Archive for the ‘Speaker’ Category

Promo video length for club, corporate and college gigs

October 8, 2018

Hey Dave – I’m real serious about doing stand-up comedy and I wanted some info on making my audition tape. How long should it be? Are bookers looking for something specific? If u can help me out please write back – B.T. / The Future of Comedy

Hey B.T. – The future of your comedy career relies a lot on your past. This means the work you’ve already done as a writer and performer, and then using a past (but recent) performance to make an attention-grabbing and (most of all) FUNNY audition tape. BUT we don’t want to live TOO much in the past, so let’s start talking about this in terms of online videos (and occasionally DVDs).

Goodbye gone!

I don’t know anyone that’s using “tape” anymore.

Okay, I know that’s just a technicality. But I want to make sure we’re all using same terms and are on the same page… uh, screen here in 2018.

When I talk about relying on the past, I’m talking about how long your video should be. That hasn’t changed since the word “tape” was common and should be three to seven minutes long. That gives talent bookers a decent sample of what you do on stage.

Most talent bookers are pretty busy. You wouldn’t believe how many videos they’re asked to view every day. Since there are only so many minutes in a day they can’t sit around and watch an hour, half hour or even twenty minutes of performance time from each comedian. That’s why many I’ve talked with only watch the beginning or hit the fast forward button and stop at random places.

When I booked the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, I would watch anywhere from twenty to thirty videos at one sitting.

No lie.

Only 5 more minutes…

I couldn’t take (because of time – not interest) more than five minutes with each one. So the comedian had to come on strong from the beginning and prove he or she was already a working comic and ready for television. If it was obvious they weren’t, I’d stop the video and move on to the next one.

And here’s something else I’ve learned from many of these same contacts and personal experience: a good talent booker will usually know within thirty seconds into a comedian’s act if he wants to hire that comedian. Experience and talent will be obvious (or should be) right from the beginning of the set for anyone that has been in the talent booking business for a while. Performers might try to fake it, but experienced people in the biz can usually tell right away.

Now, if they watch three to seven minutes and are interested but not sold on hiring, they can contact the comedian and request more. That’s when you can send something longer (usually fifteen to twenty minutes).

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday, November 10th 

Perform at The Improv – Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm (skips Thanksgiving Weekend)

Space is limited

For details, reviews, videos, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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I once worked with a club booker that (seriously) said he wanted to see a full one-hour video before he would hire an act. I thought that was a bit extreme, but if that’s the way he does business, well… it’s his club and it’s his time. I never met another booker who had that much time to watch videos.

It also depends what market you want to get into.

I’m talking mainly about clubs and television with the above advice. If you want to work in the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker, your video will be much different. That should be a production – rather than just an example of your live performance.

Very entertaining!

This means corporate videos can be edited showing not only segments of your act, but also audience comments, your credits scrolling across the screen – or any other techniques that make the comedian or speaker look professional and in demand.

Again, short and dynamic is best. The corporate videos I’ve been sent or have edited for myself and other speakers are usually five to seven minutes in length.

The college market also plays out differently. When you’re involved in NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and APCA (Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities) the college booking organizations I talk about in the book Comedy FAQs And Answers, they only want three- minute videos as submissions for showcases. BUT the catch is if the college students on the Activities Board like that three minutes and want to see more, you should have at least two additional three minute segments with the online submission or DVD so they can continue to watch until they:

  • Give you a live showcase (explained in the book).
  • Keep you in mind as a maybe.
  • Move on to the next comedian.

And finally, what’s very different than in the days of using video “tape” is the method of delivery. Everyone now can watch online videos or will request DVDs.

In 2018, everyone in the business has the technology to watch promotional video online. If not, then they’re in the wrong business.

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YouTube is still the most popular, but I know there are also other sites that can allow bookers to watch your video immediately. The key is to have it available to them either embedded into your website or linked to YouTube.

