Booking conference gigs: think big and start small

October 17, 2016

Hi Dave – I just joined your email list. I do humor and did my first two stand-up open mics… rough crowd. Someone threw a cup of ice at one of the other comedians. My goal: to get some gigs entertaining at travel conferences. I have a bunch of funny travel stories. Any idea who I approach? A booking agent? I’m new to this, so any thoughts are appreciated. – R.R.

Open mic night

Open mic night

Hey R.R. – Only one cup of ice and you call it a rough crowd? Welcome to the world of open mics. No wonder you want to perform at conference / corporate gigs. They’re usually better behaved and the most they’d throw at you are icy stares if you’re not funny.

What you really need to concentrate on is getting more experience performing in front of an audience. Two stand-up open mics are a great start, but you need a LOT more. It’s key for working not only on your material, but also timing and delivery – and avoiding icy stares.

That can only be learned through on stage experience.

So in addition to getting more performing experience, my suggestion for you right now would be to focus on writing. Specifically – since you mentioned it – writing funny travel stories. It’s a topic that interests you and what you want to share with an audience.

I mean, after all, you mentioned it…

This is true for anyone who writes, whether it’s comedy material, a speaker’s presentation, short stories, epic novels… and the list goes on and on. If you don’t find it interesting, chances are your audience won’t either.

There are many different writing techniques to help you get started, or if you’ve already started, how to organize your efforts into a working comedy set or presentation. I’ve shared more than a few in past FAQs And Answers and organized the best of those in my book Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material (check out Amazon.com – it’s cheap… or as they say in the corporate world: inexpensive).

In the meantime, pick topics that you really want to talk about. In your case, travel stories.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday, November 12, 2016

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays (skip Thanksgiving Weekend)

Includes evening performance at The Improv on December 7th!

For details, reviews and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Start small.

What I mean by that is to work on coming up with a short five minute set or presentation. It’s like writing a book. You may have an outline for an entire novel, but you still have to write it one chapter at a time. To use an old saying to back me up:

big food

Thought I could do it…

Don’t bite off more than you chew.

Put together what you feel is a great five minute presentation. Fill it out. Use colors (my favorite term for great descriptions). If it’s about travel – take the audience there with you through colors and experiences. And since we’re also talking about humor, be creative and funny with your writing.

The next step is to try it out in front of an audience. If you’re a stand up comedian, hit all the open mic clubs in your area as many times as they’ll let you on stage. But since you’re looking to break into the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker, volunteer to do your short presentation at local business organizations and special interest groups during their breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings.

For free.

Why free? Because it’s a practice session for you. Like open mics for comedians, these organizations are doing YOU the favor – not the other way around.

I’ve written a lot about this concept in past FAQs And Answers. It’s the open mic circuit for corporate entertainers and the best way to put together a presentation. But remember, keep it squeaky clean and G-rated (another concept I’ve shared a lot about in past articles).

That’s the ONLY way to work in this market. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.

Once your five minutes works on an audience (gets laughs), start writing another five minutes and trying it out in front of live audiences. Repeat the process. When that works, guess what?

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You’ll have TEN minutes of working material.

For talent agents booking corporate shows and event planners, the term conference means more than just a simple breakfast, lunch, or dinner meeting. It basically describes more of an event that can be spread out over time – for instance, a few days or an entire weekend – and can include keynotes, training seminars, break-out sessions, field trips, banquets, entertainment, awards ceremonies, and other programs that make up the entire conference.

And to have a successful conference, businesses, organizations and meeting planners want successful presentations from proven presenters. Make sense? It needs to if you want to work in the conference market.

When it comes to entertainment (comedians and humorous speakers), conferences usually schedule 45 minutes to an hour of performance time. Keynote speakers, break-out sessions and training seminars are different types of programs than what your question pertains to, so I’ll save writing that epic article for another time.

Event planners will call agents, watch videos and ask other event planners or clients for recommendations. They want a comedian or humorous speaker who has proven he/she can provide the entertainment or entertaining message they need for this particular conference.

Why?

  1. Because they paid good money and want their money’s worth and…
  2. If this conference gets good word-of-mouth, everyone and more will want to attend the next one. That reeks of success in the business world!

The best way to break in is to think big and start small.

trash shot

Trashing what doesn’t work

Focus on your material and get stage experience. Build your presentation or comedy set “chapter by chapter.” On stage experience will help develop your delivery style and timing while also helping you get rid of material that doesn’t work and concentrate on creating new material that does.

The only way to do this is through continued writing and performing. And the only way to know for sure if it works or not is from audience reaction. An audience will always tell you. It’s a process and hopefully this advice will take some time off the learning curve.

Finally, I wouldn’t think about contacting a booking agent or event planner until you’re truly confident you can deliver the goods. That means proven (audience tested) material from an experienced comedian or humorous speaker.

You’ll have a good idea you’re ready when your free gigs start leading to paying gigs. Someone in the audience might hand you a business card after a performance and ask if you’re available for their next meeting or conference. I’ve seen it happen – a lot. And when it does, just be prepared to ask…

Where, when and how much are you gonna pay me?

When it happens on a consistent basis, booking agents will be looking to work with you. Why? Because YOUR proven experience will help them attract paying clients. I’ve seen it happen – a lot.

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 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Going solo or part of a comedy team

October 3, 2016

Hey Dave – Is it easier to be a single comic or have a partner go on stage with you? – B.H.

