Conan O’Brien Just Could be a Stand-up’s Best Friend

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Doing your stand up on Late Night T.V. can be your big break as a comedian. Well, unless you’re Madonna doing stand-up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

I won’t get into that face-plant into a steamy pile of dog food by-product. I think that gimmick–at least for me–dropped my opinion of Fallon’s show; certainly with regard to it’s appeal for comedians.

When Johnny Carson was still on the air. The Tonight Show was the pinnacle. If a comedian could get on the Tonight Show and get that nod from Johnny to sit on the couch, then you could almost write your own ticket.

Currently, for comedians and their futures, it seems that Late Night has lost that sizzle…

Or has it?

Here’s a great article over at Paste Magazine that gives you a glimpse, from the inside, of how Conan OBrien’s show has now become a “stand-up’s best friend.”

This little post is not to imply that none of the other shows give a comedian that extra boost on their resume, because they do, but Conan seems to be the only one of the Late Night hosts who has followed Carson in his avid support of stand-ups.

Letterman doesn’t have that many on, Fallon would rather have famous people on the show than give a new comedian a shot, James Cordon hasn’t been on the air enough to gauge his propensity and Kimmel–well, Kimmel does support stand-ups, in my view, and seems to give them the freedom to bring  a little more bite to Late Night, a little more edge than some of the others, but still doesn’t have as many stand-ups on his show as Conan.

But Conan, hands down, takes it win it comes to the real showcasing of new stand-ups. He’s even booked two stand-ups on one episode, more than once. Not as a double-booking, but as part of the production.

Who does that?

I think every comedian should groom their four-and-a-half minutes to get it prepared for Late Night. That should be a target goal.

Getting a set on T.V. is a game-changer.

When you get into the article you’ll discover how many comedians got other breaks in the business once they got their set on Conan.

But before you run over there to Paste to check out the article consider these suggestions:

  1. Make note of the Talent Coordinator at Conan, (Put him into your contact database)
  2. Read attentively and look at the suggestions of what they look for at Conan
  3. Run over to TeamCoco’s page on YouTube and study the comedians and their Late Night sets.
  4. Notice their structure and their pacing. (Late Night pacing is a lot slower than you might imagine; bigger pauses)
  5. Start putting together your own idea of what your 4.5 minutes will look like.
  6. Be sure to keep in mind that on Late Night, that first joke is crucial. Gotta be tight.
  7. Finally, realize that the sets use tight structure.

So set your goals and your target for Conan (or any Late Night show), and get to  work.

In the meantime, give a shout-out to comedian, Grant Pardee, (the article’s author), and follow him on Twitter @grantpardee.

What These Two Weiners Can Teach Us About Comedy

What these two wieners can teach us about comedy

What in the world of funny?!

I can’t believe this hack just did a joke on the name Weiner being so much like the hot dog wiener. Oh my God what a hack!

I can just hear it now all the super clever comedians out there skewering me for having the nerve to post such a ridiculously sophomoric statement.

But I have a point to this whole thing… I think.

There’s a trend out there in stand-up comedy land, kids. And the trend is for comics to be Bill Burr or Louis C.K.

The trend is to be clever just like them. You know, tell stories, make a profound statement. After all, wasn’t it George Carlin who said, “Don’t just make them laugh, make them think!”

I get it and I’m with you. I love to do think humor. I love to speak out with profundity and make a daring, yet good socio-political statement. I love to have the balls to “walk” a room.

T.V. Comedy is About Simplicity

But this post is about simplicity and its place in comedy; especially in television.

That’s right Simplicity. There’s a place for it and there’s big money in it.

What? Money you say?

We all want to be the clever Bill Burr or Louis C.K. but realize they started a long time ago and they didn’t start doing the stories you hear them do when they step on stage now .

They started with jokes. Writing jokes and telling jokes. (At least Burr did).

But you’re missing an element in your total game if you just stick to the clever story-teller comedy. There’s an angle you all should be working and that’s the angle of being able to write your one and two liner jokes.

Every comedian out there should be spending some time each day cranking out some solid one and two-liners. Honing that craft and getting good at it. Because one of the ways to be sure that you can survive in this business is to build multiple revenue streams.

One of those revenue streams could be writing for Late Night T.V.

The key to writing for Late Night T.V. is not the deep-meaning, clever, iconoclastic comedy. It is the simple association, simple surprise, short-form comedy concept that can play not only in New York and L.A. but in Middle America too.

One of those simple comedy structures is Double Entendre or wordplay comedy.

I took the pulse of my readers recently (all three of you) regarding wordplay humor and I got back some interesting feedback regarding the state of wordplay in comedy.

Most of it was like, “Dude Wordplay ain’t dead but it’s certainly on life support.”

I respect people’s opinions, even when the opinions are retarded. (See I can say “retarded” because I’m referring to an opinion–a thing, not a person… besides I know a lot of retarded things).

I jest, of course and I wouldn’t blame you for unsubscribing for that “retarded” comment, (but if you did you’d be retarded), because I’m about to show you why wordplay is alive and well–even a crucial skill you should refine, if not as a comedian, then as a writer.

Wordplay is Alive in the T.V. Comedy Writing Scene

Wordplay and double entendre is used in comedy writing on television like it’s nobody’s business. Late Night is chewing it up. It’s in commercials. It’s in Sitcoms.

Most of the successful shows on T.V. are using the Double-Entendre or wordplay comedy technique to get audiences to laugh and with great success.

You might not think that it works, but there’s an old saying in comedy and it’s “know your audience,” and I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Late Night isn’t playing to you.

If you’re reading this blog then you probably have at least a passing interesting in stand-up comedy or comedy writing and YOU are Late Night’s last target audience.