Also the three minute – or shorter – video is becoming more popular for submissions outside the college market. You can go online to view examples, but quite a few comedians have short (two to three minute) segments of their sets embedded in in their websites. We know attention spans have grown shorter and this method allows talent bookers to get a quick “taste” of a performance with an immediate opportunity to watch more – another quick segment – if they want.

* Last bit of advice about this.

I recently talked to a club booker who said he expects comedians to have a website. It’s more professional. He won’t even go on Facebook or other social media sites to watch videos. If the comedian doesn’t have a website, then he feels that comedian is not professional enough to work in that club.

I’m just passing that thought along because I know you’re interested…

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.

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Going for the “perfect” performance

September 24, 2018

Dave – I’m working to get the whole stage fright thing out of my system. (My first time on stage) I was so nervous because I didn’t know the material that well. The problem my friends and I noticed is I am too much of a perfectionist. I understand things won’t be perfect but for some reason I feel the need to make it perfect. – T.D.

Hey T.D. – A lot of comedians and speakers are perfectionists. They struggle over finding the right word or phrases. For instance in the comedy world, they always want to know what word is funnier than another.

Example: Cucumber or banana. This debate will go on forever…

That’s why they continue to write and test out material (words and phrases) during live performances. They record their sets and listen to audience reaction. When an audience laughs – it works. If they don’t laugh – then the comic needs to edit or rewrite the material and repeat the process until it does work. If it still doesn’t get a laugh from the audience, then the comic needs to discard that bit and write something else.

Of course there’s more to it than just that simple explanation. Stage experience, your comedy voice, delivery, timing and the make-up of the audience will also determine what works and what doesn’t during any performance. But even when everything is working in your favor, will it ever be perfect?

In a creative artist’s mind – probably not.

Should I question this?

You might debate this, but I believe that creative artists always think they can do better. It’s a creative person’s curse. It’s also what drives them to constantly do better work. The goal is perfection, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, (sorry, I had a drive that took me past miles of farm land this week and can’t shake it out of my mind). It’s a never-ending journey to a place impossible to reach.

Let’s put this into musical terms, as I tend to do when coaching comedians and speakers. And since I’m a “classic rocker,” stick with me while I use a classic example…

Sited as one of the greatest songs by The Beatles is A Day In The Life. It closed the legendary album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and is a true John Lennon & Paul McCartney composition. That duo is also sited as the top composers of their generation. So put it all together – and it’s the perfect song. Right? Well, it could have been better. Listen closely as the final chord fades out. Someone forgot to turn off the air conditioner in the recording studio and it’s heard in the background.

Perfect? Close, but not quite.

Comedians can walk off stage after an exceptional performance and say they “killed,” which is the comic’s term for having a great show. But I sincerely doubt many would say they could never do better. They could watch a video of their set and probably have no problem finding a gesture or a facial expression – or a line or phrase or whatever – that might have been done differently and gotten a better audience response.

It’s the creative curse. There’s always room for improvement.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

SOLD OUT!

Showcase at The Improv – Thursday, October 25 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Space limited to 11 people

For details and to register for future workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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So my point is not to worry about being perfect. Just do your best. Film and television actors – and musicians in a recording studio – get to do multiple takes and use editing in an effort to make the end result perfect. But just like with A Day In The Life, a creative artist will probably think they could have made it better.

In fact, the imperfect result could even be better than you’d planned. And in case you haven’t caught on, this is another excuse for me to share a great story…

In one of my comedy workshops at The Improv a number of years ago, an aspiring comic wanted to be “perfect” – his exact word. (And if T.S. is reading this – yeah, I’m talking about you!). He wrote and memorized his set word for word and went on stage prepared to deliver it that way. He was doing an okay job of it, but a few minutes into his set he forgot his material. He suddenly yelled, “Oh ****!” and THREW himself against the (fake) brick wall, fell over a stool and landed on the stage.

That was so funny!

It was pure frustration and the funniest thing we had seen in that workshop. Myself and everyone else cracked up in laughter. It was a GREAT comedy performance!

