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!

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.

How to Keep an Emcee’s Horrible Introduction from Tanking your Show

When you get a horrible introduction from the Emcee, what do you next could mean the difference between a great show and a nightmare gig.

In this article, I’ll give you a sure-fire technique to keep an Emcee’s horrible introduction from tanking your show.

Flaws of the Emcee

There are a ton of ways an emcee can ruin the introduction for a comedian. They can bomb a joke then immediately bring you up. They can create an incident with someone in the audience and bring you up on a sour note. They can screw up your name or screw up your intro.

They can do a backwards intro. A backwards intro is where they mention your name first and the audience doesn’t feel the impulse to applaud…

It could go like, “Jerry Corley is a comedian from California. He’s here to entertain us tonight and make us laugh and boy do we need a laugh after they just announced all those layoffs. Here he is…” and they just leave it like that and hand you the mic.

Now you walk on to jaded applause with an audience whose enthusiasm is worse than an inmate who’s just been denied parole, you know?

What to Do?

So what do you do when you get a horrible introduction from the emcee?

I’ve been doing stand-up for 27 years and I’ve played almost every situation imaginable. I’ve played crowds from 4 people to 40,000, (opening for a huge country band). I’ve had some great introductions and some horrible introductions and I’ve learned how important they can be (if they’re framed right) and how inconsequential they can be (if you play it right).

Horrible intros often occur when doing corporate events. The people introducing you are not professionals and situations can easily get awkward.

But I’ll take that any day, because you can make a lot of money doing corporate gigs. In fact, you can make more money at one corporate gig than spending three weeks in comedy clubs!

It’s your job to stay funny

First and foremost, you have to remember that you’re a comedian. It’s your job to stay funny in spite of the situation. They came to watch a comedian who can make fun of stuff, not some twat who gets offended because someone didn’t intro them professionally.

I usually deal with a horrible introduction by talking about it. The other night I did a private holiday event for a condo services organization. The event was in like the happy-hour/bar area of the Marriot Renaissance. You know the kind of place where they advertise to their guests that if you get there between 5-7pm you can get “$5 drinks and light snacks?”

It wasn’t best venue or setting for comedy. The ceilings were high, the crowd was spread out all over the place, there was no stage, the lighting was awful and because the ceilings were high, the sound bounced all over the place, filling the room with an echo, which made it difficult for people to hear anything I was saying–especially for the people in the back and to the sides of the room.

And if people have to really work to hear your words, they’ll stop trying and just start talking. Of course their voices will now fill the echo chamber and now you’re trying to talk over their talking.

The good news was that the show started at 5pm, so if the show didn’t go well I could still get the “$5 drinks and light snacks!”

The emcee greeted everyone. She was polite and professional, but just before she brought me on, she read a letter to the audience that a member of the board of directors wrote for this group… Now a letter is meant to be read, not spoken and the letter was 5 pages long!

Every time the emcee went to read the next page, she fumbled with the mic and the pages, creating this awkward gap of silence, that the audience seemed to use to reengage in their conversations.

When people are told that a part of their evening’s entertainment is going to be a comedian, they are not expecting someone reading a 5-page dissertation.

That’s like going to a strip club and before the stripper comes out, the DJ says something like, “Gentlemen, before Mercedes starts peeling off that sexy lingerie, she’s gonna read about 5 minutes of some Haiku she’s written! So get your dollars out and get ready to tip her on her immaculate 5-7-5 structure!”

She could read the most brilliant Haiku in history, but that’s just not what the audience showed up for.

So after she’s done reading this thing, she brings me up to an audience who is now about as excited as someone who just got their assignment for jury duty.

Turn the Dilemma into Comedy

So I decided that I’m just gonna have fun with this moment.

She gave me the mic and I said, “Thanks so much. How about a hand for Kimberly, ladies and gentlemen. Doesn’t she do an incredible job? Boy that’s gotta be tough, but you handled it with such grace, Kim.

First, the boss telling you he’s not gonna be here, then saying he wants YOU to get up in front of the audience and read his letter. The only thing that would’ve made that letter less appealing is if he ended it with “…and by the way, starting on the 1st of January, your homeowner’s association fees are going up a hundred bucks! Happy Holidays!”

Dealing with the audience on the spot with something that just happened, let’s them know that you are with them, in this moment, not just going up there to recite your act.

The audience laughed at that opening and, moving forward, every time they didn’t laugh, I looked at them and said, “Hey you know, I can always have Kim come back up here and read that letter again!” The audience enjoyed the fact that I handled the awkwardness of the moment with humor and that I maintained a playful approach.

I don’t always recommend that you deal with a situation like that the way I did. Audiences at a corporate type function like this one can be very tribal. They know the person you are making jokes about more than you do and they can get defensive and turn on you fast.

So I sometimes will just refer to another event I did where the intro was “REALLY AWKWARD.” Sort of comparing it the one they just experienced.

