3 Ways a Comedian can Cope with Criticism

coping with criticism

Comedians are a vulnerable bunch. If pleasing the audience isn’t hard enough, many times we comedians also have to cope with criticism even after we get off the stage.

Sometimes we hear it from club owners or managers. Sometimes we hear it from other comedians and sometimes from an audience member who just watched you and decided that their experience in telemarketing gives them the credentials to bestow on you their expert tips on how you can kill it at your next gig.

“You were crushing it up until that last joke. Just didn’t seem to fit.”
“You’d be funnier if you had fewer F-bombs.”
“You shouldn’t do political material, it makes people uncomfortable.”
“Jokes about rape are inappropriate.”

The list of critique can go on and on.

But before I go off on that, Let’s be clear that there’s a difference between criticism and a note.

Criticism is just when someone offers a critique of what you said or did. A note is also a form of critique, but it also offers a suggestion on what you could possibly do to correct it.

When you’ve been doing this a long time you’ve probably learned how to hit the “off” switch to most of that. But when you’re a new comedian in the business, the criticism can be dejecting and the notes can be overwhelming.

New comedians face this a lot. They’ll have a bunch of people telling them what they need to do to improve a joke or their act.

How do you sort through all of the noise and do what’s right? How do you even know what is right?

Here are some tips for dealing with, understanding and coping with criticism.

  1. Most criticism doesn’t come from a bad place, so first don’t be an asshole about it. Be professional and listen gracefully (or passively). Say, “thank you,” and move on.
  2. There’s no way you can implement every note you receive from everyone into your comedy act. Choose a mentor in your comedic circle (maybe 2), and consider only that advice. It will, first of all, be a lot easier to sort through the notes and secondly if that person is reliable, odds are you’ll get to where you’re going a lot faster.
  3. Sometimes the tips can be something like, you went “too dirty” or “you drop too many F-bombs.” Here’s where it gets tricky. I think you should BE ABLE to work clean. You DON’t HAVE to work clean, but you should be able to. If a booker knows you can work clean it opens up a surprising amount of other opportunities. I’ve been on the road at a club, doing my act. My act can get dirty, but these bookers know that I can work clean. I’ve had club owners book me to do a corporate earlier in the evening, before the show, get back to the club and do the show. A corporate gig can pay me more than the entire week at that club. If I can’t work clean, guess what? I just missed out on a boat load of cash.

Here’s the tricky part. Dropping the f-bomb too much may be an indication that you don’t have any real content or jokes. It also can indicate that you’re lacking an authentic emotional point of view.

On the other hand, it might be what drives your comedic persona. You have to be willing to truly explore your craft and ask whether or not the f-bomb is absolutely necessary to you or if you are using it as a crutch.

If it is something that absolutely drives your persona. If it is inherently who you are, or who your character is then don’t change. Your path to success might be a little longer, but your audience will find you.

I have a student who is a female. She’s smart, she’s attractive, she’s from New York, she was raised by a tough father and she drops the F-bomb. But I also think it fits her persona and her character would be less defined if she didn’t.

She submitted for a comedy competition and the founder of the competition said to me that he likes her, but she uses the f-bomb too much. I told her this and you know what she said?

“That’s fucking ridiculous!”

And she was vehement about it! She went off on a tangent about how sick and tired she is of political correctness and this double standard that men have about women and their comedy.

And she has a point, because the very night that competition founder told me that she uses too many f-bombs, one of the comedians in his competition dropped 47 f-bombs in a 25 minute final round set. He placed third out of 40 in the competition.

So I approached the founder after the competition and said, “that dude used the f-bomb 47 times and he placed third. You need to reconsider whether my student really uses the f-bomb too much or whether you’re just a sexist.”

The following week my student wrote a 6-minute rant about the uses of the word “fuck.” It’s funny, it’s honest and it defines her. So I told her to tighten it, record it on video and submit it back to this comedy festival.

The point is you have to make choices. And if you’re going to make a choice about who you are, then make that choice and don’t apologize for it. In this business you have to learn to develop an unwavering confidence about yourself.

Because no matter what you do, some people will love you and some people will hate you.

And if you go in knowing that dropping the F-bomb limits where you can play and you make that decision anyway, that’s up to you. It’s not the safest choice, but if I wanted to get into this business to be safe, I would’ve been a fucking telemarketer.

The Most Powerful Tool for Your Joke Writing

comedy toolbox

Here is something I want to be sure you have at your disposal. It is what I would call the most powerful tool for your joke writing. It is something everyone who’s into writing comedy material should have in their toolbox.

Even if you’re naturally funny.

It is the incongruity listing sheet. This is what I use each time I want to write jokes using the incongruity technique by taking two dissimilar ideas and converging them. It helps you create associations between dissimilar ideas.

Read the following example then download the sheet at keep it handy. It is literally one of the most powerful ways to write jokes.

But first…

Understanding Incongruity in Comedy

Incongruity is when you have a setup that contains two or more dissimilar ideas. You turn it into a juxtaposition of two ideas and create jokes.

Not all joke setups are built with the two dissimilar or contrasting ideas present.

Example:

The news keeps showing us images of President Trump signing executive orders.

In that setup there’s isn’t a clear juxtaposition of contrasting elements present. No two contrasting ideas really stand out.

What I would do is take that image of the president signing the bill and list everything I see in the picture.

Without a doubt I would wind up listing “those black folders,” since they are so prominent in every photo.

Sometimes, if the obvious contrasting ideas are not there, I will remind myself to try to use an analogy.

One way to reshape the setup so that it does contain that obvious juxtaposition is by using analogy or “is like.”

