Why Wait? Plan your Own Success!

plan your success

A DREAM written down with a date becomes a GOAL.

A GOAL broken down into steps becomes a PLAN.
A PLAN backed by ACTION makes your DREAMS come TRUE.

But a DREAM minus GOALS and a PLAN becomes REGRET.

I know that sounds just like some cliche fluff that you’d find on one of those cheesy motivational posters in an office.

I know, office? Yuck!

But you would be amazed at how many people—especially artists—don’t even write down their goals.

You know how most people go through their lives? They WAIT for something to happen. Writers, Actors and comedians are most vulnerable here.

One of the reasons this happens is because they’re waiting for success, not planning for success.

When you want to be a lawyer, you know you can go to college, then law school. You talk to a counselor and they map out a plan of classes that will get you to a certain number of units of a certain selection of classes and you graduate.

Maybe you’re working as an intern for the last part of school. If you do well in school, sometimes that firm hires you.

Then you take the bar exam with a certain number of questions on that exam and you have to get a certain percentage of answers right so you can pass the bar.

In many cases you are hired right out of college and the firm you’re working for pays the expense for you to take and pass the bar. Congratulations! You have a job. You are a lawyer!

Unfortunately, it is not the same thing with show business. You don’t have a specific amount of classes you need to take, you don’t have to achieve a certain amount of units, you don’t have a test and you don’t get a degree that says you are qualified.

So what are you supposed to do?

As an actor, you go to class, you develop the skills, you do an agent showcase, you get an agent and they send you out for auditions.

But what about comedian or comedy writer? It’s really the same thing, but it’s up to YOU to develop the skills, then submit for the job.

Just as you would with a regular job. It’s really no different except that you don’t have a test and you don’t have a specific amount of units you have to pass and you don’t have to have a degree.

The good news is that you don’t have to attend a specific amount of years or earn a specific amount of credits at a university or trade school.

You just have to prove your competence.

There are two primary ways of developing that competence.

  1. Go out and just do it and do it and hope for the best.
  2. Take classes, get coaching to master the fundamentals from someone with real experience. Learn to avoid the mistakes and have a safe environment where you can workout, receive guidance, have accountability and develop a set faster and more efficiently.

I’ve tried both ways, and trust me, it’s much faster working with a professional.

 

Each method has their benefits and their pitfalls. Getting out and performing is great, but I’ve seen 10’s, maybe hundreds of comedians getting up at the mics regularly doing the same material that doesn’t work, the very next week they come up and do the exact same material and it doesn’t work.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I’m sure you’ve heard this: Albert Einstein is credited with saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Having a coach or a good teacher,  can help to guide you through the writing of solid material. Can help to give you the extra tip or pointer that can take a joke that’s not working and make it work.

I believe that if you think an idea is funny, but it’s not getting laughs, then most likely it’s funny, but it’s just missing an element that is needed to trigger the laugh.

In my classes, part of what we study is WHY people laugh. What triggers that?

When you understand that at its most intrinsic level you can begin to make changes to a joke to take it from a semi-chuckle (because it’s a funny idea) to a triggered laugh because it a funny joke.

Here’s an example:

One of my students went up and did this joke:

I’m in menopause and I’ve been getting these terrible hot flashes lately. I mean they’re bad. Last night, we were home, the kids are asleep and I got this awful hot flash. I was burning up. So I just peeled off all my clothes. I swear I almost game my husband a heart attack. Thank God we weren’t at Starbucks.

It’s a funny idea. But it’s not quite a joke.

One element that should be present in all jokes is surprise. So I suggested changing the set up to a more assumptive set up by removing one of the elements from the maxim of the five W’s (Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How?). So we removed where, (“we were home”).

