Posts Tagged ‘Performing’

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…

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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.

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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.

Stick to your time on stage

August 1, 2017

Hey Dave – Without revealing my secret identity, I heard you talking not too long ago and know you were pretty upset with a comedian who went over his time and was on stage too long. It’s probably safe to say he overstayed his welcome. Care to elaborate? – G.

Hey G – What are you a secret agent with a secret identity listening to my not-so-private conversations? Oh well, I guess it could be worse. Instead of a sleazy private eye snooping on me, you could be a self-centered comedian (or speaker) who goes over his allotted time on stage.

Want to kill a potentially great relationship with a comedy club or make sure you’re never invited back for a return gig at a college or corporate event?

Go ahead – ignore it!

When you’re given the light (the signal) to end your set and leave the stage – ignore it. Go ahead and do another 5, 10, 15 minutes, half an hour… an hour… Everyone will surely love and worship your amazing and boundless talent that you’re compelled to share so unselfishly for however long your ego needs to be stroked on stage.

And in case you don’t recognize sarcasm in the written word, insert a capitalized “NOT!” after that last sentence. In a creative profession that thrives on having no rules (being original and unique is a big plus) going over your time on stage breaks a big business rule – and is a big minus.

As always there are exceptions that depend on your status within the industry and everyone starting out in the business needs to realize that. There are special events where more time on stage is a benefit. For instance, fundraising efforts that are planned in advance to set records for time on stage. I remember reading about a comedian who did forty hours of stand-up years ago and raised at TON of money for a hospital. That’s truly awesome, but not what we’re talking about today.

Another exception is having your own hit television show or enough name recognition to sell out theaters and arenas. That’s like being the favorite child or grandchild. You get special privileges.

When you’re a major star and selling out arenas, theaters or (sometimes) a club and charging big $$’s for tickets, fans expect a “concert” experience and more than just a half hour or hour show by the headliner. It’s like seeing Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, or U2 perform three hour concerts. Their fans are into it, paid money to see that particular artist, and these acts have the material to entertain for that length of time. But until you’re working within that stratosphere of popularity, stick to your time on stage.

Reasons why? As always, I’m glad you asked…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Showcase performance on Wednesday, August 16th at 7:30 pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Fall 2017 Chicago and Cleveland workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

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It’s a business, which is a fact I emphasize in many of these FAQ’s and Answers. Some club owners are in the entertainment biz because they enjoy it and like to nurture and promote new talent. Others are only in it to make money. But the bottom line for both is if they don’t make money (and yes, this includes the nurturing types) they go out of business. When a club goes out of business, comedians have one less place to work.

Clubs earn money selling tickets, selling food and drinks, and keeping expenses (rent, utilities, inventory, payroll, etc…) under control. The comedian you reminded me of in this week’s question – and I won’t mention his name – actually told club management (me at that time!) after the show that he was doing the club a favor by going more than an HOUR over his scheduled time on stage. He pretty much wanted a “thank you” for giving the serving, kitchen and bar staff more time to sell food and drinks.

That consideration for the club deserves a bigger laugh than any he received on stage. After all, Dumb and Dumber was a popular movie and now in my opinion this comic is the live version. Good thinking! (Again – this is written sarcasm so please add a big “NOT!”).

You know why? Because the business doesn’t work that way…

Shows at this particular club (a world famous comedy club, I might add) are timed. Staff arrives at a certain time, the doors open at a certain time, the show starts at a certain time and the comedians – opening act, feature act and headlining act – are given set times. The headliners, of course, are the privileged members of the family, but most know how the business works.

It’s a profit deal!

As Steve Martin said in The Jerk:

I get it… It’s a profit deal!

The behind the scenes business – kitchen crew, servers, food-runners, bars, box office, security, management – revolve around the show schedule. For instance, the box office closes when the headliner goes on so customers won’t complain about getting ripped-off by buying a ticket after the show has started. So that profit opportunity is ended when the headliner walks on stage.

Are you following me so far? Good, because I’m not done yet…

A sad fact about the nightclub biz is that some people like to skip out on their checks. In other words, if they can sneak out without paying they’re getting a free night out. The truth in most cases is that the servers – the waiters and waitresses – are stuck with these checks and have to pay for these uncollected profits out of their own pockets. They foot the bill and end up paying for these jerks (and I’m not referring again to a Steve Martin movie) to have a fun night out.

Not fair – is it?

This is why comedy clubs have “check spots.” Experienced comedians know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when the checks are put on the tables to be paid by the customers. The show doesn’t (or shouldn’t) end until all the checks are paid – by the customers. That makes it difficult for deadbeat customers to blend in and sneak out with customers who have already paid. It’s a sad truth about the nightclub business.