We all tried to convince him that he had found his performing style. It was honest and real. It was comedy and funny. But he didn’t believe us. It was not his idea of the perfect set and he would never allow himself to do that in front of an audience – even though it happened during each of our following workshop sessions.

The night of our show at The Improv, I reassured each workshop member they would have a fun set. They had worked hard and were prepared. No worries. But when I got to T.S. – I told him that I hoped he would screw up and forget his material. He looked at me like I was nuts – “Are you serious?” He said there was no way. He had been practicing for days and would do the perfect set.

Do I need to continue with this? Okay…

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He went on stage – got a few minutes into his set and WHAM!!!! He forgot what he was going to say next. He threw himself against the wall, fell over the stool that was on stage and hit the floor in frustration. The best part was that it wasn’t an act. It was real. It was the highlight of our show and he earned the biggest laughs of the night. I thought it was perfect.

Afterward he admitted he’d had a great time and according to audience response, his set actually worked. But he also thought he could do better next time…

The bottom line is to be creative and have fun. Every opportunity you have on stage or on the speaker’s platform is an opportunity to grow as an artist. You want to experiment and take chances. Creative people need change, which is why comedians write new jokes and speakers spin off their messages into different programs for different audiences.

You can try to be perfect on stage, but don’t sweat it when you’re not – because nobody is. The idea is to just be better next time.

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.

Booking Holiday Parties Part 2 – The $$

September 10, 2018

Hey Dave – Last week you wrote about booking gigs for holiday parties. Good tips, like planning your promo, networking, and working clean. But you left us hanging about the money and how comics can charge more for holiday gigs. So what’s the pay-off, you handsome devil? – Dave

Hey Handsome Devil Wannabe…

Entertain us!

Okay, I’ll stop the BS. If you haven’t figured it out, I wrote the above question. I could’ve just continued from where we left off last week by announcing Part 2 in bold, italicized CAPS, but what good is it to call these articles FAQs and Answers if there’s no Q kicking it off?

Guess I’m a stickler for sticking with the format. So with that said…

PART 2:

Most experienced comedians will raise their corporate performing fees for holiday parties. Notice I said experienced. Rookie, open-mic comics (though I love you guys!) should not get into the private party (holiday gigs) market until you have an act that is audience-proven and worth the money businesses will pay for entertainment.

In other words – like a good business – you want satisfied customers. Word gets out that you were an asset (business term) to the party, it could lead to more work. If you do a crash and burn, take the money and run (hack comic term) performance, that word could also get out – and your next holiday gig might be working for the caterer.

Know what I mean?

Yes, there are (as always) exceptions. For example, your aunt’s boyfriend offers you twenty bucks to say something funny at his retirement roast. If you don’t live up to the (headline) billing your loving aunt was probably using to influence this decision, you might just get a few dirty looks from the boyfriend and the other witnesses. Do the same (bomb) at a big-money corporate holiday event and you might have a hard time getting paid.

As a talent booker I’ve felt the wrath of clients who thought a comic was so bad that they refused to pay – or have demanded a refund. Do you think I’d work with that comic again? No way. I’ve also known a few contacts in the business world that have actually picked up the phone and called me, other booking agents, businesses, etc… and warned them not to use a certain comic for ANYTHING.

Waiting for the funny

Believe me, bad reviews seem to travel a lot faster in his biz than good reviews.

So, let’s put it this way. If you’re just starting out as a comic and working your way through the open-mic circuit, chances are you’re not going to be headlining The Improv next weekend for big bucks. Use this same business sense when it comes to booking holiday parties. This is also true for humorous speakers still doing free gigs (your open-mic circuit) to put your presentation together.

Yeah, there are very small parties with very small budgets that experienced comedians wouldn’t even consider doing. Let’s say in the $200 or less range. If you’ve had success doing twenty CLEAN (G-rated) minutes and can throw in a few holiday references, then partner with another comic who can do the same. Offer the potential client a forty-minute two-comic holiday comedy show and split the money with your new partner.

