I know, I know…how can I say the “King of Television” was wrong, right? And what do I mean by that? Well, the King of Late Night said a long time ago (okay, 1979), that comedy is not a place for women “A woman is feminine, a woman is not abrasive, a woman is not a hustler… And the ones that try sometimes are a little aggressive for my taste. I’ll take it from a guy, but from women, sometimes it just doesn’t fit too well.” The power that Johnny wielded set in motion the scarcity of really aggressive funny and feminine female comedians which lasted for many years.
Well, Johnny Carson was wrong!
Women have been funny, but they were usually abrasive and not sexy. That has changed recently and to me it’s as big an event in the so-called women’s movement as a woman’s right to vote! Yes! It’s about time. I love seeing feminine, attractive women on stage who are not afraid of being funny and who are not afraid of letting it all hang out and calling it like it is.
These new smart, funny, sexy women are the face of female comedy today; Chelsea Handler, Whitney Cummings and Sarah Silverman, (just to name a few) are paving the new road to success in comedy for women. The industry has been hungry for this without even knowing it and it’s been taking off.
Just recently E! Television decided to re-sign Chelsea Handler’s “Chelsea Lately” show for two more years. That’s great news. Chelsea will also be executive producing and guest-starring in “Are You There, Chelsea?,” a new series on NBC, scheduled to premiere on January 11th, 2012.
Way to go, Chelsea! And way to go women in comedy. We need more! C’mon girls, get your funny on!
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.
There’s an old saying, “It is impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh.” Whether you are looking to use humor to improve relationships, sales, presentations, script writing or simply your personality, the power of humor is all around us and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Fortunately, learning how to be a funny man is really not difficult at all. You just need to understand what makes people laugh and then learn how to implement that in your daily dialogue. So let’s get started learning how to be a funny man.
1. Learn what Makes People Laugh
So what makes people laugh? The answer is simple: SURPRISE. That’s right. Surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter. Once you understand that concept you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man!
There are around eleven comedy formulas in used in contemporary comedy today. I am going to teach you two of the most powerful that you can use in everyday situations that will help you to create surprise, thus, create laughter.
2. The Reverse:
The reverse is a formula that sets up an assumption or expectation for the listener as to what you are going to say and then, at the last minute, shatters that assumption. In doing that you create crisp surprise and trigger laughter from your listener.
E.G.: “I was in Reno last week staying at the Atlantis Hotel. One morning, the house keeper started banging on the door, just banging. Finally I had to get up and let her out!”
Most of us have been in a hotel room when a housekeeper woke us up by knocking. When we hear that story we imagine that she is outside knocking on the door, but when you change the point of view, at the last minute, you shatter the assumption of the listener, therefore, creating surprise and the result is laughter on the part of the listener.
I’m trying to teach my 5 year old daughter how to tie her shoes. She’s like, “I can’t Dad, I can’t.” I said, “How many times have I told you not to use that word? I am NOT your Dad.”
Once again the listener assumes you are going to say one thing, but you shatter that assumption, creating surprise and get laughs. Once you learn to command this technique you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man.
3. The Double Entendre:
The Double Entendre formula is very powerful. In fact word-play is used in the majority of humor today. Words have multiple meanings and if you can keep yourself aware, you can find the alternate meaning of a word and use it to create humor.
Say you’re at the grocery store. We are used to things going a certain way. When we change that familiarity with sudden surprise, we can create laughter. Here’s the key: Listen. I mean really listen to what the people are saying. You will be certain to hear a word that has multiple meanings.
Clerk: “Did you find everything you were looking for?” (What does the clerk mean by “everything?” Groceries, right? What do you think of as “everything?” The meaning of life, a soul mate possibly?) So change the meaning when you answer the question. It might go something like this:
Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?
You: I found some wine and candles, but I couldn’t find a soul mate, so instead I got Cheez-Wiz!
The double entendre comedy formula is the most commonly used formula in everyday humor. Do you have a friend that turns everything you say into a sexual connotation? He/She is using double entendre:
A husband and wife are watching American Idol. There’s a terrible singer singing off key…
Wife: Somebody should get her off.
Husband (leering): I’ll get her off.
Wife: I tell you what, you learn to get me off, then you can get her off!
So there you have it. Once you learn that surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter then you learn the reverse and the double entendre formula to help you develop surprise and in 3 steps you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man!
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.
“…Jerry, thank you for single-handedly restoring my confidence!”
The above is a quote from actress/comedian Michelle Gomez. This talented actress couldn’t get arrested in L.A. After a few sessions with Jerry Corley’s stand up comedy clinic and a couple of private coaching sessions, Michelle went on to perform a showcase at the Comedy Store and just killed it. She had industry and her reps in the audience. Three weeks later she booked not one, but three pilots for Television!
Why do I mention this. Because for years I’ve been saying that stand up comedy is a great vehicle to get you noticed. Most people fear stand up comedy. So when you go up on stage and have a fantastic set as Michelle did, people respond. You demonstrate so much when you do a stand up set you show them:
· An understanding of comedy timing.
· Character act-out ability
· Audiences respond to you!
In one quick showcase you can demonstrate these performance skills which are so desperately sought after in the world of comedy and acting.
With One-on-One coaching, Jerry Corley can help you really develop a solid act. Classes are good but when you work with someone who is not only a talented comedian, but also a talented comedy writer and a talented teacher, you have hit the tri-fecta! Jerry can help you find toppers and tags and help you to shape your set into a set that will help you stand out get you recognized and remembered.
Watch how quickly you develop material when working with Jerry. There are few people in this business who write comedy as well as he does and few who are available to help you personally. When working One-on-One you will start winning competitions and landing better gigs.
Need proof? Just ask Michelle Gomez!
Jerry teaches 1 on 1 coaching in person at his studio in Burbank. Can’t get to Burbank? Join the many students worldwide and try 1 on 1 Skype sessions!
Private Coaching Sessions (in person): $125.00/hr.
Private Skype Sessions (online) $100.00/hr.
Visit the Website at http:www.standupcomedyclinic.com and contact Jerry by email or phone to set up an appointment for private coaching!