So that changes the set up. Keeping “the kids were asleep,” helps support and misdirect the audience to assume  she is home and give her a better opportunity for surprise. So the joke becomes:

“I’m in menopause and I’ve been getting these terrible hot flashes lately. I mean they’re bad. Last night, the kids are asleep and I got this awful hot flash. I was burning up. So I just peeled off all my clothes. I swear I almost gave my husband a heart attack… ‘Cuz we were at Starbucks… 

Now, with the sudden change in location (surprise) and using Starbucks as the punchline, it offers another opportunity for her to add a tag to the joke:

… (Shrugs shoulders) the coffee wasn’t the only thing that was hot…” 

After understanding this concept, it enabled the student to add her own tag after that. She said, “I just took my husband’s coffee cake and said, ‘would you like me to heat that up for you?'”

Fixing the funny idea and making it more of a joke, gave it a much bigger laugh in front of the audience. Also adding the two tags, allowed for her to get three laughs from the idea, instead of just one.

Having the guidance from someone who’s a professional who understands the mechanics of comedy writing and performance can help you learn a lot faster and reach your goal of developing an act in a much more efficient way.

So getting up on stage and just doing it over and over and over the same way is not the most effective way of getting better, it’s just the definition of insanity.

The New Year is right around the corner.

If you have a DREAM…
Set some GOALS…
Make a PLAN…
Take ACTION…

… and make your DREAMS come TRUE!

and may you have an amazing 2018!

Holidays Can be Stressful or They Can be Comedy Gold, Your Choice!

Stay funny during the holidays

First of all Merry Christmas to everyone.  And those who don’t celebrate Christmas, Happy Hanukkah! And let’s not forget Kwaanza, Boxing Day, Winter Soltice, Pancha Ganapati, Yule, Yalda and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti. Happy that to you too!

And the rest of you will probably burn in an eternal Hellfire.

Festive Huh?!

I try to include everyone because I’m a self-proclaimed Catho-Christi-Hinuistic-Musli-Morma-Jew. I am! I don’t want to miss out on Heaven because of a technicality!

I love the holidays, but every year we hear stories about how stressful the holidays can be.

Suicide rates go up, family arguments occur, anxiety and depression increases, crime increases and so do heart attacks.

That’s not fake news, those are facts and I know it sounds drastic, but as a comedian I say, “Comedy Gold, right?!”

This little blog post is just a friendly reminder that despite the chaos and heightened everything that trends significantly upward during the holiday season, remember that you are a jester and revel in it!

Keep your eyes out for funny nuances of family members. Remember that little squabbles that feel so stressful during the holidays can become hysterical bits of comedy for your stand-up, your columns or your tweets.

One way to be sure you’re keeping your sense of humor is to remember to keep your cynical glasses on. Every comic is a bit of a cynic. We look outside the situation to see the funny in the situation.

If you’ve followed this blog at all you know that I’m emphatic about looking toward the opposite of expected to find the funny. If the number one psychological human laughter trigger is surprise, then looking for the opposite of expected is almost a magical way to find the funny. Or a funny start to a bit.

One exercise that helps is to utilize a top 10 list as a punchline generator.

  • Top 10 Reasons you know it’s Christmas in Los Angeles, (or where you live)
  • Top 10 Reasons you know it’s the Holidays at your house.

I know a lot of people who are in mixed marriages or whose parents are two different religions. You could start with something like…

“My father was raised Catholic. My mother was raised Jewish…”

Then do a top 10 list related to how you know it’s the holidays at your house to generate joke ideas.

Remember the Top 10 exercise is not designed for you to create a Top 10 List for your act, per se. That was Letterman’s bag. It’s there for you to generate punchlines and joke ideas for you to finesse into stand-alone jokes or jokes to fit into an bit.

Whatever works for you, just remember that humor is everywhere and seeking it out during the holidays, may reduce the stress that can actually come from the holidays.

Making it your goal to find some funny will help you to actually keep your Happy Holidays, happy!

Trying to Write Jokes, but Feeling Stuck?

So you’re writing and you get a premise down on the page and then… it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Does this happen to you?

I was Skype-coaching with one of my students today and he said, I’ve been trying to write, but I keep feeling like I’m getting stuck.”

It can be super frustrating, especially when you’re just writing to put something, ANYTHING, on the page.

So how do you take that idea and make it into something?

First off, it’s important to understand WHAT you’re writing. Often you have an idea but you can’t figure out where to go with it.

