Posts Tagged ‘Performing’

Musical misadventures in comedy

May 21, 2018

Hey Dave – You had a question a few weeks ago about adding music. I’m thinking about ending my comedy set by doing a rap song. Just the background music like karaoke would be on a CD and I’d do a funny rap over it. I’ve seen other comedians and even speakers do this and think it’s a great way to close with a big ending. Any thoughts? – MW

Rockin’ the rap

Hey MW – Yeah, I always have a few thoughts. The first leans toward the music side. I’m not a rapper; I’m a rocker. So if the rap wasn’t rocked out with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (think Run-D.M.C. and Walk This Way WAY back in 1986) I probably haven’t voluntarily listened to it.

Involuntarily… well, that’s another comedy bit. I’ve had two teenage sons living in my house and know what it’s like to have rap songs blasting louder than my Aerosmith rock anthems. So in other words, I know it’s popular enough to make me a dinosaur when it comes to musical tastes. But…

My second thought relies on the above descriptive term – popular. In showbiz terms that means it sells. It also means – and I’m working off a personal opinion here – that most anyone cool (dinosaur term) enough to go to a comedy club will be familiar with rap. This is opposed to say, a Gregorian Chant which is a musical term that makes even someone like me sound new school.

Okay, enough musical nonsense. My creative recess is over. Let’s get to the point.

Music can add energy and raise the showbiz factor in a performance. It’s like bringing the glitz of Las Vegas to your gig. And it also keeps to my theory (and I explain this to public speakers in my college course) that live shows today are competing against what has become common on television and in movies:

Keeping audiences with short attention spans interested in the program.

Short attention spans

There’s a reason why TV commercials have shrunk from one minute to about 15-20 seconds over the decades. Short attention spans. And to keep viewers from changing the channel, these commercials have to be entertaining or informative all the way through.

With that being said, it’s the same with live performances. You must entertain your audiences and hold their interest. And with modern audiences used to 20 second entertainment bursts on television, it’s like competing against a 20 second commercial.

The problem with a live performance is that the viewers can’t change the channel. That’s why comedians and speakers need to up their entertainment factor. In other words, a mediocre set isn’t going to result in too many return engagements.

Using today’s topic, music can be a great attention grabber.

In fact, it’s become the standard way in most comedy clubs to rev up audience excitement for the comedians. When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the MC would be introduced and the show would start. The MC would then introduce each comedian. There was no musical fanfare – just words.

Now that’s all different. Now its SHOWBIZ!!!

Comics request certain songs to be played after they are introduced and are walking onto the stage. It raises the excitement and audience attention factor. Music will do that.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday June 2, 2018 is SOLD OUT!

Includes evening performance on Wednesday, June 20th

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Now to your question about adding a rap song to your set…

Yeah – try it. Why not? It’s all about entertaining and if it’s funny and energetic, chances are it will be entertaining. BUT here are a few things to keep in mind.

Sometimes techno things (my term that includes playing background music while you sing or rap) don’t go as planned. Here are a few warnings…

  • Make sure you really practice the words you are rapping or singing over the music.

If you screw-up the lines, the background keeps going. You still have to make it work for the audience. Ad-lib or admit you messed up, but make it part of the performance. You don’t want to just die on stage or let the bit fizzle out. You’ll look like an amateur.

  • Make it easy on the tech / sound person at the venue.

Don’t hand him a CD with 20 tracks and ask him to play a particular one when you give the signal. Sure, most can do it – but remember they have other sound, lights or audience distractions going on in the club and they might cue up the wrong track. What are you going to do? Will it ruin the bit?

Here’s an example…

Rap Album of the Year?

A comic in one of my workshops decided to open with a rap song. Not to rap over it – but to do a funny dance as he walked on stage. Now, this is not an exaggeration. This really happened. The sound guy got the CD’s mixed up and played Over The Rainbow instead of the requested gangsta’ rap. He didn’t know it was a mistake, so it continued to play.

The comic was shocked but went with it and danced to Judy Garland instead of… well, probably Lil Wayne. It turned out to be funnier than the original concept. But the reason it worked – and he just didn’t stand there looking duh – was because he had been warned this could happen. I gave him the warning, which leads me to another story…

Sometimes at the NYC Improv (not always and especially not during weekend shows) we used to screw-up audio cues on purpose. It could be very funny (at least for us – the staff and other comedians) and would throw the unexpected at the comic on stage. It was always fun to see how they would react.

