Being influenced vs. copying

May 22, 2017

Hey Dave – I’ve been working on material and continue to search for my comedy voice. Although I want to do some improvising, I want a good amount of material to work off of. Someone said I have a somewhat eccentric and iconoclastic persona and should take advantage of that. Therefore, I’ve thought about using Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright as influences and been writing material similar to theirs, especially since I like it. However, I’m afraid I’m not using them as an influence but just copying them. Is there a thin line between the 2 or just between fishing and standing there doing nothing? – JK

Hey JK – I was lucky to have worked with the late great Prof. Irwin Corey at the NYC Improv and interviewed Steven Wright for a magazine article. I consider both extremely smart and extremely funny. I also know that if I even tried to write like either one, I would be lost and confused. In fact, my brain hurts just thinking about it. But as usual I have a few thoughts about the topic, so instead of standing here doing nothing let’s go fishing for an answer…

“How did you say that?”

Yes – there is a line between being influenced and copying. Ideally it should be a wide one.

As Prof. Corey would have said, “Let me explain…

I often compare comedy to music. I’ve done this frequently in my workshops, books, and in more than a few previous FAQ articles. Basically, you can’t reinvent the wheel. And when it comes to music, someone somewhere had to hum the first tune. In comedy, someone somewhere made someone laugh for the first time. Musicians and comedians have been building on those firsts ever since.

One of my favorite all-time bands is The Rolling Stones. They’ve influenced countless bands for over fifty years and are considered by many to be the greatest rock’n roll band in the world. There are many bands that have copied their formula for success, but there is still only one Rolling Stones and their place in music history is written in… well, stone.

But who influenced them? Rock historians can trace the roots of their sound back to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many others.

Did they copy? Yeah!

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They tried their best by performing a lot of cover songs when they first started out. But it’s not what made them superstars. Mick Jagger found his own voice as a singer and Keith Richards found his voice on the guitar. The duo ended up writing their own material and classic hits based on the type of music they liked and giving it their own spin based on their individual talent and personalities.

Like the Stones, comedians start by emulating what they like.

“How did you play that?”

Keith Richards is not going to play Bach or Beethoven because he likes Chuck Berry. Based on the way you described your humor in today’s email, I doubt you would consider bringing props on stage like Carrot Top or going redneck like Larry The Cable Guy. You like Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright so yes, they are both are going to influence you as a comedian just like Chuck Berry influenced the Stones as musicians.

But the big difference between being a comedian and being a musician, The Rolling Stones can (and often do) play Chuck Berry songs during their concerts. But comedians can’t go on stage and say, “Here’s one from Steven Wright” and do a few of his best jokes.

That’s copying and comedians can’t do that – period. Its called stealing material. There are some that do – and most of us know who the big-name guilty parties are. There’s a total lack of respect for these thieves from other comics and industry people, and a lot of us wonder how they can sleep at night. Must be the drugs, but that’s another article…

Being influenced is not the same as stealing.

Creative artists, (comedians and musicians to only mention two) don’t reinvent the wheel. They can build on what’s already there. Just like in many original Rolling Stones songs you can hear a Chuck Berry riff or Bo Diddley beat in the background, comedians can’t help but be influenced by the type of humor they like.

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For example, Carrot Top didn’t invent prop comedy. As little kids many of us can remember holding up two paper plates on the sides of our heads and pretending to be Mickey Mouse. Carrot Top probably did that too, thought it was extremely funny – and built on it.

You as a writer and performer need to do the same, but with your own influences.

I think you understand your style of comedy. It’s similar to Prof. Irwin and Steven Wright, but when it comes to writing and performing it’s important for you to realize you are also very different. There’s no way you would have the exact same experiences or live in the exact same environment (city, neighborhood, families, education, jobs, etc.). You have a different life, different personality, different relationships and different conversations.

You also have your own personal thoughts about all of these experiences.

That’s what you need to put into your writing and performances – your spin. Don’t think about what Prof. Irwin Corey or Steven Wright would say. But respect that you admire what they do, are influenced to perform comedy in the same style, and then say it in your own words. Basically, they are intelligent writers and your writing should also have some intelligence to it.

I remember two comedians I worked with in LA. Sorry, I won’t name-drop this time, but one is now an international movie star and the other is an all-time favorite television character. They both admitted to being HUGE fans of Jerry Lewis. They loved every movie and consider him to be the HUGE influence that got them both into the comedy biz.

No caption needed

But never in a million years would you see either of them on stage yelling out Lewis’ famous line, “HEY LAAYYYDEEE!” That would be stealing. But I’ve seen both make wild faces and pretend to slip and fall during their stand-up comedy sets similar to what Lewis did in his classic films while talking about their own personal experiences and thoughts.

That’s being influenced. And to take it a step further, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx were doing pratfalls long before Lewis.

The idea is to use your own mannerisms and personality to deliver your material to an audience. You are not going to hold two paper plates to your head and hope people laugh. You’ll want to dig deeper and put some thought into why something is funny from your personal point of view and then convey that to an audience.

Everyone is influenced by someone or something. It’s human nature. Again, none of us can invent the wheel because it’s been done – and car companies are still building on it. The same can be said about comedians when it comes to writing and performing comedy material.

But understand what makes you unique from everyone else (we all are) and explore topics that interest you based on your style of humor. Keep writing and performing. Eventually you’ll find your own comedy voice. Then in interviews you’ll be asked who influenced you – and you can tell them. I’ve interviewed comedians for my books, magazine articles and newspaper columns and believe me; every comedian has someone who inspired them. What made them successful was when they realized they couldn’t copy, but could use that influence to build on.

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.

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Best revenge – laughs and bookings

May 8, 2017

Hi Dave – I had a great set last night and one of the other comedians that went on after me tore into me. It got real personal and it really hurt. The people running the show asked me if I wanted to go back on to get revenge, but I did not. Did I handle it the right way? – N.R.

A BIG mouth!

Hey N.R. – Sounds like the first shot has been fired in a comedy war. But whether or not you want to get down into the comedy trenches (common comedy term – not mine) with this big mouth depends on a couple factors.

  • Your personality on stage – your comic voice
  • How you want to be seen on and off stage in this biz

Maybe I’m naive, but with 25+ years of experience working with comedians, I’ve found this biz to be very supportive. Sure there are some real pain-in-the-butt jerks, but I don’t know of any career path that’s immune from that syndrome.

Usually it’s based on jealousy and/or a power trip ego. And the funny part of it – and again, I’m talking from experience – I’ve found the more powerful someone is in the biz, the more supportive they are of new talent. This includes comedians, talent bookers and other behind the scenes people.

Hmmm…. I feel a sense of disbelief running through some minds with that last statement. I think my experiences on this topic would make an interesting and opinionated future FAQ and Answer. I’ll wrap my mind around it for awhile, but in the meantime…

What you have to decide is who you are on stage and how you want to be seen by others – your co-workers (other comedians) and the people who can hire you – in this biz.

