accept it. Then she made me rewrite it a few times before she would shop it around to publishers. Then after a publisher bought it, I had to rewrite a few more times before they printed and got it into stores. It was at least a dozen re-writes total.

You will experience the same thing.

But as I said earlier, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You’re still in the first draft stage of creating your show.

Concentrate on what you’re doing now, which is getting stage experience in stand-up, improvisation and acting. Keep creating short (3 to 5 minute) comedy sets and trying them out in front of audiences at open-mics and in clubs. The comedians I’ve worked with find their comedy voice first. After that they “write for” that comedy voice.

Okay – got that? Now, if you want to continue into one man (or one woman) show-land, let’s visit television sitcom-land for a quick example…

One of my favorite sitcoms in the 1990’s was The Drew Carey Show. The pilot for that show was written around Drew’s stand-up act. In fact, when you watch the first episode you can actually see him doing bits that he did countless times in comedy clubs. The storyline for the episode was written around his comedy voice and what he was already doing on stage.

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It was the same with Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement and many others that starred stand-up comedians.

Take one of your stories and see if you can make into a five minute stand-up comedy bit – as a storyteller. But keep your personality (comedy voice) and don’t try to be an actor. Right now it’s you talking about you. Later as it develops, you might want to try acting out some of the other characters involved.

A night at the theater

The best advice I can give is to realize a one-person show is also a theatrical production.

Creating and starring in a one-person show was a very popular career goal in the comedy biz during the 1990′s and many comedians failed because they didn’t realize that. It’s more than just doing your stand-up act on a stage with a couch and a table. It needs to be more of a night at the theater, rather than a set at a comedy club.

My favorite example of a comedian-writer-actor developing his own successful one-person show is Inside The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron by Robert Dubac. I’ve seen it many times – from it’s earliest first draft performed at The Santa Monica Improv to a sold-out Palace Theater in Cleveland – and highly recommend it whenever I can. If you’re not familiar with it, you can purchase the DVD for under $5 on Amazon.com.

It takes work to write and create anything. But hopefully it’s work you enjoy. Just keep writing and trying out your material out on stage. With talent, creativity, experience and luck you might wind up with something great. You never know unless you try.

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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The cure for stage fright?

January 27, 2019

Hi Dave – I have terrible stage fright. I think I’m a pretty good writer, but I can’t even think about getting up in front of an audience without breaking into a sweat. Have any cures? – T.

Hey T. – Don’t sweat it (sorry – you set me up and I couldn’t resist opening with that line) because you’re not alone. I’ve read that stage fright, or the fear of speaking in public, has been called the number one fear most people have – even more than death.

And now that I’ve set this bit up, Jerry Seinfeld has a very funny observation about the subject…

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

Now that we’ve established that you’re suffering from a very common fear, you need to be told there’s no quick fix. But there is help:

Preparation and experience.

The best advice I have for aspiring comedians going on stage for the first time is to prepare in advance what you will say. Unless you have an innate (natural) talent for ad-libbing and improvising, don’t just try to wing it or hope something funny will happen. You can work on those aspects of your performances later when you’re more comfortable on stage. Do your best to either write out or at least outline a short comedy set – and know it.

When starting out at open mics you can even take your notes on stage or have them in your pocket to use in case of an emergency – like a security blanket. After all, your first times on stage will not be auditions for Comedy Central, so put the odds in your favor of at least getting through what you want to say in spite of any nerves or stage fright.

I’ve talked with comedians about this because as mentioned above, you’re not alone. It can be very scary walking on stage alone in front of an audience for the first time. One thing most (I want to say all but can’t remember for sure) of them told me was that they relaxed (a bit) after getting a laugh. It meant approval from the audience, which gave them enough of a confidence boost to continue talking. So, let’s include that one in the advice column:

Try to get a laugh as soon as possible.