So based on the time allotted for the show, last call is given when there is still enough time during the headlining comedian’s set to give customers their checks and collect the money. No more drinks or food are served after last call because the checks are closed. When the show ends and the final comedian has walked off the stage, customers can head to the bar or another club if they want to continue drinking and eating.

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This means the final two profit opportunities for the club has ended – food and drinks.

But what about keeping expenses under control? When the staff has finished serving and collecting checks, they have to hang around and wait for the show to end and the customers to leave. They’ve also lost any opportunity to make additional tips because the checks are “closed” and they can’t start new ones for thirsty customers because no one knows for sure when the show will end.

In the case of the comedian referred to above, that meant the staff sat around for over an hour – on the clock and getting paid by the club owner – before they could prepare the room for the next show or  finish their shifts, shut down the club and leave.

Doesn’t make great business sense for a good business plan – does it?

I’m sure you can imagine the chaos this can cause for clubs that have two or three shows on a weekend night. If the first show runs even 10 or 15 minutes late because a comic goes over his time, the audiences coming in for the later shows don’t know this. They’re on time and lined-up to enter the showroom, while the earlier audience is still inside. When that audience is leaving the new audience is trying to get in and…

Well, I’ll refer to another Steve Martin quote that also works from the management point of view:

Comedy isn’t pretty.

Closed doors

I don’t need to tell you what the management and staff are saying behind the back of the comedian that went past his time and stayed on stage too long. I’ll just let you know it isn’t pretty.

The same holds true for corporate and college performers. These business people and students are usually on a schedule. It could be a training seminar, class, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour / social time – whatever. The contracts I’ve seen for these types of gigs are very strict in their performance times. Go short (leave the stage before completing the time you’re contracted for) and the clients won’t want to pay you. Go long and they won’t even think of booking you for a return engagement since you’ve disrupted the event schedule.

Of course there are other reasons why you must stick to your time on stage. The No. 1 reason for beginning comics and speakers is to prove to talent bookers and club management you understand how important this is and won’t cause a potential nightmare in the future. But in an effort not to take longer than expected when you started reading, I’ll stick to my time and sign off. I think you get the idea.

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.

Only clean material? Know your audience

June 5, 2017

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

Did you hear that?!

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

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

Be funny.

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

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

Your audience.

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Summer 2017 Dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Cleveland Improv

For details, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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

What markets do you want to play?

Confusing?

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

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

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

So… who is your audience?

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

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

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

Should we allow that?!

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

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

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

It all comes down to knowing your audience.

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

Get the picture?

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

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

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

Did you hear that?!

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

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

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

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

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

Wait a minute! I almost forgot to mention something…

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Being influenced vs. copying

May 22, 2017

Hey Dave – I’ve been working on material and continue to search for my comedy voice. Although I want to do some improvising, I want a good amount of material to work off of. Someone said I have a somewhat eccentric and iconoclastic persona and should take advantage of that. Therefore, I’ve thought about using Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright as influences and been writing material similar to theirs, especially since I like it. However, I’m afraid I’m not using them as an influence but just copying them. Is there a thin line between the 2 or just between fishing and standing there doing nothing? – JK

Hey JK – I was lucky to have worked with the late great Prof. Irwin Corey at the NYC Improv and interviewed Steven Wright for a magazine article. I consider both extremely smart and extremely funny. I also know that if I even tried to write like either one, I would be lost and confused. In fact, my brain hurts just thinking about it. But as usual I have a few thoughts about the topic, so instead of standing here doing nothing let’s go fishing for an answer…

“How did you say that?”

Yes – there is a line between being influenced and copying. Ideally it should be a wide one.

As Prof. Corey would have said, “Let me explain…

I often compare comedy to music. I’ve done this frequently in my workshops, books, and in more than a few previous FAQ articles. Basically, you can’t reinvent the wheel. And when it comes to music, someone somewhere had to hum the first tune. In comedy, someone somewhere made someone laugh for the first time. Musicians and comedians have been building on those firsts ever since.

One of my favorite all-time bands is The Rolling Stones. They’ve influenced countless bands for over fifty years and are considered by many to be the greatest rock’n roll band in the world. There are many bands that have copied their formula for success, but there is still only one Rolling Stones and their place in music history is written in… well, stone.

But who influenced them? Rock historians can trace the roots of their sound back to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many others.

Did they copy? Yeah!

