Comedians Get More Applause Using This One Powerful Technique

get more applause breaks in your comedy

Vengeance is Mine!

Nothing gets a person’s pulse up more than a great plot driven by revenge. I’ve noticed that the best comedians use this super effective theme in their jokes or stories.

That’s one of the reasons why jokes about ex’s who have cheated on us can be so effective…

My Ex, who cheated on me, called me on Halloween. She said, “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?”

When you set up an antagonist, the audience has an urge to root for the protagonist, or the hero, (to those of you unfamiliar with the term).

Listen to the Audio Version

The audience becomes emotionally invested in the protagonist ‘winning’ after being wronged.

As a result, the audience is excited and gives more at the punchline. They laugh harder and not only that, they are also compelled to applaud.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. Since the individuals in the audience have also had an experience with being betrayed or otherwise slighted, they empathize with the comedian’s dilemma and are automatically emotionally invested. Since they have a similar experience, they want to see how you resolve it. So, when you avenge the wrong that was done to you, the audience feels that they also win. So it’s a more personal experience for them, so they applaud the win.
  2. By it’s nature as a structure in storytelling, the theme of revenge contains the critical combination of tension & release. There is immediate conflict and resolution which gives the story that necessary rise and fall that any story contains if it is to have a good beginning, middle and end.  The advantage is that our audiences are already groomed to applaud when a story resolves. (Think about songs, when they end the music resolves back to the tonic note in the key, resolving the tension). And when a song ends, the audience naturally wants to applaud.

To highlight this point, sing the end of the National Anthem or any country’s anthem. “… and the home of the brave…” That tension to resolution, urges the audience to applaud. Dropping that concept into your set, even in mini-doses, is almost like plug ‘n play applause breaks.

It’s a brilliant concept!

An Antagonist Makes the Revenge Delicious

You’ve heard the phrase “revenge is a dish best served cold?” In comedy, revenge must be served proportionally. Comedy revenge is usually not murder or real physical harm–let’s face it, you’re probably not going to get laughs if your girlfriend cheats on you and you stab her in the throat–it’s usually more like intellectual retribution…

… like when Rosanne Barr says,

“My mother says the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I think the best way to a man’s heart is straight through his chest.”

I refer to this structure in comedy as “benign retaliation.” Meaning the revenge does not physically harm the antagonist and is usually proportional to what they did to you and saying it in words metaphorically as a cliche reformation, is much more symbolism than literalism.

Although, once the audience is rooting for you as the protagonist, it’s impressive what you can get away with as far as retaliation is concerned… even in longer stories.

“My ex was horrible with spending. But she would always justify her overspending by sale-shopping. And she would always walk into the house with these shopping bags—you know the kind I’m talking about; those paper bags with the rope-like handles. They’re made out rope so you can use it later to climb out of debt…

…or hang yourself.

And I always knew when she overspent. She would always start out saying the same thing. Maybe you’ve heard this… She would come in and say, “ Oh my God! You have no idea how much money I saved us!”

This one month we were really strapped and I said, “We need to have a moratorium on non-essential spending.” She was like “Well, I need sandals, because it’s summer. They’re only 45 dollars.” So she went out to get sandals. 

And I knew I was in trouble because when she returned she had the bags with the rope handles… and she was like, “You have no idea how much money I saved us… I got this leather jacket—normally 350 dollars—it was only 150! I got this sweater—it’s cashmere and silk—normally 150, marked down to 70! You have no idea how much money I saved us!

I said, “I thought you went to get sandals?”
She said, “Yeah, they were only 80 dollars.”
I said, “You said they were forty-five?”
She said, “Well, since I saved us so much money, I figured I would get some better sandals!”

I was pissed. A week later I was doing a gig in Malaysia. And these two Malaysian hookers approach me after at the bar after the show. They were beautiful and super seductive. They were trying to negotiate with me, you know. “200 dollars.” I’m like, “Ladies. I’m a family man. I don’t do that.” They don’t give up though. They kept trying for about 30 minutes. Finally they said, “Okay—for you—45 dollars—two of us—all night.”

The next day I called my girlfriend. I said, “Oh My God, You have no idea how much money I saved us!”

That simple story gets a lot of laughs and at the end it always—well, almost always—gets an applause break.

In real life it’s not appropriate get even with your girlfriend’s spending, by implying that you slept with hookers, but in comedy… it’s on!

