What Do Comedy Bookers Mean When They Say They Want it ‘Clean?’

clean or dirty

A booker contacts you and wants you to do a show. Then they say something like,
“Oh and I want a clean comedy show…”

What does a booker mean when they say they want a ‘clean’ comedy show?

It really depends. I’ve heard things from bookers that were like, “You’ve got to be able to do it in front of your grandmother…”

You don’t know my grandmother! What if my grandmother was like this:

Esther Hersh as Gangster Granny on The Ben Show from Jerry Corley on Vimeo.

If my grandmother was like “Gangsta Granny,” then I could probably get away with anything and my act wouldn’t be clean at all.

The important thing to remember is that the responsibility falls on you to clarify what that individual booker means by “clean.” Because in the end, if you fail to reach that booker’s definition of clean, he/she is probably not going to have you back or worse, won’t pay you for the show you did (read till the end).

So ask them specifically what they mean by clean. You might say, “Do you mean PG clean or G-rated clean?”

Ask who the audience is.

In some audience’s you can do jokes about sex other audiences you can’t. And there’s a way to do sex jokes clean and not so clean.

The general guideline with doing sex jokes in a clean (network TV) environment is that the jokes can’t be graphic. You can say “we were having sex,” but the moment you mention anything that brings to mind a specific image of genitalia or bodily fluids, positions, etc., then the material is no longer clean.

When doing comedy for network TV, the network will has a department called ‘Standards & Practices.’ It’s a bunch of lawyers who work for a network who decide whether or not the content is suitable for the network’s viewer. They will determine what’s ‘clean.’

Here are a couple of examples from Brian Kiley, the head monologue writer for Conan O’Brien who has done more than a dozen spots on late night TV. Many of his jokes are about sex. But they are considered clean enough for network.

“My brother is not the brightest guy in the world. He had heart surgery recently and he said to the doctor, “Doc, when can I have sex?” And the doctor said, “When you can walk up a flight of stairs, you can have sex.” And my brother said, “Why? Who’s up there?”

“When my wife and I were first married, she would yell out the name of her old boyfriend. The Weird thing is, his name was also brian… so she would yell out, “Brian. Not you… the OTHER Brian.”

So you could see that in these jokes, Kiley gets away with doing these on The Late Show with David Letterman. Even the one about his father needing to turn in sperm sample. But in the context of the joke the sperm sample was a medical procedure, not a sexual situation, so it passes the test.

But here’s where the definition of ‘clean’ gets tricky. What if you were doing an event at a high school in front of students, parents and administrators? Could you do the sperm joke or the sex jokes? I guess it depends on what school right?

So when it comes to doing clean, context has a lot to do with it.

There is no absolute definition for clean. Here’s something you should never do…

I was on the road with this comedian from Salt Lake City and we got a call from a booker in the middle of the week to do a corporate show for a bunch of gold miners. It was a dinner and everyone was well dressed. The pay was $1000 for the headliner and $500 for the feature act.

When we got to the event this huge dude in a tuxedo comes up to us–There’s something scary about a huge dude in a tuxedo. Like, first of all, what tuxedo company rents shirts with a 22-inch neck?

Anyway, he says to us, “We need this show to be clean because the wives are here.”
The comedian I was working with was told by some other comedian that when they want it clean all you have to do is ask the audience, “Do you want the clean stuff or the dirty stuff?”

So He got up onstage and said, “Do you want the clean stuff or the dirty stuff?” And one guy yelled out “Dirty!” So he said, “How do you make Martha Stewart scream? You f*ck her in the ass and wipe your dick on her drapes.”

That was his opening joke. Yeesh!

I looked over and the huge dude in the tuxedo popped a vein and said to me, “get him off the goddam stage.” So I had to go up on the stage and tell him he was done. Then spent the next 5 minutes making fun of him to recover, and then had to honor the contract and fulfill the 90-minute obligation.

Needless to say, that comedian didn’t get paid.

Whether you decide to work clean or not is up to you. You don’t have to pick one over the other. You can work clean for certain events and work blue for others.

From George Carlin to Louis C.K. to Amy Schumer, even though they are known for being blue, they each clean it up when they do network TV.

But if you know how to work clean and still get laughs then the simple truth is that you’re going to work more.

But if you’re going to work clean, find out exactly what they mean by it.

