Revenge may be Best Cold, but Success is Best Always.

Joe Dungan - Winner, Clean Comedy Challenge 2017

One of the biggest joys of running the Comedy Clinic and imparting what I’ve learned through these many years in comedy is when one of my students has a success moment. It’s rewarding in so many ways.

First off, it’s just totally cool to see one of your students succeed… just that. I remember when I was in that same position and I remember the feeling of winning something or succeeding at something in comedy. That sense of accomplishment is sublime and when one of your students achieves success, it’s like having that feeling all over again.

Joe Dungan, one of my hardest working students and one of my master teachers just won The Clean Comedy Challenge 2017 at the Ice House in Pasadena, CA!

Joe competed against a litany of other comedians. And he must’ve done great because at the end of the performances one of the other comedians said to him, “Get ready to collect your prize money,” implying that it was clear who won the Clean Comedy Challenge.

So how did Joe do it?

As many of you know, it can be a challenge to come up with clean comedy that pops. The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

Joe’s opening line gets them laughing right away “My name is Joe ‘Successful Career’ Dungan, but you can call me Joe Dungan because the ‘Successful Career’ is silent.”

This line accomplishes two things. It self-deprecates, presenting Joe’s dilemma, while using the superiority concept in comedy, instantly letting the audience know that Joe doesn’t take himself too seriously. It also gives us surprise and incongruity because Joe juxtaposes the words “successful career” with a letter that might be silent in a person’s name.

But the structure of that joke is tight. It’s a great opening joke and has the audience on Joe’s side right out of the gate.

Lorne Michaels, the genius behind the success of Saturday Night Live, says that an audience has to be confident in the comedian on stage and there’s nothing better than a well-structured joke right out of the gate to immediately inject a large dose of confidence into that audience.

And that’s the primary focus of the curriculum at the Comedy Clinic. I want you to learn the science and structure of comedy so I empower you with the tools to write comedy that is designed to get laughs by helping you learn the proven structures of comedy and the science behind why people laugh.

I encourage my students to be able to write clean material. You don’t have to do clean material if it’s not your persona, but you should be able to. This way you don’t have to simply rely on shock value to get a laugh.

When you learn to be able to work clean you can work anywhere. It makes you more versatile as a comedian and makes you more likely to succeed as a comedy writer or performer.

Let’s face it, one of the quickest ways to get on the map in comedy is to appear on television and whether it’s Kimmel, Conan, Fallon, Colbert, Meyers or Corden, your material needs to be able to fit in the parameters of that show’s requirements and although many of the shows are showing much more flexibility, you’re still required to be ‘clean.’

Once you have a few appearances on network TV, you are more likely to be able to book higher paid corporate work, get a solid agent and begin developing your professional career even further.

A national TV credit almost instantly thrusts you into the headlining position in most clubs around the country and gives agents a reason to represent you.

But if you’re not able to work clean, the network TV gigs will continue to be off-limits to you as a performer.

If you are able to work clean, almost nothing can stop you.

So congratulations Joe Dungan! Get that video and start getting it out to the talent coordinators booking the Late Night shows on TV.

And to those of you reading this, start learning to write and perform clean. Remember you don’t have to be a clean comedian, but you create exponentially more opportunity if you are able to.

I’m Funny around my Friends, but…

Funny around friends, but
Are you funny around your friends? Do you make your friends laugh in everyday situations, but then you try to put it on the page and it just doesn’t sound like you or the idea that you thought was funny is no longer funny?

It’s like your natural ability to be funny is being killed by the writing.

This is a common complaint with people and there are a lot of things that are going on that cause that to happen.

In this post, I’m going to discuss the main reason as to why we’re funny in person and it gets lost on the page and what you can do to keep your natural funny growing while learning to develop the funny in your writing.

If you’re one of those people who’s naturally funny in the moment with your friends, you should understand that the way you developed that (most likely) is through exposure. I’ve yet to meet a so-called naturally funny person who wasn’t exposed to comedy at a younger age.

My writing partner, Rob Rose, is probably the fastest, funniest guy I’ve ever worked with. He’s so quick when we’re at parties or social gatherings I just stand back and let him do his thing. But Rob wasn’t “born” with this. Rob used to hide in his room (because of an abusive step-father) and watch comedy shows. He watched all the greats. Their structure and timing were immaculate. Because of his constant exposure, he began to repeat jokes and use some stuff in his own dialogue. Eventually, he started to recognize the patterns that created the laugh. By coincidence, in conversation, he would recognize more opportunities to use those patterns with his own words.

