There are a lot of sayings I remember from the greats, that stick with me to guide me and motivate me during my journey in comedy. I thought I’d share some with you while telling you a story in this comedy lesson that may help you learn to avoid not being invited back.
Spencer Tracy once said, “Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you meet those same people on the way down.” No place is this more true than in show business. Every business has their fair share of heady, selfish, temperamental people but show business tends to get more than its fair share. And it’s in this business where your attitude can get you in big trouble and that’s what this edition of comedy lessons is focused on.
One of my favorite sayings is actually from a club booker in Vegas: he said, “Jerry, I’m-a break your legs…” Kidding! The booker is Tony Camacho and he books Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at The Tropicana Hotel. He said, “Be remembered NOT for what you do off-stage. Be remembered for what you do on-stage.”
Coming up in this business I learned to always be nicer than expected, earlier than expected and more prepared than expected and I try to convey that to my students in my comedy courses. Clubs have rules and if you don’t respect the rules you can do yourself and your fellow comedians a disservice.
One of those rules in comedy is to “mind the light.” In most comedy clubs, you are given a certain amount of time to perform on stage. At many of the clubs in L.A. it’s 5-7 minutes, sometimes you can get longer, but most clubs you get 5-7. Clubs have a system to let the performer know when their time is up. Usually there is a light set up somewhere in the showroom that will be turned on when you have 1 minute left in your set. After that, the light flashes and that basically means ‘get the hell off the stage.’
Minding your light shows that you are a professional. It shows that you know how to put together a 5-7 minute set, execute it, and get off the stage on time. Subsequently, it shows a T.V. talent coordinator that you know how to craft a tight set and wrap it up on time and in television, time is crucial.
My class recently had a showcase at the Comedy Store in the main room and one of my comedy students decided he would ‘run the light.’ This essentially means he planned to intentionally go over his time to try to get more time on the stage and thus a longer set on video. He bragged about it back stage and then took the stage. At six minutes his light came on and right then he started a bit that was at least 3 minutes long if not longer. At seven minutes the light started to flash and he ignored it, continuing his set.
The show producer cued music stopping this comedian in his tracks. (Music being played is the equivalent of the ‘hook’). The comedian said, “good night” and left the stage. But running the light wasn’t bad enough for this comic, he then bitched and moaned about it backstage while other comedians were trying to get into the right frame of mind to prepare themselves for their sets. Then he stormed out from the backstage area to the back of the showroom and started yelling at the producer, “That’s f**king bullshit. That’s so unprofessional!”
The comedian not only was incredibly unprofessional himself and intentionally ignored the light, he then started blaming everyone else! The guy has zero introspection a sure-fire personality flaw that will ultimately lead to failure…unless you’re Christian Bale.
This is one of the fastest ways to not be asked back by a club producer or booker. Despite the fact that this comedian was told numerous times to mind the light in the past, he thought he’d disrespect the club, the booker and his fellow comedians. The audience heard his yells of protest, too, as he marched to the back of the showroom.
So what’s the comedy lesson? He’ll definitely be remembered, not for what he did on-stage, but for what he did off-stage, and probably won’t—at least by that booker—be invited back.
Jon Lovett, a former speech writer for President Barack Obama, who left the administration over the summer to pursue a writing career in Hollywood, has made good on his goal. NBC has given a put-pilot commitment on a new 30-minute single-camera, half-hour comedy, "1600 Penn."
It will focus on the lighter side of a fictional president’s dysfunctional family living at the most famous address in the world. (Imagine what the swing-set in the backyard looks like…"Hey kids, whatever you do, don’t press that red button!").
This is the first comedy about The White House and the president to reach one of the major networks. Prime time had some success with NBC’s "West Wing" and ABC’s "Commander in Chief," and Comedy Central had a short-lived series that featured a ‘Dubya’ look-alike called "That’s My Bush," which lampooned a sitting president while UPN did a conceptualized comedy set in the era of Abraham Lincoln when they did "The Secret Life of Desmond Pfeiffer." But this is the first 30-minute sit-com.
