In the 25 years that I’ve been a professional comedian, I’ve faced a lot of so-called myths that have spread around the comedy circles. It’s amazing that no matter how much you work to diffuse those myths or prove those myths wrong, new comedians seem to continue to nurture and spread tired, hugely over-told and wildly understood myths. I’m using this particular post to point them out and bust them. So that they don’t continue to stifle up-and-comers. Here they are:
1. Don’t laugh at your own jokes.
One of my students was performing her act on stage and despite the fact that she’s an attractive girl, she wore this “scowl” throughout her act. It’s wasn’t a result of her point of view or her emotional approach to the joke, it was just a scowl. At the end of her set I said, “You should smile more. It opens up your face and shows you’re having a good time.”
She said, ” I don’t want to because a comic friend of mine said I shouldn’t laugh at my own jokes.”
That particular rule of thumb is so misunderstood. There’s a difference between enjoying the material and “laughing at your own jokes.” I think that rule is better applied to those comedians who laugh because the joke doesn’t get laughs. The comedian who laughs to say “hey look at me I’m funny:” is what that rule of thumb is better suited for. But you can laugh and enjoy and giggle and play all you want.
If you want to see someone who blasts that rule to smithereens, watch Craig Ferguson work. He has a great time is always laughing at himself.
Here’s a bit of theater science: “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in.” So if you’re having a good time, the audience has no choice but to have a good time.
2. Prop Comics & Guitar Comics are all hacks.
Gotta put this bitch to bed once an for all. There are a lot of comedians that think that just because they prefer to be monologists, that anyone who uses an instrument or a prop is a hack. That’s NOT necessarily true. Guitar and prop comics are simply adding an additional dynamic to the overall show. Those who waste time calling them “hacks” are either naÃ¯ve or jealous.
A good guitar comic is probably booking more festivals and New Years’ shows at a substantially higher dollar rate than a monologist, because the music can take the audience to another level of participation.
If you are using props, impressions or a guitar, you better be good and the jokes better be solid and interesting, original and funny. There is a tendency for a prop comic, an impressionist or a guitar comic to use their props or instruments to get easy laughs. If you do this, you’re going to wind up being classified as a “hacky” comic. But then again if you were a strict monologist and your material wasn’t interesting intelligent, original or funny, wouldn’t you be considered “hacky” anyway?
People make fun of Carrot Top because he’s a prop comic. Why would any comedian waste time and energy bashing someone who’s doing what he loves and making a living. Bash all you want. Carrot Top has his own theater in Vegas and is one of the highest earning comedians alive today. Instead of bashing Carrot Top, comedians should ask themselves, “What can I learn from his success?”
I might not be a big fan of prop comedy, but I’m a fan of Scott Thompson, (Carrot Top).
3. “I Gotta Follow That?”
I hear a lot of comedians wait to go on stage and someone really good just finishes and they say something like, “You mean, I gotta follow that?!”
Here’s what I learned over the years in this business. The audience wants to enjoy every comedian. They really want to hear a unique and different point of view. I learned a long time ago that you’re not “following” any body. You’re just “next.”
This lesson was taught to me in a very unique way. I was a fiery and fast feature comedian back in the day, hungry to step up to the headliner position. I was writing my ass off and rehearsing and touring 35 weeks a year. I wanted to headline. So when I took the stage I poured it on. I would always give the best shows I could.
I was in Sacramento working at a club called Laughs Unlimited and it was the first night of the week and I was working with the lovely Diane Nichols. Diane had been on The Tonight Show with Johnny and Jay. I wanted to blow the doors off the place to prove that even though she was on network T.V., she couldn’t follow this gun slinger.
I went on stage and right out of the gate I was hitting all my jokes. Everything worked. I was on fire. I wrapped up and she came on stage. In an exhausted forty-something voice she said, “Wow, ladies and gentleman how ’bout a hand for Jerry Corley:what a ball of energy huh? (Big pause): I wish I had that kind of energy:”
The audience laughed hard. She didn’t miss a beat. She wasn’t worried about following me: she wasn’t even thinking about me. She was doing her thing and since the audience is in whatever state the performer is in, they were right there with her too.
I learned a BIG LESSON that night.
That came back to me later in my career too. I was headlining at a resort in Nevada and this guitar comic I admire, Huck Flynn, was booked as a feature. I thought the booker must have screwed up because he was rocking rooms as a headliner before I even started in comedy. But here I was having to follow him: did he take it easy on me? No way! He got on stage and blew the doors off the place. The audience loved him.
Now it was my turn. I remembered that lesson I learned from Diane Nichols: I got on stage nice and easy and I said, “Wow, ladies and gentleman, how ’bout a hand for Huck Flynn:he can really play with that guitar, huh? (Big pause): I’m not even that good playing with myself…”
They forgot about Huck and they were now with me, because I stayed true to me and my groove: because I wasn’t following anybody, I was just next.