IMPORTANT! Patton Oswalt’s Keynote Address at JFL

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Patton Oswalt is a comedian, an actor, a writer and a voice talent. He’s done all of what we comedians strive to do and more. Basically, Dude rocks!

He was recently keynote speaker at the 3rd annual Just For Laughs Comedy Conference in Montreal. In typical Patton Oswalt style he opened the speech with a bit of self-deprecation, (see, the best still use it!).

Here’s what’s interesting: instead of giving some kind of motivation speech to the troops, Patton read two open letters that he wrote; the first, to the comedians in the room and the second to the brass that runs this industry.

The result was a speech that was far more motivational than a speech that was intended to motivate.

In our classes, we talk about getting your content out, getting it seen and continuing to create more content. We talk about utilizing the internet to enhance your presence. So does Patton Oswalt and he knows a thing or two about this.

But I can’t do it justice by blathering on about it. Read them below. These will be more worth your time than anything else you read with regard to comedy this week!

Here’s Letter Number one:

 

Dear comedian in 2012:

How are you? I am good. In answer to your last letter, the mozzarella sticks at the Irvine Improv do taste weird. I’m taking your advice and sticking with the nachos.

Hey, ‘know what I was thinking the other day? Everything I know about succeeding as a comedian and ultimately as an artist is worthless now, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

I started doing comedy in the summer of 1988. That was a different time, wasn’t it? Joe Piscopo was president, Mary Lou Retton won the Cold War, and Andy Kindler turned 50

If I hadn’t popped that goddamn ‘P’, the Piscopo joke would’ve annihilated.

When I say everything I know about succeeding a comedian is worthless, I know what I’m talking about because everything I know became worthless twice in my lifetime.

The first time was the evening of May 22, 1992. I’d been doing standup almost four years at that point, and that was Johnny Carson’s last ever Tonight Show.

Up until that night, the way you made it in comedy was very clear, simple, straightforward. You went on Carson, you killed, you got called over to the couch, and the next day you had your sitcom and your mansion, and you’re made. Just ask Drew Carey and Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres. And Bill Clinton. That’s how you did it.

But now, Johnny was gone and he wasn’t coming back.

All the comedians I remember starting out with in D.C., all the older ones, told me over and over again ‘you gotta work clean, you gotta get your five minutes, and you gotta get on Carson.’ And it all comes down to that.

And in one night, all of them were wrong. And not just wrong, they were unmoored. They were drifting. A lot of these bulletproof comics I’d opened for, whose careers seemed pre-destined, a lot of them never recovered from that night. You’ll never hear their names. They had been sharks in a man-made pond and had been drained. They decided their time had passed.

Keep that in mind for later. They had decided their time had passed.

The second time everything I knew about comedy became worthless has been petty much every day for the last three years.

I know that’s not an exact date. Some other younger, not yet famous name in this room – you are going to pinpoint that date 20 years from now. But for now, every day for about the last few years will have to suffice.

I just want to give you a brief timeline of my career up to this point, when I knew it was all changing again. Listen to my words very carefully. Two words will come up again and again and they’re going to come back later along with that phrase “they decided” and people are going to carry me around the room.

I was lucky enough to get hired onto King of Queens in 1998. I had nine years on that show. Money, great cast, even better writers, a lot of fun. I bought a house. Then I was lucky enough to get cast as a lead voice in a Pixar movie in 2007. Acclaim, money, I got to meet a lot of my heroes. Then I was lucky enough to get cast on The United States of Tara on Showtime. I got to watch Toni Collette work. I got to perform Diablo Cody’s writing. After which, I was lucky enough to get cast in Young Adult, which is where I got to make out with Charlize Theron. I will use that as an icebreaker if i ever meet Christina Ricci.

I’ve been lucky enough to be given specials on HBO, Comedy Central, and Showtime. As well as I’ve been lucky enough to release records on major labels, and I was lucky they approached me to do it. And that led to me being lucky enough to get Grammy nominations.

