Here’s another in my series on How To Be A Famous Comedian. (Disclaimer: if you’re in it to be famous, you’re in it for all the wrong reasons…you need to be in it because it’s in YOU–wait is that a Gatorade commercial? However, one of the ways to learn how to be a famous comedian is to learn from the comedians who are already famous so here’s an interesting clip from Ricky Gervais, one of my favorites)
In my classes I teach that the comedian has to be liked. You never put yourself above the audience. As the audience, we want to root for you. When you stand up there and you think you’re “all that,” you’re not going to get any respect from the audience and you’re certainly not going to get any respect from Ricky Gervais.
Take this approach into consideration when you’re writing your comedy material. When you pump yourself up for any reason, knock yourself down a peg. When I talk about my time playing soccer I say this: “When I was 20 I played professional soccer–for a short period of time, as it was a game of skill–” Then I go on to tell this story of how I played on an all Latino team and was the only white guy. But boosting myself up by saying I played professional soccer, may sound like bragging to the audience, so I follow it immediately by “for a short period of time, as it was a game of skill.” It knocks me back down a peg.
Stand up comedy is not about being prettier, sexier or smarter than the audience, it’s about stumbling…and getting back up. It’s one of the oldest formulas in comedy…I’m just trying to get from point A to point B and I keep running into obstacles. Here’s the irony: the more you stumble and get back up, the more the audience roots for you to win. I hope you enjoy the clip from Ricky Gervais. Take a look at my other blog posts, there’s a lot of information about comedy and if you liked this video, please leave a comment below. Stay funny!
Chris Rubeiz came to The Stand Up Comedy Clinic as a talented actor and a writer who had done some improv and had some acting jobs. He had also written and shot some sketches and shorts. But he had never done stand up and always wanted to.
In the first couple of weeks Chris struggled with material. His act was all about taking a sh*t at work…(not in the office but in the restroom), all while his boss was in the other stall. Could be funny, but I let him know the limitations of having an all ‘scat’ set.
Well Chris did what few people do…he really went to work. In 8 short weeks, Chris wrote and developed a brand new 7-minute comedy set that had teeth and and definite laugh points and best of all structure. I emphasized that it is the structure in your comedy that will set you apart from other comedians and it will give you definite, crisp laugh points.
After he performed his culmination set in The Belly Room at the world famous Comedy Store, he was asked back to perform in the Main Room. Now I’m under no illusions as to why he was asked to return. Despite the fact that his set was solid, he brought a bunch of people to the club that night and the booker wanted him to repeat that feat and bring more to the Mainroom. After all, it is a “bringer” show.
I try not to knock another man’s hustle and I get the game. I didn’t come up through the trenches of comedy participating in bringer shows and I have no qualms sharing my feelings about them.
In my classes I teach at my comedy studio, I try to be as transparent as possible about what a bringer show is and how it works. I want my students to have no illusions about this business—both the positives and negatives. I suggest to my students to use the ‘bringers’ to their advantage and only participate when they can benefit from them. (I.E.: If an agent is coming or a manager or casting director, or if there is a chance to get a great tape).
So Chris called and asked my advice. He said he wanted to try the Mainroom once and the booker had told him that an agent was going to be present. I’m not going to mention his name, but I know the booker and he has a good reputation and is a very talented comedian himself, (that should narrow down the choices, huh?). The gig fit the criteria we discussed so Chris did the Mainroom.
Low and behold, the booker once again exceeded his reputation and the agent was in the room. Chris brought his people, rocked his set and the agent asked him for a meeting. Chris signed with Jamie Ferrar of JFA this week.
Navigating this business requires good instincts and a thoughtful approach. Chris is one of those guys who is not only creative and talented but also a thinker. He approached this with thought and good instincts and it paid off. His talent, work ethic and drive will continue to take him down the road of success and I’m glad to be a part of it! Congratulations Chris! Jamie is getting the better end of the deal.
I was just writing something about a video I came across on YouTube. It was Louis C.K. paying tribute to the great George Carlin. Then I received an email from a student of mine referring me to HuffPost Comedy which is a segment of the Huffington post. They had beat me to it and written their own piece on Louis’s tribute.
Louis says so many of the things that I have said about George Carlin, so I am going to share those thoughts on it. I am no HuffPost writer so if you want to ready their article you can find it here.
In the video, Louis talks about how George Carlin inspired him to dig deeper and find more material. Like a lot of comedians I know, Louis had the same act for 15 years. Think about it! Fifteen years of the same material! George Carlin would do an HBO special, then chuck out all the material he did in that special and write a brand new act for the next special. How’s that for inspiration?
I had an opportunity to meet George about 20 years ago and the advice he gave me was gold. He said, “Take the stuff that drives you absolutely f**king crazy and make it funny…” That was when my entire approach to comedy changed.