When I met Rob he was already a funny guy. He was part of a 2-man comedy team that just messed around at an open mic in Sacramento.

A couple of years later, he started going on the road with me as a solo act. His first night on stage, he bombed… horribly. What do I mean by that? He was only able to do about a minute and a half. He was supposed to do thirty!

He thought that just because he was such a funny guy, he could go up on stage and wing it. But being funny in person doesn’t always equate to being funny within a certain time frame on stage and on cue.

In stand-up comedy, you have to get them early and you’re expected to get a laugh every 18-20 seconds (minimum), on average. Rob didn’t get a laugh in the first 90 seconds… started sweating said, “Good night!” and ran off the stage.

We had a contract to provide a 90-minute show. So I had to go up and do 90-minutes. Lol!

Looking back on it, Rob laughs about that night. It’s still embarrassing, but he laughs about it.

After that night Rob and I spent the entire next day going over his act. I turned on a video camera, (It was one of those camcorders that had the VHS tape in it), and had Rob come into the room like it was a stage and do his act, by reading it off the page.

Every time he messed it up, he would go back out of the room and we’d start the tape over. He would come back and start his set like he was actually starting his act.

Yep, just like two grown-ass men playing pretend!

Eventually, Rob got it. We took the tape and put it in Rob’s VCR player in his hotel room.

He listened to it over and over.

He’s so good in the moment and on the fly that I said, “If you ever feel stuck, just go to your strength,” (being in the moment).

That night Rob crushed it so hard that people were asking for his autograph after the show.

The key is, we played to his strength which is being in the moment.

Before I forget, one crucial point: We went over Rob’s act orally, then I wrote down every joke/story. The reason I wrote it down was because when Rob actually wrote his jokes, he had a tendency to “overwrite” them. He would overwrite them to the point where they were no longer funny.

Rob eventually fixed that. But only through a lot of practice writing jokes and writing dialogue.

Comedy has a certain structure. Rob spent his childhood learning that structure orally to that structure and it worked when he was in the moment.

In essence, when Rob was learning orally, he was using different regions of the brain to access his funny mechanism. But that’s not all…

Throughout our entire school careers, when we are taught to write, we are brainwashed (in a sense) to write in prose. We’re taught creative writing, but usually with a focus on using correct grammar, punctuation, etc. And it’s usually dull when read aloud.

Try this take even an exciting book of fiction and try reading it aloud. It will “sound” like a book.

Stand-up, on the other hand, is a conversation, (usually one-sided). We’re expected to be present like we would be at a party with our friends.

Problem is we’ve spent years learning to write NOT the way we speak. We speak in broken sentences, in slang, with contractions, etc.

It’s amazing to watch someone who’s developing their skill at writing. They could crack a great joke right in front of you. And the moment you ask them to write it down, they fall back on their learning of writing in school, trying to use correct punctuation, grammar, etc., and they over write the joke.

That can kill the joke.

It’s not just common in stand-up, but also in script writing. It’s hard to find someone who can write great dialogue. Why? Because dialogue is

Why? Because dialogue is conversation.

There are many different ways to correct this. It takes time to learn how to write the way you talk. Too many to cover in this blog post.

However, you can start by learning to record your jokes with your friends. By first recognizing that they’re laughing at what you’re saying, then getting it on the recorder on your iPhone or Android device. Then transcribing the joke exactly as you said it without falling back into your grade school lessons and writing the way you were taught, but writing the way you speak.

If you practice this often, you will soon learn to write the way you talk.

Another way to do it is to write your jokes like you’re writing a Facebook post, a text or an email. When we’re doing that we have a tendency to write like we’re talking to a specific person.

If  you’re funny in person, but lose the funny when you put it on the page, focus on your strength of being funny in the moment with your friends.

Practice your joke writing during the day but when you hit the stage focus on your strength

Eventually, your writing will match your personality.

20 Comic Masks – Which One are You?

20 comic masks

As a comedian, have you ever been asked to refine your point of view?

Have you ever wondered what your point of view is? Your persona? Your voice?

Or, like me, has a booker said to you, I’m looking for an “internal thru-line, a golden thread of continuity.”

WTF?!

I heard that one from Mark Lonow, former talent coordinator and co-owner of the Improv in L.A., (years ago) immediately after I did an audition that I thought I rocked.

It was disheartening because not only did I not get a spot at the Improv from him, I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about!

Two days later I said, “screw that!” I went right to Bud Friedman, (the founder of the Improv), pleaded for an audition and with the same act got booked in Vegas and on T.V.