I know that sounds like a huge ego-stroking credit dump. But if you listened very carefully, you would have heard two words over and over again: “lucky” and “given.” Those are two very very dangerous words for a comedian. Those two words can put you to sleep, especially once you get a taste of both being “lucky” and being “given.” The days about luck and being given are about to end. They’re about to go away.

Not totally. There are always comedians who will work hard and get noticed by agents and managers and record labels. There will always be an element of that. And they deserve their success. And there’s always going to be people who benefit from that.

What I mean is: Not being lucky and not being given are no longer going to define your career as a comedian and as an artist.

Remember what I said earlier about those bulletproof headliners who focused on their 5 minutes on the Tonight Show and when it ended they decided their opportunity was gone? They decided. Nobody decided that for them. They decided.

Now, look at my career up to this point. Luck, being given. Other people deciding for me.

In the middle of the TV shows and the albums and the specials, I took a big chunk of my money and invested it in a little tour called The Comedians of Comedy. I put it together with my friends, we did small clubs, stayed in shitty hotel rooms, packed ourselves in a tiny van and drove it around the country. The tour was filmed for a very low-budget documentary that I convinced Netflix to release. That became a low-budget show on Comedy Central that we all still own a part of, me and the comedians. That led to a low budget concert film that we put on DVD.

At the end of it, I was exhausted, I was in debt, and I wound up with a wider fanbase of the kind of people I always dreamed of having as fans. And I built that from the ground up, friends and people I respected and was a fan of.

And I realize now I need to combine both of the lessons I’ve learned.

I need to decide more career stuff for myself and make it happen for myself, and I need to stop waiting to luck out and be given. I need to unlearn those muscles.

I’m seeing this notion take form in a lot of my friends. A lot of you out there. You, for instance, the person I’m writing to. Your podcast is amazing. Your videos on your YouTube channel are getting better and better every single one that you make, just like when we did open mics, better and better every week. Your Twitter feed is hilarious.

Listen, I’m doing the Laugh Trench in Milwaukee next week. Is there any chance for an RT?

Your friend, Patton Oswalt

Letter number two:

Dear gatekeepers in broadcast and cable executive offices, focus groups, record labels, development departments, agencies and management companies:

Shalom.

Last month I turned in a script for a pilot I co-wrote with Phil Rosenthal who has had a share of luck and success I can only dream of. Thanks for the notes you gave me on the pilot script. I’m not going to be implementing any of them.

And no, I’m not going to call you “the enemy” or “the man.” I have zero right to say that based on the breaks I’ve gotten from you over the years. If I tried to strike a Che Guevara pose, you would be correct in pointing out that the dramatic underlighting on my face was being reflected up from my swimming pool.

I am as much to blame for my uneasiness and realization of late that I’m part of the problem, that I’m half asleep and more than half complacent.

And I’m still not going to implement your notes. And I’m quoting Phil Rosenthal on this, but he said after we read your notes – and I’m quoting him verbatim – “We’re living in a post-Louie world, and these notes are from a pre-According to Jim world.”

I just read a letter to my fellow comedians telling them what I’m about to tell you, but in a different way. Here it is.

You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival.

Because all of us comedians after watching Louis CK revolutionize sitcoms and comedy recordings and live tours. And listening to "WTF With Marc Maron" and "Comedy Bang! Bang!" and watching the growth of the UCB Theatre on two coasts and seeing careers being made on Twitter and Youtube.

Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone. The model for success as a comedian in the ’70s and ’80s? That was middle school. Remember, they’d hand you a worksheet, fill in the blanks on the worksheet, hand it in, you’ll get your little points.

And that doesn’t prepare you for college. College is the 21st century. Show up if you want to, there’s an essay, there’s a paper, and there’s a final. And you decide how well you do on them, and that’s it. And then after you’re done with that, you get even more autonomy whether you want it or not because you’re an adult now.

Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less.

If we work with you in the future, it’s going to be because we like your product and your choices and your commitment to pushing boundaries and ability to protect the new and difficult.

Here’s the deal, and I think it’s a really good one.

I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country….

I want you to be as charged with hope as I am that we’re looking at the most top-heavy with talent young wave of comedians that this industry have ever had at any time in its history.

And since this new generation was born into post-modern anything, they are wilder and more fearless than anything you’ve ever dealt with. But remind yourselves: Youth isn’t king. Content is king. Lena Dunham’s 26-year-old voice is just as vital as Louis CK’s 42-year-old voice which is just as vital as Eddie Pepitone’s 50-something voice.

Age doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about what you have to say and what you’re going to say. Please throw the old fucking model away.

Just the tiny sampling at this amazing festival…. I’m excited to not be the funniest person in the room. It makes me work harder and try to be better at what I do. So be as excited and grateful as I am.

And if in the opportunities you give me, you try to cram all this wildness and risk-taking back in to the crappy mimeographic worksheet form of middle school, we’re just going to walk away. We’re not going to work together. No harm no foul. We can just walk away.

You know why we can do that now? Because of these. (Oswalt holds up an iPhone)

In my hand right now I’m holding more filmmaking technology than Orsen Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.

I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.

In a couple of years it’s going to be fucking equal. I see what’s fucking coming. This isn’t a threat, this is an offer. We like to create. We’re the ones who love to make shit all the time. You’re the ones who like to discover it and patronize it support it and nurture it and broadcast it. Just get out of our way when we do it.

If you get out of our way and we fuckin’ get out and fall on our face, we won’t blame you like we did in the past. Because we won’t have taken any of your notes, so it’ll truly be on us.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the stuff uploaded to Youtube. There are sitcoms now on the internet, some of them are brilliant, some of them are “meh,” some of them fuckin suck. At about the same ratio that things are brilliant and “meh” and suck on your network.

If you think that we’re somehow going to turn on you later if what we do falls on its face, and blame you because we can’t take criticism? Let me tell you one thing: We have gone through years of open mics to get where we need to get. Criticism is nothing to us, and comment threads are fucking electrons.

Signed,

Patton Oswalt

Comedy Lessons | Never say Never

I was wrong!

Many students have come up to me and asked, “Can I just put together a tape in my living room?” I’ve always said, “Absolutely not. You should never do that. Make sure shoot a tape that is in front of a live audience.”

Well comedian Jesse Popp proved me wrong. In this little quick interview, Jesse talks about doing comedy only three times before he shot a video of himself in his friend’s basement with three of his friends. “We set up a karaoke machine and a sheet against the wall, and one of my friends was holding a light up and at one point the lamp caught the sheet on fire and we had to do another take… I sent the tape into Comedy Central and it worked out I guess”

Jesse started in 2000 and since then, Jesse has appeared on several comedy shows including Conan, and Comedy Central’s “Half-Hour.”

The point is this: Even though it’s not recommended to send a tape out that you shot in your basement, never say “never.”

Sometimes the best choice is just to get it out there!

How To Be A Comedian | Getting the Work

mic_mp720x480After a terrific graduation showcase for one of my classes this week, I sent out an email congratulating everyone on a job well done.

One of my students sent me an email: “The compliments are nice, but when does it translate into a paid gig?”

That’s a great question and is one of the most burning questions comedians have who are starting out in this business.

The hard and fast reality is this: It NEVER “translates” into a paid gig! Let’s get this straight…

No one will ever walk up to you after you do a random showcase and offer you a job. If it does happen, then it will be a rare occasion indeed.

I have had students who have showcased and got approached by managers or agents and developed other key relationships at a showcase, but to have someone come up to you and offer you a job without you developing a relationship with them first, is very rare. Especially in L.A.

Does this mean you cannot convert what you’ve learned in a class into a paying career? Of course not. What it means is that YOU have to get out there and chase the work.