‘Clean’ might mean different things to different bookers, but there’s one thing that is for sure: When the booker says “Your show needs to be clean,” you don’t make it “dirty.”

3 Reasons Why Firing My Manager is the Best Thing I Did for My Comedy Career!

 phone firing my manager
In September of 1993 I was in the comedy condo of a comedy club in Dallas, TX. It was the morning after my third night there and the phone rang.
“Hello, it’s Jerry.”
“Jerry? It’s Harry:” Harry was a manager I had just signed with a few months before.
He saw me at a showcase at Igby’s in West L.A. on the same night that Ray Romano and Kevin James did their network showcase for NBC.
Harry had some big names in his stable and I thought it was a good move to work with him.That’s good news, my manager’s calling. Maybe he’s got some work for me…
“Hey Harry. Tell me some good news.”

“I just wanted to let you know that I get 20% of whatever work you’re doing, regardless of if I book it.”I know, right? I’m thinking to myself, this guy doesn’t even ask how the shows are going. He just gets right to the money. The money he thinks he’s entitled to.

For the last couple years, I had been methodically making phone calls and sending out videos. Since I already had an one-hour act under my belt, a full 60% of my day was dedicated to booking work and developing new contacts and 40% to writing material.

That work had paid off because I was booked for the rest of the year and the first 2 months of the following year. For this manager to call me and tell me he’s gonna get 20% of that just seemed ridiculous.

So I said, “I’m sorry, Harry. I don’t think I heard you right. Can you repeat that?”

“I just wanted to let you know that I get 20% of whatever work you’re doing, regardless of if I book it.”

I straightened up, took a breath and said, “Harry, I’ve always wanted to say this. (It was a throwback to the movies from the 40’s), ‘WE’RE THROUGH!'”

: and I hung up the phone.

About 10 seconds later, he called again. He said, “You have a problem with me making money?” I said, “I don’t have a problem with you making money, Harry. But I do have a problem with you trying to take money from me that you haven’t earned. I might as well give 20% to the homeless, because they’re doing as much for my career.”

I hung up and never heard from Harry again.

That phone call scared me. It scared me, but it also inspired me into truly lighting a fire under my ass and figuring out how to take my act and make real money.

I got to work and the next year I made nearly 3x as much as the previous year. I learned how to leverage my comedy and turn it into a product. I learned how to double, triple and even quadruple the amount of money I made per night, per show.

Then I learned how to tap into markets that were paying me more in one night than I was making in an entire week at a club.

Then I learned about something called “Idle Capacity…” (Hint: It adds a lot of money to your bank account)

Hanging up on my manager was scary but empowering, because when you do something like that your only choice is to go prove yourself.

Not only that, consider the opposite: This guy’s integrity was questionable so how do I expect that to reflect on me?

That phone call was life changing and it helped motivate me to really kick ass in this business and turn my comedy career into a comedy enterprise where I’M the BOSS and I can choose what gigs to take.

Being able to feel like you are in charge of your destiny rather than waiting for someone to call you or book you is more than just empowering, it’s life changing.
Don’t get me wrong, a great manager or agent is invaluable, but one who doesn’t do anything is shit.

You may have heard that I’m teaching a comedy success seminar next Saturday, August 6th, at my studio in Burbank, CA. It’s called “How to be the Richest Comedian Nobody’s Ever Heard Of.It’s going to be a powerful event with killer tools you can use to gain more leverage in your career and really get paid for your comedy.

Click the link and get in because at minimum it will light a fire under your ass. And if you actually apply the information and execute, it will change your career or your life.

What’s Your Point of View and What does a Booker Mean When they Ask for One?

What is a comedian's point of view? who are you?

As a comedian, have you ever been asked to refine your point of view?

Have you ever wondered what your point of view is? Your persona? Your voice?

Or, like me, has a booker said to you, I’m looking for an “internal thru-line, a golden thread of continuity.”


I heard that one from Mark Lonow, former talent coordinator and co-owner of the Improv in L.A., (years ago) immediately after I did an audition that I thought I rocked.

It was disheartening because not only did I not get a spot at the Improv from him, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about!

Two days later I said, “screw that!” I went right to Bud Friedman, (the founder of the Improv), pleaded for an audition and with the same act got booked in Vegas and on T.V.

What is a Point of View?

So what is a point of view? And what does a booker mean when he says he wants to see a stronger one?

