Posts Tagged ‘Standup’

Freedom of speech comes with a price

January 1, 2019

Dave – What are the implications of mocking a device or its creator? For instance, I’ve made comments in my act about a medical device that could be construed as less than savory, yet funny. But the backers of this device are my current employers and have been known to be surly regarding their investments. I know of one nurse who wrote a novel about her experiences and was summarily fired. Not that I fear such action, but… well… I still have a mortgage. – M

What did you say?

Hey M – Any topic is pretty much fair game in comedy. But you’ll have to make your own decision about this one since it involves your current employer. I believe in and support freedom of speech. But in practical real-world situations (your mortgage would qualify as one of those) you have to consider the consequences. If you think the material will come back and bite you in the you-know-what and cause you to lose your job, then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.

I like to point out that knowing your audience makes a difference in how far you can go with free speech. If you’re making a living as a comedian and talking about your personal life, then making fun of your former employer (former husband, former wife, former co-workers – you get the picture) is no big deal.

They’re all fair game when it comes to sharing humor.

But to be on the safe side, it’s probably a good idea not to mention them by name. I’ve seen that scenario come back to bite a few comics in the you-know-what.

It also helps that you don’t have to deal with these former associates after your performances. But that’s not a rule written in stone. I’ve watched comics on stage use their current family members, employers and co-workers as the source of comedy material. It depends on the relationships and in many cases these “victims” enjoy being part of the show.

Freedom of speech is the center of the comedy universe.  The topics can include whatever is on your creative mind. How far you take it… well, it depends…

There are comedians who are family friendly and others billed as “for adults only.” And no one can tell you one style is better than the other. It depends on personal taste. And the comics making a living either as clean or dirty can do it because they know their audience.

But on the flip side of this comedy creative universe is the comedy business. What you say can sometimes affect your career. Here are some thoughts…

When I scheduled comedians for the television show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, we gave the performers some guidelines on material. These were strictly for business reasons such as ratings and legalities.

First of all, demographics showed that our largest viewing audience was in the Bible Belt. Therefore, we couldn’t let the comedians make fun of God or religion. If they did, a lot of fans in these areas would stop watching the show. Advertisers would stop buying commercial time because the consumers they were aiming for wouldn’t be watching their commercials anymore. And since that’s how the show made money – everyone involved would risk losing his or her job.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday – January 12, 2019

SOLD OUT!!!

Performance at The Improv – Wednesday, January 30 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming Chicago workshops visit…

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Secondly, the producers of the show didn’t want to be sued if a comedian badmouthed a product – like the medical device you mentioned in today’s question. For example, comedians couldn’t say McDonald’s sucked or Taco Bell gave them heartburn. Those companies could come down hard with a team of lawyers to protect their reputations.

Comedians were warned before show tapings not to practice their freedom of speech when it came to these specific topics. Of course some ignored the warnings. But it didn’t matter because they didn’t have any control over the final outcome – it was all business related. That’s why you can watch episodes where certain comics are only on for four or five minutes instead of the standard seven-minute set.

They didn’t follow the “rules” and the forbidden material was cut out before the show was broadcast.

It’s also important to note saying the F-bomb on network television is still forbidden. You can say it at certain times on certain cable shows and all day long on others, but not on the major networks. So as a comedian, you have to play by the rules if you want to sit on a chair next to Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Myers.

But on stage in a comedy club, comedians can say those things. You can make fun of companies, religion or whatever you want as long as – and this is the business side talking – you bring in paying customers. Most club owners support the art and creativity of stand-up, but are still in it to make a living.

You call these jokes?

Now in your case, as a beginning comedian who still needs a regular paycheck until your career takes off, you have to protect yourself. How far will your employers let you go before they get offended and fire you?

I’ve had more than a few comedians in my workshops that were police officers. I always found it interesting because some felt they had to use a stage name and never mentioned police work during their sets because they were worried their superiors would crack down on them. Others didn’t care and talked about being a cop and what they did on the job.

It’s a personal decision that I couldn’t make for them because I couldn’t predict the repercussions.

So in your case you need to figure out what or if there will be any fall-out or flack from your bosses if you do this material on stage. You want freedom of speech, but you also have a mortgage.