It might go something like this…

After she’s done reading the letter and then introducing me, I might say, “Thanks so much!” How about a hand for Kim, ladies and gentlemen. Doesn’t she do a great job. As a comedian I’ve got to say it’s tough to follow a 5-page letter, but it’s not the most awkward thing I’ve had to follow…

…I once did an event for the Montana State Assembly and just before they brought me up on stage the emcee said, “Can I have your attention please? We’ve come to the entertainment part of our evening, but before we do that, I would like us all to have a moment of silence. As you know, less than a month ago, Assemblyman Kyle Nance was killed in a fiery crash on I-90. He leaves behind a wife and 3 kids…”

Keep in mind, I’m standing right there, waiting to take the mic!

They all bowed their heads for what must’ve been the most awkward 60 seconds ever!

I actually heard sniffles in the audience!

… then I hear, “and now for your comedian…”

And she hands me the mic.”

The audience at the Marriot Renaissance, was able to laugh at that difficult situation I was faced with and by stating a situation that was much more drastic than the one they were just faced with, they felt like they were off the hook.

It enabled me to tap into the laughter triggers of recognition, embarrassment, superiority and release. Knowing this gave me tremendous confidence that the audience would laugh with me.

So next time you’re faced with a horrible introduction from the emcee, just remember: don’t blame them, and always stay funny!

Revenge may be Best Cold, but Success is Best Always.

Joe Dungan - Winner, Clean Comedy Challenge 2017

One of the biggest joys of running the Comedy Clinic and imparting what I’ve learned through these many years in comedy is when one of my students has a success moment. It’s rewarding in so many ways.

First off, it’s just totally cool to see one of your students succeed… just that. I remember when I was in that same position and I remember the feeling of winning something or succeeding at something in comedy. That sense of accomplishment is sublime and when one of your students achieves success, it’s like having that feeling all over again.

Joe Dungan, one of my hardest working students and one of my master teachers just won The Clean Comedy Challenge 2017 at the Ice House in Pasadena, CA!

Joe competed against a litany of other comedians. And he must’ve done great because at the end of the performances one of the other comedians said to him, “Get ready to collect your prize money,” implying that it was clear who won the Clean Comedy Challenge.

So how did Joe do it?

As many of you know, it can be a challenge to come up with clean comedy that pops. The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

Joe’s opening line gets them laughing right away “My name is Joe ‘Successful Career’ Dungan, but you can call me Joe Dungan because the ‘Successful Career’ is silent.”

This line accomplishes two things. It self-deprecates, presenting Joe’s dilemma, while using the superiority concept in comedy, instantly letting the audience know that Joe doesn’t take himself too seriously. It also gives us surprise and incongruity because Joe juxtaposes the words “successful career” with a letter that might be silent in a person’s name.

But the structure of that joke is tight. It’s a great opening joke and has the audience on Joe’s side right out of the gate.

Lorne Michaels, the genius behind the success of Saturday Night Live, says that an audience has to be confident in the comedian on stage and there’s nothing better than a well-structured joke right out of the gate to immediately inject a large dose of confidence into that audience.

And that’s the primary focus of the curriculum at the Comedy Clinic. I want you to learn the science and structure of comedy so I empower you with the tools to write comedy that is designed to get laughs by helping you learn the proven structures of comedy and the science behind why people laugh.

I encourage my students to be able to write clean material. You don’t have to do clean material if it’s not your persona, but you should be able to. This way you don’t have to simply rely on shock value to get a laugh.

When you learn to be able to work clean you can work anywhere. It makes you more versatile as a comedian and makes you more likely to succeed as a comedy writer or performer.

Let’s face it, one of the quickest ways to get on the map in comedy is to appear on television and whether it’s Kimmel, Conan, Fallon, Colbert, Meyers or Corden, your material needs to be able to fit in the parameters of that show’s requirements and although many of the shows are showing much more flexibility, you’re still required to be ‘clean.’

Once you have a few appearances on network TV, you are more likely to be able to book higher paid corporate work, get a solid agent and begin developing your professional career even further.

A national TV credit almost instantly thrusts you into the headlining position in most clubs around the country and gives agents a reason to represent you.

But if you’re not able to work clean, the network TV gigs will continue to be off-limits to you as a performer.

If you are able to work clean, almost nothing can stop you.

So congratulations Joe Dungan! Get that video and start getting it out to the talent coordinators booking the Late Night shows on TV.

And to those of you reading this, start learning to write and perform clean. Remember you don’t have to be a clean comedian, but you create exponentially more opportunity if you are able to.

I’m Funny around my Friends, but…

Funny around friends, but
Are you funny around your friends? Do you make your friends laugh in everyday situations, but then you try to put it on the page and it just doesn’t sound like you or the idea that you thought was funny is no longer funny?

It’s like your natural ability to be funny is being killed by the writing.

