Comedy Class | Need A Laugh? Tell The Truth!

swear-inHmmm? What’s that you say? Tell the truth? Why do I need to waste my time telling the truth when I’m busy trying to be funny?

One of the best things about comedy is that almost anything goes, especially the truth.

My comedy students ask me: “what do I do when they’re not laughing?” My first response is, “Write better jokes!”  But when the joke or idea is pretty good and they’re still not laughing what do you do to get through the set? Your best bet is honesty… and when I say “honesty,” I mean honesty about exactly how you feel at that moment.

You know what? It almost never fails!

I’ve been teaching this little gem in my comedy classes from the beginning and only the best implement it. But when they do, it works. One of my students was having a trying set at the Comedy Store. He’s a natural so he didn’t think he needed to prepare thoroughly. He thought he could basically get on stage and “riff” it.

After the first couple of jokes didn’t resonate the way he hoped, you could actually see him go right into his head. He started to sweat. Then something snapped and he said to himself, “fuck it.”

He let out a sigh and said to the audience. “Man, this stuff was getting laughs in my head when I rehearsed it.” The audience let out a strong laugh. It was a laugh that came from release. The release of tension of them empathizing for a comedian who was bombing.

Then he said, “The last place I want to be right now is right here on this stage.” The audience laughed harder and then applauded. They applauded out of the fact that someone, anyone in their lives was being purely honest. This comedian, whom they didn’t know, just bared his soul in front of them. They rewarded him with applause.

After that, he was able to recover, get out of his head and finish his set.

Seventeen comedians and two drinks later a couple approached him after the show. They said, “You were our favorite.” He was like, “Why?” They said, “because you were so REAL.”

So the next time you feel the jokes aren’t clicking… Tell the truth!

Comedian Lesson: Paralyzed By Analysis

Trying to make a decision on whether or not to try stand up comedy or whether or not to get into stand-up? It’s not an easy decision. As humans our ability to think about the modeled world is extremely effective our abilities to problem solve and develop an innovative approach to solve a problem is highly advanced. However our ability to foresee the effects of a decision in the distant future is our dilemma. We can get caught up in the decision making process, almost to the point of paralysis; we get stuck in perpetual indecision… or according to Princeton neuroscientist Sam Wang:

Human brains house a tremendously complex prefrontal cortex, which gives us the capability to think about a modeled world and contemplate the future. Where we get caught up is our ability to predict the long-term effects of our decisions. “It’s difficult to judge whether some life decision you make today will make you happy a few years down the road,” says Wang. To get around this limitation, he recommends  learning from someone who has been faced with the same decision: “They can report accurately whether it made them happy or unhappy.”

Finding a Solution

Lot’s people I talk to mention to me that they’ve thought about doing stand up. It’s something they’ve always wanted to do. These people come to me in their forties and fifties. They talked to family and friends and asked them about it and got a mixed response.

What Mr. Wang is saying is that you should talk to someone who has made that decision and seen the result of that choice. It’s almost a real glimpse into the future from someone who has lived it!

I’ve been there. I made the decision long ago that I wanted to do stand up comedy for a living. I knew there would be tough times, but I also knew that if I applied myself that I would accomplish my goals.

It was the best decision of my life! I am immersed in comedy every day. My whole career is based on creating humor as well as teaching it.

If you want to get into stand up comedy. Do it! Give it a shot! You can always change your mind and go manage a car dealership later. It’s better than being stuck at forty or fifty and wondering if you should’ve done it.

Promoting Your Video via Email

Want to email your video to bookers, managers or agents? Here’s a quick tutorial.
So you have your video done and you want people to see it. You put it up on YouTube, but now what? I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how one goes about getting the video out there, so I put a quick tutorial together on how to email your YouTube video. I hope you find this useful!

[jwplayer config=”Facebook 560x315_noauto_share” mediaid=”2339″]

3 Key Mistakes in Writing Jokes

I got an email from a person interested in doing stand up comedy and he saw my How To Write Comedy video online. In the video I take a headline right from Yahoo News and I write 15 jokes in about 30 minutes using what I call the listing technique.

The gentleman understood the concept but was having a hard time when it came time to write the material on his own from scratch. Sound familiar? So he emailed me a few questions including the line he was working with. The line was:

“Hand Sanitizer: The new vodka for teens”

Now that’s a headline!

One definition of a joke is “The convergence of two or more clearly identifiable ideas coming together.” It’s incongruity; comedy 101. You may already know this, but the incongruity comedy structure is probably the most common structure used in commercially accepted comedy today. It basically means you are imposing the characteristics of one thing onto another thing which normally does not possess those characteristics.

That headline does present us with two clearly identifiable ideas that are converging: Hand Sanitizer and drinking teenagers. But the problem with that headline is that it is a headline. It may work as a written piece of material but it doesn’t work for stand up because there is no conversation happening. In other words you would never talk this way so how would you present this to an audience?