One last thought. Even “stars” have to be careful in certain situations. Without mentioning names (but if you’re really into the comedy biz I’m sure you can think of a couple), they’ve made headlines practicing free speech on stage by making horrendous remarks about race or sexual preferences. It probably wouldn’t have been that intense or newsworthy if they hadn’t been well known from starring on television and in movies. In some cases there were a lot of protests and the comics eventually had to publicly apologize to salvage their careers.

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I happened to see one of these (no names!) comedians a couple weeks after one of these newsworthy episodes at a popular comedy club. He confronted the situation right away and admitted to the audience he got in a lot of trouble for what he said. He promised he wouldn’t talk about it and was finished with the subject. But as a comedian – he then told the audience he was going to pick on a different group instead and launched into that material.

Some audience members laughed while others didn’t.

But he was practicing the art of free speech and made a choice about how far he would go regardless of what the consequences might be. That’s a personal decision and you have a right to make it. But just make sure you have both your artistic and business thinking caps on when you make it.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing.

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Editing your promotional video

October 21, 2018

Hi Dave – You talked last time about the length of promo videos, but what is considered acceptable when editing? I filmed a set last week that’s pretty good, but there are a couple spots where I didn’t get the audience reaction I had hoped for. I also messed up a joke and really don’t want it on the video. Is honesty the best policy and should I send the whole set unedited? Thanks – D.

You’re gonna look great!

Hey D. – Honesty is always the best policy, but sometimes being too honest is too much. If you normally have great sets, then you honestly want that represented on your video. But if great sets are few and far between, then sending out an edited video making you look like the next coming of Dave Chappelle is not going to help you in the long run.

In fact, if a talent booker hires you or gives you a showcase off a great video and it’s obvious during your performance you can’t back it up, chances are you’re not going to get a second chance.

Ideally, you want to present an unedited video.

That’s seamless gold– but sometimes seemingly impossible. There’s always going to be something going on in a club that you can’t control like people arriving late, talking in the back, ordering drinks, spilling drinks – whatever. There might also be tech problems with the club’s sound system – or even a joke that always kills, but for some reason doesn’t work the night you’re filming.

It happens.

It happens

So when it happens – something in your set that’s not truly representative of what you do on stage – then yeah, edit it out. It’s not uncommon. And even though talent bookers might spot the edit the best videos don’t make it so obvious.

Good edits make it look seamless. (Sorry, I feel your pain and will stop with the seamless wordplay).

I also feel if you want to be paid like a profession you have to represent yourself as a professional. What I mean by this is it’s easy today to film sets using high-tech phones and tablets, but you must also be aware of the “room sound” that will invariably happen if your best friend is filming you while sitting at a table in a club surrounded by noisemakers. You know what I mean – people at tables next to him laughing (or talking) too loudly, knocking over drink glasses or ordering food. Those sounds will also be heard on your video.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday, November 10th 

Perform at The Improv – Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm

(skips Thanksgiving Weekend)

Space is limited

For details, reviews, videos, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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And it doesn’t sound too professional. So make an effort to have both a good visual and audio recording of your set, even if it means hiring someone with a tripod (to steady the picture) and a microphone that picks up what you are saying over the room’s ambiance.

Since I have a kid that can film, edit and post a music video online in less time than it takes me to write these ramblings, I know what the term old school means. I’ve also worked with aspiring comedians on this side of the age scale who claim emailing is about as high tech as they get.

But when it comes to putting together promotional material (primarily your video) that will get you work…

Smile for the camera

There are video editing apps and programs for computers and tablets, and most of them are not even that expensive. In the long run, it would be worth the learning time and investment to do your own editing because your video should always be current and representative of your act or presentation. It doesn’t do you any good sending out a year(s)-old video you’ve paid a professional editor big bucks to fix if you’re not even doing that material any more.

You should also be a better comic or speaker than you were a year ago and need to show that.

I won’t get into specifics on editing, though I am pretty good at it (if I do say so myself). But here’s a good rule to follow:

Don’t make a LOT of edits and don’t make your video look like it has a LOT of edits.

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Make sense?

