Posts Tagged ‘Performing’

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

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Includes an evening performance at The Chicago Improv

Thursday – June 29th at 8 pm

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

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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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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 25, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

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…

TheComedyBook.com

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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.

Shake things up in 2017

January 4, 2017

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.

2017

Ready… set… go!

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 gonna kick-start 2017 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.

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.

oldball

Wait until next year?

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 and perform.

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.

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

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January 2017 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv is SOLD OUT!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

For information and to register for future workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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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.

ball-drop

Now’s the time!

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.

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 2017.

Your Pal – Dave

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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 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.

Bomb Alert! Here’s an on stage survival guide

December 18, 2016

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

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

But first a definition.

Charlie Chaplin

Taking cover

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

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

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

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Winter 2017 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv starts Saturday, January 21st!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

Space is limited to 10 people – for details and to register visit…

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As an example:

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

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

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

So you want some advice? Okay…

Young Frankenstein

Talk WITH the audience!

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

Here’s an example…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I had to ask him about it – right?

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

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

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Finding stage time

November 4, 2016

Hey Dave – I have performed terribly at three open-mics in Kentucky. Could you point me in the direction of a “lower-end” establishment in Ohio? I’m looking for a place that does not require you to bring five friends. I don’t know five people. Thanks, J.

Open MicHey J. – Thanks for thinking of me when it comes to “lower end” establishments. Maybe I should start calling this the Blue Collar Column – NOT! But instead of worrying about how to get a “higher end” reputation, I’ll share some thoughts about how to get stage time at open-mics whether you’re in Kentucky, Ohio, or wherever.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about having to bring friends if you want to perform…

Usually if an open-mic (or showcase) night is not offered by a legit comedy club, they tend to be here one minute and gone the next. And to make a general statement, open-mics are usually in bars or nightclubs. Yeah, I know there are open-mics in churches and other places, but I’m talking in broad and wide and general terms right now.

If a “lower end” establishment runs a profitable comedy open-mic (attracts paying customers) chances are it’ll keep going. If not, then the owner needs to find something else that will bring in money, like investing in a giant screen TV for football season.

That’s why there are so many pay-to-play or bringer clubs where you have to bring x-amount of paying customers if you want to get on stage. This is a business deal. Comics get valuable stage experience to work on improving their performances and material so they can eventually move on to paying gigs in “higher end” comedy clubs.

From management’s point of view, that’s what they’re “giving” you.

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November 2016 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv

Is SOLD OUT!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, December 7 at 7:30 pm

For info on upcoming Chicago and Cleveland workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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The trade-off is that the performing comics need to bring in paying customers. Making money is what keeps these clubs in business. From management’s point of view that’s what comics are “giving” them.

By the way, this is proof I didn’t sleep through all my college economics classes.

I can go into some of my stories about open-mics in NYC that always had an audience and comics simply signed up and performed. For the most part, it’s not like that anymore. Now you need x-amount of friends who are willing to drop a few bucks for a cover charge and a couple drinks to help further your career.

There’s some good advice on how to beat the bringer system in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers from my good pal and NYC comedy coach, Chris Murphy. I’d share it with you now, but my NYC publisher wouldn’t be too happy. You can check it out for free at your local library, or drop a few bucks on Amazon.com (it’s in paperback, Kindle, Nook and iBook).

Searching

Searching

And now that Introduction to Economics 101 is over, let’s get back to your original question – finding open-mics. After all, that’s the direction you want to be pointed in…

As mentioned, open-mics come and go. I used to hand out a long list in my comedy workshops to help everyone find stage time. And since I’ve done these in different states, it was quite a long list. I’d call the major comedy clubs to see what they had going, but for the local open-mic scene I’d rely on info from the current workshop members and add that to the list. But by the time I started the next workshop, that list was already outdated. The open-mics that were hot only a few weeks earlier had stopped and the comics had found new places to perform.

So instead of handing out a road map that sometimes led nowhere (a club that ditched comedy for a big screen TV) there’s a better way. It’s called research and networking.

If you have an eye on a certain area, in your case Ohio, do a Google search for comedy clubs. It’s easy – I do it all the time to see what’s going on and who’s appearing in other cities. If they have an open-mic it’ll be listed on their website. Remember, they’re in business and it’s always good business sense to promote whatever they have going on.

