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:
- To engage
- To endorse
- To embarrass
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!**
As we stated in the earlier versions, the path on how to be a famous comedian can be tricky and evasive. Even if there were clear, concise, sure-fire steps one could take in learning how to be a famous comedian and even if you followed those steps to the letter, there is no guarantee that you would become a famous comedian. Believe it or not, even if the steps were known by everyone, only two percent of the readers of the steps would follow them and even less than that would achieve a level of fame that would fit our perceived definition of “famous.”
That being said, there are steps you can take to reach a level of success in comedy. In my view, when you reach a level of success in which you are supporting yourself in a comfortable manner by telling jokes for a living, you have become successful, or certainly reached a milestone of sorts, in your journey on how to become a famous comedian.
“Famous,” in this regard becomes relative to one’s definition.
You should be careful in setting your own definition of “famous.” Your desire for wanting to learn how to be a famous comedian should also be in place for the right reasons. Fame for the pure sake of fame is hollow. You wind up in the same category as “Balloon Boy’s” father, Tarek and Michaele Salahi, the White House party crashers or some wiry, crack addict who gets on a segment of Jerry Springer called, “Pimp My Bride!”
Becoming a comedian is a lot of work. It’s not easy. But it is thrilling! I’ve been a comedian for 25 years. I’ve reached a level of success where I am making decent living doing comedy. I haven’t worked a full-time day job in a very, very long time. I’ve almost forgotten what that’s like. I love what I do and everyday I get to wake up and say, “today I get to write jokes.” I love the challenge of finding something to write about everyday, soliciting work, selling jokes and getting up on stage and performing. I absolutely thrive in the work and the challenge.
If there were steps in learning how to be a famous comedian, they would go something like this:
- Master the the techniques in crafting comedy material (CLICK HERE and watch in real-time as I write 15 jokes in 30 minutes!)
- Write strong material, from a unique original perspective. Must have structure and regular solid laugh points (every 18-20 secs.).
- Perform as much as possible. Get smooth. Get solid.
- Get on television. (You do this by getting good and getting seen, either in clubs, festivals or submitting yourself to the shows and following up). and if that fails…
- Set yourself on fire at the Oscars or throw a pie in the face of Rupert Murdoch!
In other words, if you are getting into comedy just to be a famous comedian, don’t! It’s a long journey and has to be done for the right reasons. You’ve got to absolutely love it and you’ve got to be willing to do the work for the sake of doing the best work possible. If you’re doing it for the fame and to get on T.V., it would be easier to build your T.V. appearances by impregnating your sister and getting a slot on Jerry Springer.
“Yes, you can teach comedy. It is a skill as much as an art.” When I tell people I teach comedy. The first thing I usually hear is: “there’s such a thing as comedy schools?” “I didn’t know you could teach comedy!
That’s a point of contention with a lot of people; whether or not you can teach comedy. Well, I can sit here and tell you, unequivocally, that YES, you can teach comedy and, yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as comedy schools. Whether most of them are any good or not is an argument for another day.
I’ve been a professional comedian for 25 years. I’ve toured 40 weeks plus during each of those years. I also wrote for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” for 8 years. About 4 years ago I got the “teaching bug.” I know, sounds like a sickness, right? I opened my own comedy school in Burbank, California. In fact, out of all the comedy schools that are listed here in the Los Angeles area, I think I’m the only comedy teacher in Southern California that has a studio dedicated to comedy 24/7. I have first-hand experience that you CAN teach comedy, because my students go up at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, CA and are told by complete strangers that they are “funny,” and I have comedians who are regulars at the Comedy Store come up to me during their showcases and say, “Those guys are students?” It’s in the stucture.
I don’t know what they do in the other comedy schools, I can only tell you what happens in mine. Time and time again, I get people coming to my comedy school saying they learned more in 1 hour in my classes than they learned from an 8-week course in the other classes. I’m not saying that to blow my own horn—well, partially—I think the reason I’m writing this is to let you know that there is a lot of crap out there. Before you go out and blow four to five-hundred dollars on any of these comedy schools, you need to do your research.
Here’s a quick 3-step process for checking out any of these comedy schools:
- Look up the instructor in the internet. Does he have any video of himself performing comedy? Does he have any samples of his work in written form any where? Blogs, joke lists, comedy-writing submission packages for any of the talk shows? If they don’t have any sample work for you to see then throw out their number.
- If they have video or samples of their joke-telling or joke-writing ability, ask yourself: “Does it make me laugh?” “Does this guy/girl seem to know how to formulate a joke? Do they have timing? Are they getting laughs?
- If they don’t make you laugh, if they don’t seem to know how to formulate a joke and if you don’t think they have timing and can execute, then repeat step 1—throw out there number. Because going to one of those comedy schools where the teacher can’t seem to execute, is like taking flying lessons from someone who’s not a pilot. Eventually, you’re going to crash and burn.
Then ask them if you could sit in and “audit” a class. That’s where you get to see them in action, you get to see how a class is run, whether or not you fit with the “groove” of the comedy teacher and find out who they are.
I’m constantly writing and I still tour. I’m actively doing what I absolutely love and that’s comedy; both writing and performing. As far as video is concerned, you can check out a clip of me below. And it’s not just some random clip of a 2 or 3 minute segment that I pieced together with just the best stuff. It’s an hour set. Take a look! Scan through the bits. Fast forward and go back. When you get to the end, you’ll see a standing ovation. And again, I’m not telling you this to blow my own horn—(really, this time!).
I’m telling you this because I teach what I do and I do what I teach. I teach structure. It’s in the structure where the laughs come from. And I structure my whole set so that at the end there’s a build up and a release that causes the audience to respond with an ovation. It’s all in the structure.
There’s a guy online who’s offering an online comedy course (which I will be launching shortly). I tried to look for video of him online and there is none. He claims it’s because he’s worried that if he makes a come-back to stand up comedy, people will have stolen his material. I’ve got lot’s of video online. The way I figure it, if people steal my material, I’ll just write more…because I can. And so can most of my students, because that’s what I teach them. Comedy schools should teach you COMEDY, don’t you agree; both writing and performing.
So, if you’re looking for comedy schools, I would love for you to check mine out, The Stand Up Comedy Clinic. As you can tell I don’t try to mince words. I tell it like it is. Even if it’s brutal. In the words of Steve Martin, “Comedy is not pretty.”
And if you’re looking for comedy schools that you can take online, please do drop me an email and let me know. I will keep you posted when mine is completed and up on line, (ETA: October 1, 2011). This is my passion, my art, it’s what I live for and I love it. Thanks for taking a second to hear me rant on comedy schools.
Enjoy the video (it’s when I had hair!). And please leave a comment to tell me what you thought. Good or bad. Because we make our greatest strides when we learn from our mistakes. Keep laughing, my bitches! (And I mean that with love and in jest…so shut your pie hole!).
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