Hey B.H. – Neither is easy. As the old saying goes, if it was easy then everyone would do it. And as long as I’m throwing out sayings, here’s another one from my first book – which makes it an older saying than any used in my second book:

Comedy is a serious business – with a lot of laughs.

Martin and Lewis

Martin and Lewis

For our purposes today, the key to that saying is the word business. When you have an on stage partner not only are you co-writing and co-performing, you’re also business partners. This means also sharing the off stage business duties such as publicity, booking gigs, scheduling auditions and showcases, arranging travel, and (in many cases) sharing rooms and all expenses while on the road.

But probably the one detail that stops most potential comedy teams dead in their tracks is this one important detail:

Comedy teams have to split the profits while single comics keep it all.

That may not seem like a big deal if your super stardom brings in the big bucks. I know there are improvisational and sketch groups performing in theaters and at private / corporate shows that provide a good income for all (or most of?) the troupe members. There are also legendary comedy duos such as Cheech and Chong, Martin and Lewis and The Smothers Brothers that could afford their individual lifestyles after dividing the profits. But all (or most) comedians really don’t make much money when they’re starting out, which is a big consideration when you’re thinking about taking on a business partner.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday, November 12, 2016

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays (skip Thanksgiving Weekend)

Includes evening performance at The Improv on December 7th!

For details, reviews and info about upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

October 2016 workshop at The Chicago Improv is SOLD OUT!

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I tell aspiring comics in my workshops that in the beginning it’s going to cost THEM money to do this. They’ll be paying for their own transportation, meals and even accommodations (or sleeping in their car) until they can move up into at least the MC / opening act position in the better (meaning paying) comedy clubs. But it’s tough to even imagine having a savings account or a down payment on a house until you start booking feature and headlining slots at the best comedy clubs, or working in the corporate or college markets.

When you’re starting out in the comedy business it’s a lot like being an apprentice or going to college. There’s a lot of dues-paying and learning the ropes through experience before even thinking about a profit.

This makes it tough for just one comic to survive. A comedy team would split the costs, BUT would also have to split the profits. And don’t think just because there are two of you performing as a team that a comedy club owner is going to pay you twice what he pays a solo act.

Excuse me while I try to stop laughing at that thought…

Tommy Boy

Okay, I’ve caught my breath. Let’s continue…

Comedy is a business (there’s that word again!) and club owners will only pay x-amount of $$’s for a show that will make their audiences laugh. What that “x-amount factor” is depends on the performer’s market value.

For example, Louie CK can sell out arenas. For our purpose, let’s put him in a 500-seat comedy club with a top dollar ticket price of… oh, let’s say $100 a ticket.

Cheech and Chong

Cheech and Chong

Because his star-power sells every ticket, the club owner will pay him more than another headliner who can’t sell-out the club. If Louie brings a partner to perform with him – they can’t sell any more tickets because there are still only 500 seats. And because the ticket price for a non-fundraising club show is pretty much maxed out at $100, it’s highly doubtful the average comedy fan will pay more than that for a show.

The profit for the club owner is the same regardless.

Whether it takes one comic or ten to do the job doesn’t matter because the pay for the entertainment – whether a negotiated price or a percentage based on the amount of tickets sold – will also stay the same. So the smart move for Louie CK is to forget about bringing in a partner and do the show solo. That way he keeps the full payment.

smothers-brothers

The Smothers Brothers

As far as I’m concerned – this is why you don’t see many comedy teams anymore. No one can afford it.

But if you want to make a go of it with a partner, look over the list I gave above. You need to write, perform, travel and live well together – and also share business duties and expenses. And when a booker finally hands you a paycheck, you also have to be ready to share it with your partner.

If you can do all that, it’s easy. Well, okay – it’s not all that easy. If it was, then everyone would be doing it.

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 newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Always ask before you audition

September 19, 2016

Hey Dave – I have a big audition coming up. I’m not going to have any profanity in my (comedy) set, but I’m thinking of having a cleaner version and another one that is a bit edgier. I’m thinking of asking the panel of judges what type of set they want before I perform. Do you think this is a good idea? Thanks – DS

eintsteinquestioneverythingHey DS – Yeah, I always think it’s a great idea to ask the judges at a contest – or talent booker for a club or any other venue where you’re showcasing – about any restrictions they might have on material and language. In fact I emphasize this point in my workshops for a couple reasons:

  1. It shows experience. You can adjust your material depending on the audience – and talent bookers like that. (It’s a business – remember?)
  2. It can give you an edge over the competition. I know I talk a lot about how supportive the comedy industry is (nothing has changed my mind about that), but the bottom line is that they can’t hire everyone so you need to stand-out at showcases. Again – think business.

For an example, there may only be five performance spots available for a television show. But you know as well as I do that a LOT more than five comics will be auditioning. Of course being funny is the No. 1 factor – and face it, sometimes it’s who you know (am I right Hollywood comics?!).

So let’s assume everyone at the showcase is funny and knows the same people, so those requirements are met. The tie-breaker would be knowing who the audience will be and adjusting your material and performance for that audience.

You’re not going to perform the same set on The Disney Channel that you’d do on a Comedy Central Roast. Get it?

Here’s another example…

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – October 8, 2016

Space limited to 10 people – see link below to register!

