One of the biggest complaints I receive from comics and students trying to get mic time is that “everything seems to be a bringer show.”
Several of my students “burned out” their bringers, early in the game, just trying to get more time on stage to develop their act and build to thirty minutes…
Which leads me to the second most popular complaint: “How’s a comic develop 30-minutes when the only spots in town are six minute sets or, at most, ten?”
If you’re not familiar with the “bringer show,” read my post on bringer shows…
Let’s face it, a comedian has limited opportunities to play longer sets where he doesn’t have to worry about packing the room with his family and friends. So instead of complaining, let’s try to find solutions.
One of the best ways to get around the bringer show trap is to set up your own room. That’s right! Find a bar or restaurant or lounge that is a good location for a comedy room and pitch the idea to the owner.
In setting up a comedy room there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Let the owner know why it might be good for their business. Keep in mind, the only thing they are concerned about is how it will benefit their business. If they don’t see the benefit, then they probably won’t like your offer. Once you give them your best pitch and they can’t see the benefit, then move on to the next room.
Try to set the room up outside of the L.A. or your city’s perimeter. L.A. is filled with a glut of rooms. Your odds are better if you get to the outskirts of town.
Book quality comedians.
Set the show up professionally.
Run a tight show that runs about an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five.
Two of my students, David Conolly and Brian Zuanich, decided to set up a room in Long Beach at the Cohiba Club at the pier. They set up a curtain, lights and sound because they wanted to “transform” the club into what resembled at comedy club. They did a great job too! They put on their first show January 28th. The show was standing-room only. They put quality comedians on the stage, (all students from my Stand Up Comedy Class) and the audience loved it.
The owner did well at the bar (They had a bar/door split, where the club kept the bar and Brian and David kept the door). As a result of the successful evening, the owner told them, that normally he doesn’t do this because comedy “sucks.” But this group was a “class above the rest.” Now they are to have a regular show once a month in Long Beach.
Once they have this successful formula in place they just need to duplicate it in different locations outside the L.A. perimeter and they could wind up with weekly shows.
Keep in mind that your job as the show producer is to keep the best quality comedians on the bill and allow for one new person per week. If you consistently have good comedic talent on the stage and you have relentless promotion, then you might have some success, although there are no guarantees. Comedy rooms can be more fickle than a 9th grader during a first kiss. (I can say that because I was a ninth grader once and during my first kiss…the only thing I remember is that she told everyone how fickle I was).
Promoting and producing a comedy show as a comedian can be beneficial in multiple ways. You will benefit from booking your own room, building relationships with other comedians who want work and getting work from those other comedians who book rooms.
The bigger your network of comedians and friends in the business, the more opportunities come your way in the long run.
Most comedians I know are always looking for ways to improve. One of my goals as a comedian for 25 years, writer, comedy school owner and personal comedy coach, is to give my students the best information I can find, regarding comedy, so when I received a call from Eddie Brill that he was coming to L.A. to teach his comedy workshop, I wanted to be sure I put it on my comedy blog so that everyone has access to it.
Regardless of what your life’s study, you don’t reach a level of success by only learning from one teacher. I’ve taken the Eddie Brill workshops and he gives sound advice with regard to comedy. Eddie is a comedian’s comedian. He has a passion about the art of comedy that shared by only a few comics that I know.
Eddie’s experience as a comedian that spans nearly 30 years, and his inside knowledge as the talent coordinator for Late Night with David Letterman, (he was recently fired according to the Chicago Tribune), gives the comedian or anyone interested in comedy the opportunity to gain some unique knowledge from a person truly in the know.
Despite the recent development at Letterman, I would urge any comedian to attend Eddie’s weekend workshop or his evening seminar, not only for the knowledge Eddie imparts with regard to comedy, but also to add another quality connection to your comedy network, as Eddie continues his work coordinating the Great American Comedy Festival and surely will have his hand in another position in television as a talent coordinator in the near future.
Eddie will be in L.A. teaching his his workshop at the Hollywood Improv on January 26th, 27th and 28th. If you want to add another dimension to your understanding of stand up comedy, take the Eddie Brill Comedy Workshop. Be sure you use the VIP Code: “Jerry”.
