We had our combined showcase this Thursday at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, for our Beginning/Advanced comedy class.
The bill was filled with 18 comedians ready to hit the stage to showcase. That’s a lot of comedians for one show, but to top it off we had to complete the show in a timely manner, because we had to clear the mainroom to let it get set for the late show.
Talk about pressure! Mix in with that the fact that I had a baby-sitter fall through and had to miss the show and you’ve got a tough beginning to an evening that had its obstacles.
Then the comedians, many of them doing a showcase for the very first time arrived to the club to discover that their time had been cut back from seven minutes to six. It can be stressful for a comedian to have to suddenly cut their time, especially for a newbie.
But the show went on and as I hear it (I can’t wait to get the video), and the show was great. Everyone did their best and had good sets. The show ended on time–for the most part… and, despite the stress of time-cuts, nobody died from a brain aneurism or anything like that.
Getting your time cut is commonplace in this business. I have a friend, Don Richardson, a professional comedian for 25 years, a regular at the Comedy Store. Don’s a real pro with real world experience who possesses a very good reputation…
One night he showed up at the Comedy Store for his scheduled 10pm set. As Don arrived at the Comedy Store he checked the list and there were 8 comedians that still needed to go on. Just then, Andrew Dice Clay took the stage in the Original Room in a surprise appearance. Dice decided to do an hour and a half. By the time Dice finished, it was 11 o’clock and with the 8 comics still remaining.
Don knew he probably wasn’t going to get on that night.
I asked him how he felt about that. He said, “In this business, these things happen. You’ve got to learned to roll with the punches., It could be worse. I could be punching a clock.
So there’s a great lesson to be learned here. That lesson is this: from the best laid scenarios to the worst planned events, comedians have to learn to be able to adjust to the show. A comedian is a rare person. They not only can make an audience of strangers laugh, they can do it under circumstances that are not always ideal.
We learn as comedians to take these things in stride. For some of you this may the first time something like this happened, but I assure you that if you continue in the comedy business it won’t be the last. Having your time cut short is a common thing to deal with in this business called show business. It’s so common, it becomes part of your craft.
You might be a solo act on stage as a comedian or a duo, or whatever, but in the total scheme you’ve got to be a utility man, you’ve got to be the guy or guys (and I say that not to leave out girls, but because of language limitation), who can roll with the punches and rise to the occasion under any circumstances.
On one hand as a comedy student, you prepared for a seven minute act. On the other hand you learned an advanced lesson and you’ve had real-world comedy experience, just like Don Richardson.
Have you encountered a similar situation? Or have a war story? Share it!
There are a lot of sayings I remember from the greats, that stick with me to guide me and motivate me during my journey in comedy. I thought I’d share some with you while telling you a story in this comedy lesson that may help you learn to avoid not being invited back.
Spencer Tracy once said, “Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you meet those same people on the way down.” No place is this more true than in show business. Every business has their fair share of heady, selfish, temperamental people but show business tends to get more than its fair share. And it’s in this business where your attitude can get you in big trouble and that’s what this edition of comedy lessons is focused on.
One of my favorite sayings is actually from a club booker in Vegas: he said, “Jerry, I’m-a break your legs…” Kidding! The booker is Tony Camacho and he books Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at The Tropicana Hotel. He said, “Be remembered NOT for what you do off-stage. Be remembered for what you do on-stage.”
Coming up in this business I learned to always be nicer than expected, earlier than expected and more prepared than expected and I try to convey that to my students in my comedy courses. Clubs have rules and if you don’t respect the rules you can do yourself and your fellow comedians a disservice.
One of those rules in comedy is to “mind the light.” In most comedy clubs, you are given a certain amount of time to perform on stage. At many of the clubs in L.A. it’s 5-7 minutes, sometimes you can get longer, but most clubs you get 5-7. Clubs have a system to let the performer know when their time is up. Usually there is a light set up somewhere in the showroom that will be turned on when you have 1 minute left in your set. After that, the light flashes and that basically means ‘get the hell off the stage.’
Minding your light shows that you are a professional. It shows that you know how to put together a 5-7 minute set, execute it, and get off the stage on time. Subsequently, it shows a T.V. talent coordinator that you know how to craft a tight set and wrap it up on time and in television, time is crucial.