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes a performance at The Chicago Improv

Wednesday – October 26 at 8 pm

For details, reviews and to reserve your spot visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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If you’re auditioning for work on a cruise ship and walk on stage dropping “F-Bombs” and complaining in detail about your sex life, you might as well pack your bags and consider a career on dry land. Half of the on board comedy shows are early evening family events with blue-haired ladies and their preteen grandchildren in the front rows. Later after the kids are asleep the parents will go out for the adult humor comedy shows by the same comics in one of the ship’s late night lounges. But if you can’t show at an audition that you can play to both crowds, you won’t get hired.

cruiseHow would you know this if you’ve never been on a cruise or had a chance to pick the brain of someone who works cruise ships? The only way I know would be to ask the person auditioning you for the gig BEFORE you audition.

Of course this advice means nothing if you’re already settled into who you are on stage (your comedy voice) and it doesn’t work in certain venues. Trust me, I’m not trying to push everyone in the same direction or preach work clean at all costs. That would only create comedy clones and make the industry pretty boring.

Comedy is a creative art and a form of free speech. If you want to be an x-rated comic, go for it. Just don’t go to showcases where you already know your style will not be acceptable for work – like a kid’s show or family cruise. You’re not only wasting your time, but also taking opportunities away from other comics who would want to audition for the gig.

Here’s another example of knowing beforehand what you CAN talk about vs. what you can NOT talk about depending on the audience…

When I booked A&E’s An Evening at the Improv we had certain “rules” for the performances. During a noon meeting with the comics who were taping the show that night we’d go over the rules…

  1. Don’t make fun of God or religion. Our highest ratings were in The Bible Belt and we didn’t want to lose viewers. Higher ratings attract sponsors (again – think business).
  2. Don’t knock specific products because we didn’t want to be sued. You can’t say a specific car is dangerous or a specific fast food restaurant will give you food poisoning. (Do I need to say it again – business?).
  3. Don’t sing a song parody for longer than (I think it was) 18 seconds. Producers were not going to pay song royalties for television broadcast, which is what would happen if any song was played for longer than (I think it was) 18 seconds. At that time it seemed a lot of comics were singing funny words to The Brady Bunch Theme Song. They could still do the bit, but it would be cut out of the show if it went over the time limit of being “free.” (This time – music business rules).

What about comics that didn’t follow the rules? If you watch reruns of A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, keep in mind the comedians were each given 7 minute sets. But some are on screen for less time – like only 4 or 5 minutes. What’s up with that?

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They didn’t follow the rules.

In the business it’s easy to correct these mistakes in an editing room – or in the case of live performances, auditioning the acts first and not hiring the ones that can’t follow the guidelines.

In fact, when it comes to working clubs I can’t even think of a situation where you wouldn’t have an opportunity before showcasing to ask the talent booker if there’s anything you shouldn’t say or talk about. Even if it’s only in an email or phone call prior to going to the audition. They should be straight with you, since they know their audience and what they’re looking for better than anyone else.

The goal for talent bookers is to find comics that can appeal to the venue’s audience. This includes comedy contests since the business goal is to always turn first-time audience members into repeat customers. As a performer, you need to find that out. And unless your talent is mind reading, the best way I know to do that is to ask.

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 newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

 

Seeking help for a “stuck” comedy career

September 4, 2016

Hi Dave – I’m not so sure stand-up is for me. I think I may be better suited for improv acting such as The Groundlings, Second City, etc… I’ve always been told I’m funny and animated, but am not so sure how to focus or direct it. I am interested in the profession / business and think I would enjoy it. However, I feel stuck! How do I know if stand-up is for me? What advice do you have as to getting in touch with my creativity and directing it in the right way / format? Any advice would be very helpful, welcomed and appreciated. Thanks so much. Best – C.H.

Just give it a try!

Hey C.H. – The only way to find out what you’re best suited for, whether it’s stand-up, improvisation or anything for that matter, is to try it. And since a lot of people like the controlled environment of having a safety net, take a class. Check out local improvisation groups and see if they offer classes. Most do. You might really take to it – or you might not.

I know a lot of stand-ups that do both. But most (in my opinion) seem to stick mainly with the one that best suits their creativity and style of humor. In other words, some comics enjoy working with a team while others enjoy flying solo.

Similar to a lot of other creative and professional interests it doesn’t hurt to take a class. A good coach can give you insights into the craft and business aspects. You would also get experience actually doing improvisation or stand-up and can make the decision yourself on whether you’re into it or not.

And if you like it, another plus is that a good class should take time off the learning curve you’d be dealing with if you just went out on your own. Here’s what I mean…

Improv Rules

The Rules

Without ever taking a class you could still audition for an improv group. Your natural talent might be great, but you don’t know the “rules” of improvisation or have had any practice doing some of the standard games. You might learn some of this through the audition experience, but someone else who is already familiar with improvisation would have an edge at the audition.

A class would have prepared you in advance.

The same can be said about stand-up and creative writing. Some comedians have a natural ability to go on stage and be funny. Others have no idea what it’s really like to perform in front of an audience or how to create a comedy set. I’ve seen aspiring comedians come at it from both directions and it can be great fun to watch, pure misery – or a little of both.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – October 8, 2016

Space limited to 10 people – see link below to register!

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes a performance at The Chicago Improv

Wednesday – October 26 at 8 pm

For details, reviews and to reserve your spot visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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For instance…

When I was running the once a month auditions at the NYC Improv all you had to do to get on stage was draw a lottery number. No experience necessary. Usually there would be about 100 aspiring comedians lined up hoping to pick one of the 15 audition spots. The lucky ones went on stage that night for three minutes.

