Posts Tagged ‘stage time’

Doing face time in comedy clubs for bookings

November 26, 2017

Hey Dave – Isn’t “face-time” (not the kind associated with iPhones) one of the most important parts of getting work hosting in comedy clubs? What I mean is, doesn’t it make a big difference in someone’s chances of being MC for a weekend (or more) when they frequent the club, chat up the staff and tip well, and demonstrate a willingness to do grunt work? I think that is universal. Didn’t you have a story about the guy who showed up outside a club and swept the sidewalk every day until they hired him inside and he then moved up the ranks? – DM

Hey DM – This is not an easy question because there are a lot of buts, maybes and depends that will go into any answer – from anyone. I know from experience there are some comics and club owners who will agree with what I’m going to say, and others who will grab a broom and tell me to get out of the way.

Check me out!

But you know what? This is showbiz, which is an industry full of gimmicks. If you don’t believe me turn on the TV and the highest rated reality shows. You may not want to hang out in real life with bachelors, housewives and Kaitlin Jenner’s ex-family, but you have to admit they know how to bring attention to themselves.

So keeping that in mind, it’s not a bad idea to call attention to yourself by being seen around the clubs you want to play. To break into your local comedy scene you need to have the local talent bookers know who you are and that you’re a comic.

The goal is to score an audition.

I’ve never heard of the guy who swept the sidewalk outside a club everyday and was rewarded with a paid MC (hosting) gig.  It’s not a bad way to call attention to yourself, but if you really do end up with an audition it will only pay off if you have the talent and experience to back it up. Otherwise the only winner will be the club owner with a clean sidewalk.

My first thought is that the time could be better spent getting stage experience somewhere else.

Earn a reputation as a good comic and then do some networking. It’s a lot easier to score a showcase when you have a track record and recommendations from other comics and bookers who’ve seen you on stage. When you have that going for you, there’s no need to bring a broom to the club.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts January 13, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Showbiz has always been about being different and standing out from the crowd. If you have the experience and truly believe you’re ready to play the club and sweeping the sidewalk gets you noticed by the booker, who am I to put it down?

That’s why a lot of new comics are willing to hand out flyers for stage time or line up friends and family for bringer shows. Sometimes you have go the extra mile to get ahead in this crazy biz.

But your real question is about “face time.” That was always (and still is) a major networking opportunity and how a lot of newer comedians got on stage when I worked in New York City and Los Angeles. But I have to emphasize they were already experienced comics and not someone who only thought keeping the sidewalk clean would be their best career move.

When comics were experienced and funny enough to start performing at a club like The Improv they still had to pass the audition. Working the door, bartending, or even sweeping the sidewalk could open the door, but didn’t guarantee future paid gigs.

You had to prove – on stage – you could do it.

Hanging out for a late night set

Even after someone passed the audition, there was no guarantee they’d get regular performing spots. They were on the club roster, which meant they were welcome to come in and “hang out at the bar” as a comic. Now if they wanted to sweep the sidewalk instead of sitting around – yeah, they’ll be noticed over the others. But if they hadn’t passed their audition, then chances are they’d still be sweeping when the show is ending.

But face time does count. For example…

During a week night at The New York Improv we would schedule enough comedians to get us through until around midnight. If there was still an audience at that time (in NYC we could keep the shows going until 4 am as long as we had people in the showroom) then we would look around to see what comics were “hanging out.” They would make up the rest of the show until either the audience left or we hit last call.

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That was doing face time and we already knew they were comedians.

If they wanted to grab a broom and sweep up… well, thanks. But that alone would not have earned a performance slot. Were they on the roster? If not, was there another comic who was a regular performer at the club recommending they be given an audition? That’s the only way they were going to get on stage that night.

Playing broom for club gigs

Now I already know some comics and club owners will disagree and have examples to prove me wrong. I even have a story in one of my books from a favorite club owner who might trade performing spots for work around the club. So I’m not saying it won’t work, I’m just saying…

A great way to kill a show is by putting on someone – anyone – who doesn’t have experience and isn’t funny. That’s why there are open mics and why established comedy clubs have auditions and already know who the comics are. Gimmicks like sweeping the sidewalk might get an audition, but the time could be better spent getting known as a good comedian – even if you have to perform somewhere else to make it happen. If you come in ready to knock everyone out with your talent, then you can get quality face time with the other comics “hanging out” instead of doing grunt work.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

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Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

October 15, 2017

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

“I know! I know!”

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

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

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – November 4, 2017

Includes performance on Thursday, November 30th!!

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – skips Thanksgiving Weekend

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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

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

A legit talent booker should respect your honesty.

Thanks!

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

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

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

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There are no shortcuts.

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Showcases can be a ticking time bomb

September 12, 2017

Hey Dave – You sent out an article last month about how important it is to stay within the amount of time you’ve been given to perform on stage. My question is why are showcases so short? In most cases I don’t think you have enough time to prove how good you really are. – S.K.

Hey S.K. – In case anyone missed it or wants a reminder of the article you’re talking about, it’s still posted below: Stick to your time on stage (August 1, 2017). And now that we’re all on the same page…

Showcasing!

To clarify for anyone just getting into the comedy or speaking biz, showcase is another word for audition. A successful showcase can lead to work (auditioning for talent bookers, event planners, etc.) or representation (auditioning for a talent agent or manager).

Why use the word showcase? I don’t know… maybe it sounds more professional or less stressful, but it means exactly the same as audition.

I’ve been involved in a lot of showcases for comedy clubs, television shows, corporate events and college gigs. And here’s a behind-the-scenes truth about this business. The industry people – talent bookers, agents and managers – looking to hire or represent performers want to make the most of their on the job time. In other words, they don’t want to spend every night of the week going to a club and only seeing one performer showcasing each night. It makes much more sense (time management) to see a number of performances during one show.

