In the End, It’s Just You That Crowd and That Microphone

You have been toiling on your act for a while. You’ve written. You’ve tightened. You’ve rehearsed. You’ve sweat. You’ve honed. You feel you’re beginning to find your voice.

You’ve developed a crystalized point of view and a through-line that’s on steroids and you’re ready to flex it like a 20-year-old with a well-earned six-pack.

You’re beginning to feel like you don’t just have laughs, you may just have a purpose!

Then you get a booking at a club you’ve worked in previously and the booker drops this bombshell: “I don’t like this new style of comedy you’re doing. I think you should go back to the old you.”

What do you do?

Several comedians have asked me about this over the years. How much do you adjust your act when a booker doesn’t dig your style?

My answer is “That depends.”

In my career as a comedian, I have walked away from gigs, I have fired managers and I’ve made other decisions–both good and bad–that go against the grain of the take-any-gig-that-comes-my-way attitude. 

And although I probably would’ve never considered doing that in the early part of my career, when I finally started to feel my voice, to really express myself, to come from a place that meant something to me, that’s when I decided to be my own man, my own artist, my own company.

Basically I made a decision that I’m going to succeed or fail based on my own brand, my own goals and my own business model. 

It was both freeing and frightening. But then I got the best advice ever from a surprising source… George Carlin.

When I started out, I emulated a variety comedians. I was studying George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. I was also a big fan of Bill Hicks.

I’ll admit it, I went with the trend at the time and I was very quirky. I was very “Seinfeldian.”

I was booking a lot of feature work. My first audition for Bud Friedman resulted in being booked in Vegas at least 4 times a year and getting a spot on A & E’s “An Evening at the Improv,” my first television spot as a comedian.

It wasn’t until I met George Carlin that I got the best piece of comedy advice ever. He changed my approach and subsequently, my career.

Carlin said, “There’s a line. Cross it.”

At first I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about. Then he clarified: “Take the stuff that drives you crazy and make it funny. You ever watch T.V. or read the news and call bullshit? That’s your comedy. Use that. But make it funny…

Say something that means something to you. Otherwise you’re just one of those cookie-cutter comedians who ain’t sayin’ anything!”

Then he said, “You can mix it up with fluff, if you have quirky and observational stuff, because the audience needs that playful stuff too, but say something that means something.

Don’t just make them laugh, make them think!”

It was that coincidental meeting that changed my entire approach to comedy. I started building an act that came from a real personal perspective. I started taking the stuff that drove me crazy and started to make it funny.

I started watching the news and reading the paper and when I felt myself call ‘bullshit,’ I wrote it down and made it funny, using paradox and irony, word-play and incongruity. I used powerful benign retaliation like Carlin, Bill Hicks and Chris Rock, (a powerful form of payback-style comedy) that you can learn in my eBook, “Breaking Comedy’s DNA.”

I became more of a socio-political comedian. I also had my quirky, fun observational stuff, but most of my act was driven by my angst and strong point of view. I blended it when I needed to, dropped certain edgy stuff when I did corporates, but most importantly, I felt like I was me!

Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. The rest is visual and emotional.

Shortly after that tip from Carlin, my act changed. I took it on the road. It was getting a good reception.

Then I played a club in Sacramento. It was a club I had performed in for years as a feature, then a headliner. I went there with my new act; a very powerful socio-political act with kind of an underlying theme of tolerance.

Five nights, seven shows; after the first show, the club owner said, “I don’t like this new Jerry. I like the smart, quirky Jerry better.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was stuck. I liked this guy. He booked me a lot. I liked the club. I liked the people.

The next night I came in and did my quirky act. He was happy. But I wasn’t.

In my hotel room that night, I decided that I was going to take Carlin’s advice rather than some club owner’s in Sacramento. I came to work the next night. Did my socio-political act and pulled out all the stops. 

That night I received my first standing ovation. I was beyond surprised.

After the show, the club owner came up to me to congratulate me… or so I thought.

He said he wanted me to finish my week doing my quirky act. and that he already expressed his displeasure with my socio-political act and that if I wasn’t willing to do as he asked, then I wasn’t welcome to work there anymore.

WTF!? Did he not see that standing ovation?

I tried to convince him otherwise, but he wouldn’t budge. I’m not sure why, but I think the issues I was pointing out as ridiculous, he actually believed in.

I finished up that week giving him what he wanted. After all, it is a business and I live by the golden rule, (He who has the gold, makes the rules).

Besides, I had to remember, I’m a guest in his club.