This is a pretty significant event in the television world for a couple of reasons. One is mentioned just above, but NBC has only given out a handful of put-pilot commitments for the 2012-13 season, which shows the faith NBC has in previously untested Lovett.
Lovett will be on the comedy project as executive producer and will be joined by Modern Family director, Jason Winer and "The Book of Mormon" star Josh Gad also as executive producers.
From a comedy perspective, I’m interested to see how this will play out and if it can support a substantial enough television audience to keep it on the air. In my view it would need really solid writing that focuses on the family’s struggles, (ala the Huxtables in "The Cosby Show" or The Baxters in "Family Ties"), because it won’t float on the concept alone.
Here’s another entry into my blog on How to be a funny girl. Why would I bother writing about something like this? Because this business is hungry for funny women! In my opinion there are not enough funny women in comedy. I’ve seen a trend toward an increasing amount recently, but overall there are still not enough funny girls.
In my workshops, I’ve had more women attending lately. I think it’s awesome for a funny girl to hit the stage and make us all laugh. Why? Because ,you begin to learn that women have a different perspective on life and you get to hear them pour out their souls on stage and make it funny.
One of my favorite funny women is Paula Poundstone. She knows how to be a funny girl. She shared her struggles (joking about her suicide attempt), and she shared her quirky observations, (why you have to eat Pop Tarts in two’s).
Most funny girls are either funny and clean or they are edgy and blue. It’s fun when you can get a funny girl that can combine both.
On this blog I’m going to share one of my new favorite funny girls, this funny girl does just that. This girl knows how to be funny. She’s one of my students at The Stand Up Comedy Clinic. Her name is Pauline Yasuda and she’s one funny girl. During my 8 week course she would bring in a new 5-7 minute act almost every week. We would tweak them with suggestions and heighten the laugh points by clarifying the imagery. But other than a couple of word suggestions and enhancing certain associations in the material, the humor was already present.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch the video for yourself and leave a comment if you think Pauline knows how to be a funny girl.
That’s no typo up there in the title. I’m going to rebrand the word; change it from not only a noun, but also to a verb. The act of being a comedian. The connotation is so narrow isn’t it. “…An entertainer who seeks to make people laugh with sketches and funny monologues…” But being a comedian is so much more.
“How To Comedian” is my series on equaling out the word show-business and giving comedians tools so get work, the business end of the equation. Since I was 23, I haven’t had a full-time job. Everything I’ve done has to do with being a comedian and focusing on comedy. There have been times when I slowed down on the road to spend more time with family, but ultimately all my income has come from knowing how to comedian. That includes telling the jokes and making a living.
When I hang around the comedy store or talk to other comedians, their primary concern is getting work. “There’s not enough work out there…” is the common line.
I’m going to tell you something right now: there’s more work available as a comedian than you can even imagine.
Here’s the catch: to get started, you need 3 things:
You just have to know where to find it.
You have to have the balls to go and get it.
And you have to be able to work CLEAN!
Wow! Is that all? It may seem like a small requirement and it is, but in reality only a small percentage of comedians out there have these qualities. Some have balls but can’t work clean. Some work clean, but don’t know where to find the work or they don’t have balls.
Sad, but true. Stick with me, my cheeky laugh-makers, I will guide you through.
Every year from November to January, I am booked solid with “corporates” and other events that pay between $600 and $5000 per appearance. (To be completely transparent, the $5000 gigs are not as common, but they do bite sometimes when I pitch them this price). Those gigs pretty much set me up for the following year. Not bad, huh? I’ve been doing that since my early twenties in gigs no one has ever heard of. But it didn’t come easy.
First, I had to learn to work clean. When I started, I didn’t think I could even step on stage until I had an hour worth of material. No one told me what I needed. I didn’t have anyone to guide me. So I wrote and wrote until I had an hour. My only audience at that time, to try my material out on, was my parents and the comedy traffic school I was teaching. The material had to be clean.