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Comedians who are good friends can tear each up on stage. No problem. It’s like a sport and can be very funny. We used to do that at the NYC Improv – to the extent of taking a microphone into the men’s room and holding it over a flushing toilet when a friend’s joke bombed.

It was hysterical and the comic on stage could rip into us for the rest of his set. Not a problem – we loved it.

But when it’s mean – as it seems to be in your case – there’s no point in it. This comic’s attack on you is either based on jealousy or a power trip – or both.

“That was a cheap shot!”

This big mouth is trying to make himself look better at your expense. You can handle it two ways – and this is based on what decisions you made when I asked earlier.

If you are the type of comedian that can rip this guy apart verbally – then go for it. I can’t imagine another comedian taking a cheap shot at someone like Bobby Slayton (The Pit Bull of Comedy) and walking away with his or her ego still intact. Slayton would verbally slaughter him.

The same holds true for Lisa Lampanelli, Dave Attell, Chris Rock… you get the picture, right? These comics can hurl verbal hand grenades at anyone who dares mouth off at them first. I’ve seen them all in action and believe me, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the insults.

Are you similar? If so – next time go for the throat.

But if that’s not who you are on stage (or in real life) and you’re not up for verbal comedic warfare, then you did the right thing. Let this blowhard blow his own horn and reputation with other comedians and bookers.

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Comics are not going to want to work with someone that has a reputation for taking cheap shots. And bookers want to deal with the least amount of problems as possible. Again from experience as a booker, I’ve known non-headline comedians (important factor because a headliner that brings in paying customers can pretty much do what he or she wants) that are very funny, but a pain to work with.

So guess what? We don’t work with them when it’s at all possible.

Just be funny!

Who needs the extra aggravation when the job itself can be aggravating sometimes? Like with any job, you go for the least resistance. And if someone else is just as funny and easier to work with – that’s who gets the gig.

The bottom line is that in an ideal world, all you should be concerned about is becoming a better comedian. If someone with the same career goal doesn’t like you, then you must be doing something right.

Want revenge? The best way to get back at this person is to get more laughs, which will lead to more bookings.

So use this as an incentive to focus:

If your hard work and dedication pay off, maybe someday this loud mouth will be parking cars at a comedy club and ripping into his new co-workers while you’re inside headlining. Make it happen.

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.

Singin’ the (comedy) blues

April 24, 2017

Hey Dave – I have a confession to make and was wondering if this is normal or not and if so, how to deal with it? Is there such a thing as having the blues in comedy? I guess you could call it the Comedy Blues. I mean, I’ve been told “no” before and had terrible sets in the past. But I strongly feel it has made me the keen comedian I am today. But still, if I may… help! – A.

Taking your emotions for a ride!

Hey A. – Congratulations. You’re a creative artist. And I think you’re riding what comes with the territory – an emotional roller coaster. It can be a series of BIG ups and downs. That’s why a lot of people can’t deal with a career in the arts – whether it’s comedy, speaking, acting, music, writing or too many others to list.

It’s not easy.

If it was don’t you think more people would go for it? You have to admit that standing on stage getting laughs, greeting your fans after a show AND getting paid for it is a pretty cool gig. People in the audience see that and quite a few wish they could do it, but are afraid of rejection or looking foolish. But those who actually take a chance and really go for it don’t seem to have much of a choice. It’s what they have to do.

Okay, this might be more motivational today than instructional, but what the heck. I’m a creative guy so follow me on this one…

You got the blues?

Let’s relate this to music. A lot of great songs are about HIGHS while a lot of great songs are about LOWS. Let’s call this latter group blues songs since… well, that’s how you referred to your comedy state of mind AND that’s what they’re called anyway. Basically singin’ the blues is telling listeners nothing worth having or doing seems to come easy. Blues songs are usually about losing love, money or both.

But in our case, let’s relate it to being creative.

To be more specific – going for a career as a comedian (which from this point on will also include humorous speaker). You want soooo bad to have something good happen, but there are often road blocks. Things never seem to move as fast as you want them to. Yeah, there are big HIGHS to be had – like passing an important audition, getting your first paid gig or winning a contest.

There are also big LOWS when those things don’t happen.

But you know what? Every working comic will tell you from experience that you’ll hear the word “No” a lot more often than you’ll hear “Yes.” Especially in the beginning.

It comes with the creative territory.

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Do you want to stick around in this crazy biz long enough to (hopefully) have a career? Then you’ll need to develop a thick skin along the way.

Let’s move from music and relate this to sports. The best relief pitchers in baseball are going to lose a few games in the last inning during a long season. What makes them the best and others basket cases or unemployed is the ability to shake off the loss, forget about it and try to win the next game.

It’s a mindset they need to be born with or develop if they want to be successful in a competitive business (sports).

Being a comedian means you’re a creative artist in a competitive business. You put your creative work and talent on display to be judged by others, such as talent bookers and audiences. Some will like it and others won’t. It’s the nature of the biz. Hopefully your talent and perseverance will eventually lead to more likes than dislikes.

Likes are the highs and dislikes are the lows. The goal is to not get TOO high or TOO low. But it’s not easy when the results are based on your personal creative talent.

I remember working in NYC and hearing aspiring comics just breaking into the open-mic scene or at their first audition at The Improv saying they plan to have a sitcom within a year. I’m not lying about that. I’m serious and heard it said more than a few times. And I could look at the comedians hanging around The NY Improv at that time like Ray Romano, Dave Attell, Brett Butler and Larry David, and knew how hard they had been working at it for years. They didn’t get everything they auditioned for, but they had experienced the highs and the lows. There were no guarantees they would make it when they started, but someone saying “No” wasn’t going to stop them from continuing.

They were talented (duh!) but hadn’t scored television sitcoms or specials within their first year of doing comedy. The new comics at their first open-mics with unrealistic goals were setting themselves up for disappointment – big lows. They needed to be realistic and understand what to expect:

Will sing for laughs.

Comedy HIGHS and Comedy BLUES. It comes with the territory.

And to finish this thought, I don’t remember anyone getting a sitcom within a year of their first open-mic or Improv audition. But I remember the above mentioned comics coming to The NY Improv every night and paying their dues on stage.

Which leads me to another thought about riding these highs and lows. It’s called paying your dues. Some people drop out of the business because they can’t take the lows. Others have no choice (creative artists) and continue – with thicker skin.

But it’s important to realize that just continuing is no guarantee of success. Talent, business, connections and sometimes just plain luck are also involved.

Basically, there’s no straight answer to your question. It is what it is. Sometimes it’s good to take a break and regroup. Other times you put your head down and continue if that’s what you must do. For many creative artists there’s no choice in the matter.