The student who asked me this question is a sweet, kind woman who has a funny act, but doesn’t hit the mics regularly.

She reminds me of the “Guy And The Lottery Ticket” joke:

“A man is sitting on the sidewalk in front of a liquor store that sells lottery tickets. Every day you can hear him praying, “Please God, let me win the lottery. Please God let me win the lottery… Then one day a priest sees him on the sidewalk, empty-handed, praying. The man catching the eye of the priest says, “Father, is there a God? I’ve been praying for weeks… how come God won’t let me win the lottery?” The priest puts his hand on the man’s shoulder and says, “First, my son… you have to buy a ticket.”

The only thing I know for sure is what has happened to me in my 25-year career as a stand up comedian: I was hitting the mics 3-6 times a week. I was meeting other comedians. I was developing relationships and building a reputation.

One of the first paid gigs I got was when I was doing an open mic in Chatsworth, CA. I’d done this open mic probably twenty-five times. I would arrive at the bar at sign-up time and stay till close, supporting the other comics. I developed a casual business relationship with the booker. He liked my style and was impressed that every time I hit that mic, I had new material and was getting consistent laughs. He commented on it and asked how much time I had. I said, “about an hour.”

He asked if I had video… and I had a couple of tapes in the backpack I carried with me wherever I went. I handed it to him. He was impressed that I had one on me. (I thought to myself Wow! Some of that “crazy” shit my Dad told me to do is paying off!) The booker took the video home to watch it. I was excited.

The very next week I went back to that open mic, my heart soaring with anticipation of getting a job. When I got there I found out that the booker who took my tape just went out on the road to do his “new” act. That man’s name was Carlos Mencia…

JUST KIDDING! It wasn’t Mencia…

But he did go out on the road for two weeks. I was disappointed that I would have to wait for him to return, but I was already going to that open mic for about six months so what was another two weeks? The very next day the booker called me and told me he liked the video and he had a gig for me in West Covina at a place called Lamp Post Pizza. It paid a hundred bucks and you got food and a couple of drink tickets. I thought to myself: “I’VE MADE IT!”

I did the show and did really well. I got my hundred bucks, but was too nervous to enjoy the free food. I came home and was so excited that I got paid for telling jokes! I basically got paid for doing something that used to get me into trouble back in school! Fuckin’ Eh!

I was so excited and jacked up from that experience, that I researched and called everyone I knew that did comedy. I found something called Comedy USA, a publication that culled and printed information for comedians, bookers and clubs. I called all of clubs listed. Ninety percent said “NO.”  I called more. I got a Fed-Ex account, got my tape duplicated and sent it out to everyone I could. Slowly, I started to get work. Most of it was filling in for last minute cancelations and some of it was driving 5 to 6 hours to make fifty bucks, but it was a start.

I spent 5 days a week, making at least 10 calls per day for my career. I sent out tapes, traveled to clubs and auditioned in person whenever I could. Eventually one job turned in to several jobs. I did this all without an agent or manager, (Sometimes my wife called as my manager). Eventually I turned it into a career doing 40-45 weeks of work a year and more. But I chased it and I worked it. Every. Single. Day.

My point is this: YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK! YOU have to hit the mics 3-6 times a week. YOU have to develop the act to where it’s nearly flawless and YOU have to chase the work to win this comedy lottery…

In the words of the Priest: “First, my son, you have to buy a ticket!”

Comedians Wanted!

levity_entertainment_group_logo_smallerEvery once and I while I get an email from someone promoting their event, wondering whether my ‘readers’ will be interested. In most cases it’s a case of someone wanting to reach people for free. I have no problem with that. It’s creative and it means they are doing their job shamelessly promoting their event.

I do my best to vet the event, to make sure it’s not just some “bringer show,” that wants to exploit the students in my classes or my readers, have them bring all the students friends to “their” show and collect “their” door money. Those I DO NOT promote, because there is no mutual benefit for my readers or my students.