What is a Point of View?

So what is a point of view? And what does a booker mean when he says he wants to see a stronger one?

A point of view is how you look at the world and the situations around you that you include in your comedy.

Basically answer the question: “Who are you?”

Can you say in a couple of sentences who you are?

Are you a cynic? Do you have a quirky way of looking at life? Do you like to pick out life’s minutia and point out those observations in a funny way? Are you a liberal? A conservative? Gun lover? Trump voter?

You’re point of view doesn’t have to be extreme.

Who Are You?

20_comic_maks_150x183From scholar to buffoon, there are about 20 Major and distinctive comic masks, but each comedian can have only one. Download the 20 Comic Masks PDF Chart and see where you fit in!

Click to Download the PDF

Amy Schumer is known for her subversive feminism and addressing various social issues through a character who is seemingly promiscuous and a little ditsy.

Schumer has described herself as just someone who goes in and out of being an irreverent idiot. (Although I think, and her bank account surely reflects, that she’s more than that).

Bill Burr is a bit of an edgy devil’s advocate. He approaches his comedy by challenging the status quo from a strong male point of view to the point where he appears at times to be misogynistic. But Burr always says “It doesn’t make sense. Somebody explain it.” Then he explains it, usually using analogies while making us think, “Oh I never thought about it that way.”

Larry the Cable Guy (Dan Whitney), is a simple guy, a bit of a buffoon trying to figure out how things work.”

Whitney Cummings is a woman fed up with the bullshit of men and relationships, but still trying figure out how to make relationships work.

When I first started I was just trying to write funny jokes and stories. I did wordplay, paradox and observation like Carlin, but with a strong Seinfeldian voice.

So much so that Seinfeld himself mocked me at a club after I did a set! Lol.

I was getting laughs but I wasn’t sure who I was or how to find myself. Then I got some advice from the most unexpected source…

I met a mobster when I was waiting tables in New York. He was one of my favorite customers. I told him I didn’t know what to be when I was up on stage. He said, “Don’t listen to your heart, it feels too much. Don’t listen to your head, it thinks too much. Listen to your gut, cuz your gut never lies to you.”

Shortly after that, I met George Carlin. He said to me, “take the stuff that drives you absolutely fucking crazy and make it funny.”

That’s when my voice turned more toward a socio-political irreverent style that felt cathartic and real to me.

It felt ‘right’ in my gut, you know?

I loved to watch and read the news and call bullshit. I like to look at the inequalities and the hypocrisies in the world and point them out.

My act evolved toward a message of tolerance of race, gender and sexual preference, but not religion because in my comedic view religion is the reason societies have created a fictitious hierarchy and division in the first place.

Basically I make fun of everyone, but in a way that unites and makes our various idiosyncrasies fun.

How do you define yourself?

How do You Find Your Point of View?

One way to find your point of view or voice is to ask people what they see when they see you.

Another way is to ask yourself how you want people to see you or get in touch with who you are around your friends and start with that.

Another way is to develop a character, refine it and perform material based on that character’s point of view.

For several years, I created a pretty refined character named Charlie Stone. Charlie was a quirky, long-haired surfer-type character. He wasn’t a stoner, because he didn’t do drugs, but he had a stoner approach to his world view…

“This gal comes up to me and says, Dude: are you a Christian? I said, ‘No: I’m a Catho-Christi-Hinuistic-Musli-Morma-Jew: I don’t want to miss out on Heaven cuz of a technicality!'”

Charlie was an interesting experiment. I used to go out on the road and open for me, Jerry Corley as Charlie Stone.

Basically I would wear a wig and these blue-tinted glasses and do 30 minutes as Charlie Stone then change while the emcee was up, come back to the stage as Jerry Corley and do another hour.

The interesting part was that even though my act would do well and many times end in a standing ovation, everyone would come up to me after the show and say, “Where’s Charlie Stone?!”

What I learned from that was that Charlie Stone’s character was so refined that he was memorable.

I’m positive that if I brought Charlie back today, because of the strong, refined character, he would place or win in competitions and book some T.V.

Talent coordinators and bookers often confuse the difference between character, persona, voice and ‘point-of-view.’

But usually what occurs is that if a character is well-defined, the point of view tends to just fall into place within that character.

Some People Say it Takes 7 Years or More to Find Your Persona. Is That True?

One of the reasons it takes people a long time to find their persona or voice is that the first several years of their journey into comedy, they are just trying to figure out how to write a joke and create an act, you know? Make something funny.