The comedians with stage experience knew what they would do. It didn’t matter if they had taken a class or not because they had worked out a set in front of an audience prior to their big audition. But others had only thought about it and had never even tried stand-up comedy. They’d had no guidance, coaching or any audience response to learn if their material actually made people laugh. And in both cases it was always obvious.

Here are two from the “no guidance” category that I’ll never forget…

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One woman went on stage with a role of paper. This was the type of roll you’d put in a cash register to print out receipts. She had written jokes on the roll and would simply read them into the microphone. When they received no response from the audience (and none did except groans) she would rip that joke off the roll, toss it on the stage and say, “Well, that didn’t work.” It was misery to watch, but funny to talk about later.

An older guy showed up for his audition with a female mannequin dressed in sexy lingerie. I’m not kidding. He took the mannequin on stage, sat her on a stool and completely ignored it… or her… or whatever you want to call it… while he told a few unfunny jokes. He never referred to the mannequin once. When he was greeted with nothing but weird silence, he put the mannequin under his arm, walked off stage and headed towards Times Square – never to be seen again on the comedy scene. Once again there were plenty of laughs when he was out of hearing range.

Mathew

“Where’ya from?”

Would they have done this if they had gone through a class or workshop? Well, you never know. But if they’d had any type of advice or guidance from someone that knows about the business or at least had some prior stage experience they probably would have made better choices about what to do for an important audition.

If you’re “stuck” or unsure about what’s right for you but have a desire to try, then take a class or a workshop to find out. A good one will help you tap into your creativity and give you decent insights into writing, performing and the business. It should also give you a push (kick in the butt) in the right direction to give it a prepared shot. Then you’ll know if it’s right for you. The bottom line is that it can’t hurt.

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 newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Different performances for different audiences

August 21, 2016

Hey Dave – Last week you talked about personalizing material for corporate shows. So when comedians talk about “knowing your audience,” does that mean you should have entirely different acts for different audiences? – S.A.

Hey S.A. – That depends on a few things such as the material, how it’s delivered and the audience. A lot of comedians are experts at “crossing over” and playing to a wide range of audiences. Others have a niche – an audience demographic they focus on – and know better than to perform where they probably will not be welcome or appreciated.

For two extreme examples…

  • An x-rated comedian is not going to do church shows. On the other hand…
  • A Christian comedian probably won’t be included in an adults only x-rated comedy show.
shocked-crowd

A lesson to be learned

That’s pretty much a no-brainer in the biz. Comedians should know that. If they don’t, then they’re setting themselves up for a hard-learned career lesson. But it’s also important to realize…

Comics have to stay true to themselves and “who they are.”

Many have no interest changing who they are on stage – their comedy voice – just to play in front of an audience that won’t relate to them or laugh at their material. But on the the flip side, others know a few simple changes in their material and delivery can open the possibility for more bookings.

How you want to play it depends on you. I’m just telling you there are ways.

Experienced comedians and speakers often customize their shows. There are a couple benefits in doing this:

  • It could lead to more paid bookings and…
  • It could lead to charging a higher fee for your performance.

Let’s tackle that second one first. I know the term higher fee has the ability to raise the interest of some readers. Especially in the higher paying corporate market when an event planner might contact you to discuss a corporate show booking.

You could have a set fee just for your regular performance. BUT if they would like you to customize it for a specific audience – say a group of financial investors, gourmet chefs, flight attendants or whatever – you could customize the material toward that audience for a higher fee.

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I wrote about this in the last Comedy FAQ And Answer, but I’ll repeat the important stuff…

The selling feature is that it will take extra work on your part in researching who they are (your audience), writing new material, or making specific changes – customizing – what you already bring to a corporate show. But you explain to the event planner that it’s worth the extra money because your performance would be specifically for their group. For instance, you would actually use the name of the company in your performance, what they specialize in, their clients or competitors, where employees hang out after work, the city where they’re located, and even mention the names of a few key people in the company.

What you come up with and can offer in a customized performance is up to you.

For all the extra work and research you put into preparing the customized gig, you ask for a higher fee. A lot of comedians and speakers do this. If the client responds by saying your fee is now too high for their budget, you have room to negotiate. Explain they can still book you for the event at your regular (lower) fee and you will do your regular act, which is what they called you about in the first place.

Customizing your material means to personalize it toward the audience. But it also doesn’t mean you need a completely different act. It’s all about knowing your audience.

Here’s an example…

A very good friend of mine in the comedy biz – and I won’t mention his name here, but as a hint he’s interviewed in my book How To Be A Working Comic – is a master at this. He has decades worth of material and can do a different act every night if he wants to.

laughing audience

Earning the BIG bucks!

But he also has a definite comedy voice.

He probably doesn’t know anything about investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants, but put him in front of an audience of investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants at an event and he’ll make them laugh.

That’s what he gets paid big bucks for.

This comedian can do an adult midnight show in a comedy club and be as raunchy as any x-rated comedian in the biz. A lot of his material is about growing up with a large family in an inner city and all the characters in his life. His language can be filled with “F-bombs” and other choice words and I’ve seen him – many times – bring down the house with the bluest (adult) comedy you can imagine.

But the next day (and he’s done this for years) he could be wearing a suit and tie and doing a clean, G-rated corporate show for a group of say… investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants. Since this is not a typical comedy club audience, the x-rated “F-bombs” are definitely not welcomed – or tolerated.

But the comedian’s job requirement is the same. He is being paid to make them laugh.

So what does he talk about?

The SAME topics he talked about at the late night, x-rated comedy club show the night before. His large family, growing up in an inner city and the characters in his life.