They also don’t want to sit through ten, twenty or thirty minute sets when it’s obvious within the first three minutes the showcasing performer is not what they are looking to hire.

This is why industry showcases include numerous performers doing short sets. For instance…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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When I was auditioning comedians for the television show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, I would schedule showcases for Monday evenings at The Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. I’d block out about 35 minutes to see ten comics do three minutes each. The extra five minutes would be a buffer for MC introductions and time for the acts to get on and off the stage. If everyone kept to their time – and it was more than just expected they would – then Mission Showcase would be accomplished.

Within that short period of time ten comedians would have an opportunity to book a television show.

And it wasn’t just me in the audience on Monday nights watching the showcase. There were talent bookers for The Tonight Show, HBO, MTV and other shows and networks checking out the new comics. They knew this was happening on Monday evenings and everyone could all get a lot of work done in a little over half an hour.

But it was never a surprise when some of the comics complained that three minutes was not enough time to showcase their talent. But you know what?

They were wrong.

Enough already!!

Three minutes is PLENTY of time for an experienced talent booker to know whether or not they want to hire the showcasing performer. In my case, if you couldn’t prove you were ready to perform on A&E’s An Evening at the Improv within three minutes (to be honest it was more like within 30 seconds) then you weren’t right for that particular show.

This was also true for the other talent bookers watching these showcases.

If a comedian couldn’t demonstrate what he can do on stage within the first three minutes, there was NO WAY a talent booker will hire him to do those same three minutes on a television show. Even if the comic suddenly became hysterically funny at the end of this showcase – the first three minutes will have lost viewers channel surfing for better entertainment.

It’s similar to auditioning for Last Comic Standing, America’s Got TalentAmerican Idol, The Voice or So You Think You Can Dance. Before anyone makes it to the televised episodes, thousands of hopefuls showcase in front of one, two or maybe three judges off-camera for (and trust me on this because I’ve been there) much less than three minutes. If performers can’t impress the judges within that time frame – they can forget about moving on in the competition.

Lesson?

If you think you have what it takes to get on any of those shows, don’t waste any time during your showcase. Bring your A Game and go for it asap.

It’s also important to realize this is your opportunity as a performer or humorous speaker (during speaking showcases) to make a good first impression with the industry people. It shows you’re professional by knowing the importance of sticking to a schedule – their schedule. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the August 1, 2017 article referred to above.

Another reason to stick to your showcasing time is consideration for your fellow comedians or speakers.

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It doesn’t matter if your showcase is done in front of a live audience, like we did at the Hollywood Improv, or just a few judges similar to first auditions for Last Comic Standing and American Idol. Anyone watching a lot of performers doing short performances will get burned-out faster than if they were watching one great performer during the same time frame.

For example, Jerry Seinfeld can do an hour set and leave the audience wanting more. He’s a seasoned professional entertainer. No one can argue that. But newcomers won’t have the experience or material to hold an audience that long. It takes time – stage time – and talent to reach that status. And if you are already there like Seinfeld – then you wouldn’t be showcasing anyway.

And no one can argue that either…

So one way to make these talent showcases fair (there’s a word you don’t often hear in showbiz) is to keep the talent bookers and audience from being burned-out for the later performers. It’s not fair to the performers at the end of the showcase.

Here’s another example…

During my comedy workshops ten aspiring comedians perform five minute sets during our evening graduation show. That’s 50 minutes – not including an MC warming up the crowd for ten minutes to kick things off and doing short introductions for each comic.

That brings our show to over an hour, which is getting into Seinfeld territory on stage.

The audience is fresh and excited in the beginning. And by keeping each comedian’s set short and funny, chances are the audience will not get burned-out by the end. There may be performers they don’t care as much for, but the next one will be on stage within a few minutes. The audience interest level can be held.

The goal for a good showcase is to leave the audience (or judges) wanting more.

At one workshop performance a few years ago, the FIRST comic in our show – for whatever reason – never took his eyes off the first few rows of tables. He kept his head down and never looked at the people seated in the back. He had been told to watch for my signal from the sound booth (back of the room) telling him his five minutes were almost up and to finish his performance.

Except he NEVER looked up. He kept his head down and didn’t stop talking.

He had a good five minutes – which is what he had created during our workshop. He had been prepared and did a good job. But when he finished his five minutes, he just kept rambling on. He didn’t stop talking.

Suddenly, it wasn’t funny.

Running on empty

In fact – it was the complete opposite. The audience lost interest. You could see them breaking up into small discussion groups at their tables, looking at the menus and trying to order drinks to ease their pain.

When he finally ran out of things to say, he left the stage. The audience had already checked out mentally and the comedian who was unfortunate enough to have the next spot had to work TWICE as hard to get the audience back (get them to pay attention). It was not an easy night for either comic, or even the next few that had to follow this showcase killing disaster.

The comic that went long found me at the back of the room. He had lost track of time and had no idea how many minutes he’d been on stage. So when he asked me how he did, I had to give him an honest answer:

You did ten freaking minutes!” I said.

Okay, I hope I didn’t sound as angry as that looks. But I was being honest. I took time to explain how what he had done affected the show. It really wasn’t fair to anyone that night – including him, especially since the first five minutes of his set was great. The additional time he did onstage (unprepared in advance) left an impression with the audience that he wasn’t very good after all.

To end this lesson on a positive note, he’s still doing comedy. And since talent bookers are hiring him, I know the lesson about sticking to his time on stage was learned.

So whether you’re showcasing or doing a paid gig, remember the importance of time. It’s a ticking time bomb – and we all know how comedians and speakers HATE to bomb!!

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…

TheComedyBook.com

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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.