Come up with an Angle

Sometimes it’s because you haven’t come up with an angle.

Writing comedy is much like journalism or script writing. You’re telling a story, but for the story to gain interest right at the setup, it must have an angle.

An angle in story writing is much like your opinion on the matter. It’s what starts to shape the premise. Without an angle there is no premise and without a premise, it’s usually not interesting.

Sometimes the angle is subtle. It’s stated in what’s called a topic statement or in script talk it’s often referred to as “theme stated.”

For example. I talk about having 5 kids. Then I say I have 5 kids from 3 different moms. Often, someone in the audience will emit an audible gasp, or a “Wow,” or “Ohhh…” That’s when I’ll laugh, point out and say, “There’s the judgement!”

I’ll follow that with a couple of tags. But it’s when I say, “I just couldn’t figure out relationships…” That’s when it becomes interesting to the audience. That’s something almost everyone can relate to. Also by saying “I just couldn’t figure out relationships…” Gives me an angle to approach the rest of the story.

Now I can talk about each relationship the curious craziness of my ex and my glaring failures.

Some times it’s easier to find the angle once you step out the idea…

I approach it like I’d approach writing a script from the seed of the idea. One of the first things you have to remember is a story isn’t a story without the Maxim of the 5 W’s being present.

Meaning Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How? Without answering all those questions, there’s going to be huge gaps.

In comedy, by answering those questions you start to clarify the imagery and enhance the idea by adding more specifics, more detail.

Sometimes the jokes are in the details

Sometimes the detail is what gets you to the jokes and the detail can change the direction of the joke, just like a screenplay or a story.

So my student said he went shopping for a washer/dryer with his wife. He was just looking at why he AND his wife need to go shopping for appliances. But as we stepped out the idea it began to shape up in a different way because he was inspired by a new angle.

We talked about the reasons why, answering one of the maxims. Then I asked “What?” As in what kind of washer did you wind up buying?
He said, “Samsung.”

To me, Samsung seemed like a weird answer. In my head I was thinking, Samsung doesn’t make washer/dryers!

Boom! That sparked an emotion. Which indicates a point of view or an angle. And that’s when when we started riffing on an idea that fleshed itself out to a decent first draft bit.

The premise started to flesh out like this:

My wife and I bought a Samsung washer/dryer combination. Yeah, Samsung is now making washer/dryers. (This is the angle)—->That’s not cool. There’s a time when a company starts making shit outside their specialty and you know they’re just starting to get out of control. <—- Like Samsung makes cellphones, computer screens, flat screens. I mean I have a Samsung phone. Now they’re doing Washer/Dryer combos? That’s great and all, but every time it goes into the spin cycle my phone drops a call. Samsung Washers just don’t make sense…

So that got it started. But I try to treat a premise like a wet towel and wring it out for everything I can find.

Use an analogy to open up the premise

Often in a premise it’s a good idea to find an analogy. An analogy will introduce a second element (a dissimilar idea). This gives you a chance to do a listing technique and come up with possible associative jokes. And since it’s comedy, we heighten the reality.

So you ask, “What’s it like?” Samsung, the smartphone manufacturer making cellphones is like… (Here I’m going to wildly exaggerate to see if the analogy works), so the bit continues…

…That’s like buying a Kotex Motorcycle. What would their slogan be? “Already comes with the girl riding it.” Come down and buy a new, 2017 Kotex V-Twin. We’ll make you a great deal. Swear to god, No strings attached.
Nothing handles like a Kotex Motorcycle. Accelerates fast, turns on a dime, and it can navigate in the tightest places. AND, you can tell when she needs an oil change because she gets really moody.

A good ‘first draft’ approach

Realize that this is just a first draft approach. I don’t even know if the jokes will stay in the set, but it’s a good effort, especially considering he felt like he was banging his head against the wall and his premises didn’t seem to be going anywhere at all.

So next time you feel like you’re stuck… start with an idea, step it out with the maxim of the 5-W’s, create an angle, drop in an analogy, look for the similarity between the dissimilar ideas and write the jokes.

It’s just one great way to keep yourself from banging your head against the wall.