Once in a while I receive a great opportunity for up-and-comers to get exposure. I believe this is one of them.

Levity Entertainment is promoting an online comedy competition, where the winner will be able to appear before Levity talent agents for possible representation.

Who Is Levity?

Levity Entertainment is owned by Robert Hartman and Judy Marmel Brown. They are the majority owners of the “Improv” comedy clubs and they are vertically leveraged with a couple of other production companies responsible for specials that appear on HBO, Comedy Central and other channels. They are some pretty heavy hitters in the comedy arena and only positioned to become bigger sluggers. So, in a nutshell, they are GOOD TO KNOW!

Here’s the Deal

All you have to do is submit your stand up comedy video (no more than 5 minutes) and follow the instructions on the page.

Remember to please read all instructions, details and official rules before submitting! Then keep up with the project and maybe you might be luck enough to be chosen for this new comedy project. The great thing about this project is, no matter where you are from, Levity will fly out out to L.A. to be a part of this!

So what are you waiting for? Give it a shot and GOOD LUCK!

How A Comedian Can Beat The “Bringer” Show…

Brian Zuanich at the Cohiba ClubOne of the biggest complaints I receive from comics and students trying to get mic time is that “everything seems to be a bringer show.”

Several of my students “burned out” their bringers, early in the game, just trying to get more time on stage to develop their act and build to thirty minutes…

Which leads me to the second most popular complaint: “How’s a comic develop 30-minutes when the only spots in town are six minute sets or, at most, ten?”

If you’re not familiar with the “bringer show,” read my post on bringer shows

Let’s face it, a comedian has limited opportunities to play longer sets where he doesn’t have to worry about packing the room with his family and friends. So instead of complaining, let’s try to find solutions.

One of the best ways to get around the bringer show trap is to set up your own room. That’s right! Find a bar or restaurant or lounge that is a good location for a comedy room and pitch the idea to the owner.

In setting up a comedy room there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Let the owner know why it might be good for their business. Keep in mind, the only thing they are concerned about is how it will benefit their business. If they don’t see the benefit, then they probably won’t like your offer. Once you give them your best pitch and they can’t see the benefit, then move on to the next room.
  • Try to set the room up outside of the L.A. or your city’s perimeter. L.A. is filled with a glut of rooms. Your odds are better if you get to the outskirts of town.
  • Book quality comedians.
  • Set the show up professionally.
  • Run a tight show that runs about an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five.

Two of my students, David Conolly and Brian Zuanich, decided to set up a room in Long Beach at the Cohiba Club at the pier. They set up a curtain, lights and sound because they wanted to “transform” the club into what resembled at comedy club. They did a great job too! They put on their first show January 28th. The show was standing-room only. They put quality comedians on the stage, (all students from my Stand Up Comedy Class) and the audience loved it.

The owner did well at the bar (They had a bar/door split, where the club kept the bar and Brian and David kept the door). As a result of the successful evening, the owner told them, that normally he doesn’t do this because comedy “sucks.” But this group was a “class above the rest.” Now they are to have a regular show once a month in Long Beach.

Once they have this successful formula in place they just need to duplicate it in different locations outside the L.A. perimeter and they could wind up with weekly shows.

Keep in mind that your job as the show producer is to  keep the best quality comedians on the bill and allow for one new person per week. If you consistently have good comedic talent on the stage and you have relentless promotion, then you might have some success, although there are no guarantees. Comedy rooms can be more fickle than a 9th grader during a first kiss. (I can say that because I was a ninth grader once and during my first kiss…the only thing I remember is that she told everyone how fickle I was).

Promoting and producing a comedy show as a comedian can be beneficial in multiple ways. You will benefit from booking your own room, building relationships with other comedians who want work and getting work from those other comedians who book rooms.

The bigger your network of comedians and friends in the business, the more opportunities come your way in the long run.

So go get a room and watch your reputation grow.