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Dave’s August 2016 Comedy Workshop at

The Cleveland Improv SOLD-OUT!

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Showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday – August 24 at 7:30 pm

For information about upcoming workshops in

Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa

visit TheComedyBook.com

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But he customizes it based on the audience. He simply takes out the raunchy stuff. His punch lines and descriptions don’t rely on “F-bombs” and other choice words. The material and stories are just as funny without the added adult language and delivery.

He doesn’t have two completely different acts. He has two completely different audiences.

He knows his audience and plays to his audience.

Would this work for you? It depends on who YOU are on stage as well as WHO your audience is. Could your current set with a few changes work in front of very different audiences? If it does, then you don’t need two completely different acts. If it doesn’t, either write a separate act for clubs, corporate events or colleges (I know comics that do this) or find your niche and stick with it.

The choice is completely up to you as a creative artist. Some comedians could care less about the money and different markets because they’re more interested in the art of creating, performing and personal expression. Others find a good corporate booking helps fund the raunchy madness at a late night adult comedy show. How you want to play it is all up to you.

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 newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Personalize material for corporate gigs

August 8, 2016

Hi Dave – Can you give us a few examples of how to work event themes into your material for a corporate gig? What is the process like? – MD

Hey MD – Comedians and speakers that work corporate gigs on a regular basis will have their own ideas and techniques about this process. As always, I’ll throw the offer out for any of you that would like to contribute. Send suggestions to dave@thecomedybook.com or leave a comment below and I’ll share the best ones in an upcoming FAQs And Answers.

But in the meantime, since you asked…

When it comes to performing at corporate events, I’ve always felt it’s important to personalize your comedy act or presentation to the event and audience. Even the big stars will do this. A few years ago Jay Leno was the surprise performer for an corporate event my cousin attended in Florida. It was a big deal just to have Leno there, but when he mentioned the name of the company and a few of the CEO’s during his act it made the audience feel they were part of an even more special event. It’s fun when a comic of Leno’s stature cracks jokes at your city or a news event you’re following, but when he’s talking specifically about your business or someone sitting only a few tables away it becomes a memorable event.

AudienceEvent planners, CEO’s and employee-audiences love that stuff. It can make the company look good and the event a success. And a great way to make this happen is when comedians and speakers show they know their audience.

Comedians and speakers (and performers in general) call this personalizing or customizing their material. And even though they might be telling the same jokes or giving the same presentation as they did a thousand miles away the night before, they’ll insert references to the area, the event theme and/or the audience.

Think of it this way…

Paul McCartney (I’m a classic rocker) is on tour this summer. He’s doing pretty much the same set (song list) for every show. He needs to do this because of the stage lighting design, special effects, video displays and other techno stuff that is designed and rehearsed in advance. The crew needs to know what song he’ll be playing and where he’ll be on stage when they set off the explosions for Live And Let Die or any fireworks during the final encore. It’s the same with other large arena acts.

To continue this thought, it’s like a speaker with a specific power point display or a comedian with a killer closing bit. They HAVE to do it for their program to be successful and what corporate clients pay big bucks for. BUT it can be tweaked to make the audience feel this particular program is special for them.

Example:

If McCartney is playing The Staples Center in Los Angeles you can bet he’ll shout something close to, “Hello Los Angeles – we’re rockin’ tonight!

The next week he might be at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Would he welcome Los Angeles again that night? No – he would personalize it for his audience.

Hello New York City – we’re rockin’ tonight!

Get it? That’s a very simple example, but demonstrates how personalizing your material works.

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Another example:

I’ve booked a lot of comedians from New York and Los Angeles to do shows near Cleveland. Unless they’re from the area or have spent a lot of time there, they don’t know a heck of a lot about Cleveland. But the experienced ones will usually look for ways to relate to their audience. A popular question the comedians ask…

What’s a suburb of Cleveland that the locals makes fun of?

No offense to any residents, but I tell them Parma (don’t ask if you don’t know). Then during their show, the comic will reference Parma and the crowd will feel he really KNOWS them!

But you know what? They know nothing else about Parma except the name. Next week when they’re in another location, they’ll ask someone else the same question and substitute that area suburb into the same joke.

It’s called personalizing your performance for that particular audience. And it works – BIG time!! Audiences, talent bookers and event planners LOVE it!

survey saysHere’s what I do for corporate bookings…

Enclosed with the contract sent to the client or event planner (snail mail or as email attachments) is a one or two-page questionnaire. The best way to learn about an event and audience is to ask. Based on the answers, I’ll ask the comic or speaker to work some of the shared info into their presentation.

Some of the questions I’ll ask…

  • Is there a theme for the event? If so – what is the theme?
  • Is there anything you’d like me to know about your city or event location?
  • Who are some key people in the company?
  • Will there be anyone in the audience you would like me to focus on as an audience participation volunteer or for special recognition?
  • What are products and/or services of the company?
  • If there a friendly-rival company I can mention – or not mention? Can I use (politically correct) humor at the expense of this rival company?
  • What are some favorite local hang-outs for employees?

Of course the list can go on and on, depending on how deep you want to get into personalizing your program.

Now, you might remember that in addition to personalizing, I also used the term customizing at the beginning of this article. This is an extra added attraction many speakers and comedians offer – usually for an additional fee.

In other words, they can ask for more money when they do more work.

Customizing involves finding out EXACTLY what the client wants you to talk about AND creating a comedy act or speaker presentation based on that specific information. Again, the final program is usually based on the type of performance that got the comic or speaker hired in the first place.