So keep that one in mind. It could happen – even sometimes on purpose!

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The lesson is to just have the ONE song you want to use be the ONLY song on the ONE CD you give to the sound person. That lessens the odds for a screw-up (or great joke at your expense) on their part.

  • And finally – sometimes the tech thing just doesn’t work.

The CD player might be broken or already set up for the headliner (if you’re not closing the show). If it’s still your big closer, be prepared to do it a cappella (just your soulful voice and no backing music). It doesn’t matter if the equipment is working or not – the show must go on.

So the bottom line is to give it a shot. It’s showbiz, so go for it. But be prepared for the best and the worst. When you start adding effects to your stage performance, you’re no longer the only one in control of your act.

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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You’ll never work in this town again

May 6, 2018

Hi Dave – I’m fairly new to this newsletter, so I don’t know if you’ve addressed this topic but I think it could be a good one. How to prepare yourself in the event of a car breakdown and what to do when it does. I was driving to a gig last night and it happened… with not a town in sight. I drove the car onto an exit, ended up following the ramp around and saw a gas station in the distance. It just so happened that a couple cops pulled in after me and I told them what was going on. One of them worked on cars and luckily he fixed it up. I have no idea what I would have done otherwise! – J.N.

Get there on time!

Hey J.N. – Nope, we haven’t talked about this topic, so thanks for asking. I don’t have any solutions about what to do in your particular automotive case, so I’m glad to hear you have a police officer for a fairy godfather. As long as you made it TO the gig, what happened during your efforts in getting there could be potential comedy material.

But since you brought it up, let’s talk about the importance of getting TO gigs…

Unless you’re near death, someone near and dear to you is near death, or you have this important stipulation – “Due to an act of God” – written into your contract (and you should) you never miss a paid performance. What the heck – I’ll say it – you also don’t want to miss an un-paid performance if you’ve promised a booker, club owner or event organizer you’ll be there. Either way the talent booker is planning on having you perform and if you’re a no-show, it could be a definite bridge-burner when it comes to future gigs through that booker (and other talent bookers that hear about your unreliable reputation).

It’s your career and it’s a job.

So before you leave, make sure your car has gas and is tuned-up, your flight’s not over-booked (and if so, arrive early so you’re not the passenger getting bumped), or have an updated public transportation schedule. Unless you can show a photo of you in a hospital or standing next to your totaled doublewide house trailer after a tornado, you’d better show up and be ready to perform. If not, don’t expect a second chance re-booking from the same person.

Case in point…

When I was the talent coordinator at The Los Angeles Improv, one of my favorite NYC comedians was flying out for a television audition. She’ll remain nameless because she’s quite famous and I consider her to be a friend in this business and would never write anything to make you think less of her. She called and I told her to come to the club and do a set. Then I mentioned this the person in charge of the showroom (also nameless because I like to hang onto my friends) and he said no way. He liked her, but she had stood him up a few years earlier by canceling an important benefit performance at the last minute.

And without a near death photo or evidence of a destroyed doublewide, she had committed the worse sin in the business. So instead of watching my friend on stage at The Improv, we met for lunch at a deli near The Laugh Factory.

Being a no-show is worse than ignoring the light while on stage and going over your performance time.

Remember that.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – June 2, 2018

Includes evening performance on Wednesday, June 20th

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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From the business side of the comedy biz, you don’t miss gigs for any reasons less than the ones mentioned above. It’s a business for both you and the club (or event) and you need to treat it that way. And in case you haven’t figured this out, all talent bookers want to work with professionals. If you don’t handle your career like a professional – then don’t bother contacting professional talent bookers.

Another case in point. In fact, here are a couple…

A number of years ago I was booking a club about an hour outside Cleveland. There was an aspiring comic that came through my comedy workshop who really had promise – decent material and good stage presence. She really just needed stage time to get better. I had given her a few MC gigs, she did well – and since this club was only running a two person show, it was a good chance for her to do a longer set.

So even though she didn’t have a lot of experience, I told the owner she would be great and we booked her for the paying gig. It wasn’t so great when the club owner called me about 15 minutes after the show was supposed to start and asked when she would arrive. I called the phone number I had for her – and never heard back. I worried that she was stuck on the highway, got lost or suffered a near death (or worse) experience.

The show went on with only one comedian, but I lost a chunk of my booking fee since half the talent never got there.