You ever watch other comedians come to the club or the open-mic time and time again with new material? Are you envious? You ever watch other comedians just seemingly come up with material on the spot that makes you say to yourself “Genius! I wish I thought of that!” You ever wonder how they did it? How they seem to be able to do it time and time again?” You ask yourself how do they learn how to write comedy so well?
Well there are reasons that some comedians are good at this and some are not. In one instance you might say that a particular comedian is a “natural,” or he was “born with a gift.” But odds are he or she wasn’t “born with it” at all. Very few babies pop out of their mother’s womb saying stuff like “You call that a birth canal? It’s more like trying to push an egg through a stir stick!” or “Hey, Mom! Shave that! Haven’t you heard of a ‘Brazillian?’”
In most instances people who seem to be “born with it” actually had early exposure to comedy either through video or audio when they were younger. If you, as a child are exposed on a regular basis to the rhythms of comedy you begin to identify with comedy more readily and apply it in your life.
Your personality definitely has something to do with it. But the comedian then takes the next step and makes a conscious decision to actually apply it in their life. A light switch goes off and they say, “Hey, I can get laughs with this!” They then begin to recognize what they are doing that gets them laughter and they begin to replicate it. Whether they know it or not, they are learning how to write comedy.
A really good comedian will also study other comedians then apply some of the nuances to their material, recognizing patterns that seem to be consistently effective and use those in their approach to comedy. They see a comedian make an observational joke, then they observe something with a similar nuance and apply it to their repertoire. As they get better at this, they may start writing this stuff down and then actually take the leap, build an act and start pursuing comedy. The more they do comedy the more they readily identify with the patterns and apply them more.
For example, since I was seven years old, I listened to George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, constantly. They all do a lot of observational material. When I was twelve, I went to the Post Office with my father. There was a sign on the door that said, “NO DOGS ALLOWED, EXCEPT ‘SEEING-EYE DOGS’.” I said, “Dad, what’s a ‘seeing-eye’ dog,” (imagining a dog with one really big ‘seeing’ eye…).
He said, “It’s a dog that helps blind people get around…”
I looked at the sign, looked at him and said, “Then who’s this sign for?”
He thought that was really funny. A few years later, I heard comedian Gary Shandling do that same thing as a joke and get really big laughs. I thought to myself, “Wow, if I just collected a whole bunch of those ideas, I could get laughs too!”
It’s almost like a guitar player. You ask any famous guitar player, they’ll tell you how they learned a riff from another guitar player then developed a variation or multiple variations on that riff, until they had their own brand. The more riffs they learn, the more they developed their own version, soon they are the guitar player everyone is emulating.
What’s my point? The point is that a comedian learns to identify with patterns that get laughs. When those “patterns”—whether they are rhythmical patterns or recognition patterns—are part of what some of us in comedy refer to as “comedy structure” or “comedy formula.”
Some comedians, like Dave Chappelle, for example (one of my absolute favorites) develop an understanding of these rhythms by trial and error and experience. Chappelle has been doing stand up comedy since he was thirteen. He has learned what seems to work by developing and tuning his instinct. Jerry Seinfeld (another favorite of mine) also works almost totally on instinct. And when I say instinct, they apply formulas and patterns—not consciously knowing the formula—but because it ‘feels’ right.
In my twenty-five years as a comedian, comedy writer and diligent student of comedy, I have identified 11 major comedy formulas used in comedy today. I’ve learned to memorize them and put them into practice on a regular basis. Now when I write comedy they almost automatically come out and get applied to my stories. They also are a part of my conversation and thought process. Learning these formulas has helped me become a solid comedy writer, being able to write 60-120 jokes a day or more, because studying the formulas helped me really learn how to write comedy. I use these formulas on a daily basis to write comedy and in one of my other blog posts I demonstrate how I do this to write 15 jokes on one topic in thirty minutes.
Once you learn that comedy does have rhythms and patterns (formulas and structure) that do get consistent laughs and in fact are the reason all comedians trigger laughter from an audience, you will be a better comedian and comedy writer yourself. Learning the formulas early helps you to cut through the learning curve and instead of being a comedian that relies purely on their instinct, you can be the comedian who knows why a joke is funny and how to put it into your comedy whenever you want. Then you’ll be the comedian who knows not only how to be funny, but also, how to write comedy.