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Example:

If you talk about communications, no client is going to hire you to customize a program on accounting. Same with comedy. If you’re Carrot Top, they’re not going to tell you to leave your props home.

When it comes to Paul McCartney, stadium audiences will pay big bucks to see him. But he’d better play more than a couple Beatles and Wings songs or a majority will leave disappointed (and feel ripped-off).

But customizing does involve more work in learning more about the client, company and audience, and then actually creating material and using it during your performance. In my experience, customizing has involved interviewing (phone and/or email) the event planner, the client and other key people from the company. On the lesser hand, to only personalize an existing program I’ve never done more than ask for them to return the completed questionnaire with the contract.

Other thoughts? We’d love to hear what you do…

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 newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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For information about upcoming workshops visit TheComedyBook.com

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Comedy contests offer stage time

July 25, 2016

Hi Dave – I did a Tuesday Amateur Night and saw the club was hosting another round of their “Best Amateur Comedian” contest. I want to enter, but not sure I’m ready. What’s the deal with comedy contests overall? – L.P.

Hey L.P. – Here’s a big chunk of personal opinion. I like comedy contests in clubs for one simple reason – stage time. Otherwise I’m not a big fan. Winners are usually decided by audience applause and the person who packs in the most friends (voters) will win. I’ve seen this happen over and over and can’t remember ever seeing the funniest comedian (another chunk of personal opinion) actually win one of these contests. Whoever can coax in the most paying customers will be awarded, “Funniest Comedian.”

Not FairDoesn’t seem fair – does it?

Of course the club owners and management have no problem with this because they make money from paying customers. And you know what? I also have NO PROBLEM with that because it’s show BUSINESS and if the club doesn’t make money, then comedians have one less place to perform. That’s the business part that comedians and performers in general need to understand. So from that point of view – I’m a BIG fan of comedy contests.

But since you’re a comedian, let’s stick with the comedian’s point of view…

There are other ways to decide contest winners. Similar to the format used on the once popular television talent show American Idol, there might be a panel of judges making the award-winning decision. That seems fairer than performing in front of a loaded audience, but then you need to impress the judges. Depending on what they personally enjoy (clean comedy, dirty comedy, etc…) this might compromise your comedy voice and material.

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For details, reviews and to register visit TheComedyBook.com

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This is also true if you have to play by their rules. For instance, I’ve seen comedians disqualified from contests because they accidently dropped the F-Bomb (against the rules) or went 10 seconds over their allotted time – even though the only reason they couldn’t get through their set in the given amount of time was because of audience applause and laugh breaks. But you need to follow their specific contest rules and if you don’t – then you just blew it in front of the judges.

Again – doesn’t seem fair, does it? The losers will tell you that, while the winners will add the award to their resumes.

Enter to WinHere’s the real scoop about comedy contests. A BIG name, BIG time comedy contest is a BIG deal and will open up BIG opportunities for the BIG winners.

Think BIG – like the winners of Last Comic Standing or contests associated with a major city or festival like Montreal, Boston, New York or San Francisco. Win one of those and you not only will be seen by many important entertainment industry movers and shakers, but you could even wind up with your own sitcom.

No BS – I’ve seen it happen.

Of course there are always two sides to everything. Some of the best comedians I’ve worked with and respect the most never won a local comedy contest. And you know what? I don’t think any of them really care. They were simply dedicated to being good comedians and losing a contest never stopped them from working toward their goal. They also would never have considered changing who they are on stage or what language they use, and instead develop material that the judges would approve of next time.

That’s not why they got into the biz in the first place.

I’ll also make an assumption and say that during the early days of their careers they might have entered a local contest or two. But I’m sure they only did it for the same reason I’ll tell you to do it – stage time. I remember a few comics at the NYC Improv going to other clubs for contests and not even staying to see who won. That wasn’t important – getting on stage was.

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Any time you have an opportunity to get on stage and work on your act, grab it and use it to your advantage. As you should know, improving as a comedian (humorous speaker or performer in general) can only happen through performing experience. And you know what comedy contests offer?

STAGE TIME.

blog-photo-loserYeah, they may also offer cash prizes and more stage time, so of course you want to win to reap those benefits. But if you don’t, there’s no reason to sweat it or feel bad.

By the way, that’s why I’m not a big fan of comedy contests. Not everyone starts out in the business with a thick skin. That has to be developed if you ever plan to be serious about a comedy career. Newer comedians might put too much weight behind a comedy contest and feel if they don’t win, they’re not talented. No – it just means you didn’t bring enough friends, didn’t cater to the judge’s sense of humor, or haven’t had enough stage experience. There are no short cuts – sorry.

But you still win because you get stage time. So contests are good for that reason.

If you win the contest – that’s great! I hope it leads to more stage time. But if you don’t…

Like I mentioned, a lot of top comedians have never won a contest and never lost any sleep over it. They took advantage of the experience on stage and used it to become better comedians.

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 newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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Getting started as a comedy talent booker

July 11, 2016

Hi Dave! Great article about talent agents. I am moving in the next few months to pursue a career as a comedy booker. I am entry level right now with nothing but passion and probably an unhealthy dose of optimism. I can’t seem to find any information anywhere about where or how to start out…or even how much money bookers make. What is your advice? Thanks for your time – SR

Hey SR – Thanks for the compliment and great question. As I replied to you earlier, being a comedy talent booker can be very rewarding. But since it’s “showbiz,” there will always be a few surprises around every corner.

