Not Everyone Peaks in Their Twenties

About six years ago, I was at the famous Friars Club in Beverly Hills. It was showcase night. One of the main bookers from the Montreal Comedy Festival was in L.A. to scout comics for “Just For Laughs,” the biggest comedy festival in America.

All the comics were buzzing about it.

“’The Guy’ from Montreal is here!”

Each comedian was supposed to do 10 minutes. I was sixth in the lineup.

When I was announced, I went up there and knocked out my set.

It got a really good response.

It had a socio-political flavor.

It was fresh and edgy and funny.

When I was done, I felt great about it. I was sure I would get a nod.

‘The Guy’ talked to other comics, then approached me. He had those tired eyes, but he looked friendly.

In a kind and authoritative voice, he said these words, “Hi Jerry. I want to thank you for one of the best showcases I’ve seen this week… Really. I’ve seen maybe two-hundred comics…”

In that moment, I was absolutely flabbergasted. (And I didn’t even know that people still got ‘flabbergasted.’)

That’s a pretty powerful statement,’ I thought to myself. I also thought, “Holy shit. I’m in!”

Then the booker finished what he was saying. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “…but you’re too old.”

You know what I wanted to do at that point? I wanted to punch him in the head and say, “Well, now you’ll have to go back to Canada and tell everyone that you got knocked out by an old dude.”

I felt defeated. But it’s not the first time I heard “No,” and it’s not going to be the last.

I wanted to argue with him, but I learned a long time ago that when a decision has been made, “No” means “No.” And not just in dating!

I heard that same answer two years prior with the Aspen Comedy Festival, for the same reason. ‘The Guy’ for that festival had said that to my manager.

‘The Guy’ for that festival was a Gal!

But in the years following that “No,” I made more money in this business than I had in any of the priors years.

It’s because I decided that I’m wasn’t going to depend on ‘The Guy’ to decide the fate of my success.

I got out and I got to work. I booked my own gigs, made my own calls in the corporate comedy world and built a reputation within that national environment.  The wonderful thing about corporate is so many of  ‘The Guys’ know all of the other ‘Guys.’  So much of my work eventually came by referral… and still does.

Network & Television

Executives and Talent Coordinators with the Networks and Festivals are skewing younger and younger.

Why?

It’s money. This is a business driven by money. The networks and festivals are looking for sponsors; the sponsors most coveted demographic is the 18-34 male.

That’s who they want as their audience. They tend to be more spontaneous buyers and if the advertisers hook them at the younger end of that spectrum, they can build brand loyalty and have a customer for life.

In their business world, it makes sense. I get it.

But here’s where their “algorithm” falls apart:

The talent coordinators and executives who are responsible for booking the talent, equate the 18-34 demo with 18-34 talent. That means that they believe that the 18-34 male audience they want so desperately to watch their shows, will watch the shows if and when the talent is also 18-34.

Not so.

Especially in comedy.

The #1 Late Night show in television for the first quarter of 2013 was “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Jon Stewart (The King of Comedic Irony) turns 51 this year. That’s almost twice the average age of the networks coveted demo.

Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report” is the #2 Ranked Late Night show. Mr. Colbert turns 49 on May 13th.

But it doesn’t stop there. If we look back at the highest rated shows in television (even if you adjust the numbers for new channels and cable), the average age of the talent is nowhere near the age of the executives coveted 18-34 demo.

Let’s take a look. These are the top 10 rated series in the U.S. of all time:

[gn_nivo_slider source="post" link="image" size="500x300" limit="10" effect="fold" speed="600" delay="6000"]

Since the slider does not show it, here are the shows in order of most successful:

  1. M*A*S*H*
  2. Cheers
  3. Seinfeld
  4. Friends*
  5. Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
  6. The Cosby Show
  7. All In The Family
  8. Family Ties
  9. Home Improvement
  10. Frasier

*Friends of course DID fit that demo. But if we were to list the top 20 shows, residing at number 17 is “Golden Girls,” where the average age was just short of  Hospice. That show would negate the demo of “Friends” three times over.