A point of view is how you look at the world and the situations around you that you include in your comedy.

Basically answer the question: “Who are you?”

Can you say in a couple of sentences who you are?

Are you a cynic? Do you have a quirky way of looking at life? Do you like to pick out life’s minutia and point out those observations in a funny way? Are you a liberal? A conservative? Gun lover? Trump voter?

You’re point of view doesn’t have to be extreme.

Who Are You?

20_comic_maks_150x183From scholar to buffoon, there are about 20 Major and distinctive comic masks, but each comedian can have only one. Download the 20 Comic Masks PDF Chart and see where you fit in!

Click to Download the PDF

Amy Schumer is known for her subversive feminism and addressing various social issues through a character who is seemingly promiscuous and a little ditsy.

Schumer has described herself as just someone who goes in and out of being an irreverent idiot. (Although I think, and her bank account surely reflects, that she’s more than that).

Bill Burr is a bit of an edgy devil’s advocate. He approaches his comedy by challenging the status quo from a strong male point of view to the point where he appears at times to be misogynistic. But Burr always says “It doesn’t make sense. Somebody explain it.” Then he explains it, usually using analogies while making us think, “Oh I never thought about it that way.”

Larry the Cable Guy (Dan Whitney), is a simple guy, a bit of a buffoon trying to figure out how things work.”

Whitney Cummings is a woman fed up with the bullshit of men and relationships, but still trying figure out how to make relationships work.

When I first started I was just trying to write funny jokes and stories. I did wordplay, paradox and observation like Carlin, but with a strong Seinfeldian voice.

So much so that Seinfeld himself mocked me at a club after I did a set! Lol.

I was getting laughs but I wasn’t sure who I was or how to find myself. Then I got some advice from the most unexpected source…

I met a mobster when I was waiting tables in New York. He was one of my favorite customers. I told him I didn’t know what to be when I was up on stage. He said, “Don’t listen to your heart, it feels too much. Don’t listen to your head, it thinks too much. Listen to your gut, cuz your gut never lies to you.”

Shortly after that, I met George Carlin. He said to me, “take the stuff that drives you absolutely fucking crazy and make it funny.”

That’s when my voice turned more toward a socio-political irreverent style that felt cathartic and real to me.

It felt ‘right’ in my gut, you know?

I loved to watch and read the news and call bullshit. I like to look at the inequalities and the hypocrisies in the world and point them out.

My act evolved toward a message of tolerance of race, gender and sexual preference, but not religion because in my comedic view religion is the reason societies have created a fictitious hierarchy and division in the first place.

Basically I make fun of everyone, but in a way that unites and makes our various idiosyncrasies fun.

How do you define yourself?

How do You Find Your Point of View?

One way to find your point of view or voice is to ask people what they see when they see you.

Another way is to ask yourself how you want people to see you or get in touch with who you are around your friends and start with that.

Another way is to develop a character, refine it and perform material based on that character’s point of view.

For several years, I created a pretty refined character named Charlie Stone. Charlie was a quirky, long-haired surfer-type character. He wasn’t a stoner, because he didn’t do drugs, but he had a stoner approach to his world view…

“This gal comes up to me and says, Dude: are you a Christian? I said, ‘No: I’m a Catho-Christi-Hinuistic-Musli-Morma-Jew: I don’t want to miss out on Heaven cuz of a technicality!'”

Charlie was an interesting experiment. I used to go out on the road and open for me, Jerry Corley as Charlie Stone.

Basically I would wear a wig and these blue-tinted glasses and do 30 minutes as Charlie Stone then change while the emcee was up, come back to the stage as Jerry Corley and do another hour.

The interesting part was that even though my act would do well and many times end in a standing ovation, everyone would come up to me after the show and say, “Where’s Charlie Stone?!”

What I learned from that was that Charlie Stone’s character was so refined that he was memorable.

I’m positive that if I brought Charlie back today, because of the strong, refined character, he would place or win in competitions and book some T.V.

Talent coordinators and bookers often confuse the difference between character, persona, voice and ‘point-of-view.’

But usually what occurs is that if a character is well-defined, the point of view tends to just fall into place within that character.

Some People Say it Takes 7 Years or More to Find Your Persona. Is That True?

One of the reasons it takes people a long time to find their persona or voice is that the first several years of their journey into comedy, they are just trying to figure out how to write a joke and create an act, you know? Make something funny.

