Bill Burr Reveals His Approach To Success

Bill Burr 2014

Have you ever wondered what the secret to success in comedy is? 

Ever feel like it’s just this massively intimidating idea, like this enormous blob of ectoplasmic goop that has no shape or form? 

Building a career in comedy can be so daunting.

School is so much easier! In school they tell you what to do. You know when to take your SAT’s. You’re told how many units you need to graduate, what you’re GPA needs to be.

In college, you’re told that in order to become a teacher, you have to take certain classes, get so many units, take an internship at a company and if you graduate with the right GPA and honors, you have an opportunity to have a job waiting for you when you finally graduate. 

It’s a process and it’s similar for a lot of careers. It usually goes something like: High School-College-Internship-Job-Career. That’s organized and easy to conceive; maybe there’s some variation or advanced degrees for specialties like law, medicine or engineering, but it’s still a process that’s pretty well defined.

When you start out doing comedy, there is no obvious process and nobody tells you what to do. You have to find your own way as you go. You can talk to others, but there’s still no real map.

Or is there?

Comedians always ask me, “what’s the secret to success?”

My favorite response? “It’s not a secret.”

There are successful comedians and artists out there all the time telling you what they did in their careers.

I tell all my students exactly what I did to hit my financial and artistic goals.

The success guru Tony Robbins said, “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.”

By that he means copy their methods not their products. In other words, find out how they got successful and do the same thing.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I can’t tell you how to succeed. I can only tell you what I did to reach my level of success in this business. I’m still learning and still achieving and some years are better than others.

I don’t just try to figure it all out on my own. I look to others, study their careers. I read biographies of other successful artists and listen or read their interviews. Sometimes they can reveal some pretty awesome things that they did to succeed. I jot them down and see if it might work for me too.

One of the keys to success in this business is to realize that show-business is two words and whether you’re a writer, performer or both, if you start thinking of this as building your business you’ll find that it’s a little less daunting. After all, building a business has a simple formula.

The basic formula to building a business is:

  1. Find an Idea
  2. Have a Plan of Action
  3. Secure Funding to Implement that Plan
  4. Sell That Idea to Customers on a Recurring Basis.

Most Comedians have step 1, the idea, (perform stand-up), but they want to jump immediately to step 4 without digging in to step 2 or 3.

In fact most comedians don’t even want to think about step 3, because it means they have to spend money, but let’s leave that aside for now. Let’s focus on steps 1 and 2.

Step 1: The Idea. Comedians have the idea; it’s their comedy or the idea that they want to do stand-up. But what’s really missing with most comedians is the plan of action.

The problem is that it’s missing both creatively and economically.

One of the things I suggest is to read and listen to what other comedians did in their career to get where they are.

Here’s a fabulous article from Splitsider about Bill Burr on his success.

Bill Burr is one of my favorites.  His blend of honesty, passion and emotion in his material is what has propelled him to the status he enjoys today and what will continue to keep him on top.

What’s important to understand is that Bill wrote jokes for the first few years of his career. “I knew I had to know how to write jokes,” he says.

It might not have been his plan of action but looking back at his paper trail, a smart comedian might get some ideas from that plan. He then said, “I still wrote out jokes for the first ten or eleven years of my career. I was always kind of writing onstage. About six years in, I was riffing and doing that type of thing…”

If you read closely, can you see that Bill is kind of giving you his plan of action? His method? His secrets to success? 

Remember what Tony Robbins said, “find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do…”

So go here and check out this interview with Bill Burr on Splitsider by Phil Stamato.

You might discover that suddenly that enormous blob of ectoplasmic goop might just start to take shape.

How Robin Williams Saved My Life

Robin-Williams

The Lessons; In Life and in Comedy

The life and comedy lessons that I learned from the brief encounters I had with Robin Williams came flooding back to me since I got the news of his death.

It was 4:00PM Monday August 11th, and I was sitting at the computer writing jokes; ironically, only nineteen hours after we wrapped an Anti-Suicide Benefit Show at the Hollywood Improv to raise awareness for Depression and Suicide. That’s when I got the call from a friend and fellow comedian.

He simply said: “Robin Williams is Dead.”

There was that long silence that follows that kind of message. Longer than normal. That kind of silence that seems to stretch forever. The kind of silence that would make you really uncomfortable on stage.

I did what I usually do when I hear news that I can’t totally process emotionally; I went to jokes: “Leave it to Robin to do this right after the Anti-Suicide Benefit. Ha! If the benefit didn’t raise awareness, this sure will.”