Finally, here’s another creative thought…

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Consider bringing these feelings (blues) into your writing. You don’t have to talk about having “comedy blues” (blues singers go for the sad while comics go for the laughs). This may add more real emotion and real life into your material and delivery. Audiences can always tell when someone is faking it. They can also tell when creative artists are really going for it and sharing something real about themselves.

Most good comics and speakers have that ability. They talk from experience because they’ve paid their dues by riding the creative roller coaster.

Remember – it’s a creative art. And being a creative artist is not always easy.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Publishing a book – NYC agent or do-it-yourself?

April 9, 2017

Hi Dave – Which way do you lean when it comes to publishing a book? Should I get a NYC agent to find a publisher, or self-publish? My blog is essentially a manuscript in progress, which has already been reviewed and rejected by several agents, (via agentquery.com). One actually snail-mailed me an upbeat, albeit, mixed personalized response saying it’s great material but not his style – yet worth publishing. As George Carlin once said: “A definite no yeah.” Thanks for your time! – C.B.

The process begins…

Hey C.B. – Where do I lean when it comes to publishing a book? If you had asked me that question when my first book came out (NYC publisher) you would’ve gotten an ear full of advice NOT to self-publish. But today I’m not leaning one way or the other. I’ve done both and that puts me right in the middle.

  • There are advantages and disadvantages, but there’s no reason why you can’t do both.

This is a topic that comes up lot with both speakers and comedians. These are creative people and one common talent needed to be successful in either or both careers is writing. And one thing I’ll say right now is that I’m sure a lot of us believe in the old saying:

  • Everyone feels they have at least one book in him / her.

It’s one thing to get it written and another getting it published and read (make money from it). The entire process is… well, a book in itself. So right now I’ll just direct my answer to your question:

A NYC agent or self-publish?

First of all let’s clarify. A NYC agent doesn’t guarantee anything. You could have a literary agent in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo or anywhere else. It really doesn’t matter because almost everything they do today is online – just like this newsletter. There are also book fairs that agents attend where scheduled personal schmoozing with publishers from around the world takes place so location is not important.

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And if anyone thinks I’m wrong about that, here’s something to ponder…

My literary agent is based in Atlanta and she scored two book deals for me with NYC publishers. Before that, I lived in Manhattan for 13 years and ran the most famous comedy club in the universe. I had contacts in television, films and nightclubs – but not publishing. As an unpublished wannabe author I would’ve never gotten past the gatekeepers (receptionists) in either publishing house.

But my agent, who is hundreds of miles away, put together the submissions; made the calls (schmoozed) to publishers she’s connected with in the biz (networking), and got the NYC deals.

But to start this process as a first-time author you need to have the product, which is a written book. If you already have a track record or reputation as a published writer or celebrity, an agent could work with you off an idea or outline.

I hope Kim likes this…

Put it this way. If Kim Kardashian picked up a phone and called her agent with a lame book idea, she’d have a publishing deal.

You or me?

We’d better be prepared to submit a completed manuscript if requested. After that, how successful a literary agent is does not matter where he or she is located or whether you truly deserve a book deal or not. It depends mostly on his or her contacts – the ability they have to get your creative work into the right hands.

It’s who they know.

In my view, having a literary agent score you a deal with a real publishing company is a lot more desirable than self-publishing. It’s not easy and some will say it’s pretty much impossible anymore for an unknown. But it can happen (I’m proof). And it’s great for the ego knowing real professionals running real publishing companies believe in your work enough to invest real time and money.

There is also still a stigma about self-publishing. Sorry if I bruised a few egos with that statement, but it’s true. Ask an author, “Who published your book?” They’ll sound a lot more confident and legit when they name a known publishing house rather than answering, “I did…

But now to deviate from the topic for the speakers and comedians these articles are written for…

Who cares about who your publisher is when having a book can increase your income?

To make a living from being a comedian or speaker you have to start thinking like comedians and speakers who know how to make money. They sell books, DVDs, CDs, T-shirts and anything else that’s not nailed down in their dressing room after their shows.

It’s called BOR (Back of the Room) sales and there’s a lot of money to be made from it. And for the self-publisher THAT’s how you make it really worthwhile.

Sign and return!

Having a real publisher release and distribute your book is prestigious and very cool. Plus they’ll pay you – up front. A good publisher will forward the author a $$ advance to finish the book. This comes out of future royalties, but it’s money in your pocket NOW.

Self-publishing will set you back $$’s to see your book in print. I’ve seen the costs actually go down the past few years and I’m a big fan of CreateSpace on Amazon.com. But you’ll still need to make an investment to have printed books available for BOR sales.

It’s like stocking a retail store. You buy the merchandise from a distributor and sell it.

And yeah, I’m quite aware of the low cost eBook market. All my books are also available in that format. But you can’t sell autographed eBooks in the BOR following speaking or comedy gigs. You can only hope your audience will still be excited enough about your book to go online later and buy it at a fraction of the price they would pay for a printed book.

If you’re already a working speaker or comedian, BOR products usually sell after a good performance. The audience either wants more information or a souvenir. A book about your topic – with your signature – gives them both.

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So here’s today’s answer:

Yes – of course you want someone else to publish your book and working with a NYC agent can help big-time. But that process can take years and no guarantee it’s going to happen. In fact, it relates well with another old showbiz saying – most aspiring authors are going to hear “no” more than “yes.”

Can your ego stand it?

Self-publishing is immediate. It’s possible to open a box of books in the morning, have an afternoon speaking or comedy gig in the evening – and spend your night counting $$’s from BOR sales. So even if you’re holding out for a real publishing deal, you should still explore self-publishing options.

But you have to consider the $$ investment to self-publish.

If you think you’ll shop around for a way too cheap it’s too good to be true printing company, remember one thing. You get what you pay for in the publishing biz. Show up with a cheap looking book and your loving audience (potential buyers) will smile, shake your hand, tell you how great you are – and move on to the next speaker or comedian to buy their souvenir.

Either way – published or self-published – if you have a book in you, you need to get it out. I’ll recommend going for a literary agent regardless of where they’re located to find a publisher who normally wouldn’t consider a book submission unless it came from an agent.

How do you do that?

The same way you find event planners and talent bookers. Go online and look around. Start by doing a Google search for Literary Agents – that will keep you busy for a while. Once you find them, research their guidelines for book submissions. The correct how-to info is always on the agency website.

But at the same time – and this is only if you’re already a working speaker or comedian – consider making an investment in printing costs and start making $$’s with BOR sales.

Key phrase from above statement: already a working speaker or comedian.

Author’s basement!

If you’re not getting out in front of an audience to promote your book, you’ll be competing with thousands of other unknown authors to get sales.

Yeah, I know there are success stories from authors only promoting online. But I also know horror stories of self-published authors with stacks of books sitting in their basements because no one ever knew about them and no book stores would order or sell them without a legit publisher and distributor.