Seriously. It will give you experience, corporate credits for your resume – and gas money.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Saturdays – September 29, October 6 & 13 (noon to 4 pm)

Showcase at The Improv – Wednesday, October 17 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Space limited to 11 people

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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You want to break into the market? Be smart about it. Don’t go in thinking you can stretch out your current fifteen minutes of material by working the crowd for forty minutes and get away with it. That’s why experienced headliners and strong features can clean up doing holiday parties. They already have the material and the stage experience.

Which brings us back to the beginning. You remember, right after that handsome devil reference…

Most experienced comedians will raise their performing fees for corporate holiday parties.

The holiday season is a short time of year to make a lot of money. Think about it. You may have to start promoting months in advance, but the season only lasts a few weeks in December. Parties can (and do) happen every night of the week, probably starting close to December 1st and going until Christmas Eve, but you have to realize there are only a few Friday and Saturday nights in those weeks when most of the parties take place.

The boss (the client who will hire you) will be spending big bucks on the party room (restaurant, hotel, conference center – wherever) and also on the food and booze. If he’s got half a heart and seasonal cheer, he might also be springing for bonus checks and even possibly gifts for all his employees.

So relying on what we know about today’s economy and that odds aren’t good Bill Gates is funding this holiday bash, a good guess is if the boss is hiring a comedian – chances are he won’t also be hiring a band, deejay, hypnotist, balloon artist, or Carrot Top.

For a lot of companies, it’s not in the annual holiday party budget anymore.

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So if the boss goes with hiring a comedian instead of another option – that comedian is the main entertainment attraction for the annual holiday party. This is the party everyone in the company will be talking about until next year’s annual holiday party.

If the comedian is a bust, the party would be a major bust, and the boss would have to live with that reputation for an entire year. No one will remember what finger sandwiches were served. But if they had to sit in a room and listen to a comic not make them laugh for almost an hour… well, that’s memorable.

Therefore, the boss needs to hire a good, experienced comic. And if the comedian has the experience to make the party a huge success, then he deserves to be paid well for the effort (and should know it).

Here’s another way to look at this. A hypothetical conversation from the comedian’s point of view:

Going with the best offer

“My fee for your secretary’s retirement banquet is $500. I’m really not busy that evening anyway and it beats sitting home waiting for the phone to ring. BUT if you want me to perform at your Christmas party, it’ll cost you $750. Why? (As the client is coughing and choking). Because four other businesses I’ve contacted are also having their parties that same night and I’m going with the best offer.”

With a good business plan, luck, ability to schmooze, and geographically desirable locations, two or three (or more) of those holiday business parties can be booked for the same night at staggered times. That’s $750 (or whatever fee you charge) times three or four…  equals… well, the total is staggering compared to what you might earn for one show that same night in a comedy club – which is why comedians love holiday parties.

But once again, a major word of warning:

This may all sound like easy money and temp you to jump into the holiday party pool headfirst (with no sunblock – a reference to last week’s Part 1 if you’ve paid attention). But keep in mind what I said earlier. The entertainment (comedian or humorous speaker) can make the party a success or a bust. You need experience and a proven act – and some holiday references and jokes wouldn’t hurt. And the material must be CLEAN. No X-rated or R-rated stuff for all the reasons mentioned in Part 1 of this article. The only exception would be if this was a request from the client and worked out in advance with his approval.

Also never forget – experience counts. Just like there are no short cuts from playing an open-mic one weekend to headlining at The Improv the next. It doesn’t happen unless your aunt’s boyfriend runs the club and is pretty secure in his job.

If a client is willing to pay big bucks, you have to be willing to put in the work first. If you have the stage experience and proven material, then go for it. If not, start writing now and getting on stage as often as possible with an eye on the future. As mentioned last week in Part 1, the promotion process for performers starts right about now. You know, while we’re still thinking more about sunblock than Santa Claus.

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.

Booking Christmas and Holiday Parties

August 27, 2018

Hey Dave – What’s the deal with doing Christmas parties? I know some comics who booked a few last year and made good money. – T.R.

Let’s party!