It’s okay to cut out a few flaws here and there, but if it’s a jumpy looking set because one moment you’re standing on one side of the stage and the next you’re on the other side – or if you’re wearing different clothes for each joke (a telltale sign it wasn’t all taped at the same show) then no booker will take you seriously. Instead of thinking you’re a great comic or speaker, they’ll be wondering what you’re trying to hide with so many edits. They might also think you did a half hour set just to get five minutes of presentable material and would not be willing to hire (pay for) the remaining twenty five minutes that they’ll assume didn’t work.

So it’s okay to make edits – we all do – when truly necessary. In other words, when the parts cut out are honestly not representative of your typical performance. But too many obvious edits will look too suspicious to bookers. The key to remember is when someone is hiring you to perform they want to know what they’re paying for. Your goal as a comedian or humorous speaker is to show them.

Honestly.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Going for the “perfect” performance

September 24, 2018

Dave – I’m working to get the whole stage fright thing out of my system. (My first time on stage) I was so nervous because I didn’t know the material that well. The problem my friends and I noticed is I am too much of a perfectionist. I understand things won’t be perfect but for some reason I feel the need to make it perfect. – T.D.

Hey T.D. – A lot of comedians and speakers are perfectionists. They struggle over finding the right word or phrases. For instance in the comedy world, they always want to know what word is funnier than another.

Example: Cucumber or banana. This debate will go on forever…

That’s why they continue to write and test out material (words and phrases) during live performances. They record their sets and listen to audience reaction. When an audience laughs – it works. If they don’t laugh – then the comic needs to edit or rewrite the material and repeat the process until it does work. If it still doesn’t get a laugh from the audience, then the comic needs to discard that bit and write something else.

Of course there’s more to it than just that simple explanation. Stage experience, your comedy voice, delivery, timing and the make-up of the audience will also determine what works and what doesn’t during any performance. But even when everything is working in your favor, will it ever be perfect?

In a creative artist’s mind – probably not.

Should I question this?

You might debate this, but I believe that creative artists always think they can do better. It’s a creative person’s curse. It’s also what drives them to constantly do better work. The goal is perfection, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, (sorry, I had a drive that took me past miles of farm land this week and can’t shake it out of my mind). It’s a never-ending journey to a place impossible to reach.

Let’s put this into musical terms, as I tend to do when coaching comedians and speakers. And since I’m a “classic rocker,” stick with me while I use a classic example…

Sited as one of the greatest songs by The Beatles is A Day In The Life. It closed the legendary album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and is a true John Lennon & Paul McCartney composition. That duo is also sited as the top composers of their generation. So put it all together – and it’s the perfect song. Right? Well, it could have been better. Listen closely as the final chord fades out. Someone forgot to turn off the air conditioner in the recording studio and it’s heard in the background.

Perfect? Close, but not quite.

Comedians can walk off stage after an exceptional performance and say they “killed,” which is the comic’s term for having a great show. But I sincerely doubt many would say they could never do better. They could watch a video of their set and probably have no problem finding a gesture or a facial expression – or a line or phrase or whatever – that might have been done differently and gotten a better audience response.

It’s the creative curse. There’s always room for improvement.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

SOLD OUT!

Showcase at The Improv – Thursday, October 25 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Space limited to 11 people

For details and to register for future workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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So my point is not to worry about being perfect. Just do your best. Film and television actors – and musicians in a recording studio – get to do multiple takes and use editing in an effort to make the end result perfect. But just like with A Day In The Life, a creative artist will probably think they could have made it better.

In fact, the imperfect result could even be better than you’d planned. And in case you haven’t caught on, this is another excuse for me to share a great story…

In one of my comedy workshops at The Improv a number of years ago, an aspiring comic wanted to be “perfect” – his exact word. (And if T.S. is reading this – yeah, I’m talking about you!). He wrote and memorized his set word for word and went on stage prepared to deliver it that way. He was doing an okay job of it, but a few minutes into his set he forgot his material. He suddenly yelled, “Oh ****!” and THREW himself against the (fake) brick wall, fell over a stool and landed on the stage.

That was so funny!

It was pure frustration and the funniest thing we had seen in that workshop. Myself and everyone else cracked up in laughter. It was a GREAT comedy performance!