The next day she called and said she had gotten my message. She couldn’t call back because she had taken a waitress job and was working the night of the show. She had given us no warning and no previous calls asking, “Can you find someone else?” She just never showed up for the gig. BUT (if you can believe this) she then asked if I could re-schedule her for the same club when she had a day off.

That was the last time we spoke.

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Another example? Okay…

I was representing a comedian in the college market. He had successfully showcased through NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and as a result I had scheduled him for a number of good paying gigs within driving distance of his home in Ohio. One was a Friday night at a campus in Pennsylvania. Not long before the show was scheduled to start, he called to say he was hopelessly lost.

Find my GPS!

I would think – and maybe this is just me (I say sarcastically), but if I was supposed to drive to a good paying gig, an updated phone, GPS, or even a road map would be a good business items to invest in. He told me he THOUGHT he knew ABOUT where the college was – so just headed in that direction hoping to see signs to help him find it.

He missed the show and again, I missed a booking fee. I also lost a hard earned business relationship with that college. Do you think I ever booked him again? Yeah, I’m laughing (sarcastically) that you would even consider that option…

So this week’s message is simple. Don’t miss a gig if you plan to work for that talent booker again in the future. And if you do, just hope he sees you on the television news explaining how the tornado interrupted your rendezvous with the aliens who’ve been visiting the trailer park – and were supposed to give you a lift to your comedy gig. If you’re lucky, he might buy that excuse – or find it entertaining enough to give you a rare second chance.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Adding music increases the pizzazz factor

April 23, 2018

Hi Dave – I added a little music to my act one time and had some success. I was thinking about doing it again and wondered if that would be cool. I’d have music playing when I walked on stage, the first part of the set would be jokes and then I’d end by doing a rap song. I have a CD with instrumental music and thought someone doing the sound could turn it on for me and I’d “rap” over it. Just wanted to get your take on it. Thanks! – M.D.

Working the room!

Hey M.D. – I don’t think it’s a secret that most comedians (and this goes for many speakers also) understand they’re involved in showbiz. With all the techno-stuff and special effects we see on television, in movies and during live concerts, a lot of entertainment today is not only about substance (quality of the performance), but also the presentation (the pizzazz!).

It all depends on the circumstances and the performer, but from my experiences I believe audiences expect some type of pizzazz (okay – last time I’ll use that term in this article) when they pay money for a show. This means we’re talking about lights, explosions, sound effects during rock concerts – and even music during a comedy show.

I imagine that right now the die-hard, old-guard comedians I worked with in NYC years ago are thinking I’ve gone crazy. More than a few would have stood in the back of the room making fun of “variety” acts that used “gimmicks” – which at that time would have included juggling, riding a unicycle, singing or rapping over music karaoke-style.

But here’s a confession. I’m not crazy. It’s the evolution of the business. Let me explain…

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Spring 2018 – SOLD OUT!

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 1980′s, I don’t remember comedians coming on stage accompanied by loud music. The MC introduced the comic and then he walked on stage and did his act. It was simple and to the point.

Around the same time, I would go to Madison Square Garden and watch the NBA New York Knicks, (actually I was only there when the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town). I don’t remember a big musical number with smoke machines, gyrating cheerleaders and dancing seven foot centers during pre-game introductions. They announced the teams, the players high-fived each other – and then started the game.

AND to really get carried away with this, I remember going to rock concerts when I was a teenager. An on-stage local deejay would introduce the band, the act would walk out, plug in their guitars, take time to tune their guitars, shout hello a few times into the microphones, and then start their first song. There were no opening films, explosions, special lights or anything like that. It was simple and to the point.

Warming up the NBA

Fast forward to 2018. Can you imagine an NBA pre-game not resembling a rock / rap concert? It’s the same with former teen idols that are now seventy-something year old rock stars in concert. Before they even leave the hotel and take a limo to the venue there are films, music, lights and other showbiz energizers to get the crowd hyped up and into the show.

The same is now true for a lot (not all but a lot) of comedy shows and speaker presentations. For proof, go to any legit comedy club located between NYC and Hollywood. Even the opening acts are asked what song they want blasting when they walk on stage.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I watched a comedian – outside of one of my workshops – who didn’t use music to hype up the audience before grabbing the microphone and opening his show.

Wait… yes I do.

It was Dennis Miller and it has to be more than fifteen years ago. He was performing at a theater (following Rita Rudner) and was dressed as a janitor. The audience didn’t know it was Miller because he wore a hat and kept his head down as he was sweeping the stage at the end of intermission. His act started when he took off his hat and said hello – which was a pretty cool non-musical way to hype up an audience.

