Teaching Comedy in Russia

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Today is the day! I leave for Moscow to teach a master class in American-style comedy to 25 Russian actors who want to learn that brand of stand-up.

I’ve never seen Russian stand-up. In fact, I’ve never seen a Russian smile, so this will be interesting. Of course I’m joking about the smile. I know a lot of Russian-Americans and there are two things they know how to do: laugh and drink vodka!

I’m sure while I’m there, I will be doing plenty of both.

I’ll be there five days. Think about it five days of caviar, vodka and comedy. What could be better?

Flight & Weather

It’s a 10-hour flight to Munich, then a layover and 3 more hours to Moscow. I arrive at 11pm Tuesday night.

It’s gonna be like 90 degrees here today, and when I arrive in Moscow, the low will be 15. Bring on the vodka!

I’ll be updating several times daily, here on my facebook and twitter pages, so come join. Give me some feeback, give me shit give me your thoughts and prayers that my comedy translates well and doesn’t somehow wind up insulting an entire nation and put me in the gulags somewhere in Siberia! So if you don’t see an update, you know I’m rotting in a Russian prison.

Here we go!

3 Vital Things To Remember When Performing Stand-up Comedy

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  1. Comedy is a Veiled Attack

    You’re attacking someone or something. Even yourself. The basic rule about attacking is: Always attack up. What this means is that in our society an audience roots for the underdog. If you are a white male and you are making jokes about a minority, it is technically attacking “down.” Because the white male still dominates in our society. If you are a male and you are attacking a female (for no understandable reason), you are also attacking “down,” because we still see women as the fairer sex. If you are anyone and you are attacking Special Olympics kids, you are technically attacking “down,” because Special Olympics kids are seen as people that can’t take care of themselves and they need our help. This is a general rule and can be broken from time to time, but I think you get the idea.

    However, this is not to be misunderstood. If you can set the person up (who is “beneath” you) as an antagonist that needs retaliation, then the audience will root for you to get back at them and make fun of them. Don’t be afraid to attack “down,” just make sure there is just cause.

    I missed out on a Letterman audition because the talent coordinator told me that I was attacking my ex-wife for no reason. For time sake, I had cut the set-up to the joke which was how she cheated on me. If the audience had that information, the joke would’ve been more effective.

  2. Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone

    If someone gets offended because you use the word pee or if you curse, GOOD! Maybe they are NOT your audience. You cannot be all things to everyone. Be YOU! Unless you are doing corporates or kids’ shows or doing warm-up for studio audiences, don’t worry about being all things to everyone. In comedy people love to hear a unique perspective. George Carlin said “there’s nothing wrong with fluff. Sometimes the audience needs it, but do comedy that says something.” If you’re doing comedy that “walks” some of the room that could be a good thing. Out of those people who stayed, there could be a percentage that wind up being die-hard fans; You know, people who will follow you anywhere!

  3. Be Funny

    It may seem simple to understand. But what is funny? I run into people all the time (sometimes in my classes) that say, “I just want to express myself. I don’t want to write it down.” “When I write it down it doesn’t come out funny.”  I understand this dilemma. It makes total sense. Sometimes when you try to hard to stick to a script, it can feel awkward or unnatural. In doing stand-up comedy, there is a fine line between doing the material as written and “free-styling.”

    Here’s the key to understanding comedy: Every time the audience laughs, there is a stimulus present in the material or the action. In other words, SOMETHING triggered the audience’s laughter. Part of the science of comedy is learning what those triggers are and then how to exploit them whenever you want so that you can repeat them, almost at will.

    Those laughter triggers are hidden within the structure of comedy. So whether it’s Jerry Seinfeld using recognition triggers and incongruity or it’s Bill Burr using compare and contrast, incongruity and incongruity act-outs, driven by a strong emotional point of view, their structures are very strong and very present in their material. In other words they are NOT just riffing at will. If you have read my book “Breaking Comedy’s D.N.A.,” you will learn those structures and you will begin to be able to identify them in all comedians. When you do that you can then start to plug them in to your material and you will find that the laughs start increasing exponentially.

    Without the structure in your material, it simply becomes a story or an opinion that you’re sharing with the audience. All the while the audience is thinking: That’s nice, but I’m here to laugh.”

    In other words, be natural. Sound conversational, but your structure is going to get the laughs.