In the video below you’ll get to see Louis C.K. talk about a similar experience he had in his career as a result of George Carlin. I think George has inspired many of us. He certainly inspired me and still does. So many things he said still resonate in my mind and I still apply them in my writing and teaching.
I am always writing and I encourage my students to write constantly, dig deeper, really go for it to find the jokes and say something that’s important to you, something that actually means something. George said there’s three levels of comedy:
Funny with good ideas.
Funny with good ideas and compelling language.
It’s great advice.
People are blown away that George Carlin actually threw away an act and wrote an entirely new act each and every year. One of the reasons is we are often taught that it’s really hard to come up with material. And it is sometimes, but so what? Who said it was going to be easy, right?
There are other reasons we fight that urge to write. In some comedy classes, teachers actually say to their students, “if you write one new joke every week, at the end of the year you’ll have fifty-two new jokes and I think, What?! Hey, if you’re a television writer and you write one new joke every day, you’re fired!
Bottom line is this: George Carlin taught us that ideas are a dime a dozen. As comedians, we are an endless fountain of material, we just have to dig deep to find it.
Enjoy the video! Louis has earned the right to pay this tribute. He is probably the next George Carlin.
Comedy Lessons is a series in my comedy blog that deals with individual solutions to problems that arise in the pursuit of a career in stand up comedy or comedy writing. These comedy lessons are a direct response to situations that have happened to myself while performing live or to my colleagues or students and what lessons can be derived from those particular situations. Make sense? Here we go!
One of the important comedy lessons a comedian should learn is about Hecklers. This subject, in itself, should be a multi-part series, because of the variety of conditions that cause a heckler to heckle in the first place and the multitude of ways in which a comedian can respond.
First of all a heckler is any person who calls out something in the middle of a comedian’s show. Why does a heckler do this?
I’ve put together three reasons:
1. To Engage: Most hecklers, in my experience aren’t trying to ruin the show. They want to be involved. They want to engage with you. Most really think they are helping you. Almost all hecklers who have called out something in my show come up to me at the end of the show and say something like, “see, I was just trying to help you…and it worked, huh?”
You want to say, “No Jethro. It didn’t help. If I was seeking help on where to get a new water heater for my double-wide, I would call on you. If I was looking for advice on the nearest crack house, you’d be the first guy I’d go to. If I needed a “how-to” guide to get on the fast-track to gum-disease, I’d already have you on speed dial.”
But I don’t say that because, secretly, I’m appreciative. Any heckler gives me a chance to hone my skills at ad-lib, to be quick on my feet. When a heckler pipes up, I have to realize that I am in the middle of one of the most challenging comedy lessons available. It’s comedy without a net. I’m flying high and I do or die on my own. It’s comedy “Survivor.” And it’s an absolute rush.
2. To Endorse: Some hecklers are in it to espouse their brilliance…or yours! They’ll say something like, “Yeah, I did that!” or “Dude that was f**cking wrong…funny, but wrong! This kind of just adds to the show. It makes it more like it’s you and a pack of your pals having a good time drinking beer together and that’s okay.
3. To Embarrass: Then there comes the occasional heckler that wants to embarrass. He or she is usually drunk, is seeking negative attention or they are nervous. What? Nervous? Yes! There is psychology in comedy that states, “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in…” and we’re not talking geography. What this means is, if the performer is nervous, then the audience is nervous, they don’t know they are nervous, they just feel deeply uncomfortable. They deal with this by calling out something to deal with their discomfort. Picture a good-ole boy sitting watching your show, you’re nervous-he’s nervous. This makes him uncomfortable so he shouts out, “YOU SUCK!” Other people laugh because it was surprising but it helped them feel better as well. Now the good-ole boy feels better and he gets some negative attention.
The comedy lesson to learn here is that hecklers are unavoidable. You can write an prepare some heckle lines to deal with certain situations. Like if someone is with a group of people and says something, I might respond, “So what’s going on there? (Referring to his table). Are these all your friends, or are you the only one in the trailer park who has a car? Because I’ve seen your house and I love what you’ve done with the Michelins.”
I have a bunch of standard heckle lines that I’ve written and used over the years. Some are pretty cutting.
A biker who was sitting in front row at a comedy show wanting to engage, continuously. He was with a very sexy biker chick in a low cut top and he kept referring to her as his “old-lady.” Finally he said something that was kinda mean. Now, because he was directly mean to me, I now have Carte Blanche from the audience to slay him. After the audience groaned at what he said I thought for a moment, then said, “You know, Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles? The sound has a patent!”
At this point the audience was curious…what’s Harley Davidson owning a patent on a sound have to do with anything?
Then I said, “I wonder who owns the queef. Because I f**cked your wife last night, and I think I owe some royalties.”
That resulted in laughs, followed by a solid applause break and a thumbs up from the biker.
