Posts Tagged ‘Comedy Clubs’

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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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.

The comedy police

February 27, 2017

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

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

Keystone Cops

There oughta be a law!

What a jerk.

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

JERK #1:

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

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

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

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

Bill talked about the comedy police.

"Hey, I've heard that joke!"

“Hey, I’ve heard that joke!”

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

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

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

I’ve seen it happen…

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

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

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

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

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

Just like the following…

JERK #2:

Navin R. Johnson

“The Jerk” not “a jerk.”

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

Here’s what I mean…

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

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

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

But the headliner part of his story never seemed right.

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

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

Say what?!

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

But I do have this proof…

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

Stooges Police

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Chalk another one up for the comedy police.

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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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.