But after my last performance, he cut me my check and I respectfully told him that I’ve made up my mind that the quirky Jerry is no longer true to me and I wanted to evolve–at least in the clubs–and if he didn’t approve, then I wouldn’t be working for him anymore.

When I returned home, the check bounced!  Eight months later, that club went under.

The club closing had nothing to do with me. It was because the club owner was a bad business man. That wasn’t my point of view, but that of the IRS.

The lesson for me in all of this was clear; Be True To You!

In my collective business model, I know that all work in this business is a collaboration. The club owners are absolutely a part of that collaborative effort and as long as it doesn’t hurt the integrity of my act, I am always willing to make some adjustments to it.

But, once you hit that stage, it’s just you, that crowd and that microphone.

Think about it. Even if I did what he wanted rather than what was true to me, my check still would’ve bounced, that club would’ve still gone out of business, and there still would’ve been a gaping three-week hole in my schedule that I would’ve had to fill anyway.

To round it out, before the end of that year, I started working at the rival to that club in Sac. Many of the same people from the previous club came to see me there.

The rival club owner liked me. He liked that I brought an audience with me.
He liked when the audience gave up a standing ovation and…
He liked to have a comedian that wasn’t afraid to say something that means something

Oh, and I liked that his check always cleared.

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Help You Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

Are You Serious?

I can hear it now… the voices saying what the f*@k?!

What do you mean, Lady Gaga?

It seems difficult to believe, after all, we’re comedians.

Haven’t we all made fun of Lady Gaga?

I know I’ve done some jokes about her; A meat-suit, really?

But here’s the point: Comedians love to talk smack about people. In one way it’s our job. Isn’t that what we do; make fun of stuff?

But we also have to realize that we can learn from those very same people that we make fun of.

Lady Gaga has built an incredible career. She has tens of millions of followers on social media and her fans don’t just tolerate her, they LOVE her!

So check out the SlideShare presentation below.

It might actually help you choose a direction, give you some ideas and finally light a fire under your lazy comedy ass!

Late Show With Seth Meyers Plucks ‘I.T. Guy From Peoria’ as Writer

Heath Ledger in a Knights Tale

There is a movie out there called “A Knight’s Tale.” It stars the late Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, a peasant squire, who, after his master dies, changes “his stars” by changing his identity and becoming a knight.

It’s a fairy tale. Or is it?

About a month ago, a regular guy from Peoria, Illinois, who tweeted regular jokes as a way of venting from work and the grind of daily life, got picked up by the executives over at Late Night with Seth Meyers, to be a staff writer on the show after they took notice of his funny tweets.

 

I’ve been telling my students for several years now that they need to be tweeting their jokes regularly to get their writing out there, seen by others. Now it seems that crazy idea is paying off.

In the blink of a tweet, Bryan Donaldson a family man, went from a clock puncher for an insurance company to a staff writer on network television.

Is this sheer luck? No! He worked hard everyday tweeting jokes and gaining followers on Twitter. He’s a classic example of opportunity meeting preparedness.

Through his diligent and funny tweeting, Donaldson got an opportunity of a lifetime.

Can you do the same? Maybe so.

The point I’m trying to make is opportunity is out there every single day. But most of us are not doing what we need to do to take advantage of it.

You should be writing every day, generating material. Either to tweet or for practice. Every time you write, you get better. And that’s the goal; to be prepared when opportunity arises.

Then, like Heath Ledger’s character in “A Knight’s Tale,” you too might be able to “change your stars.”

Look Who’s Doing College Gigs!

Tony Quach & Jason London

Imagine doing stand-up comedy for only a year and booking your first paid stand-up gig at a University…

One year? Can it be done?

Oh yes it can! And it can be done well!

Tonight at Cal State Northridge, the university students put on a comedy show for like Greek week or something like that. Not many Greeks attended the comedy show because the Greeks were doing what Greeks do; party!

But no Greeks were needed. The room was standing room only and my students: Byron Valino, Tony Quach, Joe Dungan, Jason London and Adrian Herrera put on a fantastic show and got the room greased and ready for headliner Brian Kiley, the Emmy-award winning writer for The Conan O’Brien show who batted clean-up and knocked it home!

Some people say that college kids are hard to make laugh, but the show was filled with laughs from the first comic to the end and Jason London got a standing ovation. Sure it was by one person; his mom, but–

Actually it was from one of the CSUN students in the audience. Jason had one of his best sets yet.

You could actually see the structure of comedy pay off time and time again at this show.

The beauty of this whole thing is that these guys (except for the headliner) have not been doing comedy all that long. Some have been in my classes for less than a year, but it proves that when you learn the craft of humor writing and stand up, you can make even the toughest crowds laugh.