Otherwise, comedy clubs have turned into a mini NBA pre-game show.

So… should you use music / rap during your performance? If it fits your comedy voice (who you are on stage) then I don’t know why not. As I’ve just explained, it’s a great way to hype up an audience. And what I mean is that it can add energy and a real sense of fun into your performance.

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I remember a time when some of the musical comedians I worked with worried about being labeled “guitar acts.” The rumor was that they’d never get on The Tonight Show because producers only wanted “real stand-up comedians.” But I’ll tell’ya something – in the clubs, guitar acts (good ones with high energy) always had the crowds excited, involved in their shows and received the loudest ovations. They could always find work in clubs, corporate events, cruise ships and the college circuit.

Pizzazz sells (sorry I had to use the term again!)

Do I need to say more? Similar to creating and writing comedy material, you need to take your best ideas on stage. The audience will help you decide whether or not it works. You never know unless you try.

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

How long do you go until you hit with a bit?

February 25, 2018

Hi Dave – At what point do you drop a bit? Is there a magic number or amount of time that you spend refining before you shelf a joke or bit? Thanks! W.K.

How many times for a joke to work?

Hey W.K. – I enjoy this type of question because it will always start a debate. In fact, it’s already started one – with myself. In other words, I have two answers…

The first falls back on my dedicated opinion that comedians and humorous speakers are creative artists. Writing and performing original material is an ongoing process. You create something and continue to develop it and make improvements.

Will it ever be perfect? Not really… at least for a creative artist.

Here’s what I mean. A lot of comics I’ve worked with have had killer sets. They come off stage knowing they’ve nailed it – the crowd laughed all the way through and both the performer and audience feel pretty good. But then the performer (artist) can usually find some fault. It could be delivering one line a different way or even using another facial expression that could’ve taken everything over the top.

Could it be called a perfect set? Maybe for the audience, but a creative artist will probably always feel there’s some room for improvement. It’s the curse of being creative.

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Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

Workshop also meets Sundays – April 22 & 29 from noon to 4 pm

Includes an evening performance at The Funny Bone on Monday, April 30

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Interested in the next workshop at The Cleveland Improv?

Keep reading…

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Here’s another example…

I’ve heard too many interviews with recording artists who’ve had No. 1 songs, but can pick out moments (that listeners wouldn’t notice) where – if they could record the song again – they would do something different (in their mind, something better). The song may have hit No. 1, but they can see room for improvement.

Name that tune!

The artist doesn’t stop selling the music – because it’s still good. It’s just not perfect. They might continue to change and develop the songs in live performances, which is something that has driven fans of Bob Dylan crazy for decades. He never seems to play his songs the same as the recordings.

Okay – now back to your question about comedy bits.

Just because a bit doesn’t work, that’s no reason to think it will never work. If you think it has promise and you’re dedicated to working on it… well, there’s always the chance.

In that case you would keep working on a bit for as long as you believe it can be made funnier. It will never be perfect, because in the back of your creative mind you always think it can be better.

Okay – that was answer No. 1. Now I’ll share with you a different opinion that I’ve also heard from so many comedians that I can’t ignore it.

I also share this in my workshops as a method for putting together a comedy set that might someday get you hired. It doesn’t take away from your creativity, but it saves the audience – and also importantly the club booker – the agony of paying for performances where the comedian is continually working on improving the same not-yet-working bit.

By the way, that’s great for open-mics and what open-mics are for. But when customers are paying upwards of $20 for a ticket, a two-drink minimum and parking it makes good business sense to give them a show with proven material.

This different opinion also shares the name of another comedy writing theory:

The Rule of Three

The best known example of this in writing comedy concerns the actual structure of a joke or bit. For an explanation I saved you time and looked it up in Wikipedia. Here’s the scoop:

One of the best examples of the power of rule of three is in comedy, where it is also called a comic triple. Two is the smallest number of points needed to establish a pattern, and comedians exploit the way people’s minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track (and make them laugh) with the third element. Example: “How do you get to my place? Go down to the corner, turn left, and get lost.”

Okay, okay… That sounds too much like textbook theory, which is something creative artists don’t worry about (at least too much). It also doesn’t pertain to your question, but it leads me to a different Rule of Three…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 24, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

Also meets Saturdays – April 7 & 14 (skips Easter Weekend)

Includes a performance at The Improv on Wednesday – April 18

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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I remember conversations about this at the NYC Improv. As I like to say, I don’t make this stuff up and this idea seemed to be a general opinion with a lot of the comics hanging around the bar waiting to go on stage.