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Stand-Up Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – June 3, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Chicago Improv

Thursday – June 29th at 8 pm

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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They tried their best by performing a lot of cover songs when they first started out. But it’s not what made them superstars. Mick Jagger found his own voice as a singer and Keith Richards found his voice on the guitar. The duo ended up writing their own material and classic hits based on the type of music they liked and giving it their own spin based on their individual talent and personalities.

Like the Stones, comedians start by emulating what they like.

“How did you play that?”

Keith Richards is not going to play Bach or Beethoven because he likes Chuck Berry. Based on the way you described your humor in today’s email, I doubt you would consider bringing props on stage like Carrot Top or going redneck like Larry The Cable Guy. You like Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright so yes, they are both are going to influence you as a comedian just like Chuck Berry influenced the Stones as musicians.

But the big difference between being a comedian and being a musician, The Rolling Stones can (and often do) play Chuck Berry songs during their concerts. But comedians can’t go on stage and say, “Here’s one from Steven Wright” and do a few of his best jokes.

That’s copying and comedians can’t do that – period. Its called stealing material. There are some that do – and most of us know who the big-name guilty parties are. There’s a total lack of respect for these thieves from other comics and industry people, and a lot of us wonder how they can sleep at night. Must be the drugs, but that’s another article…

Being influenced is not the same as stealing.

Creative artists, (comedians and musicians to only mention two) don’t reinvent the wheel. They can build on what’s already there. Just like in many original Rolling Stones songs you can hear a Chuck Berry riff or Bo Diddley beat in the background, comedians can’t help but be influenced by the type of humor they like.

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For example, Carrot Top didn’t invent prop comedy. As little kids many of us can remember holding up two paper plates on the sides of our heads and pretending to be Mickey Mouse. Carrot Top probably did that too, thought it was extremely funny – and built on it.

You as a writer and performer need to do the same, but with your own influences.

I think you understand your style of comedy. It’s similar to Prof. Irwin and Steven Wright, but when it comes to writing and performing it’s important for you to realize you are also very different. There’s no way you would have the exact same experiences or live in the exact same environment (city, neighborhood, families, education, jobs, etc.). You have a different life, different personality, different relationships and different conversations.

You also have your own personal thoughts about all of these experiences.

That’s what you need to put into your writing and performances – your spin. Don’t think about what Prof. Irwin Corey or Steven Wright would say. But respect that you admire what they do, are influenced to perform comedy in the same style, and then say it in your own words. Basically, they are intelligent writers and your writing should also have some intelligence to it.

I remember two comedians I worked with in LA. Sorry, I won’t name-drop this time, but one is now an international movie star and the other is an all-time favorite television character. They both admitted to being HUGE fans of Jerry Lewis. They loved every movie and consider him to be the HUGE influence that got them both into the comedy biz.

No caption needed

But never in a million years would you see either of them on stage yelling out Lewis’ famous line, “HEY LAAYYYDEEE!” That would be stealing. But I’ve seen both make wild faces and pretend to slip and fall during their stand-up comedy sets similar to what Lewis did in his classic films while talking about their own personal experiences and thoughts.

That’s being influenced. And to take it a step further, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx were doing pratfalls long before Lewis.

The idea is to use your own mannerisms and personality to deliver your material to an audience. You are not going to hold two paper plates to your head and hope people laugh. You’ll want to dig deeper and put some thought into why something is funny from your personal point of view and then convey that to an audience.

Everyone is influenced by someone or something. It’s human nature. Again, none of us can invent the wheel because it’s been done – and car companies are still building on it. The same can be said about comedians when it comes to writing and performing comedy material.

But understand what makes you unique from everyone else (we all are) and explore topics that interest you based on your style of humor. Keep writing and performing. Eventually you’ll find your own comedy voice. Then in interviews you’ll be asked who influenced you – and you can tell them. I’ve interviewed comedians for my books, magazine articles and newspaper columns and believe me; every comedian has someone who inspired them. What made them successful was when they realized they couldn’t copy, but could use that influence to build on.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Best revenge – laughs and bookings

May 8, 2017

Hi Dave – I had a great set last night and one of the other comedians that went on after me tore into me. It got real personal and it really hurt. The people running the show asked me if I wanted to go back on to get revenge, but I did not. Did I handle it the right way? – N.R.

A BIG mouth!

Hey N.R. – Sounds like the first shot has been fired in a comedy war. But whether or not you want to get down into the comedy trenches (common comedy term – not mine) with this big mouth depends on a couple factors.

  • Your personality on stage – your comic voice
  • How you want to be seen on and off stage in this biz

Maybe I’m naive, but with 25+ years of experience working with comedians, I’ve found this biz to be very supportive. Sure there are some real pain-in-the-butt jerks, but I don’t know of any career path that’s immune from that syndrome.