As they begin to develop material they begin to realize that some material seems to resonate more with them than other material and they start to focus more on the material that they’re more connected to, which helps to shape their voice.

Bill Burr said he spent the first 5-7 years of his career doing one and two-liner comedy. Then when he started to go up on stage and riff on ideas is when he found more of his cynical voice.”

Anthony Jeselnik said that he started writing comedy by study Jack Handy’s “Deep Thoughts” from Saturday Night Live. He started writing those down then writing his own. “Then I was up on stage and did a joke that was dark and it got a great response. And I knew that’s where I was going.”

There’s no one way to find your point of view. Just keep cognizant of who you are and what you’re trying to say.

Remember that your character can evolve, develop and change. Allow yourself to explore it. Try different things. Listen to the audience and how they respond, adjust and refine.

And also always, always listen to your heart–wait… your gut.

Don’t Suck! The 9-minute Comedy Mastermind Session


This could be the most important 9-minute comedy lesson of your life.

In the next 9 minutes you’re going to learn a lot! I mean a ton! I’m calling this article my 9-minute Comedy Mastermind Session.

When it comes to comedy writing and theory, my argument always focuses on structure.

“Structure is king!” I’ll usually say.

Listen to the Audio Version

Getting to the point and getting the laugh with a strong point of view while saying something that actually means something is crucial but structure is where the laugh occurs… not just trying to be funny.

This next 9-minutes focuses on that.

Structure is really the keys to the car that drives comedy success. I’d argue that it’s not just important, it’s crucial!

Side-by-Side Comedian Comparison

In the next 9 minutes you’re going to look at two comedians.

Rob Delaney and Brian Kiley.

Delaney is your classic internet sensation comedian. His rise to notoriety came via Twitter where he had 1.26 million followers! But you’ll soon learn that Twitter comedy doesn’t necessarily interpret into stellar stand-up.

Brian Kiley is the head monologue writer for Conan O’Brien. Kiley is a master of structure and joke telling. But his joke telling style is so well finessed that it doesn’t seem like he’s us telling jokes.

Take a look at these two comedians as they appear on 2 different late night shows.
Structure vs. No structure. It’s Kiley with solid structure and Delaney with just telling a story and trying to be funny

You be the judge…

…and as always I would love to hear your comments.


Rob Delaney

Let’s take a look at comedian Rob Delaney. He performed a set on Jimmy Kimmel Live. He wasn’t prepared, he lacked structure and he totally shits the bed…

Caution: You might have to will yourself to watch the entire 4.5 minutes. But it’s important that you do.

Brian Kiley

Now let’s watch 4.5 minutes of Brian Kiley. Brian is a master of joke structure. You don’t have to be like him or deliver your material in this more “joke” form, but you’ll easily see the difference between structured and unstructured material.


In my view, structure is king.

Brian Kiley’s set is far superior in it’s structure and it’s story-telling than Rob Delaney. In fact, rumor has it that Delaney tried to make sure that this didn’t get out. I get it.

I’m not posting this to slam Delaney as a comedian. I’ve been doing stand-up for nearly 30 years, I know how hard it is to get on T.V. So big props to him for just getting the spot. But when you get there you’ve got to have a structured set.

Your effectiveness is judged by laughs per minute. If you’re not getting laughs, the audience is tuning out.

A stand-up comedian’s time is also limited on late night TV shows. Comedian’s sets have been running around 4 minutes 30 seconds! I just watched comedian Dulce Sloan on Conan and she only had 3 minutes!

You gotta get to the jokes fast and keep them rolling! If you don’t you might wind up like Rob Delaney and totally shitting the bed.

There are two primary ways to learn how to build comedy and story structure into your comedy act: 1. Get up and try it and learn through trial and error and hopefully find your way to doing what the successful comedians are doing… or 2. Drop in on one of my comedy classes and learn why people laugh and learn the structures that trigger that laughter. You can also really jack up your comedy writing skills at one of my Weekend Comedy Writing Workshops.

Work Smarter – Don’t be Afraid of Mistakes. Learn from Them!

 Don't be afraid of mistakes; learn from them

Are you one of those people who is afraid of mistakes? Are you afraid to put something out there—either on stage or in a meeting or even on social media—for fear that you made a mistake and someone will call you out on it, thus making you the laughing stock of the world and eternally miserable?