Hey T.R. – Christmas / holiday parties are big business in the comedy biz. Corporate and humorous speakers (sometimes one in the same) can also score big during the festive season, but I don’t consider their bookings as seasonal as comedians in this market.

Why?

Because comedians are considered entertainment and holiday parties usually want entertainment. Speakers with a message – whether informative, entertaining or both – can often find gigs at meetings and conferences year-round. For instance, not too long ago I did a training seminar at a conference. With keynotes and seminars being delivered during breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings, and various workshops running concurrently over two days at this huge resort, there had to be at least 50 speakers involved.

I didn’t see any comedians.

So with that personal observation in mind, we’ll focus this FAQ and Answer on comedians and entertainers looking to book holiday parties. But I’m also pretty sure humorous speakers will be interested in some of this stuff.

The time to get in on this action is now.

Party time!

We’re hitting the end of summer and a lot of these holiday bashes are already in the planning stages. In fact, I’ve already gotten my first call for this holiday season, so the clock is ticking.

Most of these holiday parties are planned way in advance because the bosses (employers) have to rent party rooms or restaurants in advance for this once a year company-paid blow-out. They also know somewhere in the back of their minds the approximate date when they have to cough up holiday bonus checks for their employees, so that also goes into factoring when these parties will occur.

Once the party date has been confirmed, it’s circled on every employee’s calendar and they’re expecting the boss to show them a good time. Of course the smart employees won’t have too much of a good time, but for those who cut loose a little too much…

As the great Phyllis Diller once said:

I hate Christmas parties. You always have to wake up the next day and start looking for a new job.”

Booking holiday parties is similar to working in the corporate market. You may imagine employees overindulging in the eggnog and walking around wearing Santa hats with mistletoe pinned to the white fluffy ball at the top. But the boss is still in charge of the toy factory. With lawsuits about sexual harassment, discrimination, mental anguish, and whatever other reasons and insults that could cause the company to continue paying a future former employee for not working there anymore (and the lawyer fees) the boss is not going take any chances.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Saturdays – September 29, October 6 & 13 (noon to 4 pm)

Showcase at The Improv – Wednesday, October 17 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Space limited to 11 people

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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What I’m trying to say is that except for rare exceptions, company holiday parties have turned into family style events.

There may or may not be kids involved, but there’s usually an office prude or uptight spouse keeping an eye on everything. And the best way to avoid hassles is to stay politically correct. If you want to be offended by a comedian, go to a comedy club that bills the show, “For mature audiences only.”

If you want holiday laughs where no one has to wake up the next day and look for another job, hire a comedian that works clean.

Too much party!

Speaking of clean, a lot of the comedians who are cleaning-up dollar-wise with holiday parties start their booking efforts in late summer and early fall. Seriously. I can go into my files as a booking agent and see contract signing dates in August and September for Christmas parties. The performances were signed, sealed and deposits were paid while I was still trying to get my kids to put on sun block before they’d go outside.

The process of promoting yourself for these shows is the same as I’ve written about for the corporate market. Only now you want to aim it for the Christmas / Holiday season. Put it right on your emails and postcards, and mention it if you’re calling businesses:

You are available for office holiday parties – and work clean.

Your promotions can start now. Do a mailing to your regular contact list (you should have one if you’ve been reading these articles) and follow up with phone calls. If you don’t have the proper contact person, ask who is in charge of the company party. That person is probably looking just as hard for entertainment as you are for gigs.

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With the right promotion and networking skills (again – business techniques you should already have if you’re been reading these articles) you can make their life easier by hiring you as the entertainment. This will give them more time to choose the table ornaments and who should not be seated next to each other to avoid company infighting.

It’s all about finding leads, networking and promoting.

I know comedians and speakers who have promo photos taken wearing Santa suits or with other holiday themes. Their websites and online networking are advertising their skills at entertaining for holiday parties.

In the entertainment biz, the holiday season has already started.

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.

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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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Saturdays – September 29, October 6 & 13 (noon to 4 pm)

Showcase at The Improv – Wednesday, October 17 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Space limited to 11 people

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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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.

