3-Steps To Finding A Good Comedy Instructor
“My Name Is Jerry Corley. I Teach Stand Up Comedy…and I’d Like To Report A Crime…”
I’ve been a professional comedian for over twenty years. I’ve spent many years working 38 to 40 weeks on the road. I’ve written for television shows, including spending 8 years as a contributing writer on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I’ve written entire shows for comedians, including one for an impressionist who, as a result, booked 43 weeks at a Las Vegas Resort. The resort closed shortly after that, but they honored the remainder of his contract: 35 remaining weeks x $10, 000…not a bad pay day!
I’ve structured my shows to give performances that receive standing ovations. Now I teach what I know. I still do corporates and other gigs, but without the long weeks away from home and family.
I love teaching.
When potential students contact me on the phone or email, one of the first things they ask me is, “How can you tell whether a comedy instructor is good and I’m not wasting my money?” Well, first if you have a good rapport on the phone and you think you’ll get along with the instructor, follow these simple steps to be sure that you’ll be satisfied in your choice:
Step 1: See if your instructor has any video of himself or herself performing stand up online. If they do, watch it. If they don’t, contact that instructor either by phone or email and ask them if they have any video of their stand up that you can watch. If they don’t have any, go to…
Step 2: Hang up the phone and throw away the email, because really, what are they going to teach you? The only thing they have demonstrated is how not to do comedy.
Step 3: If they do have video, watch it. Does it make you laugh? Can you hear the structure? Are they confident? Is their delivery, writing and choice of material interesting and Intelligent? Again, does it make you laugh? If the answer to any of those questions is “no, ” then repeat step 2.
Why am I being so hard on comedy teachers? I’ll tell you why. I love this industry. I love the art form of comedy and I am passionate about the science of laughter and structure of comedy. I study it. I write it. I perform it. I can sit down and write funny about anything. (At least that’s what I tell myself each time I sit down to write funny about anything!) I believe a humorist should be able to, with practice and work, make any logical grouping of words, funny.
I see a lot of instructors out there ready to take your money. Comedy classes aren’t expensive, really, but for struggling artists they are. So before you plunk down your hard-earned 3 to 5 hundred dollars, your instructor should be able to demonstrate how to write a joke from scratch and make it funny. They should be able to step on that stage, with the pressure of an audience and perform it themselves.
I believe a good part of teaching is demonstrating. If they can’t demonstrate it, how in the world are they to effectively teach it? They might be able to regurgitate what they read in say, Judy Carter’s books and even Xerox that material and issue it to you in class as a hand out and claim they are teaching. They may also offer a student a critique only by telling the student when they think something is “HACK!”
Is this teaching? Maybe to some it is. But I believe it boils down to this: Would you learn how to paint an abstract or still life from somebody who can’t paint? Would you take driving lessons from someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license? Would you—you get the point.
You might learn a little something from those kinds of instructors, but a comedy instructor without an actual act is like a flight instructor without a pilot’s license. Odds are you are destined to crash! Simply, they lack the first-hand ability to apply the fundamentals of humor and create a laugh-out-loud article, essay, speech or stand up performance. And here’s the problem: you just paid five hundred bucks for that. That, my friends, is criminal.