This happens to all of us at some level.

I remember, early in my studying, being in an acting class. I really wanted to be an actor. My father had some fame as an actor and I wanted to be an actor too. I went to the classes and when I did something “wrong,” the teacher would try to give me notes.

I would always try to interrupt with something like a “Yeah, yeah, I know I did that,” or something similar. Instead of really listening to the note based on what the teacher saw in my performance, I would jump ahead because I didn’t really want to hear that I was flawed, that I made a mistake.

Fortunately I had a father who used to coach me as well. He saw that I would try to jump in and not truly listen to the note. He would wait for me to finish my objection. Then say, “Next time I give you a critique, instead of instantly jumping in I want you to try something. I want you to think of a follow-up question, based on what I said.”


This approach served two purposes. It required me wait to actually hear the note. And…
It made me have to think of a follow-up question, so I was forced to listen deeply to the note, process what it meant to me and follow up, thus cementing the learning into my brain.

So therefore, it forced me to acknowledge my mistake, learn from it and figure out how to apply the mistake as a lesson, NOT as a mistake.

Does this make sense?

When we make mistakes and learn from them, we make huge leaps in our learning and through experience you learn that mistakes are actually positive things, not negative.

Instead of fearing mistakes, we should embrace them, ruminate in them and figure out possible solutions. I express that as a plural, because there’s normally never just one solution. There’s usually multiple.

It is key that you write down the mistake, what you learned from it and finally the possible solutions to correct the mistake in the future.

That’s why in the classes I teach, I encourage the students to provide their own suggestions and notes to their fellow students. It requires them to actively listen, process and trouble-shoot a possible solution. This helps them to become more knowledgeable as a comedy writer or comedian, in a faster time period.

When you teach you learn twice.

This type of fear of mistakes can paralyze us in so many ways. It creates a circle of repeated mistakes that cripple growth, stifle productivity and increase stress.

I have a friend. We get together once in awhile to write, go shopping or grab a bite.

She has this fear of mistakes and I see it constantly and repeatedly paralyze her productivity and infuse more stress into her life.

Now the following conversation may seem tedious, but I think it is essential so that you can really get the idea and maybe—just maybe—see similarities in your own behaviors.

About 6 months ago my friend called me and said, “Hey, let’s get together later and go shopping at the mall.”

I said, “What time?”
She said, “Oh late afternoon sometime. I have a lot to get done first.”
I said, “You should set some goals as to exactly what you need to get done and apply a time to it. When that timer is done get up and move on to the next–”
She interrupted, “—Yeah, yeah. I know. That’s a good idea.”
I said, “Okay. Just let me know when?”

At 5 o’clock we planned to get together to shop at the mall, eat and hang out. Since she’s always late, we wound up connecting at the mall at 5:30.
She was hungry, so we grabbed a bite to eat. Then it was time to shop!
As we started to hit the stores, we noticed that they were all starting to close.
She started stressing, “Why are they closing?!”
“Well, it’s Sunday. Most malls close early on Sundays.”

It was a mistake not to set your goals and not plan out the day… I’ve explained the acknowledge mistakes lesson to her that I learned from my father. I hoped that she would start to apply them… she struggles with that.

6 months later…

My friend texts me. Again, it was a Sunday morning.

“Hey, l’ve got to go back home for about a week. Wanna meet at the mall and go shopping?”
“Sure. What time?”

“I don’t know. Late afternoon. I’ve got a lot to get done first:”

I sighed…

Then 30 minutes later the text came in: “Hey, it’s Sunday. Let’s do early afternoon. In fact, I’ll meet you at three! The malls close early don’t they?”


Now I just hope she shows up on time!

If you fear mistakes now—no matter what the level of your fear—by doing the above approach of acknowledging, processing and solving, you will eventually lose that fear.

At some point, that fear of mistakes becomes just a shrug, and you look forward to processing it, learning from it and solving it. Because, now you will realize how much time or money you saved, how your business or relationship improved and how above all you transformed in some way and became a better person in life… or at least a better person to go shopping with.

You learn so much from acknowledging your mistakes, rather than being afraid of mistakes.

In my experience, I realized that when I made mistake and acknowledged it, I wasn’t a laughing stock of the world and it didn’t make me eternally miserable.

Instead, it enabled me to eternally grow.