When should you start promoting your career?

July 30, 2018

Hey Dave – Last week I was in a comedy festival. It was a 13 hour drive, but it was a good chance for networking. I was talking with another act who said she’s too impatient about getting her comedy career going. I said that my problem is that I’m too patient. After finishing second at another comedy club’s contest and being accepted at the festival, I should be contacting clubs and bookers all over the area instead of waiting until I actually win a contest. Do you agree? – J.G.

Can you hear me now?

Hey J.G. – First of all, if I drive 13 hours for anything, I’m going to make sure somebody knows about it. That’s not exactly a Sunday afternoon drive for me (which is why every seasoned road comic is calling me a wimp right now), so I’d like a little recognition for the achievement. If my kids happened to be in the backseat, I’d expect an award.

How different people react to my successful lengthy trip depends on how they view such an effort. If I told a student driver about my journey, he may look at me as The Man. If I walked into a truck stop and made my announcement, I’d probably get more laughs than doing a clean act at a biker bar open mic.

Being accepted to perform at a respected comedy festival and finishing second in a club’s contest are worthy additions to the resume. Each step in your career is a great opportunity for promotion and it’s important to take advantage of it, which is an important subject we’re driving up to next.

Not quite ready.

But before we head down that road, the question of patience should be answered by common sense. You have to be honest with yourself to know when you’re ready for the next level of your career and not push yourself too fast into a position where you don’t have the experience or material to back it up. In other words, if you’re relatively new to comedy and just breaking into the MC role, it’s wise not to promote yourself to the top clubs as a headliner until you’re ready.

What you don’t want to do is sit back and wait for any word-of-mouth to find its way to the bookers. James Bond has a reputation that precedes him, but when finding work in the entertainment business you need to promote yourself. If you have the credits, chances are better the bookers will find out about it if YOU tell them.

You have to be honest with yourself as a comedian, (or humorous speaker).There are various steps to consider before you actively promote yourself for paying gigs…

Are you ready for paid gigs?

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday – August 11, 2018 – is SOLD OUT!

Includes evening performance on Wednesday, September 5th

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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You absolutely must have experience and a comedy set or speaker program that has worked successfully during live performances. These can be open mics, benefit shows – whatever. Let’s put it this way. If someone is paying you to do 20 minutes – you’d better have a good 20 minutes or they’ll find someone else who does for the next booking.

Also understand where you fit into the business. 

Are you an opening act, feature or a headliner? New acts will always be considered openers until they prove themselves worthy of a better position in the show. Think about it. Even Jay Leno was an opener when he started out and worked his way up. He wasn’t given The Tonight Show after a few successful open mic performances.

But let’s say you know that already. You’ve worked hard at writing and performing and you honestly know you’re ready. That’s when it’s time to get the word out to talent bookers, event planners and anyone else who might hire you.

That’s when you need to start promoting – and it can be a full time job.

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Whenever you have an achievement (accepted to a comedy festival, runner up in a contest, a paid booking in another venue, etc.) make sure the bookers for the clubs where you want to work or the event planners for associations you want to work for KNOW about it. Send them your news via an email, a postcard, add it to your website and resume, and post it on the social networks you use for business (not the ones you use for family photos, your cats or wild escapades).

You may not get hired right away, but it could add to your name recognition in the future.

Only took 7 calls!

That’s the idea behind promoting – networking and marketing.

Businesses use branding and logos to keep their products in front of potential buyers and entertainers do the same with successful performances, personal contacts, online postings, emails and postcards.

As good salesmen say, you need to run a product (you as a comedian or speaker) past a client (booker) on the average of SEVEN times before they buy. So when is a good time to start building credits and promoting your comedy career? If you truly believe you’re ready – I’d say right now.

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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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday – August 11, 2018 – is SOLD OUT!

Includes evening performance on Wednesday, September 5th

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

(Skips Labor Day Weekend – September 1st)

Space limited to no more than 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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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.