Once you have your hour of clean material, (really, all you need is around 40 minutes), and you’ve honed it and rehearsed it so that it generates laughs every 20-30 seconds, (In club auditions they look for a laugh-point every 18-20 seconds, but for corporate you have more flexibility), you can begin to move to the next step: Knowing where to find the gigs.
My suggestion is to start locally. Call your local Toastmasters, Rotary Clubs and other similar organizations (they all have websites). Tell them you would like to do 15-30 minutes of comedy for one of their luncheons. Offer to do it for FREE. That’s right. FREE.
Trust me on this. When you give away your best stuff, they will buy anything from you.
When you do an event like this for free, ask them not to tell people that you’re doing it for free. Give them a professional solid, funny show and you will be amazed at how many business cards are thrust at you after your appearance. All these folks own businesses and are looking for something new. They see how effective a comedian can be at a corporate event and now that they got a taste, they’ll want to see if they can afford you.
I do this every year at different Rotary Clubs in the area and it works like magic. I always book at least one gig, usually more. Think about it, for an hour or two of my time, I book a gig that usually pays a minimum of $1000.
So let’s start there. I don’t want to make this blog too long. Comedians have a short attention span! See, this is where having balls comes in. You can’t just wait for the work to come to you, you’ve got to go out and get the work! That’s your job. That’s the first step in really learning how to comedian!
The irony of this scenario is even though this technique works like magic. Over 97 percent of comedians won’t do this and I’ll see the same faces at the Comedy Store saying, “There’s not enough work out there…”
What’s this video have to do with getting an audition or an agent as a comedian or actor? Good question! The answer is simple: Many actors and comedians don’t get work because they give up trying way too soon. If they are lucky enough to get a booker or an agent on the phone, they get one “NO!” and they give up.
You Need Persistence
A comedian or actor—whether you’re trying to get representation from an agent, get seen by a casting director or get get booked by a club booker, needs persistence, “polite” persistence. We hear someone say “no,” or at best nobody returns our calls or emails and we give up. We get that familiar lump in the pit of our stomachs, that feeling of rejection and we stop calling. Most of us don’t like that feeling, because…well, it doesn’t feel good! So we give up. I mean why revisit that feeling right?
Well you have to keep calling and keeping in touch because it’s your job. Many times, even after you meet an agent or casting director and they see that you are good, they simply forget who you are. It’s a simple as that. They are not attacking you personally they just don’t think about you, because they are incapable…because few humans have the capacity to truly multi-task.
Take an actress for example. My student Kim Hopkins is a fine actress. She attends casting workshops and consistently gets the highest ratings in her reviews from casting directors. They literally gush over her. A manager she’s been trying to get to represent her can’t understand why she’s not getting called in.
“Why aren’t they calling you in for these auditions?”
It all comes down to multi-tasking.
Although our brains are bad with multi-tasking, they are excellent with focusing on one task at a time. So when Kim does the workshop, the casting director may love her and think she’s the bee’s knees. But when that casting director goes back to work and has a thousand submissions for a job Kim might be perfect for, Kim is not even close to being in their thoughts, simply because it’s impossible! The brain doesn’t operate that way.
This is Where The Manager Comes In
If the manager was doing their job, they would give a call to the casting director and remind them that Kim was in their workshop. That simple reminder that operates what’s known as bottom-up brain function (something that gets our attention like a phone ringing), could be the trick to getting Kim into the brain of the casting director. Does that make sense?
If I was a manager and I knew an actress was going to the workshops and getting great reviews with casting directors that were consistently working, I would represent that actress in a flash, because she just made my job a thousand times easier! All I have to do is submit, then make a phone call to remind the casting director about the actress.
How Does This Affect You As a Comedian or Actor?
So how does this affect you as a comedian or actor? Well, you have to keep calling every three weeks or so. Keep them posted on what you’re doing via Facebook, your website, twitter. Visit them often at casting workshops. Drop by a club to do a guest set. Make sure you keep reminding them who your are, stay polite and persistent, and never let the lack of return phone calls get you down. It’s nothing personal, they just can’t multi-task.