Count in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and you’ll probably agree that the age of the talent is not how the business should be skewed if you want to attract your coveted 18-34 demographic.

It boils down to “funny.” If it’s funny, they will watch.

So, as those of us who have been called “too old” still make them laugh in the clubs and in corporate and cruise environments, maybe ‘The Guy’ will finally pull head out of his ass, look at the evidence that is right in front of him and start booking more talent, based on talent, rather than when they were born.

What does this mean for you?

Well if you’re feeling over the hill, (past 34), keep working, keep making them laugh. Opportunities are everywhere and if you light your own fire, you can work til you drop and love it every step of the way.

In the famous words of Frank Sinatra “I did it my way…” and I would add: And I didn’t have to depend on ‘The Guy.’

 

How to Write A Joke – Jerry Seinfeld Style

This is cool!

As you might already know about me, I’m a huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld. I studied him when I was first starting comedy right alongside two of my other heroes, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.

I know, what an interesting juxtaposition! Carlin, Seinfeld, Pryor. Considering that combination you’d think my jokes might start out, “I think bugs were our first friends, you ever notice how bugs walk? Them ‘muthufuckahs’ be like…”

But alas, I my jokes aren’t nearly as clever or interesting sounding… (throat-clearing to indicate sarcasm)…

Anyway, to the point of this blog post; In my previous post I gave you all a link to an awesome New York Times interview with Jerry Seinfeld. In the interview you may have learned how Seinfeld is considered a scientist when it comes to comedy. He dissects a joke and looks for the littlest nuances to make the joke funny.

That was in the meat of the interview but if your own interest in nuance was engaged, you may have seen this little tidbit off to the side…

In the N.Y. Times journey to become more internet savvy they’ve begun to add little morsels in their sidebars to keep the reader interested.

I love this interview with Seinfeld that they posted on how he writes a joke…

He even gets down to the nitty-gritty of what kind of pens he uses and his long-hand style of writing!

It starts out in typical Jerry Seinfeld style: “I know you think people are going to be interested in this… but they’re not…”

How to write comedy - Jerry Seinfeld style

Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up

seinfeld

If success leaves a paper trail, then Jerry Seinfeld could be hit with a littering fine.

Comedians; both aspiring and veteran should take a couple of notes from his interviews, especially this one!

Johah Weiner, (no relation to the former U.S. congressman or the hot dog), had the opportunity to interview arguably the most successful stand-up comedian in the business, in this excellent piece from the New York Times magazine.

This interview really gets Seinfeld to reveal not only his approach to stand-up, but his passion for it.

One thing to take note of in this interview is that Seinfeld looks at jokes as a process. He writes and rewrites, tests and rewrites again to find the right words to make the joke work.

He’s more than just a comedian; he’s a word-smith.

I’ve been a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld since the first time I saw him on a show called the “Celebrity Caberet” in 1977. It is his first appearance on T.V. and the link includes a little clip of him doing a bit on a roller-coaster through the ghetto.

Makes you wonder whether that bit would play today, given our environment of political correctness.

Needless to say, if you’re into comedy, you should NOT miss this article!

Then give me a comment, let me know what you think!

A Comedian Tip From Danny Zuker

If you don’t know who Danny Zuker is, you should.

He’s an Emmy-award winning writer and co-Executive Producer for the hit series ‘Modern Family,” one of the best shows on television, in my humble opinion.

Every time I can get my hands on an interview of someone I respect in this business, I do, and I send out a quiet ‘thank you.’

It’s a chance to get another piece to the puzzle of success.

Each interview holds answers.

In my blog post, “Paralyzed By Analysis,” Princeton neuroscientist Dr. Sam Wang says, “If you want to know the answers to the secrets of how to be successful, look at someone who has been there, done that and do what they have done. It’s a glimpse into the future.”