The ‘beautier’ part? They all got paid to do the gig. That’s right; PAID… in L.A.!

Whaaaat?! Who does that? Who pays in L.A.?

Uhm… colleges!

I think my guys are on to something. The University event organizers really loved the gig. They recorded the entire show. So now each of them have a solid video clip of them doing a college comedy event.

Now they can organize that and take it to the other campuses and book some more shows.

How Did They Do This?

I’ll just beat you to the punch now, because I know I’ll get a bunch of comments asking, “how did they get this gig?” It’s a comedian’s nature to ask how to get the gig.

They got it because Tony is an advisor on campus. He asked around, pimped and prodded and finally got the ASB to agree to put on a comedy show.

Because Tony had a relationship in place, he utilized it to pitch his show. Most everything in this town is done because a relationship is in place.

Do you have a relationship in place that you can utilize to pitch a college gig? A corporate? A fund raiser?

Some of you might be thinking… “Man I don’t know anybody like that.” And you might leave it at that, never bothering to try to make a connection. But you don’t need to have a connection.

If you don’t have any connections, make them!

 

How I Got My First College Gigs

When I first started doing colleges, I didn’t know anyone, but I had a solid tape.

I purchased Peterson’s guide to the college market and I started contacting colleges via letter and phone. (Yes, I said, ‘letter!’ It was before e-mail!).

I received some responses. I pitched my shows and low and behold (“low and behold” what does that even mean?), I started booking gigs.

My first year doing this, I only booked three college gigs, but after that it was five, then ten; partly because I spoke to some of the same people I tried to pitch the previous year. They remembered me.

See? Relationships!

Each gig was paying $750-$1500.

When I started, I didn’t have any connections and I didn’t know anyone. But I did have a relationship in place. It was a relationship with Peterson’s guide to colleges. Each one of those contacts, became leads. And each one of those leads became relationships.

Then it was just a matter of getting them to say “yes.”

So when you say, “how do you get these college gigs?” There’s an answer: Build relationships!

Relationship to the next power

Tony Quach, who booked this comedy show tonight at Northridge’s campus, took this relationship idea to the next level. Not only did he book his friends (fellow comedians who were also classmates at my Comedy Clinic), he also reached out to Brian Kiley, (head monologue writer on Conan), and offered him the headlining spot.

Prior to this, Tony was not even on Brian Kiley’s radar. Know what he is now?

A relationship.

–Great work guys! Can’t wait to headline your next college show! 

C’mon! I thought we had a relationship?!

Appear in a Real Motion Picture!

stretch-promo-extrasAs some of you may have heard, my little T.V. show idea, “Stretch,” has been turned into a Big Movie Idea! This process started many years ago, when I was touring 43 weeks a year as a comedian.

My wife wanted me to be home more, so to save my marriage, I cut my road work in half.

During that time, while I was in town, I worked at a limousine company in L.A., both driving and in operations.

While I was working the late night shift, I would sneak in some time at the computer to write some scripts. One of the scripts I wrote was a television show about the limo business. It was going to be kind of a ‘Taxi’ but for limousines. 

I brought my friend, (and now writing partner), Rob Rose, in on it, for his brutally fast and sharp wit.

Needless to say, years and one marriage later it has been turned into a comedy-thriller that will be directed by Joe Carnahan (“The Grey,” “The A-Team”).

It’s legit. It has star power from Chris Pine,(Star Trek)  Ed Helms, (The Office, Hangover I, II, III) Patrick Wilson, (The A-Team) and Jessica Biel!

To top it off, it has already been picked up to be distributed by Universal Pictures.

It’s shooting in Los Angeles in July and they are holding an “Open Call” for upscale, trendy club-goers.

It’s simple to get involved, just e-mail stretchcasting@gmail.com and include your name, phone number, email and a picture of yourself in high-end Hollywood nightclub attire. Which means, ladies look smoking hot, and guys look like the typical Hollywood, club-going, douche. Smile

Don’t email me. I have zero input on what happens with this!

One of the things you have to get used to once you sell the rights to your movie is that your creative input goes “poof!”

I hope some of my readers (all 3 of you), can take advantage of this cool opportunity to get involved, not only to be seen in a film with a tight script, but also mingle and have the opportunity to meet other people.

Please read the fine print. There is NO GUARANTEE that when you participate in this event that you will be seen in the motion picture!

But, Hollywood’s a weird place and anything can happen!

There’s has been and there is going to continue to be a lot of really cool lessons to learn from this experience of getting a movie made. I hope to share them with you so maybe you can get some inspiration to expand your writing.

Good luck!