Ever go on a road trip with friends or family. You leave at a certain time and you expect to arrive at a certain time. So in your head you plan what happens when you get there.
If you’re going skiing, you know you’ll have time to stop at your favorite restaurant before you head up to the slopes.
If you’re camping you know you’ll have time to pitch the tent, get the fire going, cook some grub and crack a beer. But then…
Traffic stops. It doesn’t even move. There’s no off ramp. Other people are shutting off their cars. Truckers are getting out of their cabs. That’s never a good sign.
It’s a momentum killer.
That’s what happens when you stop taking action in your career.
When I started in show business, I was an actor. I had the fortunate experience of watching my Dad go through his career as an actor. There were ups and downs. Sometimes the downs were really down.
There were slow periods followed by an actor’s strike then a writer’s strike. My parents had to sell their house during that one.
Eventually my Dad hit the big job. A series regular on a show called “Murphy Brown.” Which was a top 10 show for many years. He was on that show for 10 years. The struggle paid off and he and my mom were set for life.
But the downs were brutal.
I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me.” Now it’s one thing to say that in a matter of wishful thinking and it’s another to take action. So right after I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me,” I said, “How can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?”
In my 20’s I had flaming red hair. I was booking commercials like crazy. Then at some point, my hair started to recede. I wasn’t booking as many as before.
One of my casting directors, Sheila Manning, said, “We love you Jerry, but with that baby face and receding hairline, we just don’t know where to cast you.”
I was suffering the Ron Howard effect.
Some if you will be too young to understand this, but Ron Howard was an actor before he was a director and producer. He had–and still has–a baby face and is completely bald on top. It was hard to cast him with that look. He knew it, so he did a lateral move into directing.
I thank my lucky stars for Sheila Manning, her support and her honesty made me understand that it wasn’t my acting and that I had to figure out a solution to be able to make money without giving up on my creativity.
I thought was else can I do and still be in show business?
I saw an ad for a comedy class and I enrolled. I learned some joke writing concepts.
I eventually left the class because the teacher yelled at me for helping a fellow student.
I know, weird right?
Immediately I started to go to open mics, then I studied all the comedians who made me laugh. I mean really broke it down. I applied 4-8 hours per day to writing jokes and studying comedians.
Then went to 7-10 open mics a week. I noticed that all the comedians I liked had a definite structure to their material. I counted the amount of laughs they got per minute and what triggered the laugh.
I noticed that out of the 20 comedians I was studying, there were definite patterns.
I studied The Tonight Show and the monologue. Recorded the shows. I wrote down the monologue jokes word for word and studied them.
I again noticed repeating patterns in the writing.
I started to write the first parts of the jokes and write my own punchlines. (I never used them, but it was great practice).
Soon I was writing jokes right from the news. At first I struggled with them.
Then I figured the structure and subsequently a process to writing everyday.
The process was paramount!
The process became a system of steps that I applied each day to writing current event jokes. I got this idea when I was learning more about computers.
I figured since I was going to be working a lot with computers, I should know something about how they work. One of the earliest explanations I read was that a computer executes a series of steps automatically to power up and that those steps occur each and every time.
And the computer did this no matter who turned it on or what mood that person was in.
So I realized that if I could apply this process to my joke writing.
Sort of a step1-step 2-step 3=Joke.
Eventually, I started to write jokes on automatic and I was writing a lot of them. Sometimes I’d get really edgy with the jokes and I knew they weren’t right for The Tonight Show, but I went to the Comedy Store and I gave it to a comedian, l (can’t mention his name contractually), whose voice I thought it fit. He did the joke, it got a laugh; a really big laugh!
He said he would buy the joke from me.
I learned I could write more jokes and sell them to other comedians and other places that bought jokes.
Sometimes I would just give jokes away to other comedians I knew couldn’t afford to buy them. That only helped to enhance and spread my reputation as a good joke writer.
Greeting card companies, radio syndicates, other comedians. The more I wrote, the more I sold. Then through reputation people started calling me to write material for them.
I was still performing in the clubs at night. One day I got a call from Jay Leno. He had just started doing The Tonight Show.
He tested me right on the phone! Told me a headline from the news that morning and asked me what I would do on that?
Little did he know, I was up that morning writing my jokes and I just happened to write a joke on that exact headline he gave me!
I told him the joke. He laughed. Then hired me on the spot as a contributing writer to The Tonight Show.
Some people say it was “luck.” But really? What is luck? Luck is opportunity meets preparedness!
And that comes from getting busy and staying busy. Setting goals and going for them. Creating a process and a routine so you don’t have to wait for inspiration, instead you can create inspiration. Then taking action so you can avoid killing the momentum in your career.
If you’re good you will work, but you gotta get to work. You’ve got to take action.