The audience that Late Night T.V. targets is the middle America audience. Mostly the male demo between eighteen and thirty-four.

They are targeting people who are tired after a long day of work and feeding the kids and dealing with the day’s errands, tasks and chores.

Late Night, for the most part is about simple humor. Don’t believe me? Check out this little bit from “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”

Steve Higgins and Jimmy do Scat. (As in scatological humor).

In the middle of the Pros and Cons desk piece, they go on a “fart and shart” riff that lasts an entire two minutes. Now two minutes is nothing in real time but in T.V. time is a good chunk.

Listen to the wordplay and tell me that it’s not funny. But remember. It’s not up to you and me. It’s up to the audience. And the audience is loving this stuff!

You’ll also find a ton of wordplay in “Arrested Development” and “How I Met Your Mother” two rather successful television shows.

And not only that, also in commercials. If you look at some of the funny commercials you’ll find that wordplay is used and used often.

Like in this ad for Discover Card.

Frog Protection – Discover Card

Consider the silliness of both. Consider how “hacky” either could appear if you did an amalgamation of either on stage in your stand-up at the Comedy Store.

But remember television writing is not necessarily about being clever, it is about being silly and getting the laugh.

Also consider that a Late Night Writer makes a minimum of $4000 per week and a copywriter for a huge marketing firm could be making upwards of $700k per year.

So while I dig doing clever, solid story-telling, stand-up, it might be wise for me financially to also hone my simple comedy skills like Double-Entendre and Wordplay. Because that kind of money doesn’t sound like it’s on life support.

Top 3 Things You Should Be Doing As a Writer Right Now

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If things weren’t interesting enough in the Late Night world, Chelsea Handler of “Chelsea Lately” has just signed to do a Late Night Show on Netflix.

Huh?

This immediately made me wonder: What is Netflix thinking?!

I think this can work, and if it does, what does it mean for you?

Netflix is on the cutting edge in original content with the super-successful House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and Orange Is The New Black starring Taylor Schilling and a full cast of excellent actors.

Now they are taking on the world of Late Night, offering a show to the sassy and very funny, Chelsea Handler.

Kind of an interesting setting: “Late Night” on Demand. Not sure how it will do in this content delivery setting but considering the success DVRs, Amazon, Hulu and other content providers, and their ability to let viewers watch their favorite shows whenever they want really not only opens up almost endless possibilities for viewers but for writers as well!

Maybe that’s something that Conan O’Brien should’ve thought about, especially considering multi-million dollar disappearing act he seems to be doing over at TBS.

I don’t even know what channel TBS is on my DirecTV or even if it’s on their lineup at all. I just don’t pay that much attention any more. With 500+ channels on my DirecTV, nothing really stands out. Am I the only one?

The sad part is that I like Conan.

However, I know I go to Netflix all the time looking for something to watch at night when I’m having a cocktail or three.

But enough about my alcohol problem…

What Does This Mean For You?

There has never been this kind of movement in Late Night programming in television history. This means that there will be staff shake-ups and new staff hirings for shows.

Consider what’s happening in the next few months: Not only is Chelsea Handler starting a new show soon, Craig Ferguson is leaving CBS and David Letterman will be swapped with Steven Colbert. That’s three Late Night shows that are starting and staffing!

Makes you want to say HOLY CRAP! How do YOU spell “OPPORTUNITY?”

As a person who has been around this business for years as an actor, a comedian and a writer, I see this as a golden opportunity. This is the closest thing to pilot season a writer of Late Night can ask for.

Top 3 Things you should be doing right now:

  1. Creating or Refreshing a Submission Packet for Late Night
  2. Contacting The New Shows To Find Out Exactly What They are Looking for in a Packet
  3. Sharpening Your Skills to Write Sketches, Monologues, Desk Pieces, and Drop-Ins

Writing for Late Night is one of the few jobs in this town you can get without an agent or much prior television experience. In fact, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the highest rated Late Night Show on TV right now, recently scooped up an IT Professional based on what he was posting on his Twitter feed.

Getting your stuff seen by the right people at Late Night is not that difficult.

The Head Writer is Looking For You

The Head Writer at any of these shows has a specific job. He has to make sure the writing team is producing the best content that fits the show and is right for the Host. At the same time, turnover in the Late Night world is big, so the Head Writer is always looking for talented writers who can produce material for his show.

So who do you think you need to contact to get your writing packet seen?

You guessed it; The Head Writer.

So get out there and get your stuff seen!


How Do You Do This?

There’s a specific set of skills you need to get into Late Night Comedy Writing.

  1. You can learn those skills by trial and error. Not a bad thing. The more you write the more you learn. You can test your jokes against Late Night Shows to see how they compare to the writers who are on the shows you are targeting.
  2. You can acquire knowledge & develop your skill by attending workshops: Joe Toplyn teaches an excellent workshop in New York City. I teach an excellent LIVE workshop in Burbank this Tuesday night and I have an online video course. (P.S. I don’t get any commission or kick-backs or anything from pimping Joe’s workshops. I just think he’s a talented guy who has a ton of experience).
  3. You can acquire the knowledge by reading books on the subject. Again Joe Toplyn has an excellent book, “Comedy Writing For Late Night T.V.,” available on Amazon.

Remember classes are not mandatory, but they will help you acquire knowledge from experienced professionals and help you develop your writing chops a lot faster. Workshops also help you light a fire under that writer’s butt and fill your head with new inspiration, goals and creativity.

So what are you waiting for?

Hit me back if you have any questions or if I can help you in any way to venture into the Late Night Comedy Writing world. I will give you my all to help you reach your goals.

Best if you leave a comment below and start a conversation. Maybe we can get Mr. Toplyn in to join us too!

Hey Comedy Writers! Join the Conversation!