The idea is to try a bit or a joke three times in front of three different audiences.

Three things can happen:

  1. The audience will laugh
  2. Some of the audience will laugh, but not all
  3. The audience won’t laugh

After doing this three times, you add up the score:

  1. If they laugh all three times, you keep the bit or joke in the act
  2. If you get some laughs, but not a lot – rework it and repeat the process
  3. If they don’t laugh, cut the bit from you act

Of course the first result is the goal, while the last one is pretty much a death sentence for the material.

The second should spark the creative mind to continue improving the bit or joke. But eventually you’ll need to make a decision. If it’s only going to be a mediocre piece of material no matter how many changes you make, file it for later or dump it for something new and funnier.

Who’s out?

If you want to work in this business, you need material that works in front of an audience.

The creative artist will always continue to develop new material. The working comic or humorous speaker will have material that has already been proven to work in front of an audience – and that’s what they will be paid to deliver. So if the bit or the joke is not working, then follow a similar Rule of Three from the game of baseball theory:

Three strikes and you’re out.

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 Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs, The Omaha Funny Bone; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Promotional videos need an audience

February 12, 2018

Dave – Does the promotional video have to be in front of a live audience? Most open-mics are restricted to 5 minutes and my bits are longer. Also, many open-mics are poor venues to make quality video. – ET

Hopefully more than this!

Hey ET – If you’re promoting for a live performance gig you need to show the talent booker what you can do in front of a live audience. Maybe if you’re sending in your “reel” for an acting gig – commercials, TV or film – I doubt it would matter. Then again, since we’re dealing with comedians and humorous speakers and not actors (well, not necessarily) the answers to your questions – in order – are:

  1. Yes
  2. Tough
  3. Figure out another option

Okay, I know the last two sound kind of harsh, but I’ll explain my reasoning in a moment. But for right now I’ll fall back on a standard reasoning that this is a business. Yes, it is a creative business that survives on talent and continues by discovering new talent that is different, innovative and sometimes not afraid to push down a few established barriers. But when it comes to the business of promoting, there are some established thoughts I don’t think are going to change anytime in the near future.

One is submitting a promo video filmed in front of a live audience.

When you want to be considered for a performance gig – you need to show the talent booker a performance in front of an audience. They want to see how you work on stage and an audience reaction before they’ll take a chance on you. There’s no other way outside of a live showcase to do that.

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Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

Workshop also meets Sundays – April 22 & 29 from noon to 4 pm

Includes an evening performance at The Funny Bone on Monday, April 30

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Interested in the next workshop at The Cleveland Improv?

Keep reading…

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Think of it like test-driving a new car. A buyer wants to know how it runs on the highway, rather than just taking the seller’s word on it. It’s the same thing with live performers. A good talent booker wants to know what he’s buying before putting the comic (or speaker, or musician…) on stage in front of a “live” audience. If the audience enjoys the show they might come back for another (clubs like returning customers), but if it’s a bomb they might just go to a movie or another club next time.

It’s pretty much impossible to get an accurate feel for a comedian or speaker without an audience. Yeah, I know the television show Last Comic Standing used to have comics perform in front of only three judges in the first round, but those three people were still an audience. I’m sure most comics know what I’m talking about from doing open-mics in front of only two or three people. They’ve learned that you still need to perform for them.

I remember getting videos for A&E’s An Evening at the Improv from aspiring comedians that were filmed in their living rooms, basements and bedrooms, and even outside. No audience – just them in front of a camera. Honestly, they were laughable because they came off as amateurs that really had no performing experience (an experienced comic would know better). And as I’ve been known to say…

They may call it amateur night, but no one wants to hire (pay for) an amateur.

So don’t even consider sending a promo video for a performance gig that was not filmed in front of an audience. The talent booker will be wondering why you couldn’t get on stage anywhere and had to do it this way.

Now as far as a time limit of say… five minutes. Again, it’s the business.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 24, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

Also meets Saturdays – April 7 & 14 (skips Easter Weekend)

Includes a performance at The Improv on Wednesday – April 18

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Talent bookers get a LOT of video submissions and simply don’t have the time to watch a string of comics doing… well, a LOT of time. Usually most of them know within the first 30 seconds if the comedian has the experience and material to maybe be hired. It’ll show right away. Most also know how to fast forward and stop at random places to see if the comic is getting laughs from an audience. I’ve sat and watched promo videos with more than a few very influential talent bookers in NYC and LA and have seen this happen. So whatever the length of the video, it should be your best and filmed in front of a live audience.