We all tried to convince him that he had found his performing style. It was honest and real. It was comedy and funny. But he didn’t believe us. It was not his idea of the perfect set and he would never allow himself to do that in front of an audience – even though it happened during each of our following workshop sessions.

The night of our show at The Improv, I reassured each workshop member they would have a fun set. They had worked hard and were prepared. No worries. But when I got to T.S. – I told him that I hoped he would screw up and forget his material. He looked at me like I was nuts – “Are you serious?” He said there was no way. He had been practicing for days and would do the perfect set.

Do I need to continue with this? Okay…

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He went on stage – got a few minutes into his set and WHAM!!!! He forgot what he was going to say next. He threw himself against the wall, fell over the stool that was on stage and hit the floor in frustration. The best part was that it wasn’t an act. It was real. It was the highlight of our show and he earned the biggest laughs of the night. I thought it was perfect.

Afterward he admitted he’d had a great time and according to audience response, his set actually worked. But he also thought he could do better next time…

The bottom line is to be creative and have fun. Every opportunity you have on stage or on the speaker’s platform is an opportunity to grow as an artist. You want to experiment and take chances. Creative people need change, which is why comedians write new jokes and speakers spin off their messages into different programs for different audiences.

You can try to be perfect on stage, but don’t sweat it when you’re not – because nobody is. The idea is to just be better next time.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Booking Holiday Parties Part 2 – The $$

September 10, 2018

Hey Dave – Last week you wrote about booking gigs for holiday parties. Good tips, like planning your promo, networking, and working clean. But you left us hanging about the money and how comics can charge more for holiday gigs. So what’s the pay-off, you handsome devil? – Dave

Hey Handsome Devil Wannabe…

Entertain us!

Okay, I’ll stop the BS. If you haven’t figured it out, I wrote the above question. I could’ve just continued from where we left off last week by announcing Part 2 in bold, italicized CAPS, but what good is it to call these articles FAQs and Answers if there’s no Q kicking it off?

Guess I’m a stickler for sticking with the format. So with that said…

PART 2:

Most experienced comedians will raise their corporate performing fees for holiday parties. Notice I said experienced. Rookie, open-mic comics (though I love you guys!) should not get into the private party (holiday gigs) market until you have an act that is audience-proven and worth the money businesses will pay for entertainment.

In other words – like a good business – you want satisfied customers. Word gets out that you were an asset (business term) to the party, it could lead to more work. If you do a crash and burn, take the money and run (hack comic term) performance, that word could also get out – and your next holiday gig might be working for the caterer.

Know what I mean?

Yes, there are (as always) exceptions. For example, your aunt’s boyfriend offers you twenty bucks to say something funny at his retirement roast. If you don’t live up to the (headline) billing your loving aunt was probably using to influence this decision, you might just get a few dirty looks from the boyfriend and the other witnesses. Do the same (bomb) at a big-money corporate holiday event and you might have a hard time getting paid.

As a talent booker I’ve felt the wrath of clients who thought a comic was so bad that they refused to pay – or have demanded a refund. Do you think I’d work with that comic again? No way. I’ve also known a few contacts in the business world that have actually picked up the phone and called me, other booking agents, businesses, etc… and warned them not to use a certain comic for ANYTHING.

Waiting for the funny

Believe me, bad reviews seem to travel a lot faster in his biz than good reviews.

So, let’s put it this way. If you’re just starting out as a comic and working your way through the open-mic circuit, chances are you’re not going to be headlining The Improv next weekend for big bucks. Use this same business sense when it comes to booking holiday parties. This is also true for humorous speakers still doing free gigs (your open-mic circuit) to put your presentation together.

Yeah, there are very small parties with very small budgets that experienced comedians wouldn’t even consider doing. Let’s say in the $200 or less range. If you’ve had success doing twenty CLEAN (G-rated) minutes and can throw in a few holiday references, then partner with another comic who can do the same. Offer the potential client a forty-minute two-comic holiday comedy show and split the money with your new partner.