Hecklers are one of the biggest, on the job, comedy lessons you can get for free. In a nutshell, I try to treat my hecklers like my closest friends. Because, if you think about it, most of the heckles sound like something your friends might say to you when you’re hanging out. If you can deal with them with a smile and a clever retort, you can keep the energy of the room at the mood and level for which they hired you—Fun and FUNNY!
**Need some help coming up with some heckle lines? Go to my Comedy Lessons Page and sign up for a Skype Lesson with me and I’ll help you one-on-one!**
I was at the Comedy Store last night. I was talking to a young comedian about crafting a joke and the importance of writing everyday and this other comedian butts in and says, “I don’t give a damn about any of that, I just want to know how to be a famous comedian!”
What this comedian didn’t realize was that I just saw him do about an 10-minute set and not only did he run the light, (went way over his time), disrespecting the audience, the booker and his fellow comics, he also did a whole 2-minute bit about not putting kids on “time-out” but putting them on “knock-out,” (a bit that’s more worn out than a Vegas hooker on New Year’s Eve). When he said “I just want to know how to be a famous comedian,” I remember thinking to myself, not with that act!
I’ve been doing comedy for 25 years. I’ve written for Jay Leno for 8 years. So I try my best not to be negative when I’m around other comedians. I’m honest, just not negative. The truth is there is no direct answer to the quest of “how to be a famous comedian,” but there are guidelines.
Write, write and write some more!
One of the crucial keys to making it in this industry is originality. That’s one thing bookers look for when scouting for talent. They also look for how well you craft a joke. Most stand up comedy on late night talk shows is about well-crafted jokes and routines, not about big act-outs. The only way to develop that is by writing and writing a lot. Most comedians, I’ve noticed don’t actually write a lot. They wait for something funny to happen to them and they write it down or record it somehow. That’s a good way to get material, mind you, but it’s only one way. When you learn the fundamentals of comedy including joke structure and technique, then you can make something funny, rather than wait for something to be funny.
A comedian should be spending several hours every day writing. Most don’t. One of the problems is that most comedians and wanna-be comedians equate comedy with frivolity and they treat their profession frivolously. That’s one way NOT to be a famous comedian.
Stage Time is King!
Once you have a well-crafted act (I have a lot of posts on techniques) of 5-7 minutes, then it’s time to hit the stage. Writing is great for the crafting of the material and really sharpening your sense of humor, but nothing beats getting on the stage. A comedian who is looking for notoriety, (whether they are trying to get famous or not), should be hitting the open-mics at least 3 times a week. If you can’t commit to that, you might want to consider a different line of work. You have to develop your act, your timing and your comfort level on stage so you can learn to be yourself while standing in front of complete strangers and the only way to do that is stage time. Sure, open-mics can be grueling. The audience is usually notoriously comedian-heavy and sometimes they can feel unrewarding. But the mere consistent appearance and mic-work will eventually payoff. If you’re doing good work, you’ll gain respect and reach at least some level of fame with the other comedians.
When I was doing the open mics, I was up at least 4 nights a week, at least and sometimes several times in one night. I gained a reputation as a good writer. There’s a nice feeling that accompanies walking into a room and having people talk about you—in a good way! I was always nice to everyone too and if I heard another comedian do a joke and thought of a tag for the joke I would always write it down and offer it to the comic as a suggestion.
Some of the best advice I got from Jay Leno. He said “write faster than everybody else and your reputation will precede you.” It was true. I was “famous” within certain circles for being a really good writer and comedian.
Develop your act and hit the road!
Once you’ve written and honed an act of between 15-30 minutes of solid material, (“solid” meaning a laugh point every 18-20 seconds), then it’s time to hit the road and develop it. When you start working night after night, you really start to develop as a comedian. The beauty of the road is that you’re out there working on comedy 24 hours a day. You write during the day and perform at night. By the end of 4 months on the road, you should have the makings for about an hour of material. When you feel completely secure in your material. It’s time to start submitting yourself to T.V. talent coordinators. Some bookers take DVD’s, some like to see links on the internet and YouTube.
You can contact the bookers by getting the “Hollywood Creative Directory.” It lists all the shows that are on the air and their staffs. Be sure to check out the style of comedian that gets booked on each show. Fallon is different from Kimmel and Ferguson is different from Leno. Once you feel you fit a certain show. Send a DVD right to the booker with a note that says “I’m a regular watcher of your show and I think my act fits with what you do. Please take a look.” Be sure that your name and contact info is on the DVD and the cover of the DVD as they often they get separated.
There is no certainty of success only the joy of the work!
Other than working hard on both parts of the word show-business there are no rules or guarantees to success. My Dad, who was a successful character actor, once said to me, “You have to get into this business for the right reasons. If you get into it to be famous, get out now, because odds are that’s not going to happen. If you get into because it’s who you are and you stay true to being the best you can be and doing the best work possible, you will reach such a great personal level of success and gratification that the idea of how to be a famous comedian won’t be as important as being the best comedian you can be.