But saying five minutes is not enough time for your long bits could hurt you BIG TIME when you’re just starting out. An important part of the club business is keeping comics “within their time.”

Headliners – the acts audiences are paying to see – have the most flexibility when it comes to time. I’ve seen many do an hour or more if there’s only one show that night and the audience is really having fun. But the opener and feature need to “stick to their time” so the headliner doesn’t go on too late in the show or in front of a burned-out audience.

Sometimes an opener can be given 15 minutes. But other nights, especially when there are two or three shows and maybe a guest set thrown in, the manager might tell the opener to do 5 minutes or less.

Can you do that?

If they manager says, “Do five minutes” and you go over your time because your bits are too long, chances are you won’t work that club again. I also remember a former member of my workshop calling me to say he’d had his best set ever during a contest at The Improv but was disqualified. Why? Because comics were given five minutes – and he had done five minutes and TEN seconds.

I’m not kidding. Again – it’s the business.

So if most open-mics only give you five minutes and your bits are longer, then you need to find other clubs that will give you more stage time. You don’t want to break their rules if you want to be invited back.

And again, time limits are important to remember if you want to get hired in most clubs. If you can’t stick to five minutes and that’s what they’re looking for, then turn down the gig. It won’t work in your favor.

Not every open-mic is a poor venue to make a quality video (your comment above) and if these are the only places you’re performing, it’s probably time to expand your horizons if you want to start getting paid work. Actually some of the more popular open-mics I’ve seen in various cities would be cool settings for a promo video. They may not have “IMPROV” or another club logo on the back wall, but a stage, microphone and spotlight, and an attentive audience will usually do the trick.

This would be better!

The deal is that you want a real audience to make a decent promo video. A room full of open-mic comics who’ve probably heard your set a dozen times and are trying to figure out what they’re going to do on stage when you’re finished won’t be your best audience.

So this is where you figure out another option.

When you’re going to do a promotional video – promote the gig. Seriously. Invite friends, family, co-workers and anyone else you can get in the club. I’ve seen comics in NYC standing on the sidewalk handing out flyers not because it was a bringer show, but because they wanted an audience for their promo video.

Another option is to get a few other comics involved that also want new promo videos. Again, I learned this trick in NYC. Five or six comics would plan to do their videos on the same night and PACK the club with just about everyone they knew.

Once the scene was set – all they had to do was be funny (not an option – ha!) and film it.

At the end of the night they had new promo videos filmed in front of a “live” audience that (from what I remember) got them work from talent bookers. Then when they were booked in better clubs, they got better videos – and the cycle continues for anyone who wants to be a working comic.

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 Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs, The Omaha Funny Bone; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Shake things up in 2018

January 1, 2018

Hi Dave – I’m one of those people who will always wonder, “What if?” I’ve fallen behind in my stage fright quotient and will definitely tackle those fears and hit the stage once I get a solid five minutes (of comedy material). I may sink, swim or neither, but it’s time to shake things up. I was just watching what I consider to be the underrated Stardust Memories with one of my favorite lines: “You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.” Much obliged – P.J.

Hey P.J. – I like your attitude. It’s a new year, which for many people can signal a new change or a new direction in life. Personally I don’t see why changes can’t be made anytime you feel you’re ready and it’s needed, but the New Year’s Countdown and ball dropping in New York’s Times Square can be like a starter’s pistol going off. For some, it’s time to start running in a new direction.

Three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Wait a minute… another year? “What if…?”

How often have you thought that? We’d all like to swim rather than sink, but to do neither sounds like a step backwards to me. So I’m going to kick-start 2018 with a bit of a challenge:

Let’s shake things up.

Since you’ve read this far AND if you’ve read any past FAQ’s And Answers I’m assuming you have a sense of humor AND a flair for creativity (and that’s a creative word: flair). You’re either a comedian or a humorous speaker – or both – or aspiring to be one or the other – or both.

Shake it up!

How do you stand out from everyone else? What separates you from the pack? Maybe it’s time to shake things up and take a risk.