What to do When Jokes Hurt Personal Relationships?

When Jokes Hurt Personal Relationships
“My daughter is one of those science fiction buffs. I mean she is a HUGE fan of science fiction–what do they call these people? Oh, right, Christians.”

That’s a joke I do to lead into a bit I do on organized religion. It’s a solid lead in and it always gets a laugh. I did it on the night my daughter was at the club with her girlfriend. Her girlfriend laughed (she’s a self-proclaimed Atheist) and so did my daughter… kind of.

I spoke to my daughter afterward and she said that it bothered her that I did that joke.

So what’s a comedian to do when jokes hurt personal relationships?

It’s a common problem. One of the definitions of a joke is that a joke is a veiled attack. We are attacking something. Ex’s, the status quo, ourselves.

We’re often encouraged to write about what we know, but sometimes making fun of what we know can hurt feelings.

Sometimes it helps to talk to the the person–that’s if you care–and ask them if the joke hits too hard. If it does, then make a decision whether or not you’re going to continue to do the joke.

There are different schools of thought on this. George Carlin used to say, “Fuck them. I’ll say what I want to say… if someone’s feelings get hurt, so be it.”

It was easier for Carlin to say that because George Carlin rarely, if ever, talked about himself or his personal relationships. It was almost always external. Same with Robin Williams and Jerry Seinfeld.

What is it with bugs?

I do jokes about my ex’s. I didn’t bother to ask if it offends them, because I don’t really care. The jokes aren’t evil. They just express my feelings during the relationships and they also include facts.

“My Ex is like a funny car; alcohol fueled.”

My Ex has really bad mood swings… really bad. I called her the ‘Ice Princess,’ because I never knew what mood she would be in. When I used to come home from a gig at night, before I went in I would put my tongue on the door. If it stuck, I would stay at the neighbors.”

“My Ex, who cheated on me called me around Halloween… she was like, “Jerry, I don’t know what to pretend to be for Halloween.” I said, Why don’t you just dress normally and pretend you’re in a committed relationship.”

Deciding Whether or not to Keep the Joke

I have a student who talks about her husband having a hard time getting aroused in the bedroom. “Unless he’s watching porn, he can’t get it up.” It really bothers her. She wanted a joke to respond to him.

Now as part of her act, after setting it up, she says…

“One time, me and my husband were at Disneyland at one of those ice cream kiosks… The guy said, “Would you like some soft serve.” I said, “No thanks. (points to her husband) I brought my own.”

She debated whether or not to keep the joke, because she was afraid that it would hurt his feelings. That’s an honest dilemma. It is a very personal thing and she’s still in a relationship with this man.

I used to go with the idea that if it makes someone sad, it’s no longer funny. But if you think that way then you might as well strike out a bunch of jokes, right?

So I just leave it to people I care about. If I don’t want to hurt their feelings then I don’t do the joke.

To clarify the point of this post. I’m talking mostly about jokes and stories that are targeted at an individual. When they are targeted at a concept… well, that’s another story.

Balancing Art with Life

Life is a scenario filled with risk to benefit ratios. In the end you have to make choices. If the joke is important to you as an artist who is expressing himself then do the joke, if you cannot risk the dilemma that results from hurting someone’s feelings who is close to you, choose another joke.

But this can become a slippery slope. There are those that will be determined to be offended about something and they will seek out the opportunity for that provocation. It’s impossible to make adjustments to please this kind of fanatic. If you try you’ll find yourself bending over backwards to do so and if you remain in that position, quite frankly, it is rather degrading.

Author Wayne Gerard Trotman said, “It’s impossible to be truly artistic without the risk of offending someone somewhere.”

With regard to the joke with my daughter, now I rephrase the joke so that it’s not my daughter but “some people.” My daughter still gets slightly upset that I compare religion to science fiction, but she’ll need to learn to live with that. The joke isn’t about her personally, it’s about religion.

In the end there are no right or wrong answers with this. Say what you want, but realize that one of the consequences could be that you hurt a relationship.

If you’re cool with that, so be it.

