Patton Oswalt: “I stole a Joke. Not consciously.”

patton-oswaltIn a recent blog post about joke-thieving, I posted that Howie Mandel allegedly caught a comedian named Greg Wilson “stealing” a joke on America’s Got Talent.

It generated a lot of comments; some agreeing, some disagreeing with my post, some attacked, some complimented. Some people sent private emails to avoid getting into it in the comment thread.

The piece was written in a heightened way to draw attention to a dilemma we always face as writers and comedians; intellectual property theft.

Whether it’s a joke or a movie script or a television pilot idea, I’ve experienced it personally at several levels. And I expect to experience it more.

But the questions remain:

What do you do about it when it happens to you?

How do you keep from doing it yourself?

Who cares if I use someone else’s material?

I think the best advice I got on joke-stealing is from Jay Leno. He said, “Just write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

He also says to people that accuse him of stealing a joke, “You keep it. I’ll write more.” Great advice. I highly recommend not only following it, but making it your code.

My Irish temper sometimes impedes my ability to make sound and reasonable decisions in a lot of situations. It can especially get in the way when someone steals a joke.

Temper can manifest itself in many ways. It once manifested in the Comedy Store parking lot with another comedian’s bloody head bouncing off the hood of a Trans Am.

Some of you might be saying, “Oh my God, Jerry! I can’t believe you would do such a thing to a Trans Am!”

Why not? It was the nineties and Trans Ams were so previous decade!

Despite the fact that I’m no longer the guy who reacts like that, I still like to defer to people who are smarter when it comes to trying to sort out an answer to a popular problem…

Patton Oswalt is smart, funny involved and completely dedicated to the business of comedy. I follow his tweets (when I can) and read his “Spew.

I think it’s always a good idea to follow people who are smarter than you, funnier than you and ultimately more successful than you so that you can continue your journey to be the best you can be.

One of the suggestions he gives in his “Closed Letter To Myself about Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes,” is to let the joke thief steal. Eventually he’ll reach that point of no return, where the thief will—with the help of other comedians’ material—reach the level of network T.V. as a performer or a writer, then crash and burn because they didn’t get to that level by developing their own creativity.

Because at that level when it’s all on them to ‘create,’ their creative well is a dust bowl. They become the reason for their own demise.

So take some time (it’s a long piece so grab some coffee), and give Patton’s article a read. I think he’s got a better solution to understanding the thievery dilemma than I.

I mean, unless you really hate Trans Ams.

Inspiring Your Creative Muse with a Regular Routine

the-thinker Having trouble getting inspiration for material?

Of all the questions I get from the writers and comedians I work with, by far the most common relates to inspiration.

“I haven’t ‘felt’ like writing.” or “Sometimes I feel it and sometimes I don’t.”

Do you fit into this category? Do you have trouble finding the inspiration to write?

When is the last time you wrote something and felt satisfied? When is the last time you wrote something fulfilling?

When is the last time you wrote something at all?

It happens to all of us. There were times that I would go weeks without writing a new joke. It felt miserable.

One day I purchased a book called “The Writer’s Way,” and it was part of my all-out plan to never have writers’ block again. And you know what?

It worked!

One of the things I learned in that book and from reading about guys like George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld is to write everyday. EVERYDAY. Non-negotiable.

Whether I write a paragraph or a joke or two. I make time every day to sit down and write something. Anything.

Some writers wait for an inspiration to hit them. Other writers summon their muse by developing a regular routine to work by thereby following the philosophy of:

[gn_quote style="1"]A Routine for writing, creates a routine for inspiration.[/gn_quote]

But it’s up to you. First you have to start with a decision to do it, then you need to plan your day, your week and set up a specific time (an appointment with yourself) that you block out in your daily calendar that is designated for your writing time and then STICK to that routine.

You’ll be amazed that when you stick to the routine, your inspiration will find it’s way to you.

It’s like working both sides of the creative equation.

Sometimes inspiration just happens and other times you have to coax it along by doing cliche exercises or writing 50 random lines from the news, ad-copy or editorials.

Here’s a great article on creativity. I read it and it inspired me to write this blog post.

Maybe it will help you to set up your own regular writing routine and get more creative!

Do you have certain techniques you use to get yourself inspired? Share them in the comments section!

Comedy Clinic Student Wins CA Funniest Female!

pauline-yasuda

You know it’s a beautiful Memorial Day weekend in Burbank, California when the smell of barbecue overpowers and masks the usual combined Burbank stench of of smog and Glendale.

And while most people were enjoying food and drink in their backyards, (or stuck in traffic on the nearby I-5 because of a car fire in the center lane), comedians at Flappers Comedy Club were engaged in the battle of funny.

It wasn’t your usual fare of comedians; bitter, mostly white men sporting jackets on their torsos and five-o’clocks on their cheeks, flinging jokes about their ex’s, smoking too much weed or being broke.

This was a special breed of comic; a women’s-only club of comics, all competing for the prize of “California’s Funniest Female.”

I’ve argued that I think women can be feminine while still being funny in this business.

That’s why I am so proud to announce that one of my top students—Pauline Yasuda—just won the California’s Funniest Female Comedy Competition (www.funniestfemale.com)  last night at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, CA!

California’s Funniest Female Competition is produced by Bill Word, a veteran comedian and comedy producer in Orange County and boasts a line up of over 90 female comedians who compete for cash and prizes.

Even though the competition has the word “California” in it, there are no residential requirements so comedians have come from as far away as Ireland and Australia to compete.

One of the mantras I express in my classes is “Do the work.” I say that a lot.

If you have a grasp of the concept of structure and an understanding of the psychological laughter triggers, you can fill your writing—whether it be jokes, stories or your entire set—with triggered laugh points and engaging content, thus making your act not only laugh-filled but memorable as well.

And most of these competitions, where real judges are present, (as with this one), are not only about funny, but also about memorability.

If you’re a smart comic (and I know you are if you’re one of the 4 people who read my blog), then you will write that down, (“funny and memorability”).

Because, in her act, Pauline applies both.

Pauline is one of those comedians that gets it. She writes, re-writes, tests and re-writes again. Her work paid off and she took this competition by storm.

One of the judges commented to Pauline afterward and said, “To me, you were the clear winner! Great job!” Then he said to me, “Her comedy is unique, risky and memorable, without being crass or relying on profanity or pure shock to get laughs.”pauline-yasuda-jerry-corley

That’s because Pauline understands that comedy is about surprise and recognition. She applies that in her writing while still staying true to herself and the ultimate understanding of the concept that the audience needs to identify and empathize with the comedian and his or HER comedic persona.

Those of you who have followed my blog and have been in my seminars, you know that I’m a big fan of women in comedy. This business craves funny women and the trend has proved that to be true with funny females now being scooped up to star in sitcoms and movies.

Bridesmaids is a perfect example of this as being one of the first all-female cast comedy hits to hit the big screen and have enduring allure in video and streaming video.

The business is ripe.

So ladies, if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines because you don’t think you’re cut out for comedy or that women are not accepted in comedy, think again and jump in.

Pauline did and she’s now the Funniest Female in California!

Congratulations Pauline!

If you’ve thought about doing comedy or are interested in investigating the concepts of comedy and human laughter with a smarter and completely unique approach, then sign up for my free newsletter. You’ll receive free tips and lessons on creating material that gets response and hell, may even help you to win your next competition.

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