Show BizFirst of all, how much you can make scheduling performers (comedians, musicians, speakers, variety acts – basically “talent”) depends on the venue and budget. For this FAQ and Answer I’m going to talk in general terms for live comedy shows because there’s already a wide range within just that career focus. If we were to add booking comedians for television (think HBO or Comedy Central Specials)… well, those are full time jobs. From my experience I never knew anyone that booked high profile national TV gigs and comedy clubs at the same time.

Of course I’m sure there are exceptions depending on where you’re located. I know there are very good comedy bookers in smaller markets booking their club comedians on local shows. But what I’m talking about was the case when I worked in NYC and LA. The television comedy bookers would call the comedy club bookers to set up showcases to audition comedians. Both were full time jobs.

Okay, let’s get back to starting out…

If you were booking shows at a small club (think bar or local social club) I wouldn’t plan on quitting your day job just yet. To make it a career, you should think about putting together a network of clubs running shows on different nights to earn a regular income for yourself and the performers. I know large talent agencies (bookers) that started this way. The different networks would be separate “tours” and each club would be charged a fee that would cover pay for the comedians and the talent booker.

How much? Again, it would depend on the market and size of the club.

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For info and to hold your space visit TheComedyBook.com

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For a VERY small example that goes back MANY years ago, I had four bars in four different towns within a couple hours driving distance from each other that did comedy shows on “off nights.” This meant they didn’t want to compete with established clubs that were doing shows Thursdays through Saturdays, but also wanted experienced comedians (not open-mics). I’d put together a “tour” of Sundays through Wednesdays at these clubs and book two comics – an opener and headliner. Each club paid $300 per show plus accommodations and a meal for both comics. Again, this was a long time ago and dollar figures have changed, but that was an acceptable asking price given to me by friends working at more “established” Midwestern booking agencies.

For each show the headliner was paid $200 for a 45-60 minute spot and the opener $50 for 10-15 minutes. I kept $50 per show for booking the comics and taking care of the arrangements (contracts, making sure they knew how to get there, where they were staying, etc…). So for four shows a week, the headliner made $800 and the opening act $200. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember these were not established big-name clubs. They were places to “start.”

The headliners were normally “feature” or “middle” acts at the major comedy clubs on weekends and openers were just moving from the open-mic scene and into doing paid gigs. All were glad to have the work and would contact me on a regular basis saying they were available to do the clubs again (and again, and again…).

$200 bill

As the talent booker I earned $200 per week. Not enough to be considered a full-time job, but if I had continued and eventually ran five of these tours every week, that would’ve been $1,000. Quite a few talent booking agencies started this way.

Again, that is just a very small example of how you might want to start.

Depending on your experience and networking skills – which are majorly important in this biz – you could look into booking comedians for the college or corporate markets. I consider these more lucrative than the clubs and have experience doing both. But to keep this from continuing for pages and pages, I covered these topics in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers. Here’s the link on Amazon.com.

How you would go about getting into these markets depends on your experience and connections (also very majorly important in this biz). You could jump right in – or look for a job or internship with an established college agency or event planner to learn the ropes. Eventually you might find you have a great job with them or could branch out on your own.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this can be a very rewarding and fun career. But just like any other business there are surprises around every corner. Some of these you’ll inevitably have to deal with if you do this long enough include last minute cancellations (by both club owners and talent) and comics that don’t think they’re paid enough and club owners who think they’re paying too much. These are only a few examples that every talent booker has dealt with at one time or another. I don’t want to be a downer, but keep your people skills sharpened and ready to use at any time.

But the one thing I want to say is that a lot of success in this crazy business depends on your reputation.

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I’ve known talent bookers in the past that thought they were meant for the stratosphere of “big business,” only to be out of the business completely because they were rip-off artists and taking advantage of the comedians. What goes around usually comes around.

In other words – keep things honest.

One way to ruin a career as a talent booker is to be caught “double-dipping.” I had no idea what this meant until a good comedian friend I was also managing told me I was doing it!

While booking the club tour mentioned above, I scheduled one of my comedian clients. My contract with him as manager paid me 10% of his income for all bookings. But each of these clubs was also paying me $50 per show. That meant I was taking an extra $20 from the total show cost that should have been paid to the comedian I was managing. In other words, he would’ve only made $180 per show.

I wasn’t doing that with the other comedians.

I was being paid by two different sources for the same job, but only when the comedian I managed was playing the club. That’s called double-dipping. When he pointed it out I felt… well, “duh.” It was a good business lesson and why I’m pointing it out to you. It’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes before you make them on your own.

I kept my pay from the club and made sure the comic was paid his full $200 per show.  After all, since I was his manager, it was important both his career and income continued to grow.

Some talent bookers still try this and need to be called out for taking advantage of newer talent hungry for any paying gigs they can get. But when it “comes around” and the comics are in demand for attracting bigger audiences and making more money for club owners, the “double-dipper” is the last talent booker they would ever work for again.

So my final bit of humble advice (is there such a thing from me?) is to start small – if you’re planning to book comedy talent on your own. Just like the comedians do with open-mics, check out the local scene and get some experience. Get to know the comedians and what they do (example: are they family friendly or x-rated). Schedule a fundraiser or benefit show. Network with club owners to see if they would be interested in a comedy show with you as the talent booker. There might also be local business parties or special events that would like entertainment. You’ll have to network to find out.

shut-up-and-take-my-money-300x225And don’t be afraid to ask to be paid. Freebees are good to get your name out and make contacts, but you’ll never quit your day job doing that. When my first business partner (hey buddy if you’re reading this!) approached our local bar and proposed a weekend comedy show, our idea was just to get stage time for ourselves and our comedian friends. We were shocked when the owner offered to pay us $150 per show. Yeah, we took it – and it became a launching pad for much bigger things.