Comedian Lesson: When I tell my students that you can write comedy about anything, I mean that. There are ways–I believe–to talk about anything using humor…
One of my students recently asked if you could write comedy material about family members dying. I said, “Yes!” In fact it’s healing and cathartic and it gives you an opportunity to do more than just jokes. It gives you an chance to be human.
Here’s a 2 minute segment of me doing a bit about my mother dying. Notice how I talk about the incident and talk around it at the same time, using elements that are a part of the story to convey the struggle of being a comedian going through sadness following the death of my mother.
The key is to just starting writing the truth and being honest. Within that you will find the turns, and begin to recognize the places where you can insert double-entendre humor, word, play, incongruity, recognition and surprise. And once you do, you will be able to write comedy, not only about death, but about anything.
In this mini module of ‘Comedian Lessons,’ I’m simply going to lay out a simple technique that a lot of comedians—including myself—forget to do.
Have you ever been performing a gig and you’re just not getting the laughs you expect? I mean you’ve done this material before and it’s gotten great response, but tonight, nothing! Luke warm at best. There are probably at least a dozen reasons the audience isn’t giving you the love you expect. But in this comedian lesson we are going to focus on slowing down our pace.
I was performing at a Jewish Temple fundraiser at Beverly Hills High School years ago where a ton of top comedians were performing. I mean Norm Crosby was there Max Alexander, Danny Ganz (rated best Las Vegas Act 5 years straight…but now dead…). It was a 2-night gig and I was the 3rd comedian on the bill. Most of the audience was fairly well-to-do and had left middle age in the dust in like, 1980. To say they were old would be giving them a compliment.
They were still meandering into the auditorium after the second comedian had gotten on stage.
After most were seated, they brought me up and I figured I’d kick it into gear with some high energy delivery. I felt like I needed to shake up the place. My set was okay, the audience seemed to like me, but the laughs were in short supply. When I stepped off stage Norm Crosby (Google him kids ), told me that I have really great stuff, but I need to slow down. He said, “keep your energy up but slow down. The average age of this audience is deceased so you have to really take your time.”
The next night I stepped on stage. I started fast again (I was young and hard-headed), then I glanced to the wings and Norm Crosby was standing there mouthing “slow down!” I don’t know if you’ve done this, but when you’re already moving at a fast pace, it’s tough to slow down. I looked at Norm again and he sort of took an exaggerated deep breath—I figured that he was either coaching me to breathe or he was so exasperated with me that he was finding it hard to breathe!
I finally got the message. I took a deep breath and slowed down my pace…
Almost immediately, after the breath, the jokes started to get really solid laughs and I finished strong with some great applause. Afterward I received a ton of compliments from members of the audience. It was a simple matter of slowing down, which was counter to my instinct, which was telling me to give it to them hard and fast.
Reasons to slow down:
It gives the audience a chance to hear and understand you.
It gives the audience time to properly process your set up. So your punchline will be effective.
Going fast forces the audience to think too quickly and most audiences are there to relax. If they feel they are working too hard to understand you then you are going to lose them very quickly.
One mentor once said to me: Treat your audience like fourth graders, but in a good way. Slow down and make sure you see that they are getting what you’re saying. Then they will follow you to the punch and give you a solid laugh.
That was a great lesson for me as a comedian and I hope it helped you in this module of “Comedian Lessons.”
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Comedy Clinic student J.C. Morgan to do a set for Showtime!
Comedian and Stand Up Comedy Clinic student JC Morgan, also winner of the “Funniest Comic in L.A.” contest, was recently asked to appear on Showtime for a special they are shooting on ‘pot’ comedy. JC is a very talented writer and comedian and is a perfect example of a student who works hard and applies the techniques taught in Jerry Corley’s classes. He gets noticed, wins comptetitions and now is doing his first special for T.V.! This is all in less than two years.
So What are you waiting for? Get yourself going in comedy and sign up for a class today!