Posts Tagged ‘audience’

Bomb Alert! Here’s an on stage survival guide

December 18, 2016

Hi Dave – What should you do if no one is laughing or if you realize that you are starting to bomb? – A.B.

Hey A.B. – Duck and cover. Okay, if that’s not the answer you’re looking for, here’s another one I’ve seen work…

But first a definition.

Charlie Chaplin

Taking cover

Some of our readers may not understand what you mean by bomb. That’s when you’re doing your best to entertain (comedians) or entertain AND inform (humorous speakers) and NOTHING is working. The audience is not laughing, you’re starting to panic, you begin to sweat, and you have this overwhelming feeling that everyone in the room HATES you.

That’s called Bombing 101. And if you ever get used to it you’re in the wrong business. I don’t know any comedian who hasn’t gone through the sensation. If they claim they haven’t, they’re playing a joke on you.

The dedicated comics never let bombing on stage stop them from performing again. But the smart ones use the experience to learn something. And what they usually learn is what NOT to do on stage again that caused them to bomb in the first place.

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As an example:

In my book Comedy FAQs And Answers I talked with comedian George Wallace about this. He told me how he first started his career under the stage name The Reverend George Wallace and would use a phone book like a Bible. It worked in NYC, but when he played his first road gig in upstate New York, the audience hated his act. He was paid to do an hour – and he did an hour – but it was a mega-ton bombing experience. He told me that during the drive home he thought about driving his car off a bridge because he felt so bad.

But the learning experience was that he would NEVER allow himself to go through that again. It made him rethink and change everything about his act and his comedy voice (who he was on stage). The Reverend title was gone and so was the phone book. He decided that if he was having fun – a party – on stage, so would the audience. When the audience is having fun – when they’re in a party mood – you’re NOT bombing.

And if you’ve ever seen George Wallace perform you’ll know what I mean. He’s become immune to bombing.

So you want some advice? Okay…

Young Frankenstein

Talk WITH the audience!

If you feel like you’re starting to bomb, a technique or trick (for lack of a better term) I’ve seen some other big-name comics use to turn the situation around is to talk TO and WITH the audience. Seriously, I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. Forget your material for a moment – especially since they don’t appear to like it anyway – and bring the audience into the show.

Here’s an example…

When I was scheduling the comics for the Hollywood Improv, one of our most dependable (meaning funniest) acts was not only a great performer but also a GREAT writer. Comics in my workshops know who I’m going to talk about because I always name (drop?) names. But since I didn’t do an interview with him for one of my books and haven’t been in direct touch lately to politely ask if I could drop his name here, I’ll just keep his identity secret. But I’ll drop a hint that when another big-name star took over hosting a big-name late night television show, this comic was brought in as the Head Writer.

That’s how much respect this guy has in the comedy business!

His material is great and I’ve always enjoyed watching his sets because of that reason – great material. But I remember one evening at The Improv when the audience just wasn’t getting it. I have no idea why not, but it happens to all comics at some time or another.

Anyway, much to my astonishment and confusion, his material wasn’t working. But as I watched, he took the microphone out of the stand (which he rarely ever did), walked to the front of the stage and started talking TO and WITH the audience. He really looked at the individuals and REALLY had conversations.

He kept it simple, easy, and made it comfortable for everyone to be involved in what he was doing.

Where are you from?” and “What do you do for a living?” types of questions led into some very funny replies and ensuing conversations. And once the audience was with him, he stepped back, put the microphone back in the stand and started doing his material.

This time the audience LOVED him AND his material. They followed him, GOT the material, laughed at the material, and it was a great show. He walked off stage to big applause.

So I had to ask him about it – right?

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He reminded me that all comedians start out as MC’s in clubs. That’s where you break in and get your earliest on stage experience. It’s how you develop your writing and performing skills in front of listeners who will respond – positively or negatively. And one of the most important jobs of being an MC is to warm up the audience (make them laugh) and get them involved in the show.

What’s the best way to do that? Talk TO and WITH them.

He had developed the skill, talent and experience for doing that – and could call on it whenever he needed to. Not only did I see (and talk with) comics using this technique in Los Angeles, but also when I worked at The Improv clubs in New York and Cleveland. It’s nothing this particular comic simply tried on a whim because others had already proven it can help defuse a bombing situation.

So in other words, I could also name (drop) other comics I’ve watched do this and also tell you they gave me the exact same explanation. When they were MC’s moving up in the biz, they learned how to talk TO and WITH an audience. It’s an important learned skill and a way to keep them involved, interested and (hopefully) laughing. And when that’s happening you’re not bombing.

So if it happens, start talking. Otherwise, just get used to the duck and cover method of surviving on stage.

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.

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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Dave’s August 2016 Comedy Workshop at

The Cleveland Improv is SOLD-OUT!

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Showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday – August 24 at 7:30 pm

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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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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Sign up now through this LINK for Dave’s free newsletter

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