Adding music increases the pizzazz factor

April 23, 2018

Hi Dave – I added a little music to my act one time and had some success. I was thinking about doing it again and wondered if that would be cool. I’d have music playing when I walked on stage, the first part of the set would be jokes and then I’d end by doing a rap song. I have a CD with instrumental music and thought someone doing the sound could turn it on for me and I’d “rap” over it. Just wanted to get your take on it. Thanks! – M.D.

Working the room!

Hey M.D. – I don’t think it’s a secret that most comedians (and this goes for many speakers also) understand they’re involved in showbiz. With all the techno-stuff and special effects we see on television, in movies and during live concerts, a lot of entertainment today is not only about substance (quality of the performance), but also the presentation (the pizzazz!).

It all depends on the circumstances and the performer, but from my experiences I believe audiences expect some type of pizzazz (okay – last time I’ll use that term in this article) when they pay money for a show. This means we’re talking about lights, explosions, sound effects during rock concerts – and even music during a comedy show.

I imagine that right now the die-hard, old-guard comedians I worked with in NYC years ago are thinking I’ve gone crazy. More than a few would have stood in the back of the room making fun of “variety” acts that used “gimmicks” – which at that time would have included juggling, riding a unicycle, singing or rapping over music karaoke-style.

But here’s a confession. I’m not crazy. It’s the evolution of the business. Let me explain…

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Spring 2018 – SOLD OUT!

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 1980′s, I don’t remember comedians coming on stage accompanied by loud music. The MC introduced the comic and then he walked on stage and did his act. It was simple and to the point.

Around the same time, I would go to Madison Square Garden and watch the NBA New York Knicks, (actually I was only there when the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town). I don’t remember a big musical number with smoke machines, gyrating cheerleaders and dancing seven foot centers during pre-game introductions. They announced the teams, the players high-fived each other – and then started the game.

AND to really get carried away with this, I remember going to rock concerts when I was a teenager. An on-stage local deejay would introduce the band, the act would walk out, plug in their guitars, take time to tune their guitars, shout hello a few times into the microphones, and then start their first song. There were no opening films, explosions, special lights or anything like that. It was simple and to the point.

Warming up the NBA

Fast forward to 2018. Can you imagine an NBA pre-game not resembling a rock / rap concert? It’s the same with former teen idols that are now seventy-something year old rock stars in concert. Before they even leave the hotel and take a limo to the venue there are films, music, lights and other showbiz energizers to get the crowd hyped up and into the show.

The same is now true for a lot (not all but a lot) of comedy shows and speaker presentations. For proof, go to any legit comedy club located between NYC and Hollywood. Even the opening acts are asked what song they want blasting when they walk on stage.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I watched a comedian – outside of one of my workshops – who didn’t use music to hype up the audience before grabbing the microphone and opening his show.

Wait… yes I do.

It was Dennis Miller and it has to be more than fifteen years ago. He was performing at a theater (following Rita Rudner) and was dressed as a janitor. The audience didn’t know it was Miller because he wore a hat and kept his head down as he was sweeping the stage at the end of intermission. His act started when he took off his hat and said hello – which was a pretty cool non-musical way to hype up an audience.

Otherwise, comedy clubs have turned into a mini NBA pre-game show.

So… should you use music / rap during your performance? If it fits your comedy voice (who you are on stage) then I don’t know why not. As I’ve just explained, it’s a great way to hype up an audience. And what I mean is that it can add energy and a real sense of fun into your performance.

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I remember a time when some of the musical comedians I worked with worried about being labeled “guitar acts.” The rumor was that they’d never get on The Tonight Show because producers only wanted “real stand-up comedians.” But I’ll tell’ya something – in the clubs, guitar acts (good ones with high energy) always had the crowds excited, involved in their shows and received the loudest ovations. They could always find work in clubs, corporate events, cruise ships and the college circuit.

Pizzazz sells (sorry I had to use the term again!)

Do I need to say more? Similar to creating and writing comedy material, you need to take your best ideas on stage. The audience will help you decide whether or not it works. You never know unless you try.

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.