An Antagonist Enables You to be More Edgy

When you build that antagonist, the audience can let you go pretty edgy in your comeback. Remember that Halloween joke at the top? Here’s the way I originally wrote it and deliver it when I’m in comedy clubs:

“My Ex who cheated on me with her boss, called me on Halloween. She said, “Jerry, I don’t know what to be for Halloween.”  I said, “Why don’t you just dress for work and when people ask who you are you can say, “Just shut up and fuck me.”

Revenge as a Literary Device

Since storytelling began, revenge has titillated readers and listeners. It compels people to listen and participate emotionally. If you can get your audience to do that (even for a short joke) you know have a real winner.

Being such a powerful theme in storytelling, comedy writers should familiarize themselves with the concept of revenge and really get an understanding for the passion in it that the audience feels.

Be Sure There is a Reason for the Retaliation

But keep in mind, that in comedy, the retaliation needs to be benign and who the antagonist is, needs to be clear to the audience. If it’s not it could be deadly to the joke.

I had an audition set in front of David Letterman’s talent coordinator. I had a pretty good set. Afterwards, he gave me a critique, he said, “I loved your stuff. But that one joke about your ex-wife. We don’t like attacks on women with no reason for them. It’s sexist.”

I realized that because I was cutting my set down for 4 minutes, I left out the part that she cheated on me, so the attack seemed to come out of nowhere. If the audience does not crave the revenge, then, quite frankly, the audience doesn’t know why to root for you and the risk is diminished laughter or no laugh at all.

Here’s the irony of that story. Two months later, the talent coordinator was fired by Late Night for an interview where he was accused of being sexist.

Take some time and build some benign retaliation into your stories.

Watch some of your favorite comedians and see how they use revenge or benign retaliation in their stories or shorter jokes.

What are some of your favorite benign retaliation stories?

3 Reasons You Should Develop Your Comedy Writing Chops

3 Reasons to develop your comedy writing chops

Open Letter

I’m gonna call this blog post an open letter to comedy teachers.

This especially goes out to one comedy teacher in particular who refers to himself as “America’s Original Comedy Coach.” (Lol, right?)

Recently, I put a post on Facebook called “911 For Your Jokes.” It’s a step-by-step walkthrough of 5 different ways to take a single subject, and develop a comedy routine, a bit or stand-alone jokes.

In the case of this particular post, the subject was ‘Flight Attendant.’ (See it in action here).

I put out these ‘freebies’ so that comedians and comedy writers (both new and old), can get some ideas and inspiration on how to get the material going.

Because we’ve all run into writer’s block, right?

Listen to the Audio Version

So “America’s Original Comedy Coach” (sorry, can’t say that without giggling), posted a comment ridiculing the fact that I was demonstrating this.

I think his comment was, “Formula #1: Don’t use any of these formulas for comedy or you’ll wind up sounding exactly like everyone else.”

You guys who know me, know that I would never usually call someone out like this, but when you attempt to ridicule me in a public forum, It’s on, bitch! :-).

Here are 3 Big Reasons you should Develop Structure in your Comedy Writing…

#1: Writing Makes it Easier to Build Structure into your Material

So let’s examine that whole “sound like everyone else” statement for a moment.

If you watch Jim Gaffigan, Bill Burr, Daniel Tosh, Amy Schumer, Brian Kiley, Whitney Cummings, Kira Soltanovich, (or any number of comedians who are currently at the top of their game), and you deconstruct their acts, you will discover that they all utilize similar techniques in their comedy routines to get laughs.

Would you say that they all sound alike?

Didn’t think so… and you want to know the reason?

They are different people!

Those comedians each have different points of view, different experiences and different ways of expressing themselves.

But it is the structure within their sets that gets the laughs. Without that structure, guess what?

No laughs.

#2: Get More Laughs

Let’s take two distinctly different, but similar comedians. Anthony Jeselnik and Brian Kiley. Below is an example of a joke each of them do.

They are using a comedy structure called the “Paired Phrase.”

KILEY: My wife and I have been married for 20 years, but there’s still that tension between her Dad and I. He’s always giving me a look like, “I know you’re having sex with my daughter.” And I’m always giving him a look like… “Barely.”

JESELNIK: I went to my girlfriend’s parents’ house over the holidays. Her Dad didn’t let us sleep in the same room. He was giving me a look like, “I don’t trust you.” And I gave him a look like, “Trust me, man… I’m fucking your daughter.”

You hear the similarity?

It’s goal of the paired phrase (in this particular context) to create pattern disruption or an expected rhythm or ending and then shatter created expectation.

When that pattern is disrupted, (with Kiley, he used self-deprecation while Jeselnik uses ambivalence and a bit of shock value), you create surprise and if you’re familiar with the 9 psychological laughter triggers, you already know that surprise is one of the most effective.