As they begin to develop material they begin to realize that some material seems to resonate more with them than other material and they start to focus more on the material that they’re more connected to, which helps to shape their voice.

Bill Burr said he spent the first 5-7 years of his career doing one and two-liner comedy. Then when he started to go up on stage and riff on ideas is when he found more of his cynical voice.”

Anthony Jeselnik said that he started writing comedy by study Jack Handy’s “Deep Thoughts” from Saturday Night Live. He started writing those down then writing his own. “Then I was up on stage and did a joke that was dark and it got a great response. And I knew that’s where I was going.”

There’s no one way to find your point of view. Just keep cognizant of who you are and what you’re trying to say.

Remember that your character can evolve, develop and change. Allow yourself to explore it. Try different things. Listen to the audience and how they respond, adjust and refine.

And also always, always listen to your heart–wait… your gut.

3 Reasons You Should Develop Your Comedy Writing Chops

3 Reasons to develop your comedy writing chops

Open Letter

I’m gonna call this blog post an open letter to comedy teachers.

This especially goes out to one comedy teacher in particular who refers to himself as “America’s Original Comedy Coach.” (Lol, right?)

Recently, I put a post on Facebook called “911 For Your Jokes.” It’s a step-by-step walkthrough of 5 different ways to take a single subject, and develop a comedy routine, a bit or stand-alone jokes.

In the case of this particular post, the subject was ‘Flight Attendant.’ (See it in action here).

I put out these ‘freebies’ so that comedians and comedy writers (both new and old), can get some ideas and inspiration on how to get the material going.

Because we’ve all run into writer’s block, right?

Listen to the Audio Version

So “America’s Original Comedy Coach” (sorry, can’t say that without giggling), posted a comment ridiculing the fact that I was demonstrating this.

I think his comment was, “Formula #1: Don’t use any of these formulas for comedy or you’ll wind up sounding exactly like everyone else.”

You guys who know me, know that I would never usually call someone out like this, but when you attempt to ridicule me in a public forum, It’s on, bitch! :-).

Here are 3 Big Reasons you should Develop Structure in your Comedy Writing…

#1: Writing Makes it Easier to Build Structure into your Material

So let’s examine that whole “sound like everyone else” statement for a moment.

If you watch Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr, Daniel Tosh, Amy Schumer, Brian Kiley, Whitney Cummings, Kira Soltanovich, (or any number of comedians who are currently at the top of their game), and you deconstruct their acts, you will discover that they all utilize similar techniques in their comedy routines to get laughs.

Would you say that they all sound alike?

Didn’t think so… and you want to know the reason?

They are different people!

Those comedians each have different points of view, different experiences and different ways of expressing themselves.

But it is the structure within their sets that gets the laughs. Without that structure, guess what?

No laughs.

#2: Get More Laughs

Let’s take two distinctly different, but similar comedians. Anthony Jeselnik and Brian Kiley. Below is an example of a joke each of them do.

They are using a comedy structure called the “Paired Phrase.”

KILEY: My wife and I have been married for 20 years, but there’s still that tension between her Dad and I. He’s always giving me a look like, “I know you’re having sex with my daughter.” And I’m always giving him a look like… “Barely.”

JESELNIK: I went to my girlfriend’s parents’ house over the holidays. Her Dad didn’t let us sleep in the same room. He was giving me a look like, “I don’t trust you.” And I gave him a look like, “Trust me, man… I’m fucking your daughter.”

You hear the similarity?

It’s goal of the paired phrase (in this particular context) to create pattern disruption or an expected rhythm or ending and then shatter created expectation.

When that pattern is disrupted, (with Kiley, he used self-deprecation while Jeselnik uses ambivalence and a bit of shock value), you create surprise and if you’re familiar with the 9 psychological laughter triggers, you already know that surprise is one of the most effective.

But if you were to watch Jeselnik and Kiley back to back, you wouldn’t think they sounded alike because they have totally different personas.

Jeselnik is driven by ambivalence, (being discompassionate about things society believes you should be compassionate about), and Kiley is driven by a persona that is slightly put upon and confused about the way things are supposed to work.

Using the ‘Reverse’ to Create Surprise

Another way to create surprise with with a comedy structure called a ‘reverse.’ This construct also sets up an expectation, then shatters it. When a comedian or comedy writer knows this, writing comedy is much easier.

I mean think about it. All Jeselnik has to do is to come up with a situation that we call can relate to and solve them with something unexpected.

“I break up with the girls the way I take off a band-aid; slow and in the shower.”