If you’re lacking in experience, connections or anything else that might hold you back, search out talent agencies and event planners and see if there are any jobs or internships available. It would be starting at the bottom – just like going at it on your own – but the learning process could be the launching pad you’re looking for.

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 newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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Top 10 Networking Jokes For 2015

December 27, 2015

Another year with more laughs? Sounds good to me. But before we move ahead, let’s take a look back at what made us laugh in 2015. And in case you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a good excuse to list The Top 10 Networking Jokes For 2015.

Though I’ve been doing this newsletter for a lot longer, I didn’t come up with the brilliant idea of sharing your jokes with links to your websites, videos and other marketing sites until the last few months of 2010. Since then there have been 224 jokes shared in this newsletter. If we put them all together (35 pages!) it might make a good Comedy Central special or at least a decent open-mic set – ha!

So to ring out the old and ring in the new, here in no special order are 2015’s Top 10 Networking Jokes for How To Be A Working Comic and Humorous Speaker. We’ll pick up where we left off in 2016, so if you have a website, video, upcoming show, Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn or other site you’d like to promote to your fellow readers, send me an email. After all, it’s all about networking…

Thanks for reading and being an important part of this large circle of comedians, humorous speakers, talent reps and talent bookers. I hope you have a very productive and laugh-filled New Year!

Keep Laughing!

Dave Schwensen

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TOP 10 NETWORKING JOKES FOR 2015

1. Three women die together in an accident and go to heaven. When they get there, St. Peter says, “We only have one rule here in heaven. Don’t step on the ducks!”

So they enter heaven and sure enough, there are ducks all over the place. It is almost impossible not to step on a duck, and although they try their best to avoid them, the first woman accidentally steps on one. Along comes St. Peter with the ugliest man she ever saw.

St. Peter chains them together and says, “Your punishment for stepping on a duck is to spend eternity chained to this ugly man!” The next day the second woman steps accidentally on a duck and along comes St. Peter, who doesn’t miss a thing. With him is another extremely ugly man. He chains them together with the same admonishment as for the first woman.

The third woman has observed all this and, not wanting to be chained for all eternity to an ugly man, is very, VERY careful where she steps. She manages to go months without stepping on any ducks, but one day St. Peter comes up to her with the most handsome man she has ever laid eyes on… very tall, long eyelashes, muscular, and thin. St. Peter chains them together without saying a word.

The happy woman says, “I wonder what I did to deserve being chained to you for all of eternity?” The handsome guys says, “I don’t know about you, but I stepped on a duck.” – Brian Luoma

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2. Last night I decided to go out to just hang out and have a beer, then I fell asleep while planning what to wear. This morning I realized, my trash goes out more than I do. – Vernon Davis

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3. I was reading an article last week about Fathers and Daughters, and memories came flooding back of the time I took my Daughter out for her first drink. Off we went to our local Pub, which is only two blocks from the house. I got her a Guinness Stout. She didn’t like it – so I drank it. Then I got her an Old Style – she didn’t like it either, so I drank it. It was the same with the Coors and the Bud. By the time we got down to the Irish whiskey . . . I could hardly push the stroller back home. – Bob Stefani

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4. “It’s not that I’m fat. It’s just that I’m modest and don’t want my bones to show.” – Lynn B. Johnson

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5. A man and a little boy entered a barbershop together. After the man received the full treatment – shave, shampoo, manicure and haircut, he placed the boy in the chair. “I’m going to buy a green tie to wear for the parade,” he said. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

When the boy’s haircut was completed and the man still hadn’t returned, the barber said, “Looks like your daddy’s forgotten all about you.”

“That wasn’t my daddy,” said the boy. “He just walked up, took me by the hand and said, “Come on son, we’re gonna get a free haircut!” – No Name.

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6. “Things are so bad in the world, I just started my own Kickstarter campaign for world peace – and now I owe them money. 42,000,000 dollars and a Get Out Of The USA Free card… Oy!!!” – Dave Weiser

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7. “Middle life is not a crisis. It’s a waterslide to old age.” – Marilyn Mandel 

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8. “I went skydiving the other day. It was the most exciting thing I’d ever done and the scariest. Like marriage. Except skydiving has a higher success rate.” – Don Cooper

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9. The shark had punched a hole in the bottom of the boat and we started taking on water. With nothing to plug the hole the Captain said, just sit on it. I did but the leak got worst. Remembering JAWS, I yelled “We’re gonna need a bigger Butt!” – Bob Moher

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10. “A guy walking along the beach finds a bottle. He pulls out the cork, and a genie appears and tells him he has three wishes. “But,” the genie says, “I have to warn you, whatever you receive, your worst enemy will get twice as much as you.”

“Okay,” says the guy, “first, I want ten million dollars.” The genie grants the wish and reminds him that his worst enemy now has twenty million dollars.

“Next wish, I want a thirty-room mansion in the Bahamas.” The genie builds the mansion for him, and lets him know that his worst enemy now has a home twice as big.

“Fine. For the last wish,” the guy picks up a big stick and hands it to the genie, “beat me HALF to death.” – Debbie (my wife who thinks she’s funny telling old jokes..).

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Comment? That’s what the form below is for. In the meantime, 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 Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing.

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