Mistake #1:

When working with headlines. You must go beyond the headline to find the statement of fact that clearly defines to the reader or audience what we are talking about. The line must contain all the information we need to convey what is going on to the reader or listener. These are the facts. That’s why it’s called the straight line.

Mistake #2:

The line must be conversational. Many times people are trying to write jokes from the news or the headlines we forget to be conversational. The key to making someone laugh is surprise. If you sound like you are just telling someone a story and they are not expecting a twist that turns into a joke, then the joke is more effective.

Johnny Carson stood on that star on the Tonight Show for 30 years and we knew he was there to do his monologue. But he would start each joke in a conversational tone which made it sound like he was just sharing something he read or heard today. “Oh! I heard this today…” So if we used that concept for this joke premise it might sound like: “Oh I heard this today…apparently, in an effort to get drunk, some teens are now drinking hand sanitizer.”

Do you see how that changed the tone of the headline and made it a bit more conversational? Remember it’s still stand up comedy so the structure of having the important word as close to the end of the sentence is still crucial.

So now you have a clear set up with all the information necessary to converge the ideas and get to the comedy and one way to get to the comedy here is to list all the ideas we can think about regarding hand sanitizer, alcohol and teens. This leads me to…

Mistake #3:

Most comedians do not take the time to do the lists so that they can find the jokes.

Because I’ve been doing this so long, I do a lot of the lists in my head, but when I get stuck I will make a thorough list to find the incongruities of the contrasting elements: hand sanitizer and drinking. These jokes came out of the top of my head… Please keep in mind that these are all first draft jokes. They still could use some refining:

“Oh I heard this today…apparently, in an effort to get drunk, some teens are now drinking hand sanitizer.”

1. The good news is it has spurned new high school party games like “spin the Purell…” Sure you might still have to kiss the ugly chick, but you can be assured that she’ll be germ-free…

2. Kids are no longer doing shots they’re doing squirts. (or pumps)

3. Experts knew they were on to something when store shelves were stocked with hand sanitizers with names like Absolut, Grey Goose and Smirnoff.

or a version of the ‘spin the Purell joke:

4. Now kids are able to get filthy drunk, yet be completely germ free.

These 3 or 4 jokes rolled out of my head in seconds, just listing in my head. If I actually sat down and listed, I could probably turn out another 10-20 jokes or more.

Using the listing technique take that headline and let me know if you come up with any! Leave a comment below!

Comedian Lessons | Record Every Set

audio recorderHere’s the thing: Comedy is a live endeavor. You get up in front of a different audience each and every night you perform. Even if you’re doing the same material, the audience is different, the club may be different and the night is different so the dynamics change. Therefore, it is essential that you capture each and every performance by recording it either with the use of audio (digital recorder) or video.

With the availability of Flip cams and video recorders on iPhones, Droids and other smartphones, there’s almost no reason not to be able to video record each set that you do. Sometimes there are restrictions at certain clubs and if that’s the case there should be no reason not to audio record every set.

Each set we do as comedians on stage gives us an opportunity to learn something new. We can try a new joke, make a discovery on stage involving a new inspiration we got while telling a joke, or respond to a heckler or other live moment in the audience. The recorder is also essential if you have a bad set. That’s right! You want to review those bad sets too!

We learn most from our mistakes and when we record a bad set, that recorder is like a black box on an airplane that goes down. The recorder has everything that led up to the crash and you can learn a lot from it. Sure it hurts to watch or listen to a bad set, but if you’re listening to the bad set you’ll discover new things. I used to hate to listen to a bad set.

But you know what? Now I rarely if ever have a bad set. How did that happen? By constantly working on my sets by listening to them constantly and eliminating mistakes.

We all hate to listen to ourselves at first, because our voices sound so “weird” on a recorder.

They do, don’t they?

But that’s how our voice sounds to other people. We hear our voices differently because we hear our voices through our Eustachian tubes and it filters our vocal nuances. If you keep listening to your voice on a recorder you’ll actually start to hear it the way other people hear it whenever you speak. So get used to it an record yourself!

When you do a set, take the audio recorder with you on the stage, take it out of your pocket and set it right on the stool on the stage. Doesn’t matter if they audience sees it. I remember when I used to watch Jerry Seinfeld workout at the clubs. He would bring his recorder up onstage with him and set it on the stool. I would think to myself, “Wow, he’s constantly working on it, isn’t he?”

Jerry Seinfeld is financially the most successful comedian of all time.

Comedian Lesson:

Learn from the best and bring your recorder on stage. Always!

 

Best Audio Recorders:

Here are some recorders that I recommend. Personally I use the Sony, but I’ve also owned Olympus. Both solid products. I like to stay in a medium to higher end product, because if I’m recording a set and it goes really well, the recording could actually be used to create a CD that I can use as a demo or sell at a show… If you have other recommendations, please share them in the comments section. If you want to do the same, splurge a little and go for the Sony.