Seriously. It will give you experience, corporate credits for your resume – and gas money.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Saturdays – September 29, October 6 & 13 (noon to 4 pm)

Showcase at The Improv – Wednesday, October 17 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Space limited to 11 people

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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You want to break into the market? Be smart about it. Don’t go in thinking you can stretch out your current fifteen minutes of material by working the crowd for forty minutes and get away with it. That’s why experienced headliners and strong features can clean up doing holiday parties. They already have the material and the stage experience.

Which brings us back to the beginning. You remember, right after that handsome devil reference…

Most experienced comedians will raise their performing fees for corporate holiday parties.

The holiday season is a short time of year to make a lot of money. Think about it. You may have to start promoting months in advance, but the season only lasts a few weeks in December. Parties can (and do) happen every night of the week, probably starting close to December 1st and going until Christmas Eve, but you have to realize there are only a few Friday and Saturday nights in those weeks when most of the parties take place.

The boss (the client who will hire you) will be spending big bucks on the party room (restaurant, hotel, conference center – wherever) and also on the food and booze. If he’s got half a heart and seasonal cheer, he might also be springing for bonus checks and even possibly gifts for all his employees.

So relying on what we know about today’s economy and that odds aren’t good Bill Gates is funding this holiday bash, a good guess is if the boss is hiring a comedian – chances are he won’t also be hiring a band, deejay, hypnotist, balloon artist, or Carrot Top.

For a lot of companies, it’s not in the annual holiday party budget anymore.

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So if the boss goes with hiring a comedian instead of another option – that comedian is the main entertainment attraction for the annual holiday party. This is the party everyone in the company will be talking about until next year’s annual holiday party.

If the comedian is a bust, the party would be a major bust, and the boss would have to live with that reputation for an entire year. No one will remember what finger sandwiches were served. But if they had to sit in a room and listen to a comic not make them laugh for almost an hour… well, that’s memorable.

Therefore, the boss needs to hire a good, experienced comic. And if the comedian has the experience to make the party a huge success, then he deserves to be paid well for the effort (and should know it).

Here’s another way to look at this. A hypothetical conversation from the comedian’s point of view:

Going with the best offer

“My fee for your secretary’s retirement banquet is $500. I’m really not busy that evening anyway and it beats sitting home waiting for the phone to ring. BUT if you want me to perform at your Christmas party, it’ll cost you $750. Why? (As the client is coughing and choking). Because four other businesses I’ve contacted are also having their parties that same night and I’m going with the best offer.”

With a good business plan, luck, ability to schmooze, and geographically desirable locations, two or three (or more) of those holiday business parties can be booked for the same night at staggered times. That’s $750 (or whatever fee you charge) times three or four…  equals… well, the total is staggering compared to what you might earn for one show that same night in a comedy club – which is why comedians love holiday parties.

But once again, a major word of warning:

This may all sound like easy money and temp you to jump into the holiday party pool headfirst (with no sunblock – a reference to last week’s Part 1 if you’ve paid attention). But keep in mind what I said earlier. The entertainment (comedian or humorous speaker) can make the party a success or a bust. You need experience and a proven act – and some holiday references and jokes wouldn’t hurt. And the material must be CLEAN. No X-rated or R-rated stuff for all the reasons mentioned in Part 1 of this article. The only exception would be if this was a request from the client and worked out in advance with his approval.

Also never forget – experience counts. Just like there are no short cuts from playing an open-mic one weekend to headlining at The Improv the next. It doesn’t happen unless your aunt’s boyfriend runs the club and is pretty secure in his job.

If a client is willing to pay big bucks, you have to be willing to put in the work first. If you have the stage experience and proven material, then go for it. If not, start writing now and getting on stage as often as possible with an eye on the future. As mentioned last week in Part 1, the promotion process for performers starts right about now. You know, while we’re still thinking more about sunblock than Santa Claus.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Comedy Stylings by The Rolling Stones

July 1, 2018

Dave – I am still trying to find my “style” or whatever it’s called. I have a lot of single thoughts, but I just never used them because I’ve always felt compelled to do longer bits on a specific topic instead of one thing after another on unrelated topics. I don’t have the transitional material thing down. I listen to some comics and they can go from short topic to topic without it. I just don’t feel comfortable in that manner yet. When I leave one topic for another, I want to be sure the audience is along for the ride with me. Any help is greatly appreciated. – S.E.

Takes stage time and experience!