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Also, there’s always a phone number. Again, it’s good business sense.

From my experience, rarely will the club owner or manager answer the phone. That’s why they have people working in the box office, telemarketers and other staff. I only mention this because a lot of comics worry about making a lasting bad first impression on the person who ultimately controls who performs and who is banished to comedy hell for bothering them with annoying phone calls. I’ve also learned a lot of people who answer phones in comedy clubs are also aspiring comics.

Hey – if you want to be a plumber, you work with plumbers. If you wanna be a doctor, you intern with doctors. If you wanna be a comedian…

Make sense? And there’s no way you can argue with me about that. Too many of the former door-guys I worked with at the NYC Improv have gone onto successful comedy careers. They got firsthand experience on how this business works by being involved in the comedy scene.

Hint: Read that last sentence again. It’s a road map to where we’re going with this…

Even if you’re not ready to perform at a legit comedy club’s open-mic (trust me, you’ll need a lot more than three times on stage to even think about it) ask the person who answers the phone if they know of any open-mics in the area. Even if they say no, it won’t make a lasting bad first impression on anyone who can give you stage time. It’ll just make you do another Google search and find another club to call.

When you find even ONE “lower end” establishment, call and ask if they’re doing open-mics. Word of warning: I remember two comedians from my workshop that followed through on the fist step, but skipped the second. They didn’t find out the open-mic was history and now a sports bar until after a four hour one-way drive. Even worse, the two comics I’m talking about didn’t like either of the teams on the big screen TV.

If the open-mic is in business – go there.

The deal is, once you find one open-mic you’ll meet other comedians and can start learning about the area comedy scene. It’s called networking. Be supportive and watch the other comics. Do your time on stage and get to know these people. After all, you share the same interest – comedy.

Don’t be a user and don’t be annoying. Both are good ways to keep the number of friends on your list under five. Ask if they know of any other open-mics and make a point to be there. If you know of open-mics in your area, share the info.

Be part of the scene!

Be part of the scene!

It’s all about becoming a part of that particular comedy scene.

I know it sounds simple. But you know what? It usually is if you’re serious about doing this. I’ve been waaay involved in the comedy scenes in three major cities and I’ve seen how this works. I don’t just make this stuff up during television commercial breaks.

Comics can be very supportive of each other and it’s a tough business to go at it alone. It can be good to walk into a new club and see a few familiar faces. Ride share with other comics or start a writing group. There are all kinds of ways to get involved and that’s what you need to do.

And yeah, to off-set any emails I might receive about that positive outlook, you’ll also run into others who are complete jerks. But you know what? You’ll find that in any business. Just deal with their negativity the best you can and focus on where you want to go as a comic and how to get there.

Okay, that might have been long-winded, but here’s the business deal.

Once you get involved in a local comedy scene you’ll get to know the other comics. You’ll learn about other open-mics and that’s how you’ll know where to go for stage time. But remember to be supportive. If you can help someone get on stage, there’s a better chance they’ll help you. Simple? From what I’ve seen, it usually is.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Booking conference gigs: think big and start small

October 17, 2016

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

Open mic night

Open mic night

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

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

That can only be learned through on stage experience.

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

I mean, after all, you mentioned it…

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

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Start small.

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

big food

Thought I could do it…

Don’t bite off more than you chew.

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

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

For free.

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

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

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

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

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You’ll have TEN minutes of working material.

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

trash shot

Trashing what doesn’t work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Seeking help for a “stuck” comedy career

September 4, 2016

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

Just give it a try!

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

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

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

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

Improv Rules

The Rules

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

A class would have prepared you in advance.

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

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

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For instance…

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

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

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

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

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

Mathew

“Where’ya from?”

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Different performances for different audiences

August 21, 2016

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

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

For two extreme examples…

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

A lesson to be learned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an example…

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

laughing audience

Earning the BIG bucks!

But he also has a definite comedy voice.

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

That’s what he gets paid big bucks for.

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

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

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

So what does he talk about?

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

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

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

He knows his audience and plays to his audience.

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

————————————————————————————-

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Comedy contests offer stage time

July 25, 2016

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

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

Not FairDoesn’t seem fair – does it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No BS – I’ve seen it happen.

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

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

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

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

STAGE TIME.

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

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

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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