Tonight Show is Not Just For the Old Folks

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Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” is just finishing its first week and it has been an experience in engaging entertainment. Fallon has found that “something” that the show has been missing for the last 20 years; FUN!

Fallon’s ability to do impressions and his talent with music is the driving force of the show. Not to go without mention, the hipness and playfulness of his house band “The Roots,” makes Fallon’s “Tonight” totally entertaining and has turned the Tonight Show from that show than Mom and Dad watch before they go to bed, into a show that could entertain the tweens through the fifty-somethings at least.

I’m fifty (hard to admit it), and I find that show totally engaging.

How does that affect you as a comedian or a writer?

Simple. As a comedian or writer it is always good to reinvent yourself. Update, reboot, rewire, retrofit, restore rehab or renovate. Whatever you want to call it, keeping up to date and staying “now” is what drives engagement.

Now this should not be confused with age or birthdate.

Although Jimmy Fallon represents youth and will help NBC acquire the coveted 18-34 demographic in the late night slot, it doesn’t mean that in order to capture that demo, you must utilize only 18-34 talent.

The biggest draw on cable for a nightly show is still Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Stewart turns 52 this year and Colbert 50).

The key to driving engagement, at least where Fallon is concerned is his ability to be recognizable with his entertainment. He engages the audience with stuff they recognize (Ie: Song parodies and impressions). Even in the sketch above with Justin Timberlake, he slips into a Snoop Dog impression, a Dr. Dre, Ton Loc and Beastie Boys.

Familiarity and recognition drive engagement. If we recognize something we react physically to the television with a point a gesture like, “I’ve seen that,” “I know that!” “I remember that!”

This keeps the viewer watching and the ratings high.

It doesn’t have to be impressions. In fact, I would warn against that, unless you really nail the voice.

But doing something that creates an “in the moment” and “now” dynamic like engaging with the audience, act-outs, interaction with the band, keeps it moving and keeps it now.

There’s an old theatre science theory that states: "The audience is in whatever state the performer is in." Watch Fallon and Timberlake below and see just how much fun they are having and ask yourself, Is the audience having fun too?

What are your thoughts?

NBC’s Late Night TV Writers & Submission Workshop

LateNightLogo.jpgIt’s that time again! NBC is having their NBC Late Night Writers Reachout Program in New York City.

This is where they seek submissions from writers who are “almost ready,” so they can groom them to be staff writers on the Late Night Shows at NBC.

If you’ve been paying attention to Late Night, you’ll know that there is a lot of movement at NBC with Jay Leno leaving ‘The Tonight Show’ and Jimmy Fallon now talking the helm. Also Seth Meyers taking Fallon’s spot at ‘Late Night.’

Meyers is leaving SNL’s ‘Weekend Update,’ and evidently taking some of the writers with him to the new show, there are spots opening up for writers all over the NBC Late Night Landscape!

This is a perfect opportunity for the new writer to get established. There is no other opportunity like this right now in Late Night Television.

Four Hour Late Night Writers Intensive

To help facilitate this and help writers prepare. Jerry Corley’s Comedy Clinic is holding a Late Night TV Writing & Submission Workshop this week, January 15th, from 11am to 3pm.

In this workshop you will learn:

  • How to write monologue jokes quickly for Late Night Television.
  • How to write desk pieces
  • How to write sketches
  • What elements are necessary for sketches to work
  • How to come up with ideas quickly to create sketches from scratch
  • What makes a great sketch…

AND How to properly format a submission package so that it will be read.

When: Wednesday January 15th 11am-3pm
Where: Jerry Corley’s Comedy Clinic 1213 W. Magnolia Blvd. Burbank, CA 91506
Cost: $99 for the Course or for the DVD download (if you can’t attend)

That’s right! We’ll be recording the workshop. So if you want the recording of the workshop with the pdf handouts, you can purchase it from this website just by clicking the DVD ticket below.

If you have any questions, please click the contact me tab at the top of the page and get me an email.

I wish you all luck and remember I am here to help you reach those comedy goals!

 

5 Reasons to Use Imitation and Emulation to Learn Stand-up Comedy

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From the time we are toddlers, we learn by watching and imitating. That’s how we learn to walk, to talk, to express ourselves.

Imitation is the ‘stem-cell’ of our learning ability.

So why not utilize this technique when learning how to be a comedian?

At first, it might seem like cheating, no?

And when I say, “imitate,” I don’t mean “copy.” I mean emulate.

Practice sounding like a certain comedian.