Personal appearances can result in BOR sales.

That’s why every movie star on the planet hits the television talk show circuit when their new movie is coming out. It’s called promotions and marketing. If you put in the work to write a book and get published or self-published, you need to make potential customers know about it. And in the creative businesses of speaking and comedy, your best customers are your audiences after a great show.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Build your potential client contact list

March 27, 2017

Hi Dave – Speaking and comedy both sound like serious business. I’m dead serious about the value of comedy in business — way more serious than folks who don’t know how to laugh. How do I get those humorless folks to seriously see how silly it is to filter out fun from the expressions of ideas? How do I make it pay for me to show them how to make it pay for them? – R.W.

No grumpy people here!

Hey R.W. – Here’s something I’ve noticed about the humorous speaking biz. It seems the people who need us the most – and you know the ones I’m talking about, the humorless people – are the last ones to search us out. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say the event planners that schedule humorous speakers already understand the value of humor in the business world. And like us, they’re just trying to convince the other people who need it most to use it.

Anyone who knows anything about the value of humor in business and everyday life already know the positives. I won’t get into a long list, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Less stress
  • Better teamwork
  • Increased productivity and attendance
  • Improved networking

These are topics a lot of serious business speakers and trainers already talk about because their audiences deal with these on a daily basis. It sounds like you’re doing the same with humor as a solution. The way I see it, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to work or cleaning your house. You’re more inclined to actually do it if you can include an element of fun.

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Okay, all that is just to show I agree with your point – and I’m sure many readers of this newsletter do also (the humorless people don’t subscribe). It is, as you so eloquently put it, silly to filter out fun from the expression of ideas. But as I see it, here’s your main question:

How do I make it pay for me to show them how to make it pay for them?

Your goal is to get this message to the humorless folks and get paid for it. But keep in mind they aren’t going to hire you to speak anymore than they would subscribe to this newsletter. They don’t understand the value of your message. That means you need to…

Networking

Network with event planners (people who can hire you) that already agree with your message.

The best way to do this is to show them what you can do. In other words – get out and speak. And the best places to do this are where both humorous and humorless business folks network – meetings.

I’ve talked about this in past FAQs and Answers and even shared some excellent suggestions from readers on where to showcase your program.

But for a simple instruction guide…

If you don’t have it already, create a short (20 minutes is probably max) presentation about your topic and volunteer (for free) to speak at various organizations in your area. This could include Rotary Clubs, associations, charities, alumni groups, or whatever else you find. If you’re having trouble putting together a working presentation, check out my book Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers at Amazon.com.

Free gigs for humorous speakers are like comedy club showcases for comedians. You don’t get paid, but you get in front of people who can hire (and pay) you in the future. But that’s only the start. As I’ve also mentioned in previous FAQs And Answers you need to build a list of potential clients (buyers) through these free gigs and stay in touch with them.

It’s called networking.

Of course you should always take a stack of business cards to hand out after your presentation. This is a no-brainer and business common sense. Include your contact information and website and give a card to anyone who even looks at you sideways. Make it easy for them to find you.

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Comedy Workshop at The Improv

Chicago, Cleveland & Tampa Dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon – 4 pm

Includes evening performance at The Improv

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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Except that’s never a guarantee they’ll contact you. It’s important to give them a reason for you to stay in touch on a regular basis, otherwise you’ll just be another pain in the you-know-what.

Start a blog or send out a weekly or monthly newsletter, (hey wait a minute – that’s how I got you to read this!). Make it informative and entertaining as an incentive for potential clients to at least check it out. Hopefully they’ll subscribe and you’ll become almost like an email family member (like we are right now – correct?).

Again, this makes it easy to find you in case they eventually want to hire you.

But simply handing out business cards can take a long time to build a decent list. You know what I mean – you hand out a bazillion cards and be lucky to hear from one or two people.

So here’s how to kick-start your contact list:

A great way to building potential clients and continue adding to your contact list is to have a prize drawing whenever you do one of these free programs. It’s up to you what the prize will be. It could be almost anything from a CD or printed transcript of your presentation to a plate of cookies. You could even offer a free or discounted presentation for their company. Use your imagination for this one and offer something you think most of your audience would want.

Here’s a personal example…

At the end of my programs, I announce a drawing to win a free autographed copy of one of my books. It doesn’t matter which book because even if the winner is not into the topic they’ll know someone who is and can give it as a gift. But to be in the drawing, they have to put a business card with an email address into a basket. The trade-off is that everyone who enters will be added to the mailing list to receive my corporate (not this one!) newsletter.

The happy winners!

BUT – and this is an important but – I make it clear they can easily unsubscribe through a link in the email. They just need to receive it once. If they like it, they’ll continue to receive it. If not just opt-out and they’ll never hear from me again. And that’s the honest truth.

Everyone who wants to enter puts a business card in the basket. I draw one and that person leaves with a book. I leave the free gig with a basket full of contacts that could possibly turn into paying clients.

So there you go. How do you reach the people who need your message? Get out and preach the gospel – your ideas – in front of people who already get it. Go to where business people and event planners can see and hear you. Use these free gigs to build your contact list.

There are no guarantees they’ll hire you, but at least you’re giving them – and yourself – a chance. You gotta show them what you can do and stay in touch.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Business card – got one?

March 12, 2017

Hi Dave – I’ve decided to order business cards. I was wondering exactly what information to include. I was thinking phone number, email, and website. I was wondering if there was anything else or if there was a reason not to include my address. – K.S.

Hey K.S. – Great decision. I’m always surprised at how many comedians or humorous speakers don’t have business cards. Maybe it seems like a relic from the past – like sending a videotape instead of a link to an online video – but it’s still an important promotional tool.

CoyoteHow is anyone going to know you’re out there and available for gigs if you don’t promote yourself? Unless you’re a known comedian, have a Comedy Central special or a big-time agent pushing for you, you need to be prepared to take care of business.

Of course the FIRST business step is to be such a great comic or speaker that people will want to see you. That comes through writing, performing, rinse and repeat. But once you’re ready to move forward in your career, promotion becomes a big part of the business plan. You need to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that could lead to showcases or even paying gigs. Promotion can help get your foot in the door. Talent, hard work and dedication is what gets you hired.

Like I said in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: They may call it amateur night, but nobody’s looking to hire an amateur.

Memorize that – because it’s true.

I’m not going to get into all the different methods and ways to promote yourself or even talk about showcases since that’s not what your question is about. Let’s talk business cards.

I write a lot about networking and being part of your area’s comedy scene. If you’re out there, you never know who you’re going to meet that could actually help your career. But are you always prepared to take advantage of it?

dave cardWhen I was at The Improv, comedians would talk with us about how to audition, or the best way to send in a promotional video. Then instead of leaving a business card, more than a few would say, “Let me give you my email address,” (or you can substitute “phone number” or “website” or “Facebook page“). They would expect one of the managers to write it down, or would ask for a bar napkin or scrap of paper to scribble out the info.