Usually it’s based on jealousy and/or a power trip ego. And the funny part of it – and again, I’m talking from experience – I’ve found the more powerful someone is in the biz, the more supportive they are of new talent. This includes comedians, talent bookers and other behind the scenes people.

Hmmm…. I feel a sense of disbelief running through some minds with that last statement. I think my experiences on this topic would make an interesting and opinionated future FAQ and Answer. I’ll wrap my mind around it for awhile, but in the meantime…

What you have to decide is who you are on stage and how you want to be seen by others – your co-workers (other comedians) and the people who can hire you – in this biz.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – June 3, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Chicago Improv

Thursday – June 29th at 8 pm

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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Comedians who are good friends can tear each up on stage. No problem. It’s like a sport and can be very funny. We used to do that at the NYC Improv – to the extent of taking a microphone into the men’s room and holding it over a flushing toilet when a friend’s joke bombed.

It was hysterical and the comic on stage could rip into us for the rest of his set. Not a problem – we loved it.

But when it’s mean – as it seems to be in your case – there’s no point in it. This comic’s attack on you is either based on jealousy or a power trip – or both.

“That was a cheap shot!”

This big mouth is trying to make himself look better at your expense. You can handle it two ways – and this is based on what decisions you made when I asked earlier.

If you are the type of comedian that can rip this guy apart verbally – then go for it. I can’t imagine another comedian taking a cheap shot at someone like Bobby Slayton (The Pit Bull of Comedy) and walking away with his or her ego still intact. Slayton would verbally slaughter him.

The same holds true for Lisa Lampanelli, Dave Attell, Chris Rock… you get the picture, right? These comics can hurl verbal hand grenades at anyone who dares mouth off at them first. I’ve seen them all in action and believe me, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the insults.

Are you similar? If so – next time go for the throat.

But if that’s not who you are on stage (or in real life) and you’re not up for verbal comedic warfare, then you did the right thing. Let this blowhard blow his own horn and reputation with other comedians and bookers.

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Comics are not going to want to work with someone that has a reputation for taking cheap shots. And bookers want to deal with the least amount of problems as possible. Again from experience as a booker, I’ve known non-headline comedians (important factor because a headliner that brings in paying customers can pretty much do what he or she wants) that are very funny, but a pain to work with.

So guess what? We don’t work with them when it’s at all possible.

Just be funny!

Who needs the extra aggravation when the job itself can be aggravating sometimes? Like with any job, you go for the least resistance. And if someone else is just as funny and easier to work with – that’s who gets the gig.

The bottom line is that in an ideal world, all you should be concerned about is becoming a better comedian. If someone with the same career goal doesn’t like you, then you must be doing something right.

Want revenge? The best way to get back at this person is to get more laughs, which will lead to more bookings.

So use this as an incentive to focus:

If your hard work and dedication pay off, maybe someday this loud mouth will be parking cars at a comedy club and ripping into his new co-workers while you’re inside headlining. Make it happen.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Singin’ the (comedy) blues

April 24, 2017

Hey Dave – I have a confession to make and was wondering if this is normal or not and if so, how to deal with it? Is there such a thing as having the blues in comedy? I guess you could call it the Comedy Blues. I mean, I’ve been told “no” before and had terrible sets in the past. But I strongly feel it has made me the keen comedian I am today. But still, if I may… help! – A.

Taking your emotions for a ride!

Hey A. – Congratulations. You’re a creative artist. And I think you’re riding what comes with the territory – an emotional roller coaster. It can be a series of BIG ups and downs. That’s why a lot of people can’t deal with a career in the arts – whether it’s comedy, speaking, acting, music, writing or too many others to list.

It’s not easy.

If it was don’t you think more people would go for it? You have to admit that standing on stage getting laughs, greeting your fans after a show AND getting paid for it is a pretty cool gig. People in the audience see that and quite a few wish they could do it, but are afraid of rejection or looking foolish. But those who actually take a chance and really go for it don’t seem to have much of a choice. It’s what they have to do.

Okay, this might be more motivational today than instructional, but what the heck. I’m a creative guy so follow me on this one…

You got the blues?

Let’s relate this to music. A lot of great songs are about HIGHS while a lot of great songs are about LOWS. Let’s call this latter group blues songs since… well, that’s how you referred to your comedy state of mind AND that’s what they’re called anyway. Basically singin’ the blues is telling listeners nothing worth having or doing seems to come easy. Blues songs are usually about losing love, money or both.

But in our case, let’s relate it to being creative.