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Joke Not Getting a Laugh? The Reason Might be that it’s Not Plausible

rory skovel comedy central

Comedians often wonder why some of their jokes are not getting a laugh. If you’ve ever wondered this, read on. One of the reasons could be that it is not believable.

Comedians hear that they should tell the truth. That the truth is what’s funny. I think that pigeon-holes a comedian. I think it’s more accurate to say that your jokes or stories should be plausible. Even if they are a bit absurd.

As audiences, we love to be fooled, but we hate to be made fools of. Whether it’s a magic trick or a good joke, we’re fooled just a little. We experience surprise or a bit of amazement so we smile, laugh, applaud.

But, as audiences, when we’re made fools of we will turn. In comedy it is usually manifested as a groan or silence. In some cases you can actually watch an audience fold their arms, silently rejecting the performer’s recklessness in underestimating our intelligence.

I’ve seen comedians affect this behavior from audiences and stand in wonder as to why the audience would do such a thing. “I know this is funny! This is a funny idea!” “Come on! What’s wrong with the audience?” “How could they NOT get this?!”

You know the drill.

Storytelling Has Rules

As comedians, we’ve all done a joke and expected a laugh and the joke resulted in anything but laughter.

There are a lot of reasons that this happens. One of the most common reasons is the lack of understanding that comedy is heightened reality.

Plausibility in a story or joke is essential.

But before I go into it, allow me to argue that whether you perform one and two-liner jokes, or stories, it’s all the same. “A joke, (according to Sid Caesar) is a story with a curlicue.”

So if a joke is a story then it must have some kind of story structure and adhere to certain set of rules.

Sorry to break the news to some of you, there are rules in story telling and joke telling.

Fiction writers often argue that since they are the authors they can write anything since they are the creators. That is true. You CAN write anything you want, but if it does not follow certain rules, the reader or listener will immediately reject it.

Building Plausibility into Your Story

Stories, like jokes, have to adhere to a certain set rules. One of those rules is that the story or scenario has to be plausible. Another rule is that there should be some kind of point of view.

In trying to understand this concept, one of my students showed me an example of comedian, Rory Skovel on Comedy Central’s “The Half-Hour.” (3 1/2 minutes)

He was wondering how it is plausible that Rory had ‘stolen’ seven grandmothers. And if that concept didn’t violate the rule plausibility and wander into complete absurdity.

In my humble observation I give you this:

Rory’s persona is kinda like that of a sociopath. It’s quirky and off-center. He looks like he could’ve been one of those kids who was at risk of shooting up a high school so stealing and hoarding grandmothers doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility for his persona.

Also, in the structure of the storytelling, he adds, “…old people in wheelchairs, rarely turn around to see who’s pushing them.”  This statement gives credence to how the main character in the story achieves his goal.

As outrageous as the story may be, the act of stealing grandmothers and keeping them in your basement is certainly plausible. It’s physically possible and given the main character’s persona in the story, it seems like plausible behavior.

Implausibility comes with Impossibility

That being said, if the storyteller sprung some concept on the audience that wasn’t introduced in the setup, then we might reject it. For example, in Rory’s story, he wheels the grandmother out to his van…

If he didn’t introduce the van and he just said something like, “…then I transport them to my basement using my magical telepathic transporting powers… ” or something like that, it would be completely implausible or unbelievable.

As a result the audience would think the comedian–by thinking that we would fall for such nonsense–are playing us for fools and we would reject the joke.

That being said, if the comedian built into the story that this was a dream or that he was in a world where those powers could be attained through submitting 5 cereal boxtops and a self-addressed stamped envelope, then we might allow it, because the given circumstances of the story, the telepathic powers would be plausible.

So the next time you tell a joke or a story and the audience doesn’t buy it. Maybe it is because it’s not considered plausible.

In order for ever story to be complete the writer has to address the maxim of the five W’s: Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How? — Okay, 5 W’s and an H! 🙂

If any one of those elements is NOT plausible (given the circumstances that were explained to us in the set up and the character), then the audience might not buy the concept and may reject it by responding to our joke with silence.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Have you ever had a story or joke that didn’t work?