I just got an email from someone who said, “The only way to learn stand up comedy is stage time.” That’s a common response, but is it really well thought out? I would have to say, “No.” If the comedian is like a surgeon and the audience are his patients, this comedian must have the stench of death following close behind.
Is it fair to make that comparison? After all, medicine is not comedy.
Think about it this way. It you were to compare being a comedian to piloting an airplane, how many of you would want to fly “Open-Mic Airlines?”
Comedy is an art form and stand up comedy is a performing art, as is music, acting, dancing, singing and magic. Sorry mimes, if I left you out. However, what some people forget is that the comedian, unless he’s just buying jokes or stealing them—why, Carlos Mencia, has your name has become synonymous with that theme?—then the comedian is also a writer.
Every single one of those art forms has a learning learning curve. Comedy, in its form, is most like magic. As magic is about misdirection and surprise, so is comedy. In fact, scientifically, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise. When the magician takes the ball into his hand waves the wand over it and says, “abracadabra, ” “presto-chango, ” “expelliarmus, ” (or whatever magicians are saying these days) and the magician opens his hand and the ball is gone, we smile, we giggle, because we have been surprised. But if a magician doesn’t learn the formula, if the ball doesn’t disappear and reappear or worse, if we see where the ball is going, then there is no surprise and there is no magic and the smiles and giggles will be replaced by groans and boos and hisses. Misdirection and surprise are part of the comedian’s fundamentals as well and must be learned before getting “stagetime, ” otherwise those same groans, boos and hisses—and worse, will follow the comedian.
Structurally, comedy is also about story telling and music. Most of us know that a good story and a good piece of music has a beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately, most comedians don’t know this or don’t know to put it in their acts…certainly they need this over at SNL. When you do build this in, you stand out. Audiences love resolution and they respond with applause. It’s as simple as a musical scale, if you sing: DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI-, the audience is going to feel unresolved. They will feel like something is missing. However, if you sing, DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI-DO, the audience will feel compelled to raise their hands in applause. Learn your fundamentals, your scales, your rudiments, then can you make beautiful music.
It’s the same thing in comedy. Stagetime is definitely the way to hone your skills of performing comedy, but if you learn what makes people laugh and you learn to identify surprise, irony, incongruity and recognition, then apply that to your performance before you get your “stagetime, ” you probably would’ve saved the audiences you’ve encountered a lot of misery you unwittingly injected into their hearts, their memories and their olfactories, because the potency of the stench of death you most certainly left behind would’ve been a lot less significant.
Comedian and Stand Up Comedy Clinic student JC Morgan, also winner of the “Funniest Comic in L.A.” contest, was recently asked to appear on Showtime for a special they are shooting on ‘pot’ comedy. JC is a very talented writer and comedian and is a perfect example of a student who works hard and applies the techniques taught in Jerry Corley’s classes. He gets noticed, wins comptetitions and now is doing his first special for T.V.! This is all in less than two years.
So What are you waiting for? Get yourself going in comedy and sign up for a class today!
If you search online for information on “how to be funny” or “how to become a comedian” you’ll encounter some pretty useless stuff. It looks to me that somebody’s trying to get as much video footage up online as possible just to improve the SEO of his website. Unfortunately the information is about as useful as a sponge made of shit. The poor guy is lost, trying to give his two-cents on what constitutes a joke.
Sid Caesar said that a joke is a story with a curlicue. That’s a clever way of saying it’s a story with a surprise or something unexpected happening, yet it still doesn’t give us the fundamental structure that allows us to learn how to piece joke together or to learn the concept of joke writing.
Let me lay it out for you: In its simplest form, a joke is a convergence of two or more clearly identifiable ideas. It’s the convergence of the contrasting ideas that creates surprise and, in turn, humor. Let’s start out with something that was just in the news:
“Officials have reported that a stash of porn was seized in the raid of Osama Bin Laden’s compound.”
It is clear in that news headline that there are at least two clearly identifiable ideas. In this case we have Osama Bin Ladin and Porn. We could also branch out from the core ideas with what is implied with Osama Bin Ladin, (Terrorist, terrorism, Islam, Muslim, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Pakistan Afghanistan, etc.). The ideas are clearly contrasting. There is also the implication of sex, and since the mention of sex creates tension and anxiety in our society, it creates an even more heightened possibility for humor.
You can’t get a more simple opportunity to dig into some jokes than that! Just the possible names of the porn movies provide a rush of comedy ideas and in minutes your list of porn titles found in Bin Ladin’s compound could look like this:
Inside Her Burka
Whore on Terror
Is that a WMD in your pocket?
Osama The “Terror-fist.”
Tea-bagged by the Taliban
Deep Inside The Bush Cabinet
Al Qaeda Cream Pie Cuties.
Attack of the Bone Drone
Deep In Her Pakistani Hideout
Buttman and Rocco Go to Abbotobad
Bra Bustin Burka Babes
Double Pakistani Penetration
And once you have the titles, you can clearly see the convergence of two or more clearly identifiable ideas that are contrasting in their nature. Combining the two in a porn title gives you humor. Just as a comedy writing exercise for yourself, take it further. What would be the log line of one of the porn movies?
“Watch as busty Burka babes give oral pleasure to Osama Bin Labia as he tickles their chins with his Taliballs, while you get to see–close up–how Bin Labia really colors his beard.”
Okay, so you might find yourself with a fatwa issued against you, but what the hell, you got some really great comedy out of it!
“Bossypants,” by the always funny, Tina Fey is a must read if you’re into comedy writing, humor writing or you just want to be entertained by a sharp-witted, super-intelligent and smokin’ hot comedy writer. What makes Tina Fey so special?