Kiley does a similar thing with the reverse structure by shattering our expectation with situation we can all identify with:

“I’m surprised I got together with my wife at all because when I first met her she was soooo… pregnant.”

So to say that structure is wrong is denying your students the very tools that make people laugh.

#3: Comedy Writing Enables you to Make More Money

America’s Original Comedy Coach also ridiculed my effort to encourage comedians to develop their skills in writing comedy material.

This is where I was completely dumbfounded! WTF!? Why would you NOT encourage your students to develop all their skill sets?

That’s like telling a baseball player to work only on hitting the ball. You might do pretty well when you’re up at bat, but you’ll suck everywhere else.

And, while in baseball a hitter may be considered good when he gets a hit 1 out of 3 times, if you do that in the comedy world, a talent booker wouldn’t even want you as a pinch hitter!

If you neglect developing your skills at writing you’re doing yourself a serious disservice.

Also… and this is a BIG also… when you know how to write comedy material, you have just exponentially increased your potential to create revenue.

There are so many opportunities out there for people who can write funny.

Doing stand-up and getting good is great, but learning to develop your writing chops just adds another high-revenue-creating skill set.

So, America’s Original Comedy Coach, I would rethink what you’re teaching your students and while you’re at it, maybe rethink calling yourself “America’s Original Comedy Coach.”

Think about it, man; If you were America’s original airplane, America’s original automobile or America’s original computer, you’d be obsolete.

Don’t Suck! The 9-minute Comedy Mastermind Session

rob-delaney-screenshot

This could be the most important 9-minute comedy lesson of your life.

In the next 9 minutes you’re going to learn a lot! I mean a ton! I’m calling this article my 9-minute Comedy Mastermind Session.

When it comes to comedy writing and theory, my argument always focuses on structure.

“Structure is king!” I’ll usually say.

Listen to the Audio Version

Getting to the point and getting the laugh with a strong point of view while saying something that actually means something is crucial but structure is where the laugh occurs… not just trying to be funny.

This next 9-minutes focuses on that.

Structure is really the keys to the car that drives comedy success. I’d argue that it’s not just important, it’s crucial!

Side-by-Side Comedian Comparison

In the next 9 minutes you’re going to look at two comedians.

Rob Delaney and Brian Kiley.

Delaney is your classic internet sensation comedian. His rise to notoriety came via Twitter where he had 1.26 million followers! But you’ll soon learn that Twitter comedy doesn’t necessarily interpret into stellar stand-up.

Brian Kiley is the head monologue writer for Conan O’Brien. Kiley is a master of structure and joke telling. But his joke telling style is so well finessed that it doesn’t seem like he’s us telling jokes.

Take a look at these two comedians as they appear on 2 different late night shows.
Structure vs. No structure. It’s Kiley with solid structure and Delaney with just telling a story and trying to be funny

You be the judge…

…and as always I would love to hear your comments.

Enjoy!

Rob Delaney

Let’s take a look at comedian Rob Delaney. He performed a set on Jimmy Kimmel Live. He wasn’t prepared, he lacked structure and he totally shits the bed…

Caution: You might have to will yourself to watch the entire 4.5 minutes. But it’s important that you do.

Brian Kiley

Now let’s watch 4.5 minutes of Brian Kiley. Brian is a master of joke structure. You don’t have to be like him or deliver your material in this more “joke” form, but you’ll easily see the difference between structured and unstructured material.

Conclusion

In my view, structure is king.

Brian Kiley’s set is far superior in it’s structure and it’s story-telling than Rob Delaney. In fact, rumor has it that Delaney tried to make sure that this didn’t get out. I get it.

I’m not posting this to slam Delaney as a comedian. I’ve been doing stand-up for nearly 30 years, I know how hard it is to get on T.V. So big props to him for just getting the spot. But when you get there you’ve got to have a structured set.

Your effectiveness is judged by laughs per minute. If you’re not getting laughs, the audience is tuning out.

A stand-up comedian’s time is also limited on late night TV shows. Comedian’s sets have been running around 4 minutes 30 seconds! I just watched comedian Dulce Sloan on Conan and she only had 3 minutes!

You gotta get to the jokes fast and keep them rolling! If you don’t you might wind up like Rob Delaney and totally shitting the bed.

There are two primary ways to learn how to build comedy and story structure into your comedy act: 1. Get up and try it and learn through trial and error and hopefully find your way to doing what the successful comedians are doing… or 2. Drop in on one of my comedy classes and learn why people laugh and learn the structures that trigger that laughter. You can also really jack up your comedy writing skills at one of my Weekend Comedy Writing Workshops.