Were they nuts or what?? There’s no way we’d take someone like that seriously. Sorry but in the back of my head I was thinking, “Amateur…

Or worse yet, the comic would just give his name and say, “I’ll send you a link for my website” or “Keep me in mind when the club does a showcase.”

Sorry, but I suck at remembering names. In fact, right now I have this woman bugging me while I’m trying to write this. Oh man… what’s her name? I should remember since I’m married to her…

Get the idea?

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 25, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon – 4 pm

Evening performance at The Improv – Wednesday, April 12

Chicago Spring 2017 Dates TBA – Stay Tuned!

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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When someone like a talent booker, event planner or club manager deals with a LOT of comedians or speakers, give them the BEST and EASIEST way to remember who you are and how to get in touch with you. Business cards are not a relic from the past or uncool to hand out. In fact, it’s an important part of doing business – if you’re serious about it.

Another example…

A young comedian dropped off a DVD for possible work at the club. Instead of an unreadable name and phone number scribbled in marker on the DVD, he had a professional looking business card in the plastic cover. That didn’t mean he would get hired or even score a showcase – talent and experience will determine that – but it certainly gave the image of being serious about his career.

Remember – nobody wants to hire an amateur.

So to finally answer your question, a business card should include your name, what you do (comedian and/or speaker, etc…), the best way(s) to contact you, and where potential clients can see your video and promo material:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Website
  • If you have a blog, newsletter or podcast that pertains to your career and is interesting, include the link

A smart idea is to design your business card to stand out from the competition.

template cardA photo of yourself or a logo will work. But if you (or a friend) have experience doing this, the idea is to have a business card that’s SO unique and interesting and basically SO cool – the people you give it to will actually keep it, rather than eventually tossing it away or losing it in a drawer.

I know that’s tough to do – and I’m always trying to come up with new designs that fit my definition of SO cool. But it’s always a goal.

If nothing else, go on a website that offers inexpensive business cards (there are plenty, but for a suggestion try VistaPrint), design one or two with different looks and never leave home without at least a few. You can always change or update the cards later since they’ve become very inexpensive (and sometimes free).

If you’re serious about this business you have to take promoting and networking seriously.

When you make a new contact or stumble into an opportunity, a business card makes it clear who you are and how they can get in touch with you. There’s nothing amateur about that.

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Word of warning (based on your above question):

Never put your home address on your business card or any promotional material. You don’t know who will wind up with this stuff and the last thing you need is some wacko stalking you. And yes, I’ve known this to happen with both male and female performers (so don’t be a sexist and think you’re immune).

Amateurish or a relic of the past?

Not when a business card can make it easy to find you and hire you. It’s called being a professional.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

The comedy police

February 27, 2017

Hey Dave – I was at an open-mic last week. A comic went on stage and “called out” another comic who had gone on before him for stealing jokes. He did this from the stage. But afterwards he couldn’t prove it and no one else could remember hearing the jokes anywhere else before. We think he was wrong and he handled it wrong. Any thoughts? – D

Hey D – I always have thoughts. And when they’re thoughts about comics or speakers stealing material, they’re never good thoughts.

Keystone Cops

There oughta be a law!

What a jerk.

Wait… let me rethink. We might have two jerks here. Allow me to think out loud – or at least in LOUD writing.

JERK #1:

This honor goes to the comic who “called out” the other one from the stage. First of all, as he admitted later, he had no proof for doing this. Maybe he thought it was funny to be on the edge – which can sometimes be very funny. But in the situation you described, it’s not funny when it’s at the expense of someone who is also using an open-mic to become a better comic (the purpose of doing these).

Of course this is assuming the first comic actually didn’t steal any material.

The comic who accused the other should’ve talked with him off stage and not dissed him in front of an audience. A little courtesy is due, unless that comic is known for stealing material. In that case I’d say go ahead and trash him. I’m sure most comics will agree.

But without proof and only working off a hunch, the more professional way is to take that person aside and talk with him – privately – about it. This is a topic in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers with Bill Engvall answering the question.

Bill talked about the comedy police.

"Hey, I've heard that joke!"

“Hey, I’ve heard that joke!”

Basically, when you think a comic is stealing material, mention it to him/her – off stage. In other words, honest comics will police each other. They’ll warn each other if another comic is doing the same joke or bit. But if the warned comic continues with it – then there could be repercussions.

I’ll give you an example of that in a moment, but in the meantime…

The comic may not even realize he/she is doing it and has actually written a joke too similar to a joke someone else is doing.

I’ve seen it happen…

Two comedians – one in NYC and the other in LA – wrote the same joke. They didn’t know each other and as far as I know from talking with both, had never even played the same clubs. But the one in LA was booked for an appearance on the television show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv and did the joke.

I know because I was standing off camera at the time.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 25, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon – 4 pm

Evening performance at The Improv – Wednesday, April 12

Chicago Spring 2017 Dates TBA – Stay Tuned!

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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After the taping I mentioned it to the other comic in NYC and he immediately told me he had to stop doing the joke. The comic who did it on television was now the owner because of the audience exposure. He never felt the other comic stole it from him because they weren’t in the same comedy circle. He felt bad because the joke was based on his appearance, but then again it worked that way for the other comic also.

The bottom line was that he understood how the business works. He could never do that joke again without a member of the comedy police calling him out on it.

So it’s possible a comedian might be doing material too similar to someone else and not realizes it. The best way to handle it is without grandstanding in front of an audience. Tell that comic after the show and give proof. If he continues – then everyone can trash him.

Just like the following…

JERK #2:

Navin R. Johnson

“The Jerk” not “a jerk.”

If a comic or speaker is stealing material and is caught, a wise move is for that comic or speaker to NOT do it again and to start writing. Otherwise they risk suffering the consequences.

Here’s what I mean…

There was an open-mic comic in NYC when I was starting out. He was a nice guy and it didn’t hurt his standing with us that he ran a popular open-mic where new comics could get stage time.

He wasn’t any better than any of the other comics just starting out. They were all working on creating material and trying to figure out how to deliver it on stage. Every once in awhile someone would come up with a good joke or bit – which would become a keeper in his or her set.

This guy was also developing his act, but every few weeks he’d travel to Florida where he told us he was a headliner. We knew his family lived there, but he always said he went for work and visiting his family just meant he had a place to stay for free.

But the headliner part of his story never seemed right.

If that was true, the Florida comedy scene must have been really hurting and a smart move would’ve been for all the other new comics to move there for headlining gigs. Of course I’ve learned from first hand experience that’s not true (and yes, that was a positive shout-out to all the comics I met at my Tampa workshops last year!). Other possibilities were that he had friends booking clubs or was delusional. We just couldn’t figure out which.