But if you were to watch Jeselnik and Kiley back to back, you wouldn’t think they sounded alike because they have totally different personas.

Jeselnik is driven by ambivalence, (being discompassionate about things society believes you should be compassionate about), and Kiley is driven by a persona that is slightly put upon and confused about the way things are supposed to work.

Using the ‘Reverse’ to Create Surprise

Another way to create surprise with with a comedy structure called a ‘reverse.’ This construct also sets up an expectation, then shatters it. When a comedian or comedy writer knows this, writing comedy is much easier.

I mean think about it. All Jeselnik has to do is to come up with a situation that we call can relate to and solve them with something unexpected.

“I break up with the girls the way I take off a band-aid; slow and in the shower.”

Kiley does a similar thing with the reverse structure by shattering our expectation with situation we can all identify with:

“I’m surprised I got together with my wife at all because when I first met her she was soooo… pregnant.”

So to say that structure is wrong is denying your students the very tools that make people laugh.

#3: Comedy Writing Enables you to Make More Money

America’s Original Comedy Coach also ridiculed my effort to encourage comedians to develop their skills in writing comedy material.

This is where I was completely dumbfounded! WTF!? Why would you NOT encourage your students to develop all their skill sets?

That’s like telling a baseball player to work only on hitting the ball. You might do pretty well when you’re up at bat, but you’ll suck everywhere else.

And, while in baseball a hitter may be considered good when he gets a hit 1 out of 3 times, if you do that in the comedy world, a talent booker wouldn’t even want you as a pinch hitter!

If you neglect developing your skills at writing you’re doing yourself a serious disservice.

Also… and this is a BIG also… when you know how to write comedy material, you have just exponentially increased your potential to create revenue.

There are so many opportunities out there for people who can write funny.

Doing stand-up and getting good is great, but learning to develop your writing chops just adds another high-revenue-creating skill set.

So, America’s Original Comedy Coach, I would rethink what you’re teaching your students and while you’re at it, maybe rethink calling yourself “America’s Original Comedy Coach.”

Think about it, man; If you were America’s original airplane, America’s original automobile or America’s original computer, you’d be obsolete.

Work Smarter – Don’t be Afraid of Mistakes. Learn from Them!

 Don't be afraid of mistakes; learn from them

Are you one of those people who is afraid of mistakes? Are you afraid to put something out there—either on stage or in a meeting or even on social media—for fear that you made a mistake and someone will call you out on it, thus making you the laughing stock of the world and eternally miserable?

This happens to all of us at some level.

I remember, early in my studying, being in an acting class. I really wanted to be an actor. My father had some fame as an actor and I wanted to be an actor too. I went to the classes and when I did something “wrong,” the teacher would try to give me notes.

I would always try to interrupt with something like a “Yeah, yeah, I know I did that,” or something similar. Instead of really listening to the note based on what the teacher saw in my performance, I would jump ahead because I didn’t really want to hear that I was flawed, that I made a mistake.

Fortunately I had a father who used to coach me as well. He saw that I would try to jump in and not truly listen to the note. He would wait for me to finish my objection. Then say, “Next time I give you a critique, instead of instantly jumping in I want you to try something. I want you to think of a follow-up question, based on what I said.”

Brilliant.

This approach served two purposes. It required me wait to actually hear the note. And…
It made me have to think of a follow-up question, so I was forced to listen deeply to the note, process what it meant to me and follow up, thus cementing the learning into my brain.

So therefore, it forced me to acknowledge my mistake, learn from it and figure out how to apply the mistake as a lesson, NOT as a mistake.

Does this make sense?

When we make mistakes and learn from them, we make huge leaps in our learning and through experience you learn that mistakes are actually positive things, not negative.

Instead of fearing mistakes, we should embrace them, ruminate in them and figure out possible solutions. I express that as a plural, because there’s normally never just one solution. There’s usually multiple.

It is key that you write down the mistake, what you learned from it and finally the possible solutions to correct the mistake in the future.

That’s why in the classes I teach, I encourage the students to provide their own suggestions and notes to their fellow students. It requires them to actively listen, process and trouble-shoot a possible solution. This helps them to become more knowledgeable as a comedy writer or comedian, in a faster time period.

When you teach you learn twice.

This type of fear of mistakes can paralyze us in so many ways. It creates a circle of repeated mistakes that cripple growth, stifle productivity and increase stress.

I have a friend. We get together once in awhile to write, go shopping or grab a bite.