This is a common complaint with people and there are a lot of things that are going on that cause that to happen.

In this post, I’m going to discuss the main reason as to why we’re funny in person and it gets lost on the page and what you can do to keep your natural funny growing while learning to develop the funny in your writing.

If you’re one of those people who’s naturally funny in the moment with your friends, you should understand that the way you developed that (most likely) is through exposure. I’ve yet to meet a so-called naturally funny person who wasn’t exposed to comedy at a younger age.

My writing partner, Rob Rose, is probably the fastest, funniest guy I’ve ever worked with. He’s so quick when we’re at parties or social gatherings I just stand back and let him do his thing. But Rob wasn’t “born” with this. Rob used to hide in his room (because of an abusive step-father) and watch comedy shows. He watched all the greats. Their structure and timing were immaculate. Because of his constant exposure, he began to repeat jokes and use some stuff in his own dialogue. Eventually, he started to recognize the patterns that created the laugh. By coincidence, in conversation, he would recognize more opportunities to use those patterns with his own words.

When I met Rob he was already a funny guy. He was part of a 2-man comedy team that just messed around at an open mic in Sacramento.

A couple of years later, he started going on the road with me as a solo act. His first night on stage, he bombed… horribly. What do I mean by that? He was only able to do about a minute and a half. He was supposed to do thirty!

He thought that just because he was such a funny guy, he could go up on stage and wing it. But being funny in person doesn’t always equate to being funny within a certain time frame on stage and on cue.

In stand-up comedy, you have to get them early and you’re expected to get a laugh every 18-20 seconds (minimum), on average. Rob didn’t get a laugh in the first 90 seconds… started sweating said, “Good night!” and ran off the stage.

We had a contract to provide a 90-minute show. So I had to go up and do 90-minutes. Lol!

Looking back on it, Rob laughs about that night. It’s still embarrassing, but he laughs about it.

After that night Rob and I spent the entire next day going over his act. I turned on a video camera, (It was one of those camcorders that had the VHS tape in it), and had Rob come into the room like it was a stage and do his act, by reading it off the page.

Every time he messed it up, he would go back out of the room and we’d start the tape over. He would come back and start his set like he was actually starting his act.

Yep, just like two grown-ass men playing pretend!

Eventually, Rob got it. We took the tape and put it in Rob’s VCR player in his hotel room.

He listened to it over and over.

He’s so good in the moment and on the fly that I said, “If you ever feel stuck, just go to your strength,” (being in the moment).

That night Rob crushed it so hard that people were asking for his autograph after the show.

The key is, we played to his strength which is being in the moment.

Before I forget, one crucial point: We went over Rob’s act orally, then I wrote down every joke/story. The reason I wrote it down was because when Rob actually wrote his jokes, he had a tendency to “overwrite” them. He would overwrite them to the point where they were no longer funny.

Rob eventually fixed that. But only through a lot of practice writing jokes and writing dialogue.

Comedy has a certain structure. Rob spent his childhood learning that structure orally to that structure and it worked when he was in the moment.

In essence, when Rob was learning orally, he was using different regions of the brain to access his funny mechanism. But that’s not all…

Throughout our entire school careers, when we are taught to write, we are brainwashed (in a sense) to write in prose. We’re taught creative writing, but usually with a focus on using correct grammar, punctuation, etc. And it’s usually dull when read aloud.

Try this take even an exciting book of fiction and try reading it aloud. It will “sound” like a book.

Stand-up, on the other hand, is a conversation, (usually one-sided). We’re expected to be present like we would be at a party with our friends.

Problem is we’ve spent years learning to write NOT the way we speak. We speak in broken sentences, in slang, with contractions, etc.

It’s amazing to watch someone who’s developing their skill at writing. They could crack a great joke right in front of you. And the moment you ask them to write it down, they fall back on their learning of writing in school, trying to use correct punctuation, grammar, etc., and they over write the joke.

That can kill the joke.

It’s not just common in stand-up, but also in script writing. It’s hard to find someone who can write great dialogue. Why? Because dialogue is

Why? Because dialogue is conversation.

There are many different ways to correct this. It takes time to learn how to write the way you talk. Too many to cover in this blog post.

However, you can start by learning to record your jokes with your friends. By first recognizing that they’re laughing at what you’re saying, then getting it on the recorder on your iPhone or Android device. Then transcribing the joke exactly as you said it without falling back into your grade school lessons and writing the way you were taught, but writing the way you speak.

If you practice this often, you will soon learn to write the way you talk.

Another way to do it is to write your jokes like you’re writing a Facebook post, a text or an email. When we’re doing that we have a tendency to write like we’re talking to a specific person.

If  you’re funny in person, but lose the funny when you put it on the page, focus on your strength of being funny in the moment with your friends.

Practice your joke writing during the day but when you hit the stage focus on your strength

Eventually, your writing will match your personality.