The best way to do that is to open with what you feel is your best chance to get that laugh. It could be your funniest joke, line, bit, prop, story or whatever. I remember a very famous comedian opening his set at The Hollywood Improv by pretending to slip and fall down because he accidentally knocked over a drink on the front table while walking on stage.

Silly? Yeah. Stupid? Some might think so. Did it get a laugh? HUGE!!! He stood up, the audience was still laughing – and he was in complete control for the rest of his show.

Yes, I know he had a lot of stage experience, but that experience told him to open his show with a laugh. And in the comedy biz, laughter can build confidence. If you don’t believe me, imagine how you’d feel on stage without it.

You won’t really know how funny your material is until you try it in front of an audience. But when you’re just starting out the goal is to actually have something to say, rather than opening your mouth and risk having nothing come out. Preparation may not cure stage fright, but it could help take away some of the nerves and make that first step easier since you’ll already know what you will say.

Many experienced comedians have also told me the first laugh they received from an audience is what made them continue going on stage. The word most used is “addictive” (a word that’s been popular in the comedy biz for a long time). When you get that first laugh it feels so good you want to get it again.

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Winter 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

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

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There’s no guarantee and as mentioned, this is not a quick fix for stage fright.

But one thing I love as a coach (and also when I used to attend countless open mics in New York and Los Angeles) is watching a new comedian get more confidence with each laugh from an audience. Seriously, I can actually see it on their faces and in their delivery.

When they get a laugh – that great addictive feeling – it helps motivate comedians to see if they can make it happen again. It’s the main reason to get back on stage. It builds confidence and dedication to do comedy.

That in a nutshell is the preparation part. The rest of the cure comes through experience. Stage time. The more you do something that is enjoyable or at least somewhat successful, the less you should fear it.

At first you may just have to psych yourself out and do it.

For example, I hate heights but love roller coasters. Yeah, I know… but I don’t have enough money for a shrink…. Some of the tallest in the world are in an amusement park not too far from us and they scare me to death just looking at them. My knees literally shake (like the first time I did an open mic in New York). But I (actually my kids) wouldn’t let it stop me. I may have to ride it once, twice – or even a dozen times with my eyes closed, but eventually I’ll take a look around from the top of the highest hill and watch the rest of the ride while screaming all the way to the end.

Much like the first time I did an open mic.

Consider stage fright as being similar to other fears you’ve overcome.

You might have been scared about a first day of school, moving to a new city or starting a new job. But you kept with it and eventually felt comfortable. It can be the same going on stage and speaking in public.

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I know comedians that have told me they’ve never gotten over stage fright.

They just wouldn’t let it stop them and learned how to deal with it. They say their nervousness keeps them more aware – more real – on stage. There’s no way they could ever sleep walk through their act, which is what you call it when someone goes on stage and just repeats their memorized act word for word in a way that’s old, stale and boring both for the audience and the comedian. The heightened nerves keep them more in tune with everything that’s happening in the room and their minds in the moment.

And that’s where you need to be if you eventually start taking advantage of your innate talent for ad-libbing and improvising off an audience.

As usual, I have one last example. Fans of classic rock should love this. But for the younger comics… well, just humor me for moment.

One of my books is about The Beatles 1965 concert at New York’s Shea Stadium in front of 55,600 fans. At that time, it was the largest rock concert ever held and the Beatles were the biggest rock band in the world. They had played hundreds of shows and performed live in front of millions of viewers on the most watched television programs in the world. But the one common thread I found from all the interviews I did with people that were with them backstage at Shea Stadium was how nervous they were. The Beatles were shaking in their Beatle boots. But after they were introduced and ran onto the stage, their preparation (knowing their act) and experience (hundreds of shows) took over. By the end of the concert they were doing comedy bits between songs and having as much fun (probably more) than anyone else there.

Stage fright? I don’t know of a quick fix or a cure. But I do know if you want it bad enough, preparation will help you get on stage and experience will keep you going back.

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.