Taking a risk can mean different things to different people. If you’ve never been on stage for whatever reason (stage fright quotient?) but it’s burning a BIG “What If?” in your brain – do it now. If you’re waiting until the ball drops next year, you risk losing this year. Go to an open-mic, take a class, form a writing group – whatever, there are tons of options. There are also plenty of good books on the market (and not just mine – search around) on how to write, perform and find work in this crazy biz.

Let’s shake things up.

If you’re already on stage doing comedy or speaking and your career is not where you think it should be – make a change. Take a risk. Try something different. It could be different topics, different energy, different venues or even a different location. You never know until you try.

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January 2018 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

Please use the contact form below to receive an email if space opens!

Spring 2018 Chicago workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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One of my favorite stories in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works is from comedian Christopher Titus.

He described himself early in his career as being the “happy-go-lucky comic.” He was funny, but there was nothing that separated him from any other observational comic.

Then his manager challenged him to take a risk. He suggested he be real on stage.

Titus was one person (happy-go-lucky) on stage, but off stage he had a dark, edgy – risky – style of humor. Accepting the challenge, he wrote a bit about stabbing his boss with a letter opener. It worked BIG time. This change in his comedy voice separated him from the pack, made him an in-demand headliner and also star of his own television sitcom, Titus.

Now I’m not saying to write material about stabbing your boss with a letter opener. If you look back at the above paragraph, it’s been done. Copying someone else’s material is not going to get you anywhere in this creative business. In fact, it would be a step backwards. And it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go in a more edgy direction if that is NOT where your true humor is based. Some comics like more family-oriented material or working in the corporate (clean) market.

Go for it!

All I’m saying… suggesting… (motivating?)… is to make this YOUR year. Accept the challenge and shake things up.

If you’re waiting to start, take that important first step and get on stage. If you’re looking for help in preparing for that first step, are too nervous, or have a full-blown case of stage fright, take a workshop and let someone with experience help you ease your way into it. If you’re already performing, remember the famous line from Stardust Memories (a Woody Allen film if you need to know):

“You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.”

Have a productive, successful and laugh-filled 2018.

Your Pal – Dave

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 Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs and (comedy soon!) The Omaha Funny Boneprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

October 15, 2017

Hey Dave – I need some advice, but think I already know the answer. I had a booker ask me if I can do an hour clean for corporate and 90 minutes for cruises. I have about 40 clean. I already screwed myself recently when someone asked if I can do an hour headlining and I said I was more comfortable featuring. I want to tell this person yes, but don’t want to disappoint and don’t want to hurt my standing with them. But I’m afraid if I say no, they won’t look at me again. What do you think? – D.

“I know! I know!”

Hey D. – I think it’s true you already know the answer because you’re a working comic. And I don’t need to overthink to know talent bookers, comedians and speakers working regularly in the entertainment biz also know the answer. But for those who are not at that point yet in their careers, this type of offer can cause them to question their own better judgment.

I’ve never met a performer that wanted to screw up a chance to get work through a legit talent booker. It’s how they both earn a living. One way to do it is to overestimate – or deliberately lie – about what they can offer the client (the buyer – like an event planner for a corporate show). If the booker says he has a comic that can do an hour of clean material, that’s exactly what the event planner assumes he’s paying for. If the comic claims that’s what he brings to the deal, it had better be true.

If that’s not what’s delivered, then everyone is screwed.

Okay, I understand some performers are great at crowd work. They may not have an actual hour’s worth of material, but they’re talented and experienced in talking with the audience and making it part of the act.  If that’s what you’re capable of doing for an hour and have proven it in the past, then yeah – do the gig.

If not, don’t overestimate and claim you can if you’ve never done it. A good paying or important (proving yourself to a legit booker) gig is not the time to try something new.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – November 4, 2017

Includes performance on Thursday, November 30th!!

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – skips Thanksgiving Weekend

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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But for experienced working comics, I’m just preaching to the choir.

It’s true you don’t want to ruin a chance to work with a talent booker by turning down jobs. But then again, you don’t want to ruin chances for future work if you don’t deliver what you’ve promised. The best way to deal with both of these dilemmas is to tell them the truth.

A legit talent booker should respect your honesty.

Thanks!

If he’s contacted you about work – that means he or she is interested in working with you. This shouldn’t be a “slam the door in your face” moment because you can’t deliver – right now – what’s being asked of you. Use this as an opportunity to stay in contact and hopefully work together in the future. I’ve booked dozens of corporate shows and they’re not always for an hour performance. In fact that’s almost too long for an event that might include cocktail hour, dinner and dancing after the show. Most of the corporate bookings I’ve gotten for comedians are between thirty and forty five minutes.