So when I read this post on about Danny Zuker I don’t just enjoy the read, I get answers that help solve the problem of ‘how to succeed’ by paying close attention to what he says.

It’s a great comedian tip.

In this article I gleaned two important things:

  1. Get involved anyway you can in the business you love.
    • Danny did it by producing videos when he was younger, then working as a Production Assistant which led to a writing job.
  2. Use Twitter to get your message out and develop a following.
    • Mr. Zuker, too, had problems, just like me, understanding Twitter, but once you get it you have fun with it and the whole world has the opportunity to recognize you as funny. You also learn to really get your thoughts down to 140 characters to keep everything concise.

If you’re a comedian and you haven’t been getting out, getting your content online and getting on Twitter to promote and participate you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Each of these things give you goals, allows you express yourself and help you to reach out and connect with others.

It’s the new media and an important additional facet to the fascinating business we’re in.

Read the article, follow the advice.

Oh, and ‘Thank you’ Mr. Zuker!

Follow me on Twitter: @jokedoctor and follow the funny @DannyZuker

The Key To Comedy

Key to comedyOne of the most common questions I get as a stand up comedian, writer and now coach is: What is the key to comedy?

And although there are too many variables for me to even suggest that I have all the answers when it comes to comedy, I can give you the key. That’s right I can give you the key to comedy.

The key is SURPRISE.

If we break comedy down; I mean, really break comedy down into parts, then we can start to design solutions. So let’s do that briefly in this blog post.

I guess we can all agree that for comedy to be comedy, we need to get the audience to laugh, right? So that’s our problem. We need to make people laugh.

So let’s find a solution…

Somebody has to be laughing in order for someone to say that something is comedic or humorous. Now that we know that, we need to know what causes people to laugh.

According to several psychologists, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise.

Create surprise and do it well and the audience almost has no choice but to laugh.

Imagine that power as a comedian; to put the audience in the position where they have no choice but to laugh!

Now that we have that psychological element in place we are part of the way through solving our problem. The next question is how to we pull that trigger?

We create surprise in our writing or our dialogue, conversation, speech or script.

There are several ways to create surprise in comedy. I’m going to share with you the simplest and one of the most commonly used strategies to create surprise:

  • Double Entendre
Double Entendre means “two meanings.” Those of us in comedy are blessed that the English language provides us with multiple meanings of words. We can use a word in a sentence to imply one meaning then use the comedic interpretation to create comedy. To look at it in its simplest form: if you have a friend that turns everything into a sexual connotation, then you’ve probably seen the double-entendre formula used in comedy. It could be used in scene writing too.
A basketball coach is at a press conference after his team lost in a blow out;
PRESS: Coach how do you feel about the execution of the offense?
COACH: I’m all for it.
In this example, the coach used the comedic interpretation of the word “execution.” While the journalist meant how do you think the offense played?  The coach went for the surprise meaning of “kill.”
Because the expected of the word execution was so strong in the context in which it was being used, when the coach played the comedic meaning, he created a level of surprise that would lead just about any crowd to a laugh. Couple that with the fact that the losing coach is normally NOT in a good mood. He is not expected to be funny.

Surprise also occurs when something happens that is unexpected, right? So do or say something unexpected and you have an increased possibility of creating a laugh.

Here’s another example of using surprise:

When I was in the grocery store, the check out girl said to me, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” The word “everything” really stood out for me. What did she mean when she said “everything?” Her intended meaning was probably did I find everything I was shopping for.

What is my comedic meaning of everything? The meaning of life, a soul-mate, eternal love, etc.

I went with that interpretation. So, when she asked “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I said, “Well I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find a soul-mate. You had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m not into twins.”

That got big laugh with her.

Word play makes up the majority of all comedy out there. But the comedian has to be careful not to overuse it. It’s easy to get “punny” if you use it incorrectly. And you’ll wind up getting groans.

Then that key to comedy will just wind up breaking off in the lock.