Posts Tagged ‘Comedian’

Only clean material? Know your audience

June 5, 2017

Hi Dave – I have one question. As a new comedian does my material have to be clean? – J.N.

Did you hear that?!

Hey J.N. – Your question will sound familiar to more than a few readers because it comes up quite often. But you know what? New comedians ask because it’s important. And there is no right or wrong answer.

Comedy is both a creative art and a business, but to be successful in this business as a creative artist there is one first goal:

Be funny.

How you get there is totally up to you. As one very famous comedian told me (and it’s in my book How To Be A Working Comic), “If you swear in real life, you’re going to swear on stage.” On the other hand, if these words aren’t already in your vocabulary, don’t add them simply because you think it’ll make you funny. That’s not who you really are and an audience will pick up on that.

There seems to be a market for everything, so whether to work clean or dirty is a personal decision. But since you brought up the question and I’ve never been known to give short answers, let’s look at your potential choice from another point of view. We’ll call it…

Your audience.

The deal is that everyone has to start at the beginning. Since you specifically said “new comedian,” that’s what we’ll focus on. Speakers already know they have to work clean. If they don’t, then they’re not speaking much – if at all.

Along with learning how to write and perform, you’ll also experience different audiences, different venues and different types of shows. For instance, many comedians love late night, beer-soaked crowds in loud comedy clubs. Others would rather perform for more sophisticated (and I’m using that term loosely) audiences at corporate events.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Summer 2017 Dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Cleveland Improv

For details, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Have you thought about that? I’m guessing it’s still too early in your career to even consider since your first step should be just getting experience on stage. But eventually it will become both a creative and business decision because different markets have different audiences and hire different types of entertainment.

What markets do you want to play?

Confusing?

These are questions every entertainer (not just comedians and humorous speakers) have to consider. As a creative artist with a unique way of expressing yourself, who is your audience? And as a business person (successful creative artist), how can you build an audience to support your creative endeavors?

When you’re just starting out it could be any demographic you can think of, from late night open-mics to charity fundraisers. And if you’re serious about this biz you need to understand the value of stage experience. You won’t become a working comic just sitting in your living room doing bits in front of your mirror or for the family dog. You must get in front of an audience and shape your material and delivery based on their response.

If they laugh it works. If they don’t, then you need to make some changes. An audience will tell you, which is why you want to get on stage as often as possible.

So… who is your audience?

Would they want clean or “adult” material? That will help determine what’s best for you.

I’ve worked with comedians who are Born Again Christians and I’ve worked with the most X-rated acts you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t bother me either way. I’m a coach and I’ll coach performers in whatever direction they want to go. And if you already know what direction that is, then find places to perform with audiences that will enjoy your material.

But regardless of what anyone else will tell you, there are also rules in the comedy biz. The rules are made by the people that hire comedians for specific audiences.

Should we allow that?!

For instance, you can’t perform X-rated material on network television shows such as The Tonight Show or Jimmy Kimmel Live. You can get away with a lot more than thirty years ago when Johnny Carson ruled late night, but these shows still have to deal with FCC (Federal Communications Commission) enforced  standards and censors.

On cable television and satellite radio, pretty much anything can be said. But it also depends on the show. I doubt The Howard Stern Show and The Disney Channel fight over guests from the same talent pool. But here are a few more questions to think about…

Would you rather appear on either The Howard Stern Show or The Disney Channel or someplace in-between? Who will appreciate (laugh at) your type of humor and material? What venues and markets do you eventually want to play?

It all comes down to knowing your audience.

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You can work X-rated if you want, but just be smart enough not to go on stage with your X-rated material if the audience is filled with grandparents taking their grand-kids out for a fun(ny) night of live entertainment. On the flip side, don’t expect to do your best Disney material in a late night dive bar in front of a beer fueled crowd upset that the bartender turned off the televised cage match wrestling extravaganza for your comedy show.

Get the picture?

A lot of experienced comedians can play to both audiences. Why? Because they have the experience AND material that can be customized (cleaned up or dirtied down) depending on the audience. In other words, their punch lines don’t get laughs simply because they contain the F-Bomb or other words that will get them banned by the FCC from network television. They can go either way because the material is just as funny with or without them.

A great example of this are comics that work on cruise ships.

These comics need two different sets; family and adult. The family sets are performed during the before and after dinner shows. These are two separate shows since passengers are assigned one of two dinner times. One group is entertained earlier in a large theater while the other group eats – and then they change places. As it says, these shows are for families. Later that night the same comics will do adult shows for (as it says) the adults in one of the lounges or bars.

Did you hear that?!

These comics go from G-rated to X-rated within a couple hours.

Keep in mind I’m not asking anyone to change who they are on stage if it goes against who they want to be on stage. Yes, this is a business, but it’s also a creative business and a way to express your creativity.

If your niche is X-rated, go for it. It’s the same with clean comedians. Just don’t go for it in front of the wrong audience. It’s really common sense when you think about it.

So to finally answer your question as a “new comedian,” I would suggest you work on writing funny material. And I’ll repeat: funny material. I’m talking about material that will stand up on it’s own and will be just as funny to an audience with or without a few gratuitous F-bombs and other choice words or expressions.

Practice and develop your talent as a writer. How would you deliver your set during an afternoon Rotary Club luncheon as opposed to at a late night dive bar? Better still – ask yourself which venue you prefer.

Wait a minute! I almost forgot to mention something…

Just to make your decision interesting, keep in mind the people that hire comics for corporate events, holiday parties, retirements, banquets, etc… are the ones who attend business or social organization meetings. They ALWAYS pay comics, humorous speakers and entertainers waaaaay more than any beer soaked guy in a dive bar. That’s why corporate events are much more desirable for many working comics than a weekend gig at Billy Joe’s Yucks at the corner of Dive and Bar.

Then again, an uncensored Comedy Central Special or a becoming a favorite guest on The Howard Stern Show can take almost any comic’s career to a new level. But to get there, the comics had to be funny. Working clean wasn’t a rule they needed to follow.

So…? Is it better to work clean or dirty as a new comedian? You need to make that decision – and one of the best ways to find an answer is to know your audience.

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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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – June 3, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Chicago Improv

Thursday – June 29th at 8 pm

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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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.

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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Starts Saturday – March 25, 2017

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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…

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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.

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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.