My class recently had a showcase at the Comedy Store in the main room and one of my comedy students decided he would ‘run the light.’ This essentially means he planned to intentionally go over his time to try to get more time on the stage and thus a longer set on video. He bragged about it back stage and then took the stage. At six minutes his light came on and right then he started a bit that was at least 3 minutes long if not longer. At seven minutes the light started to flash and he ignored it, continuing his set.
The show producer cued music stopping this comedian in his tracks. (Music being played is the equivalent of the ‘hook’). The comedian said, “good night” and left the stage. But running the light wasn’t bad enough for this comic, he then bitched and moaned about it backstage while other comedians were trying to get into the right frame of mind to prepare themselves for their sets. Then he stormed out from the backstage area to the back of the showroom and started yelling at the producer, “That’s f**king bullshit. That’s so unprofessional!”
The comedian not only was incredibly unprofessional himself and intentionally ignored the light, he then started blaming everyone else! The guy has zero introspection a sure-fire personality flaw that will ultimately lead to failure…unless you’re Christian Bale.
This is one of the fastest ways to not be asked back by a club producer or booker. Despite the fact that this comedian was told numerous times to mind the light in the past, he thought he’d disrespect the club, the booker and his fellow comedians. The audience heard his yells of protest, too, as he marched to the back of the showroom.
So what’s the comedy lesson? He’ll definitely be remembered, not for what he did on-stage, but for what he did off-stage, and probably won’t—at least by that booker—be invited back.
What’s this video have to do with getting an audition or an agent as a comedian or actor? Good question! The answer is simple: Many actors and comedians don’t get work because they give up trying way too soon. If they are lucky enough to get a booker or an agent on the phone, they get one “NO!” and they give up.
You Need Persistence
A comedian or actor—whether you’re trying to get representation from an agent, get seen by a casting director or get get booked by a club booker, needs persistence, “polite” persistence. We hear someone say “no,” or at best nobody returns our calls or emails and we give up. We get that familiar lump in the pit of our stomachs, that feeling of rejection and we stop calling. Most of us don’t like that feeling, because…well, it doesn’t feel good! So we give up. I mean why revisit that feeling right?
Well you have to keep calling and keeping in touch because it’s your job. Many times, even after you meet an agent or casting director and they see that you are good, they simply forget who you are. It’s a simple as that. They are not attacking you personally they just don’t think about you, because they are incapable…because few humans have the capacity to truly multi-task.
Take an actress for example. My student Kim Hopkins is a fine actress. She attends casting workshops and consistently gets the highest ratings in her reviews from casting directors. They literally gush over her. A manager she’s been trying to get to represent her can’t understand why she’s not getting called in.
“Why aren’t they calling you in for these auditions?”
It all comes down to multi-tasking.
Although our brains are bad with multi-tasking, they are excellent with focusing on one task at a time. So when Kim does the workshop, the casting director may love her and think she’s the bee’s knees. But when that casting director goes back to work and has a thousand submissions for a job Kim might be perfect for, Kim is not even close to being in their thoughts, simply because it’s impossible! The brain doesn’t operate that way.
This is Where The Manager Comes In
If the manager was doing their job, they would give a call to the casting director and remind them that Kim was in their workshop. That simple reminder that operates what’s known as bottom-up brain function (something that gets our attention like a phone ringing), could be the trick to getting Kim into the brain of the casting director. Does that make sense?
If I was a manager and I knew an actress was going to the workshops and getting great reviews with casting directors that were consistently working, I would represent that actress in a flash, because she just made my job a thousand times easier! All I have to do is submit, then make a phone call to remind the casting director about the actress.
How Does This Affect You As a Comedian or Actor?
So how does this affect you as a comedian or actor? Well, you have to keep calling every three weeks or so. Keep them posted on what you’re doing via Facebook, your website, twitter. Visit them often at casting workshops. Drop by a club to do a guest set. Make sure you keep reminding them who your are, stay polite and persistent, and never let the lack of return phone calls get you down. It’s nothing personal, they just can’t multi-task.