Well, she was not only the best thing to happen to Saturday Night Live since the days of Dan Akroid, Bill Murray, John Belushi, etc., She is the only one to leave SNL and start her own show, “30-Rock.” Where she stands toe-to-toe with a practically all-male cast and not only kills it as a writer, but also has us captivated with her genuineness as an actress.
Not only that, while in the midst of writing 30-Rock, doing guest appearances on SNL, raising her child and a multitude of other endeavors, she’s also found the time to write books. But do yourself a favor and visit the N.Y. Times review before you buy, but pick up the book. You’ll enjoy every page. BossypantsSatire Books)
One of the things we are asked to do as comedians, from time to time, is radio interviews. When we are on the road working in a club, if the club owner has a relationship with the local radio station, the comedian, (usually the headliner), will be required to do some kind of promotion on the radio. The radio interview can be a “call-in, ” or it an “in-studio’” interview. In my 25 years touring the country as a professional comedian, I’ve done countless radio interviews. My favorite are “in-studio.” In studio interviews give the comedian a chance to meet face-to-face with the D.J. so you can get acquainted. I’ve been asked many times about radio interviews, so I’ve put together a list of 10 sure-fire radio-interview tips for the comedian:
Strut Your Material. You are there to sell you! And since you’re a comedian, you need to be funny. The radio audience, who is usually driving in the car or getting ready for work, wants—I should say NEEDS—to know you’re funny. If you do segments of your act that you know get laughs, then you increase the odds that those listeners will come see your show. Some comedians, believe it or not just start talking about their lives without any punchlines or any funny. From a radio listeners point of view, that is BORING. Think about a movie trailer. That trailer better have something good in it or you’re not going to see the movie. Tease them with portions of your act and choose those portions of your act that brand you.
Know how much time you have. One of the things you should know is how much time you have for your segment. Just like doing a set in a brand new club or for a showcase, always know how much “air time” you are going to be given. This will help you prepare your material for the segment. If you don’t know how much, you might be getting ready to hit them with your punchline just as the engineer hits them with a commercial.
Know the Station I.D. There’s nothing more embarrassing than going on the radio and not knowing what radio station you’re on. HINT: write it down on a piece of paper and have it in front of you the entire segment. Better yet, write it at the top of set list you are using to guide you through your segment. You’d be amazed at how many comedians forget what radio station they are on and they wind up embarrassing themselves, the D.J., the club owner, and the program director. It may not seem like a big thing, but if the president of the station is listening and you blow the station ID, it’s not going to go over well. Besides, knowing the station I.D. shows that you are a professional.
Prepare Your Questions. Depending on how much time you have, offer the D.J. a sheet of 4 to 10 questions to ask you that will cue you to do the comedy bits you want to feature. Most D.J.’s will thank you for this. In fact, in my years of doing this I’ve never had a D.J. who didn’t appreciate the questions. They might have other questions they want to ask you that are factual, or based on your bio, but the list will help you present the bits that will get the callers asking for tickets.
Own Your Time. One of the biggest factors to remember on the radio is that despite the fact that it’s their radio station. It’s YOUR segment. Take your space and do your thing. For those minutes that you are on the air, it is your show, so do it. Have you ever listened to Robin Williams on the radio or seen him on a talk show. Hosts love to have him on because they know that those minutes are going to be some of the most entertaining of the evening. When that “On The Air” light goes on, I turn on. I play, I joke, I’ll even make fun of the D.J., but in the same way I would make fun of my best friend. It creates an energy if you take over the show. The results are fantastic. No fewer than 3 times, I’ve been approached after a radio segment I’ve done and I’ve been offered a job as on air talent.
Create A Radio Set List. Too many comedians hit the airwaves unprepared. Don’t get caught in that trap. Prepare a set list (which should go with the questions you give the D.J.), Take a look at your act and write a short radio set list that will highlight the segments of your act you want people to hear. Don’t worry about them hearing it on the radio AND THEN hearing it at the show. Audiences love this. They feel like they are a part of something special. If you make a set list, you only have to do it once in while. Save it on your smartphone to use whenever you need it. Of course remember to update it as your act changes.
Be Your Own Laugh Track. Occasionally when you’re doing radio, you get a D.J. that just won’t give you any energy. He doesn’t laugh at your bits and he’s just not a fun guy. When this happens, take over and laugh at your own bits. Perceive what the radio listener is hearing and have fun. There’s an old saying in comedy and entertainment. “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in.” This holds true on radio too! Have fun. Giggle, laugh, play take jabs at the D.J. if that what it takes and if that fits in your persona or style and represents the comedian you are promoting that night.
Avoid Jokes That Are Visual. This might seem so simple that it’s stupid, but again you’d be surprised at the number of comedians that get on the air, forget to prep and the next thing you know they’re launching into a bit that ends with a visual punchline. On the radio it will end with dead air. That’s why it’s important to prepare your set and know what you’re going to do before the light goes on.
Do Something Local. When you’re doing local radio, take the time to look at the local newspaper (in print or online), to find out what’s going on? Sometimes, just a jokes about the size of the town of something about the local events that are being pimped in the newspaper can get a great response. The audience will totally appreciate the fact that you took the time to take an interest in where they live, even if it was just to make jokes about it.
Offer Free Tickets. Make sure to ask whether or not the station is giving a select amount of comps to callers. This is an essential part of selling the interest in the show. Take control and make mention of it before the D.J. does. Say something like, “Oh Yeah! Before I go I want to offer some free tickets to the show to the first few callers!” It personalizes the show and makes you look like a rock star!
So these are my 10 tips. I’m sure there’s more. Feel free to leave a comment and keep the discussion going with your own input, or suggestions from your own experience.