So always ask the best way for you to stay in touch with this booker in case he needs someone for a show of that length. And when you’re finally ready – experienced – to do an hour or ninety minutes, you can let them know that too.

I know this will sound cliché, but keep in mind you’re building a career. It takes time and it’s not a race. Putting together a solid (funny) act (clean) for corporate gigs and dinner shows on cruise ships (different than the late night adult shows performed by the same comics) is not an overnight process. The best comedians (and speakers) – in other words, working regularly – understand the hard work, dedication and on stage experience that’s necessary to find success in this competitive business.

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There are no shortcuts.

As a talent booker I know from past experience that a miserable experience is scheduling a comic for a show who doesn’t deliver what’s been promised. The client is unhappy and will call someone else in the future when looking for entertainment. And from the talent booker point of view? Well, let’s just say that comic won’t be on speed dial for gigs anytime soon.

And yeah – that’s how I earned that experience.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Experienced advice on getting hired as a comedy writer

August 14, 2017

Some time ago I ran an article about getting hired as a comedy writer. I asked if anyone had experienced advice to share with us and my not so subtle request reached one of my favorite writers in the comedy biz.

I’m happy to pass along his words of experienced wisdom.

Marc Jaffe is a stand-up comedian with numerous TV appearances, author (Sleeping With Your Gynecologist), playwright (Side Effects May Include…) and with his wife Karen founded Shaking With Laughter, an organization that helps support the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. In Fall 2017 Marc and Karen’s efforts will surpass the $1 million mark for funds raised.

Marc is also known to many of us as a writer for the legendary television sitcom Seinfeld.

So for some very worthwhile – and again, experienced – advice on writing for other comedians, here’s Marc…

Re: How to write for others.

Good advice given. For what it’s worth here are a few things I would add.

Tremendously important to have the voice of the person you are writing for as you said, but I would point out that often you’ll have a better chance of getting the comedian’s voice if you like their act, so go after people who make you laugh, not just any hot comedian.

The best time to get an opening if you haven’t been a hangout pal is when the comedian you want to write for is busy or in transition and are taking the next step. I approached Paul Reiser just as he was getting hot and was doing Tonight Shows and Letterman regularly. He wasn’t doing sets on those shows, he was already a name movie star, but he was a regular guest and didn’t have enough material to “waste” on panel on those shows. So he was happy to have someone work on new things for TV that wouldn’t eat up his club act.

Seinfeld needed someone because he got a TV show and I think he felt this was something new for him and he needed to find someone other than a friend to help him.

So, much like comedy, timing is everything. Timing and being funny and prolific. If you do stand-up, you know the percentage of stuff you write that actually works and stays in your act is minor – 10% would be great. You have to churn out a lot of stuff because that percentage will probably hold when you write for others.

Be honest with yourself as a comedian too. I always knew I was a much better writer than performer. If your act is working because you are a great performer who can get away with mediocre writing, don’t try to write for others. When I got the opportunity to write for top name guys, it was phenomenal because suddenly 20% of the stuff I was writing worked. That was because the people I was writing for could always make what I wrote better. They also had a higher standard than I had so that even though 20% worked, it was back down to 10% that made it, because it had to be killer.

Be ready before you seek out an opportunity. If you are good for that first guy, they will recommend you. Reiser recommended me to Seinfeld and then I got other jobs because Jerry’s management was happy with my work for Jerry and they had a roster of other great comedians that needed help at various times.

Also, one of the great things about being a writer is that you can just call yourself a writer. Go to the clubs and give comics a line or two after their show. If they like them, tell them you are a writer, and you’d be happy to submit some stuff to them if they need material.

You never know who has something going on and is in need of some quality help. Reiser did a guest set at a club I was at in Pittsburgh and I asked him afterwards if he needed any help on anything and he had a Letterman coming up that he was too busy to work on. I got the Seinfeld gig because I went up to Jerry after a show and asked if I could submit some stuff right at the time he was looking for someone on staff for his just picked up sitcom.

I gave him some great pages and he loved them. And got a good word from Reiser, but if I hadn’t approached Jerry, I would have never gotten the job.

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Thanks Marc. This is not only great advice, but also experienced advice. I’m sure everyone appreciates you sharing this. Now go get a real job… HA!! Okay, okay… I know… that just proves I won’t be writing comedy material for anyone in the near future.

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Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.