Then I cried.

I didn’t plan it. I didn’t feel it coming on. It was just one of those things that happened spontaneously, you know?

I didn’t cry when Carlin died. That news seriously bummed me out, but I didn’t cry… and Carlin mentored me.

At first I refused to believe it. Like a lot of comedians, I had worked with Robin several times. I even drove him in a limousine every day for a couple of weeks early in my career, when I was cutting down my road work to try to save my marriage.

I remember Robin said to me, “Save your marriage? F*@k your marriage. Save your life!”

Then in a character voice, almost disgustedly, he said, “You’re a comedian. A chauffeur YOU ARE NOT!”

“You think?”

He said, “Yeah Bitterman, you missed the turn about a half-mile back!” Then he launched into a Dudley Moore laugh from the movie “Arthur.”

It was a good laugh. But, that sunk in deep. And later that week after I dropped him off at his jet, I quit the limo and went right back out on the road for good.

I worked with him a couple of times after that. We weren’t buddies. We didn’t call each other or anything. The time I spent with the man was minuscule in a chronological sense, but his impact is eternal.  And each time I bumped into him or had the honor of working with him, he was always, ALWAYS kind.

That’s one of the things he taught me. That in this business, where sometimes people can be so back-stabbing, angry, resentful and use their success to try to diminish you, he was just Robin, all the time.

He taught me that synergy works better than enemy and that being kind to your fellow comedian, your fellow human doesn’t ever hurt your career. It always helps.

Robin Breathed Life Into Comedy

Robin’s career was, in a word, stellar. From the time he was picked up to do “Mork and Mindy,” he was off and running. He was a comedian, but a comedian who had goals beyond just doing stand-up. He started as a comedian in the Bay Area in the seventies, then went off to “study” at the The Julliard School of Drama in New York.

When he went back to the Bay Area, he was a different comedian. He was doing characters on stage. Characters were not new in comedy, Carlin did characters, but it was the way he was doing the characters; BIG, BOLD COMMITTED. He was blowing the doors off the clubs!

He was a pure entertainer. I know, he had a bit of a reputation for stealing jokes. Hell, he stole a couple of mine. But somehow that was different. He was “Robin.” He breathed life into comedy. I could always write new jokes.

He taught me the power of incongruous act-outs in comedy, (a version of solo-sketch comedy), that if you give the audience a clear premise: Like in this video, where he does his version of American soccer and South American soccer, then segues into American Football referees. The set up is clear cut. He sets up the characters, then just brings them to life.

You watch Robin Williams do comedy and you can’t help but feel a bit manic. Because, from the moment he takes the stage, that’s the way he performed and there’s a theory in theater science that the audience is in whatever state the performer is in. When you saw Robin perform, you had no choice but to leave that experience, charged up.

Depression and Suicide

Early reports coming in from the news is that his death was an apparent suicide. Now I think I understand why I cried when my friend called. The sheer dichotomy. In a weird way, Robin, who struggled with addiction and depression and was open about it, represented a certain hope for many.

I have never experienced addiction or depression. The closest I’ve been to that is drunk and tired.

Then it kind of hit me why Robin’s death made me cry when Carlin’s didn’t. Carlin died of so-called natural causes; a heart-related issue. Robin’s death was mired in a more profound tragedy. He died of something seemingly treatable, but obviously misunderstood.

There are close to 15 million people in the U.S. that suffer from depression. And if a man who had the resources to afford and access all the help he needed to deal with it can’t find a way out, what are the other 14 million nine-hundred and ninety-nine thousand going to do?

We need you back, Robin.

Today I’m going to Amazon to buy every Robin Williams comedy video I can get my hands on. Maybe Robin can still help play away the pain and give others hope.

Robin Williams affected us all in one way or another. For me, he was partly responsible for where I am today. One marriage down but still making a living doing comedy.

Save your life, indeed.

You’ll be missed.

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!

5 Of My Best Comedy Writing Tutorials Online

5 Of My Best Comedy Writing Tools

Let’s get right to it!

I’ve been posting and blogging about comedy writing tools for several years now, giving you the best tools that I use to write comedy. I’m loving every minute of it!george-carlin_98_percent

In this post I’m sharing with you my 5 favorite writing tools online. It’s a combination of tools I’ve already posted, but you may have forgotten they were there or missed them because you didn’t see the post.

Look at them now because soon I am going to be locking them in the vault and only using them for online courses.