Hey S.E. – I’m coming at this with some insider knowledge because I’ve seen you perform in my workshop. It’s obvious you already have a lot of comedy material and it’s a good mix between long and short bits. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, mixing things up might really be your “style.”

I’ve been fortunate to watch a lot of live comedy and many times I’ve compared a great comedy set to a rock concert. Like with any creative art, there are many styles. Some comics can blast an audience in the face for an hour or change tempos and take the audience on a bit of a roller coaster ride with some ups, downs, and unpredictable U-turns.

The example I use often relates to a Rolling Stones concert (cuz I’m a Classic Rocker at heart). They’ve been “The greatest rock’n roll band in the world” since Mick Jagger himself announced it at the beginning of their classic live album, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out back in 1969. Their concerts have been selling out for over five decades because they are excellent performers AND because their song choices and playing order take audiences on a ride.

Getting their ya ya’s out!

For instance, they may open with Start Me Up and Jumpin’ Jack Flash – then slow it down with Angie or Wild Horses. The songs are all still classic rock, but the slower ones give the audience a moment to catch their collective breath.

Then they’ll kick it back up into high gear with Brown Sugar and Satisfaction.

The Rolling Stones take you on a musical ride with different tempos, rhythms and lyrics.

Does each song flow into the next one?

Sometimes and sometimes not. Songs can be short and sweet like the original recordings, while others stretch out so Keith Richards can have a drink and a smoke. I’ve also noticed they’ve been playing a few more slower songs lately since Mick ain’t twenty-five years old anymore.

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2018 Summer Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Saturdays – August 11, 18 and 25 (noon to 4 pm)

Workshop Marquee 150

Performance at The Improv Comedy Club – Wednesday, Sept 5th

(We skip Labor Day Weekend – September 1st)

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Okay, let’s take this back into the comedy world.

A good comedy show can do the same with long bits, short bits or variety (think props, music – whatever!). Just substitute the word “material” for “songs.”

Some comics are great storytellers. Others rely on the basic format of set-up, middle and punch line for jokes. Working comics have developed their styles through many years of experience and learning what works best for them. Does one or the other style ONLY work best for you? Since you have both long and short bits, I highly doubt it.

So there’s no reason why you can’t mix it up.

As a comedian, you’re the writer and performer. Like at a Stones concert, give your audience a Jumpin’ Jack Flash (short hard-hitting bit), and then throw in an Angie (longer storytelling) if you want to. No one says you can’t – and in the effort you’ll wind up finding your style.

Who are you?

As far as transitions – segues – some comedians need them and others don’t. It’s a personal choice and whatever makes you feel comfortable is what works for you. But either way, it’s how you deliver it (some prefer sell it) it to an audience. If they’re relating to you and laughing, then there’s a good chance they’ll go with you if you want to take them in a totally different direction.

In other words, short bits and long bits can co-exist together.

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It all depends on your comedy voice – which is another term for style or who you are on stage. It may also include a transition or segue between every bit, some bits, or not at all. You’ll figure it out – your comedy voice – as you get more experience on stage.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

You’ll never work in this town again

May 6, 2018

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

Get there on time!

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

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

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

It’s your career and it’s a job.

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

Case in point…

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

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

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

Remember that.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – June 2, 2018

Includes evening performance on Wednesday, June 20th

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the last time we spoke.

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Another example? Okay…

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

Find my GPS!

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Adding music increases the pizzazz factor

April 23, 2018

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

Working the room!

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

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Spring 2018 – SOLD OUT!

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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

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

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

Warming up the NBA

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

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

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

Wait… yes I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Parlay comedy experience into getting noticed

March 26, 2018

Hi Dave – I’m in a big city, have gotten invites and done showcases (not at comedy clubs), have a professionally shot ten minute set, ordered business cards, and am set to headline a C-level club three hours from my city. My question is this, are there ways to parlay this experience into getting noticed by agents or bookers or NACA? If so how? I know networking is the best way and I’ve made some friends, but I’m horrendously shy when not on stage. Thank you so much – ER

You can’t be shy!