I mean, “but wait!” You might be saying. Stand-up is one of the last real “raw” performance-based art forms. Why would anyone want to imitate?

5 Reasons to Use Imitation or Emulation in your Comedy:

There are several reasons, when you are starting out, to use imitation and emulation develop. Here are a few:

  • It can get you to sounding like a comedian faster.
  • Imitation or emulation can help you discover new inspirations.
  • It can help you find the inflection to make a joke, or bit, really resonate.
  • It can help your brain to recognize the patterns and rhythms that get laughter from the audience
  • It can help you get confident in your pauses and perfect your timing.

Once you start emulating the behaviors of a comedian, you begin to ‘walk in their shoes,’ and you begin to think like one. As a result, more jokes come to you off-handedly during the normal progress of your day and you start recognizing subjects and situations that are ripe for a comedy routine.

As a tool, imitation and emulation is used all the time in life.

Famous guitar players all say that they learned by playing the riffs of the greats, then from those techniques they branched off and developed their own style.

Johnny Carson said he copied Jack Benny to learn how to perfect his timing.

Jerry Seinfeld was clearly influenced by George Carlin.

Robin Williams seemed to take his moves directly from Jonathan Winters.

When you watch Bill Burr, can’t you see a bit of Dennis Leary?

I studied Carlin, Pryor, Cosby and Seinfeld, mostly. When I first started I was very “Seinfeldian.” In fact, I remember going on stage at the Laugh Factory in L.A. one night. Jerry Seinfeld was in the room. I did my set with my jokes, but my inflections and behaviors had a definite Seinfeld feel.

After my performance—which got a decent response, from the audience—I said hello to Seinfeld and he just sort of blew me off. I said to myself, “maybe I I should tone it down a little.”

After that experience, I was lucky enough to meet with George Carlin. He gave me the best insight to comedy;

He said: “Take the stuff that drives you crazy and make it funny!”

That’s when I started to really develop as a comedian.

But it was the study and emulation of my favorite comedians that got me moving in this industry. Within my first two years as a comedian, I developed an hour of material, nailed my first audition with the legendary Bud Friedman, (owner of the Improvisation) in Los Angeles and got booked in Vegas and got my first television booking as a comedian.

After that, I used that television tape to book gigs all over the country and I never looked back.

Stand-up is a Conversation

One of my students is an actress. She’s a really, really good actress. She started doing stand-up in July. Like a lot of actors, she was having trouble eliminating that fourth wall and making the material sound like it was stand-up, rather than an actor’s monologue.

The difference between stand-up and acting is that stand-up is a conversation. It’s hopefully a one-way conversation, but it is more like a conversation. It’s like you’re talking to your friends in your living room or better yet, at a bar.

This actress-comedian was having a difficult time breaking out of the monologue mode. Then she started studying comedians like Whitney Cummings and Amy Schumer. I mean really studying them.

She listened to them for hours! (I recommend that to anyone—take your favorite comedian and listen to them for hours).

She would even repeat their lines while she was in her apartment, trying to emulate their nuances and their voices.

In a matter of a week or two, her act went to the next level. By the time she had her next appearance, she was sounding more like a comedian. Her material was resonating more with the audience. They were responding to her faster and with harder, snappier laughter.

She was becoming a comedian. It was her own material, but she emulated to get the nuance of a comedian.

4 Weeks to Being A Better Writer

To some people this seems crazy…

I get it. The comedian’s nuance and rhythm my come naturally to you. If so, then this post is not for you.

Go do your thing and continue in your own growth and brilliance.

But to you comedians with some years of experience, I still recommend listening to the really good comedians.

When I had been doing comedy for about 8 years, I was on the road for four weeks straight. In my car I had one cassette (yes, I said “cassette!” Don’t judge!). It was Dennis Miller.

One thing about Dennis, is he used to use really colorful language in his material. The writing was clever. He used a lot of analogy, simile and metaphor to add texture to his stories. In my view it made the story worth listening to.

By the end of the tour, my comedy also had more compelling language. It was better written and it was getting better response. I kept it in my own voice, but that four weeks with Dennis Miller made me a far better writer!

This particular post is for beginners who are having a hard time getting out of the habit of sounding like they are reciting material and getting more in the habit of sounding like a comedian; like a conversationalist.

For you, if you are struggling with this concept. Try emulating or imitating. It might make you sound like a comedian faster.

Then again, you might already be emulating.