To be more specific – going for a career as a comedian (which from this point on will also include humorous speaker). You want soooo bad to have something good happen, but there are often road blocks. Things never seem to move as fast as you want them to. Yeah, there are big HIGHS to be had – like passing an important audition, getting your first paid gig or winning a contest.

There are also big LOWS when those things don’t happen.

But you know what? Every working comic will tell you from experience that you’ll hear the word “No” a lot more often than you’ll hear “Yes.” Especially in the beginning.

It comes with the creative territory.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – June 3, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Chicago Improv

Thursday – June 29th at 8 pm

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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Do you want to stick around in this crazy biz long enough to (hopefully) have a career? Then you’ll need to develop a thick skin along the way.

Let’s move from music and relate this to sports. The best relief pitchers in baseball are going to lose a few games in the last inning during a long season. What makes them the best and others basket cases or unemployed is the ability to shake off the loss, forget about it and try to win the next game.

It’s a mindset they need to be born with or develop if they want to be successful in a competitive business (sports).

Being a comedian means you’re a creative artist in a competitive business. You put your creative work and talent on display to be judged by others, such as talent bookers and audiences. Some will like it and others won’t. It’s the nature of the biz. Hopefully your talent and perseverance will eventually lead to more likes than dislikes.

Likes are the highs and dislikes are the lows. The goal is to not get TOO high or TOO low. But it’s not easy when the results are based on your personal creative talent.

I remember working in NYC and hearing aspiring comics just breaking into the open-mic scene or at their first audition at The Improv saying they plan to have a sitcom within a year. I’m not lying about that. I’m serious and heard it said more than a few times. And I could look at the comedians hanging around The NY Improv at that time like Ray Romano, Dave Attell, Brett Butler and Larry David, and knew how hard they had been working at it for years. They didn’t get everything they auditioned for, but they had experienced the highs and the lows. There were no guarantees they would make it when they started, but someone saying “No” wasn’t going to stop them from continuing.

They were talented (duh!) but hadn’t scored television sitcoms or specials within their first year of doing comedy. The new comics at their first open-mics with unrealistic goals were setting themselves up for disappointment – big lows. They needed to be realistic and understand what to expect:

Will sing for laughs.

Comedy HIGHS and Comedy BLUES. It comes with the territory.

And to finish this thought, I don’t remember anyone getting a sitcom within a year of their first open-mic or Improv audition. But I remember the above mentioned comics coming to The NY Improv every night and paying their dues on stage.

Which leads me to another thought about riding these highs and lows. It’s called paying your dues. Some people drop out of the business because they can’t take the lows. Others have no choice (creative artists) and continue – with thicker skin.

But it’s important to realize that just continuing is no guarantee of success. Talent, business, connections and sometimes just plain luck are also involved.

Basically, there’s no straight answer to your question. It is what it is. Sometimes it’s good to take a break and regroup. Other times you put your head down and continue if that’s what you must do. For many creative artists there’s no choice in the matter.

Finally, here’s another creative thought…

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Consider bringing these feelings (blues) into your writing. You don’t have to talk about having “comedy blues” (blues singers go for the sad while comics go for the laughs). This may add more real emotion and real life into your material and delivery. Audiences can always tell when someone is faking it. They can also tell when creative artists are really going for it and sharing something real about themselves.

Most good comics and speakers have that ability. They talk from experience because they’ve paid their dues by riding the creative roller coaster.

Remember – it’s a creative art. And being a creative artist is not always easy.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

————————————————————————————-

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Personality separates you from the competition

February 18, 2017

Hi Dave – I do a lot of presentations through my job. These are specific to the industry and I’d like to start speaking at related conferences. I’m not a stand-up comedian, but know the importance of humor in getting my message across to an audience. Many of my friends think I am funny in an I Love Lucy kind of way… Which I suppose comes naturally. However, I am not sure how to release that side of me when I am giving a humorous presentation. Thanks – DB

bored-audience

Not connecting!

Hey DB – When it comes to giving a presentation as a humorous speaker or doing a set as a comedian, you must connect with your audience. That’s the bottom line – period. If you don’t connect, they don’t listen.

What’s a great way to connect? By doing what comes naturally and showing off your personality. Let me explain…

Working comics know performing stand-up is more than telling jokes. Anyone can tell a joke, and some better than others. But to be a successful performer, you need to show who you are on stage.

Comics, agents, managers and talent bookers call it your comedy voice. For our purposes, we’ll call it your personality as a speaker.

The classic joke-tellers like Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman (to mention only two) had GREAT personalities on stage. That’s what sold their material to an audience.

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Starts Saturday – March 25, 2017

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…

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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.

*

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.

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!

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Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

For information and to register for future workshops visit…

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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.