She has this fear of mistakes and I see it constantly and repeatedly paralyze her productivity and infuse more stress into her life.

Now the following conversation may seem tedious, but I think it is essential so that you can really get the idea and maybe—just maybe—see similarities in your own behaviors.

About 6 months ago my friend called me and said, “Hey, let’s get together later and go shopping at the mall.”

I said, “What time?”
She said, “Oh late afternoon sometime. I have a lot to get done first.”
I said, “You should set some goals as to exactly what you need to get done and apply a time to it. When that timer is done get up and move on to the next–”
She interrupted, “—Yeah, yeah. I know. That’s a good idea.”
I said, “Okay. Just let me know when?”

At 5 o’clock we planned to get together to shop at the mall, eat and hang out. Since she’s always late, we wound up connecting at the mall at 5:30.
She was hungry, so we grabbed a bite to eat. Then it was time to shop!
As we started to hit the stores, we noticed that they were all starting to close.
She started stressing, “Why are they closing?!”
“Well, it’s Sunday. Most malls close early on Sundays.”

It was a mistake not to set your goals and not plan out the day… I’ve explained the acknowledge mistakes lesson to her that I learned from my father. I hoped that she would start to apply them… she struggles with that.

6 months later…

My friend texts me. Again, it was a Sunday morning.

“Hey, l’ve got to go back home for about a week. Wanna meet at the mall and go shopping?”
“Sure. What time?”

“I don’t know. Late afternoon. I’ve got a lot to get done first…”

I sighed…

Then 30 minutes later the text came in: “Hey, it’s Sunday. Let’s do early afternoon. In fact, I’ll meet you at three! The malls close early don’t they?”

Finally!

Now I just hope she shows up on time!

If you fear mistakes now—no matter what the level of your fear—by doing the above approach of acknowledging, processing and solving, you will eventually lose that fear.

At some point, that fear of mistakes becomes just a shrug, and you look forward to processing it, learning from it and solving it. Because, now you will realize how much time or money you saved, how your business or relationship improved and how above all you transformed in some way and became a better person in life… or at least a better person to go shopping with.

You learn so much from acknowledging your mistakes, rather than being afraid of mistakes.

In my experience, I realized that when I made mistake and acknowledged it, I wasn’t a laughing stock of the world and it didn’t make me eternally miserable.

Instead, it enabled me to eternally grow.

Got Haters? Stay True, Practice and Turn it Into Opportunity

bullying in school

I have a student who emailed me recently about people hating on him.

He’s a little awkward on stage. He’s working on it, but he comes across as the guy next door or maybe the ‘creepy’ guy next door.

I see a lot of promise in him. He reminds me of Comedian George Miller; Miller was awkward, always wore sweaters. Made 56 appearances on Late Night with David Letterman.

comedian george miller

My student lives in a small town in Canada, doesn’t have a lot of friends, but works hard on his writing. Problem is, when you live in a small town, it’s hard to get stage time.

But he keeps at it.

He’s got a lot of the locals including the local club owner who constantly berate him. They put him down, they tease, they pick.

He said, “Jerry, you’ve got to help me. I just have these guys totally hating on me all the time. What do I do?”

Stay true. Keep working. Keep practicing. Beat them to the punch.

The Bullies Made me Do It!

I despise bullies. I was bullied as a kid. I remember one of the bullies getting me in a headlock on the school bus in New York and just punching away at my head while other students just sat there watching. (Maybe that explains why I’m so weird!).

That wasn’t the only time I was bullied, but that’s the one that really stands out, because one of the people standing there watching was my older brother.

We were raised in a loving compassionate family. Not a fighting family. We didn’t know how to fight. So I don’t blame my brother. He didn’t have a skill set to know how to deal with that situation.

I can zero back on that moment on the bus with laser beam focus. That’s why I despise bullies.

But…

I often wonder if I would’ve ever become a comedian if it wasn’t for those bullying moments. I often think that’s why learned to joke and to beat the jerks to the punch with humor.

It’s Impossible to Dislike Someone Who Makes You Laugh

There’s an old saying, “It’s impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh.”

By the 8th grade, I was getting funny. I learned from another kid in my class, Andrew Madejczyk. (pronounced Majezick).

Andy was fast on the draw. He mostly did wordplay stuff but was always getting laughs in class.

I realized that I was usually thinking the same thing he was, but I just didn’t say it out loud.

I always thought it was so funny that a word that was intended to mean one thing could so easily mean another thing.

That’s when I understood the 9th Laughter Trigger; coincidence. We laugh at coincidence. We love it!