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Then a real headliner from NYC told us what was going on. He had just played a club in Florida and our “friend” was opening for him. He was doing the best bits he had stolen from the open-mic comics playing his open-mic club.

Say what?!

The reaction was worse than getting “called out” from on stage. Let’s just say no one would play his open-mic anymore (he lost it) and no one that ran an open-mic would give him stage time. Word spread around the NYC comedy scene and eventually I’d heard he had moved back to Florida to pursue his floundering comedy career. Actually I heard he was parking cars, but I have no proof to call him out on that.

But I do have this proof…

A few years later I was the talent coordinator for the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv in LA. He called – out of the blue – and tried to play the friend card with me for an audition. To make a short story even shorter – he didn’t get the audition.

Stooges Police

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Chalk another one up for the comedy police.

So I guess to answer your question, yeah – I think it was wrong for the guy (jerk #1) to call the other comic out from on stage. If he really thought there was an issue of stealing, he should’ve have talked with him in private. The other comic may not even have realized it, but if there’s proof he should stop.

If he did steal, a warning from a member of the comedy police should convince him not to do it again.

If you’re already part of your area comedy scene you already know what a small world it really is. If it’s obvious this comic is stealing and continues to do so, the word will get out and it’s doubtful anyone would ever want to work with this jerk. Odds are better he’ll be parking cars somewhere before he ever has a chance to “own” anyone else’s jokes on television.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Personality separates you from the competition

February 18, 2017

Hi Dave – I do a lot of presentations through my job. These are specific to the industry and I’d like to start speaking at related conferences. I’m not a stand-up comedian, but know the importance of humor in getting my message across to an audience. Many of my friends think I am funny in an I Love Lucy kind of way… Which I suppose comes naturally. However, I am not sure how to release that side of me when I am giving a humorous presentation. Thanks – DB

bored-audience

Not connecting!

Hey DB – When it comes to giving a presentation as a humorous speaker or doing a set as a comedian, you must connect with your audience. That’s the bottom line – period. If you don’t connect, they don’t listen.

What’s a great way to connect? By doing what comes naturally and showing off your personality. Let me explain…

Working comics know performing stand-up is more than telling jokes. Anyone can tell a joke, and some better than others. But to be a successful performer, you need to show who you are on stage.

Comics, agents, managers and talent bookers call it your comedy voice. For our purposes, we’ll call it your personality as a speaker.

The classic joke-tellers like Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman (to mention only two) had GREAT personalities on stage. That’s what sold their material to an audience.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 25, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon – 4 pm

Evening performance at The Improv – Wednesday, April 12

Chicago Spring 2017 Dates TBA – Stay Tuned!

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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They could do a series of basic (and clever) one, two or three line jokes that fans couldn’t wait to re-tell the next day around the water cooler or in school. The fans’ renditions might get laughs from their coworkers and friends, but rarely ever the same as the originals.

As imitators, we couldn’t match their personalities.

RodneyThat’s why Dangerfield and Youngman (and if you don’t know these guys, brush up on your comedy history) were paid big bucks to do their jokes on stage while the rest of us (the fans) got detentions for re-telling their jokes in school.

Dangerfield’s jokes worked because of his personality – who he was on stage (his comedy voice). He had a talent for putting himself down…

  • I get no respect.

HennyYoungman’s personality made him a natural at making wise-cracks (another talent most of us shared to earn school detentions)…

  • Take my wife… please!

Without showcasing their personalities, these legendary comics might never have stood out from the pack of other wise-cracking joke-tellers.

The same can be said of humorous speakers.

I always get a laugh at – as opposed to with – humorous speakers who call themselves humorous speakers just because they throw in a lame joke once in awhile during a presentation. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. For the opening of their presentation they’ll repeat a joke they found on the internet or even worse, take an old joke and re-work it to make it seem as if it were a true story that pertains to their topic.

This – they think – makes them a humorous speaker.

I’m almost gagging as I write this since it reminds me of how I’ve seen speakers do this WAY too often. For some reason they hide their unique and fun(ny) “real” personalities (we all have one, though some are more outgoing than others), because they assume it’s the only way an audience will take them seriously as trainers and educators.

That’s fine if you’re strictly a no-frills, non-humorous speaker, trainer or educator. But if you’re billed as a humorous speaker and want to stand out from the competition it’s important to use your natural talent.

Your personality.

So… your friends say you’re similar to the legendary Lucille Ball? Then there must be some truth in their opinions. I assume you’re not trying to imitate Lucy, but you just somehow remind people of her. It’s part of your personality.

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As a humorous speaker you want to find a way to bring your personality onto the speaker’s platform with you. It’s who you are and what makes you an individual and unique when compared to others who speak on the same topic. That’s what helps separate you from the competition – the other humorous speakers who want to be hired for the same gig.

You don’t have to imitate Lucy. In fact I recommend you DON’T imitate Lucy. Unless you’re hired to play her as a character it would take the believability away from your message. But if you have a talent for making funny statements or even physical humor – which is probably why your friends compare you to Lucy – then use your talent in your delivery.

lucille-ball-candy

We love Lucy!

But before you plan on filling your mouth with chocolate candy or presenting from a scaffold on the side of a building, (I Love Lucy fans know exactly what I’m talking about), keep in mind Lucy’s style of physical comedy doesn’t necessarily mean slapstick comedy. You don’t have to overdo it to stand-out.

Keep it simple. It could just be a look or way you naturally use your hands. If it’s part of your personality, what good does it do to hide it? If you’re in the humor game, it’s all about not being a stiff, boring speaker. Use your natural personality to connect with an audience.

Here’s the bottom line.

You don’t need to tell jokes to be an effective humorous speaker. If you have a signature story, examples or descriptions relating to your topic that an audience could find funny – make them funny. Don’t be afraid to use facial expressions, hand gestures or movement. Don’t get stuck standing in one place showing a power point or simply reciting solutions to problems – or telling old jokes.

Use your personality.

It’s a natural talent that you use everyday. Think of the last time you were together with a group of friends. Maybe you were sitting around someone’s kitchen table and you wanted to tell your family or friends about something that happened to you that day. It could be as simple as your drive to work, but something interesting (and hopefully) funny happened.

  • How would you tell it in a way that would get the reaction you wanted?
  • How could you tell it in a way that would make your family or friends laugh?

Here’s a good tip. Think of the audience as a room full of friends. How would you deliver your message (the topic of your presentation) to them in a way that not only informs, but also entertains them?

By using your personality.

They’ll remember you over a boring speaker – or one trying to entertain with an old joke you’ve probably heard before – with the same message. That’s how you stand out from the competition.

It worked for Rodney, Henny and Lucy – and more than a few humorous speakers and working comics. There’s no reason why it can’t work for you also.

*

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Does anyone send out DVDs anymore?

January 30, 2017

Hey Dave – Does anyone really send out DVD’s anymore? Do bookers even look at them? I think online is the way to go. – C.L.