Hey ER – I’m going to have to make an assumption here. It sounds to me like you might still be a bit new in the comedy business. I don’t mean that as a bad thing and please don’t think I’m about to write off your question due to lack of experience. That’s not what’s happening here. I’m just trying to figure out where this FAQ and Answer is going to be based on what you’ve told me…

You’re in a big city and have done showcases and have a ten minute video, but not at comedy clubs. So I’ll have to guess we’re talking about performing experience at schools (high school talent shows or some college gigs) or if you’re out of that age group it’s probably through local events, private parties or associations (Rotary Clubs, etc.…).

But you haven’t done any showcases at comedy clubs.

Especially in a big city, that’s where these guys – agents, bookers and talent managers – find most of the comics they work with. From my experiences in NYC and LA they would hang around on weeknights to watch the newer comedians. They didn’t have to do that on Fridays and Saturdays because those shows would feature more established comedians that already had agents, managers and full schedules.

In other words, there was no reason for them to hit a top LA club on Saturday night to see Dave Chappelle or Amy Schumer. Those guys already have representation to take care of their bookings. Agents and managers looking for new talent can take the weekend off and start back to work Monday night checking out local showcases.

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Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

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

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

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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If you’re already scheduled to headline a comedy club outside the city and have a professional promotional video, it’s a good idea to start showcasing at the better clubs to be seen. If you’re not in NYC or LA where they have showcase clubs (lots of acts doing short sets on the same night) then contact the better clubs in your area and ask about auditioning or submitting your video. But keep in mind you’ll still need to keep building other performance credits if you want most agents and bookers to take you seriously.

Even if the first contact you make is through your website with video link, the general opinion is that they’ll want to see you perform live before putting you up for any bookings. This is especially true in the competitive college market.

Go ahead and look!

BUT if you have experience and a good video – BUT not personal contacts through showcasing opportunities, you can check out agency websites for submission policies. Most of them will spell out exactly what they need from comedians they might want to work with.

BUT again, a lot of it will be based on experience. They’ll want to know what clubs you’ve played, corporate shows or benefits. And to repeat myself – this is especially true in the competitive college market.

For anyone not familiar with NACA, it stands for National Association for Campus Activities. There’s also another group called APCA or Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. I talk about working with both in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works. You can also do a Google search for NACA and APCA to find out more about what they do.

To work in the college market the agents will want to know if you have an act that works for college audiences.  Some will represent new talent based on videos and previous college performing credits, but keep in mind some will also charge you $$’s in advance for various doing business costs, such as submission fees to even be considered for a showcase at NACA and APCA conferences. Again, this is all in my book, so let’s cut to the chase…

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A lot of it is based on experience. Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer can book as many college shows as they want because they’re known. For newer comedians it’s tough to book college shows without a college agent. AND it’s tough to get a good college agent without any college performing credits.

Talk about a Catch-22 – that’s a big one. There’s a way to do it – and again, I’ve talked about it in the book. But to get back to today’s specific question, it comes down to getting experience on stage and being seen by the right people.

The best thing to do is parlay your upcoming out of town gig at a smaller club (don’t ever call it a “C-club” in front of the owner or booker if you want to play there again) into more shows. Ask for a return engagement or the best way to send in your avails. Use marketing techniques (sorry, I don’t want to keep plugging my books, but that’s why I wrote them) to announce this new credit to other clubs and bookers.

Don’t be too pushy!

Do your best to get over being horrendously shy in this business. You never want to come off as too pushy, but smart marketing and promotion will help these bookers find you. The good ones – the busy ones – are always looking to discover new talent. They can’t keep running the same acts through the same clubs over and over and over…

Also keep in mind there are good smaller agencies near just about every big city. They may not book the mega-rooms in NYC and LA that will get you seen for Comedy Central or late night television, but they can get you work. They might book a string of one-night gigs and will take a chance on comics based on a good video and some credits.

Usually they’ll send a comic out as an opening act and get feedback from the club owners or managers. If the reviews are good, they’ll continue to book them. Your goal as a comic is to use this experience to get better and eventually work up to the feature and headliner spots.

You can do this at the same time with other booking agents and continue to build up performing credits. Again, I’ve been more specific about it in my books, but I at least hope this gives you a good start. Have a killer set at the C-club, network, promote and work to put you in a position to be seen.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.