The news keeps showing us images of President Trump signing these executive orders… he’s got those black folders. It’s like he’s holding up a menu; Insert an act out, like I’m at a restaurant ordering food: “… and the lady will have the Filet mignon, grilled asparagus and a ban on Muslims.”

And since we’ve created the menu (in a restaurant) as the second or contrasting element we could continue to tag the joke with something like,

“And when they’re done with that black folder at that signing table, do they just have the hostess wipe it off and use it for the next seating?”

When the Setup Already Contains a Second Idea

Sometimes the set up includes it’s own contrasting ideas, as in:

“The body of a 40-year-old woman was found in a processing plant for McDonald’s restaurants.”

In that statement, you clearly have two or more contrasting elements present in the setup; the body of a 40-year-old woman and McDonald’s. So you don’t have to use analogy as a device to create the contrasting element. You could just use your list and put McDonald’s in one column and Body of a 40-year-old woman in the other and look for ideas that could fit in the other column either literally or as a metaphor.

For example in the list for body of a 40-year-old woman, I would probably have the word “breasts.” Can “breasts” fit in the other column for McDonald’s?

Sure! They could use it as chicken breasts, right?

Where does McDonald’s use Chicken breasts? In Chicken sandwiches. Since McDonald’s always seems to be facing scrutiny on whether or not their sandwiches contain real meat, I could make the joke like this:

“The body of a 40-year-old woman was found in a processing plant for McDonald’s restaurants. A spokesman for McDonald’s put a positive spin on it saying ‘Now McDonald’s can claim that their chicken sandwich is made with REAL breasts… 40-year-old SAGGY breasts, but real breasts, nonetheless… would you like thighs with that?”

With that one setup and the toppers I added, I could get 3 to 4 laughs out of one joke idea. Booker look for a laugh every 18-20 seconds. You could easily hit that bullseye with one joke.

So you can see how powerful this particular technique is for writing comedy.

Try it yourself.

Download the worksheet for the listing technique, print it out and use it any time!

Hope this helps!

If you want to visit this concept more thoroughly, check out the 2-Day Comedy Writing Workshop in Vegas or my eBook “Breaking Comedy’s DNA.”

Get Your Image Sizes Right with This Social Media Image Size Cheat Sheet

social-media-image-size-cheat-sheet

If you’ve spent any time reading my blog or attending any of my classes, you know how important your presence on social media has become.

One of the first questions, talent executives at the studio level ask about an artist’s qualifications these days is “how’s his social media following?”

Whether it’s Twitter or Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, a social media following is super important. It’s no longer that thing the kids are using, it’s that thing that the Neilson’s are actually using to calculate the popularity of a show.

A social media following can make or break whether or not you get a job on a TV show.

But that’s not the only way to look at it.

It actually gives enormous control over to the artist. If the artist busts her ass to create a massive social media presence, then the artist can start to write her own ticket to notoriety.

If you’ve been involved in social media at all you should know that a post with an image gets as much as 120 percent more engagement than average posts. So, if you’re not using images in your social media, you’re probably cheating yourself out of engagement.

But when you use images, the images sizes differ for each platform. If you don’t use the correct size on the correct platform, then heads are cut off and your images look weird and unprofessional. I’ve made those mistakes several times and I feel foolish and amateurish.

Once I saw a graphic that showed all the proper social media image sizes for each different platform, I saved it, downloaded it and tacked in on to my wall in front of my computer. Since then I haven’t made any mistakes–well, I’ve still made a ton of mistakes, just not as many.

That chart helped me a lot so I thought I’d put one together myself for the 2017 requirements and share it with you…

You can look at it on this blog or you can download it at a full 600px x 1866px in a PDF right here.

Just right-click (cmd+click) for Mac and choose ‘save image as’ and save it to your hard drive. It’s a full sized cheat sheet you can post on your wall.

Now there shouldn’t be any more obstacles to you setting up your YouTube Channel with custom thumbnails for your videos or uploading the right sized photo for your Facebook cover or tweeting a photo that doesn’t chop off your head.

Just as a side note when posting on Twitter. Always leave padding (space between the edge of the content and the image border). It may look great on your initial post, but when it’s time to retweet and image, often it will chop off your head on someone else’s feed.

Also, it’s always good to check for updates on the image size requirements for social media as they always seem to be changing.

I hope this image size cheat sheet helps you to be more efficient in posting to your social media accounts.

If anyone has any other advice they’d like to share please feel free to leave a comment below!

“The History of Comedy” to Air as Part of an 8-part Series on CNN

On Thursday CNN announced that it will be airing a new 8-part series named “The History of Comedy,” focusing primarily on how the political landscape has been reflected upon by outspoken comedians.

It’ll be interesting to watch this since the comedians they have listed, (except for a few)m are not necessarily the names that would pop into my mind when I’m thinking about political comedy.

The release from CNN said that the series (Premiering Thursday, February 9th at 9pm), will feature interview with big names in comedy as well as weave in archival footage from others to show how comedy “has influenced the country’s social and political landscape throughout history.”

The comedians CNN listed on their release who are outspoken on today’s political scene are Judd Apatow, Norman Lear, Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, Samantha Bee, Larry David, Kathy Griffin, George Lopez, Keegan-Michael Key, Patton Oswalt and W. Kamau Bell.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — a former “Saturday Night Live” star — will also offer commentary, according to the network.

I’m interested to see how this series premieres. The quick video trailer they’ve provided doesn’t give us much to go on, but anything comedy is always of interest to me. The History of Comedy fits that.

If you’re interested remember to set your DVR to record “The History of Comedy” on CNN.

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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