Hey C.L. – The answer to your question was obvious to me when I was (pretend) shopping for a new computer. I wasn’t actually going to buy anything, but I wanted to see firsthand the new features I’m missing out on.

DVD hammer

Unloading a DVD

The techno-wizard I was soaking for information was in the middle of his sales pitch for a popular brand miniature laptop when I asked a question that stopped him cold:

“Where do you load in the DVD?”

To describe his response, imagine you just walked onstage. You’ve delivered your opening line and the audience responds with a silent stare. THAT’s what this guy did to me. On stage you start to sweat because no one laughed. One-on-one in a computer store I just hoped this guy DIDN’T laugh.

Mr. Wizard showed me a flash drive and said it takes the place of a DVD. If that gets too full or you start collecting too many, all your videos can be stored in a cloud.

The obvious joke right now is to say my head was in a cloud after this piece of information. According to him, DVD’s are old school – similar to how my kids describe my musical tastes.

No doubt there are talent bookers and event planners that are techno-savvy, but I also happen to know a few who make me seem like a computer genius. One even looks at his DVD player as an evil device that made his trusted VCR obsolete (really old school). I’m serious – no joke.

So that brings us back to your question. Does anyone send out DVD’s anymore?

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Winter 2017 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv is SOLD OUT!

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Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

For information and to register for future workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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Not really – but sometimes…

From talking with comedians, bookers and personal experience, almost everything today is done online. You can really see a generation gap if someone requests a DVD (old school). It’s a lot easier to watch comedy sets online. I do it all the time – and you probably do also.

Of course nothing beats a live showcase. But if you can’t arrange that in person or through connections, a film of your set is the next best thing. And if you’re not online you’re not in the business.

I've got the time!

That was easy!

With comedy clubs, a great video can lead to a scheduled showcase or even a paid gig. And as I’m sure many of you know there are a lot of comedians hoping for one of those spots. With the amount of videos club bookers are asked to watch, it’s a good idea to make the process as easy as possible. And as you should also know, clicking an online link is a lot easier than loading and ejecting DVDs. It’s also faster which allows them to watch more comedian submissions.

When it comes to the corporate and college markets, I can’t remember the last time I had to make a DVD and send it to a client. Videos are now imbedded into websites or through links on YouTube or Vimeo. When an event planner or student activities booker is searching for entertainment they watch online videos. It’s immediate and they can also forward the link to any other decision makers. It really makes business practices from only few years ago seem like we were working in the Stone Age.

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But there will always be exceptions. I’ve heard of a few bookers who still require a hard copy promo package and DVD. I’m just mentioning that in case you run into any. If you have a good website it should be easy to burn a copy of your video onto a DVD, run off copies of your bio, resume and headshot, put it all in a two-pocket folder and send via snail mail.

Burning a DVD

A good argument for DVDs would come from comedians with television credits. Of course it’s impressive for bookers to see your set from an appearance on Comedy Central (or another network), but with copyrights and other legalities chances are they won’t let you post it online. The networks usually give comics a “personal copy” and they’re allowed to use it for “personal reasons.”

That would include burning it onto a DVD and sending to bookers for potential gigs. But don’t try selling it after your show unless you also want the credit of “bootlegger” on your resume.

So getting back to your question…

No – nobody sends out DVD’s anymore and…

YES – sometimes they do.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

How to get letters of recommendation

January 15, 2017

Hey Dave – You had an article a while back about using quotes from clients as promotion on websites. I’ve been doing sets for some local businesses and clubs and the people who hire me say they like what I do. Can I just take what they say and post it on my website or do I need it in writing? How do I get these quotes? I want to move into doing better paying corporate shows. Thanks – H.P.

Hey H.P. – You have a good memory. I ran an FAQ and Answer last June about using “Blurbs and Letters of Recommendation.” Since I only keep these ramblings posted for six months before hitting delete, it’s no longer online. BUT because I’m a good guy (play along if you don’t actually know me) I’ll paste it at the bottom of this one in case anyone wants to check it out.

So we’ll consider this week’s FAQ and Answer a two-parter. Two for the price of… well, nothing. Geez, maybe I should move into a better paying market.

duck-soup-1

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”

As a brief synopsis, the earlier article talked about what you’d want a client to say about you and your performance in a good letter (or email) of recommendation. I pointed out that at best it would be an advertisement for what you contributed to the event – and an enticement for potential clients to hire you for future gigs. Then you would pull out a line or two (a “blurb“) to post on your website, similar to a short positive review you’d see on a book cover.

But I won’t repeat all that. The article is posted below so we’ll just continue from here…

As a lot of comedians and speakers know, a letter of recommendation is never a slam dunk. In other words a client may promise to send you one, but that doesn’t make it a guarantee. It doesn’t (always) mean they didn’t like you or your performance, it’s just sometimes they find work, life and other important stuff takes up their time.

They might just forget.

What I suspect is that writing a letter of recommendation – at least for some people – is like doing homework. They may look at writing as “work” or they really don’t know how to put their thoughts into words. They’re not writers like most comedians and speakers, and will put it off the extra work until… like… forever.

We’ll deal with those procrastinators in a moment. But first…

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January 2017 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv is SOLD OUT!

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Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

For information and to register for future workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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To help jolt the memory of clients who might not realize the importance of a letter of recommendation to your career, here’s a tip I learned a long time ago from successful speakers and comedians.

And believe me – it works a LOT more than it doesn’t…

Always take a self-addressed, stamped envelope to all your gigs. When you’re talking with the client after your performance and they’re telling you how great you were, the audience loved it, yadda-yadda-yadda, come right out and ask for the letter. They’re already giving you a positive review, so just make it part of the conversation. And when they say yes – and they will if they’re heaping praise on you – hand them the envelope. Tell them you’re making it easy for them.

Sign here please!

Sign here please!

Seriously. I’m not joking.

Before I started doing this, it was always hit or miss on getting a letter. But once they have the SASE it apparently makes it easier for them to remember. I also suspect they would feel a bit guilty having that envelope and not following through on their promise. So for that reason alone, let’s call it the guilt factor.

It works more than it doesn’t.

It also helps if you send a thank you email, letter or postcard – depending on how you’ve been communicating with the client before the gig. It’s the follow-up that you should be doing anyway. If you haven’t received one by that time, use that opportunity to remind them about a letter of recommendation.

BTW – an email of recommendation is also acceptable. Just like using quotes and photos in a book, I feel it’s important to have something in writing from the person recommending you as proof of their permission. A verbal quote is fine, but they may forget, see their name on your website and… well, like any good business deal having something in writing is always best.