These tools work whether you are a one-and-two-liner comedian or whether you are a story-teller.

These tools work for coming up with jokes for Clubs , Corporate, Late Night, Sketches, Screenwriting, or novel writing.

The structure of comedy is as important to the laugh as hitting the right notes in the right key is important to the music.

In other words, without the structures, there is little or no laughter.

Every comedian who’s made you laugh from Jerry Seinfeld to Kevin Hart; from Jim Jefferies to Bill Burr; from Louis CK to Amy Schumer, they all utilize the structures I teach in my courses and in my eBook writing system. They all use them, even if they don’t know it!

George Carlin said to me, “I know 98-percent of the time that a joke is funny before I get it on stage.” I asked him how he knew and he said, “because I know they contain all the elements necessary for a joke to be funny.”

So here we go!

 

1. Joke Writing 1-2-3

This was the second one I shared with the public when I first started writing my blog. It’s a simple method I use when I am staring at a blank page or computer screen saying, “I got nothin!” I just run this scenario through my head and I always wind up with something; usually about 5 minutes of new material! The good thing is I can use it starting from complete scratch!


2.How To Write Jokes [Video Tutorial]

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This video tutorial was the first of its kind ever put on the internet. May still be the only one of its kind. Where I start with a simple headline from the news and I walk you through the procedure as you look at my computer screen. It’s like you’re looking over my shoulder while I write jokes and show you one of my processes for generating material. This technique has helped me to write thousands of jokes over the years. 

3. How To Write Jokes For Corporate [Video Tutorial]

title-insuranceAnother first of its kind as far as the viewer being able to watch joke writing in a certain niche in a real-time environment. In this video I will take the corporate subject matter of “Title Insurance” and walk through my process as I basically write 10 minutes of Title Insurance jokes. Inspired from a phone call I received from National Title asking me how much I charge to perform at one of their events doing at least five minutes of Title Insurance humor. After I quoted them my fee I knew I better be able to write some title insurance jokes. So I start from scratch and write 10 minutes in less than an hour. Take a look at the process if you want to learn how to write comedy for corporate engagements. Definitely worth a look!

4. Comedy Writing Quick & Simple

Most people I run into who are trying to write comedy, think that comedy writing is a mystery. They think it’s got to be really clever and difficult. Some of the best comedy is the simplest comedy. Much of it comes in the form of opposites. One of the easiest ways to get to the punch is NOT to think of something FUNNY but to think in opposites. This exercise gets you there fast. It may seem simple, but it’s powerful. I’ve used this in sketch writing, screenwriting and in stand-up. Always effective!

 

5. How To Write Comedy Like Bill Burr

2013-07-07 21_25_30-Bill Burr - Epidemic of gold digging whores - YouTubeI love Bill Burr! He’s a terrific and expressive comedian, who loves to take the alternate point of view on popular social opinions. His technique is masterful, but when someone told me that Bill doesn’t use any comedy structure, I just had to show them not only that he does, but how he does and exactly where he uses it. Take a look at this Bill Burr video and then watch as line-by-line, you get to see where he places the key elements that trigger the laughs!

 

So there you have it

Five of my best tools for writing jokes. But here’s the thing: This barely scratches the surface of the tools I use on a regular basis to write jokes. In my classes and with my online courses, I teach 23 different approaches to writing comedy. Remember, there’s no single way to approaching comedy writing.

But these tools will give you a process to make it easier. I still use the old-school method of getting an inspiration and talking it out on stage until it develops into a solid routine, but I prefer to use the George Carlin method: write it funny so you know it’s funny before you take the stage!

I hope you enjoy this list of tools. Remember they won’t stay online long, so use them, share them with others and please feel free to leave a comment below and let me know how you’re doing!

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Help You Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

Are You Serious?

I can hear it now… the voices saying what the f*@k?!

What do you mean, Lady Gaga?

It seems difficult to believe, after all, we’re comedians.

Haven’t we all made fun of Lady Gaga?

I know I’ve done some jokes about her; A meat-suit, really?

But here’s the point: Comedians love to talk smack about people. In one way it’s our job. Isn’t that what we do; make fun of stuff?

But we also have to realize that we can learn from those very same people that we make fun of.

Lady Gaga has built an incredible career. She has tens of millions of followers on social media and her fans don’t just tolerate her, they LOVE her!

So check out the SlideShare presentation below.

It might actually help you choose a direction, give you some ideas and finally light a fire under your lazy comedy ass!