What do I mean by “comedian-actor?” Well in my years as an actor/comedian I’ve never seen the acting business be so competitive as it is today. My actor friends are constantly complaining—and rightly so—that they’re not working as much as they used to. Nobody is really. There are valid reasons for that: more reality television, less scripted, would be one reason. But another reason is competition.
Think about it, years ago we used to be submitted to jobs by our agents who used a messenger to drop off headshots and resumes at casting offices. We were usually up against anywhere from 100 to 600 other actors for one job.
Now, everything is done electronically. Submissions are done with the click of a mouse and we now find ourselves competing with 1200 to 1600 submissions and more. How do you stand out? One suggestion: Don’t just stand out, Stand Up!
That’s right. I studied acting for many years both in New York and L.A. My father was a successful character actor for 60 years and I learned that you could be out of work for a stretch. That was why I originally started doing stand up. So I could work when I “wasn’t working.”
I found that doing comedy kept me busy and also kept me on the radars of casting directors I had built relationships with…
Why? Because, for the most part, industry decision-makers revere comedians. They have enormous respect for what we do, partly because they fear doing it themselves. When a casting director, creative director or rep sees you doing comedy and having a good set, they equate that laughter to laughter coming from an audience in a movie theatre or a living room. It’s quite powerful…as Dick Cook, former Chairman of Disney said, “Funny is money.”
I’ve had several actors take my course and wind up getting some great traction in their careers. Several have booked jobs or gotten agents. One of my favorite stories is Michelle Gomez (above). She took my class, I helped her develop a 10-minute comedy routine that she performed at the Comedy Store. She had a lot of industry attend and she wound up booking 2 pilots. And in the year prior, she couldn’t get arrested!
After she booked the pilots she sent an email to me that said, “Jerry, thank you for single-handedly restoring my confidence…” That is a lovely compliment, yes?
What’s my point? Stand Up Comedy is an excellent showcase for an actor. It shows that you have confidence and poise and shows that you can deliver the goods and get laughs…and after all, funny is money, right?
Before I begin, it’s important to reiterate that “How To Be A Famous Comedian” is a series in my comedy blog dedicated, not to show how to be a famous comedian, but to show the path to getting work, which includes learning the craft of humor writing and comedy performance along with the trials and tribulations of the business that surround this art form. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you’re goal is only to learn how to be a famous comedian, you’ll have much better luck getting press by knocking over a string of 7-11’s, than doing stand up comedy. Comedy requires hard work, persistence and a bit of luck, but with the right combination of having a firm grasp on writing comedy, developing your comedy performance skills, as well as navigating the business, you can make a pretty darn good living pursuing a career in an incredible art form.
Wow! I am always amazed at where I find information that teaches me lessons that I can continue to apply as I move through this amazing business. I was reading an article on the rise and fall of the Dana Carvey Show, a show that was cancelled after like 3 episodes, (It taped 5). You might ask yourself how does this teach anything? It failed! And how does it apply to the theme of “How To Be A Famous Comedian?”
As comedians or we have to remember that show business is two words and we have to emphasize both words. Writing great material and learning to master performance are key skills, but the famous comedian (and Dana Carvey certainly fits that bill), also knows how to navigate the business. Do they make mistakes? Sure! This article helps us all learn from the mistakes that were made in getting The Dana Carvey Show on the air and why a show that could have survived, died a certain death. It also teaches us about the people involved and we get to hear their thoughts. It makes it a more human process and helps to light the fire in all of us.
We spend a good portion of our careers thinking that the executives and the stars are above us. So far that they are out of reach. Reading articles like this one will help to assure you that everyone started somewhere. Did you know that Steven Colbert was Steve Carell’s understudy at Second City? Did you know that Saturday Night Live often holds auditions for their show in the Summer?
This information is important to read. You get to see that some of the famous comedians that did make it also went through periods where they didn’t make it. They got passed on for roles. You get to understand that it happens to everyone. That’s all part of how to be a famous comedian. Try then fail. Back to work. Try then fail again. Back to work. Try, then succeed.
When you read the article, make notes. Learn from the article. Learn the names. These are important people to be familiar with. You should do this with every article you read. It will help in your journey to learn how to be a famous comedian. Or have fun and success trying.
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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!