If you still don’t get the letter AND especially for those clients who really aren’t writers and plan to put this off forever, here’s another option. And again – I don’t make this stuff up. I was given this advice by a highly paid and constantly working humorous speaker at a meeting of The National Speakers Association (NSA). And the reason I’m telling you that is because I found making that reference worthy of being a “blurb” to back up this technique…

phone call

Make the call

If you haven’t received a letter a week after your performance, call the client. Since you’ve already worked for them, you should at least have a one phone call relationship where you can again thank them for the gig. You can also ask for any advice or feedback about your performance.

If they have good things to say – and they should if they said it after your performance – ask again about a letter. If the client apologizes and has excuses about being busy, etc… Offer to make their life easier. Ask if you can write the letter (or email) yourself and send it to them.

Again – I don’t make this stuff up. I’ve used this advice and it worked for me – and obviously for the guy that gave me the tip in the first place.

Remind the client it’s important for future bookings or that talent agents and event planners really need recommendations to work with you. Say you’ll write something simple, will send it, (email or with a SASE), and they can edit or change it any way they’d like. Your request is that they email it back with their “okay” (endorsement) or copy it onto a page with company letterhead, sign and return (using your generously supplied SASE). You can usually hear them breathe a sigh of relief on the phone. They just got someone else – you – to do their homework for them.

Okay, most working comics and speakers are probably thinking this is elementary stuff. They know about this. So my excuse is that these tips are for the newbies that don’t. I’ve mentioned this to beginning comics in my workshops and can see eyes light up. Yeah, these are good ideas and they work.

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One generous reader also sent me an email about the importance today of having video letters of recommendation. Again – great idea!

Always consider filming your performance (ask client’s permission first). It could be for promotional purposes or just a way to review your set. If the client or audience members are giving you high praise after your program, ask if they would say it into the camera.

Seriously – again – I’m not joking. Along with a lot of other comics and speakers, I’ve done this and it works. Add their video endorsements to your promo reel. As I said in the earlier article pasted below, it’s always better when someone else is telling the world how great you are – rather than you having to talk yourself up.

And speaking of the earlier article, you can scroll down past all my shameless promotion and comments request below and start reading.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

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Now as promised…

241

Blurbs and Letters of Recommendation

First published June 16, 2016

Hey Dave – I remember you had an article about what goes into a good recommendation letter. I have a few from doing corporate shows and fundraisers. Since you’ve also pointed out that promo is online I was wondering how to get these letters in front of talent bookers. It’s not like the old days when we could make paper copies to send in with a promo package. Thoughts? – J.W.

Hey J.W. – The article you’re talking about was on what would go into a good letter of recommendation. The idea is to share a client’s positive review about your performance and what you contributed to the event. The idea is to show potential clients, event planners and talent bookers you have a track record – experience – at helping to make other events successful. And as we know, they also want their events to be successful.

Here are a few examples of feedback that work in a good letter of recommendation:

  • Great performance
  • Lots of laughs
  • Engaged the audience
  • Easy to work with
  • Great audience feedback
  • Went out of your way to make the event a success.

All that type of good word is… well, good word for you.

You still want to collect letters – or emails – of recommendation. But yeah, the days of printing up paper copies are pretty much ancient history. That’s good for the trees – and also good for streamlining your promotional material. Not to mention saving postal costs from the days when we had to send everything via snail mail.

Today everything goes on your website. And like a modern 15- 20 second television commercial (in the “old days” they could last a minute or even 90 seconds) you need to promote yourself and your services with the best attention-grabbing statements.

What you are looking for is one great sentence or a few short ones together that you can pull out and use on the homepage of your website, LinkedIn, Facebook or other one-page promo.

Something like…

“J.W. was very funny and our audience loved him. We look forward to working with him again.” – name of client / company / event, etc…

The idea is to use this sentence as a blurb, which is a short and positive review similar to what you see on the back of book covers. Or now that so many books are eBooks, these blurbs – recommendations from reviewers – usually follow the book cover image. These are enticements, which is another word for advertisements that will keep potential buyers interested in buying the book.

I know I’m getting off track (my track record?) but for an example of how a good blurb should be written go online to the Amazon.com and look for Kindle books.

You don’t need a Kindle reader to do this. Find any book and click the Look Inside feature. The following will work with almost any eBook…

When you click Look Inside a separate window will open and you’ll get a free sample of the book to read. It’s just like the “old days” of going to your local bookstore where you could pull a book off the shelf, do a quick look and decide if you want to buy it or not.

Ebooks do this online for the same reason. You can read a sample before you buy.

Okay, like I said I’m going off track (you were warned) but follow me on this. It’ll make sense at the end…

Unlike physical books with real paper pages, eBooks only offer the beginning of each book you want to sample. It’s usually only the first 10 or 20 percent. To see the rest, you have to buy it.

So publishers and advertisers (enticers) need to grab a reader’s attention right from the first page and hold it for that first 10% or 20%. There should be no wasted space.

So instead of being similar to a paper book that starts out with title pages, copyright pages, dedication pages, thank you pages, blank pages and other traditional book beginnings, it’s important for eBooks to entice readers right from the very start into purchasing the book. There is also no back cover for an ebook to display descriptions (advertisements) about what’s inside.

So immediately after the cover image you’ll see a short overview (enticement) of the book and the best reviews (advertisements). Since the publishers want to display as many good reviews as possible to convince you to buy it and only have 10% to 20% of an ebook to do that, they’ll only use the best statement(s) from reviews that were probably longer.

These are blurbs.

Following the blurbs the same will jump right into a Table of Contents (more enticements) and the beginning of the book. This gives potential buyers an immediate feel for what they’re buying. The copyright pages and all the rest of the legal stuff and personal comments (“Thanks mom and dad for your support!”) will appear at the end of the eBook. The legal stuff is needed to keep the government and tax man off your back, while the personal stuff keeps family and friends happy. But none of it helps to make a sale.

Now, to get back on track. I detailed these standard publishing techniques because…

You need to start thinking the same way. You’re selling your service just like publishers sell their eBooks. These online books are great FREE examples of how advertising (blurbs of recommendation) should look and work for you. Take a look at the short and attention grabbing one or two sentence reviews at the beginning of an eBook and you’ll understand what you should be looking for in a letter of recommendation. You’ll know what to pull out and use on your website and in your promo material for a blurb.

Get great blurbs (advertising) and put them where potential clients (buyers) will be sure to see them – near the beginning of your promo. It will entice them to read more about you. And if they like what they read, they’ll continue to read. And once they know more about the positives you can bring to their show or event you’ll have a better chance of nailing the job.

You can also check out websites for other comedians and speakers. Any of them that have great letters of recommendation will have the best blurbs posted online for potential clients to read. It’s also common to have a “Reviews” page linked to the home page with a list of blurbs.

Websites for working comics and speakers are loaded with them.

The deal is that you can talk yourself up all you want and great salesmen are skilled at that. But nothing beats someone else talking you up. That’s what a great review – blurbs and letters of recommendation – will accomplish.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.