I realized that nobody was getting Andy in headlocks and punching him on the bus… well, mostly because he didn’t take the bus, but he wasn’t really ever bullied.

Probably because he was always making them laugh.

I thought, I need to get funnier before someone headlocks me again.

My parents had a lot of comedy albums at home. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, mostly. My neighbors had Bill Cosby. Their parents didn’t let them listen to Carlin and Pryor because they weren’t appropriate and Bill Cosby was.

–Who’s appropriate now, bitches?!

I memorized George Carlin albums. I realized that when Carlin repeated slogans from commercials that people identified with, the audience laughed.

That’s the 3rd laughter trigger; recognition.

I was beginning to understand. Now if I can only use it to get a laugh…

“Hey Jerry! What’s the Story?”

I used to get teased at school just because of my name. There was a commercial that ran on the local TV stations. It was for an appliance club store called JGE Appliances.

The commercial would feature this blue collar type guy standing in front of a wall with a sign that simply said “JGE.” He was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a hard hat.

Someone from offstage would shout, “Hey Jerry. What’s the story?”

Then in a Brooklyn accent, the hard hat guy would say, “The story is you come to JGE with the right make or model unit number you wanna buy. Show your union or civil service card at the door and you’re in, because JGE is not open to the general public. Only Union members and their families.”

Offstage Voice: “So that’s the story?”

Then he would shout: “That’s the stoooorryyyy!” He’d lean back with his arms wide and his t-shirt would rise up revealing his bare stomach.

That was the commercial.

Nobody Can Make you Feel Inferior Unless You Give Them Permission

The thing is; my name is Jerry.

At least 3 or 4 times a day, people at school would shout out, “Hey Jerry! What’s the story?”

I used to really annoy me. I hated it! It would make me feel stupid and awkward, especially when people would laugh. I felt like they were laughing at me.

My Mother said to me, “Nobody can make you feel inferior unless you give them permission.”

What could I do that wouldn’t make me feel inferior?

I did what Carlin did. I memorized the commercial. I thought if they laugh when Carlin repeats a commercials slogan, maybe they’ll laugh when I repeat the commercial too.

I practiced the commercial at home made sure I had it down. I went back to school the next day and while walking in the hall someone yelled, “Hey Jerry, what’s the story?”

In my best Brooklyn accent, I let it rip. I said, “The story is you come to JGE with the right Make or Model unit number you wanna buy, show your union or civil service card at the door and you’re in! Cuz’ JGE is not open to the general public, only to union members and their families…”

I waited.

Several people shouted in a sorry demonstration of unison: “So that’s the story?”

I said, ‘Dat’s the stooooorryyyy!!!” I raised up my shirt and showed my belly.

It got huge laughs… and you know what?

It no longer bothered me that people shouted “Hey Jerry, what’s the story?!”

I looked forward to it and I haven’t had my head in a headlock ever since.

There are always going to be haters…

Stay true, keep writing, keep practicing and beat them to the punch.

The Perfect Opportunity

east side comedy

My family moved out of New York when I was 13. Years later I went back to get into stand-up. The first club I auditioned at was East Side Comedy in Huntington, Long Island.

The club owner, Richie Minervini, was also the emcee. He said to me, “What do you want me to say about you?”

I said, “Just say, ‘This next guy is from California and his name is Jerry.'”

He said, “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Minervini brought me up. “This next guy is from California. His name is Jerry.”

I took the mic and said, “My name is Jerry.”

Some guy in the crowd said, “Hey Jerry! What’s the story?”

The crowd laughed.

I did my thing… they laughed again…

… and for the rest of the night.

Thank you, bullies!

200,005 Reasons to Write for Late Night TV

late-night-fb_ad2_email

I get emails and comments all the time from people asking if they should pursue an opportunity to write for Late Night TV.

I always answer with a resounding “Yes!” and I have solid reasoning to back it up.

In fact I have 200,005 reasons you should pursue a job to write for Late Night TV.

But before we go there, let’s back up for a moment and look at the traditional method people use to prepare for a career.

The Career Path of the College Grad

Most people go to college for 4-5 years, get the skill set they need to work in the career of their choice.

If it’s a specialty like doctor or lawyer, they put in an extra few years of law school or med school followed by internship and/or residency.

Now I wholeheartedly believe that education is by far the best investment one can make in one’s future.

Every single time I invested in learning a new skill set, my resulting revenue skyrocketed.

Some people tell me that paying to learn comedy writing is too expensive.

I don’t get it.

My sons are in college, just finishing up. One university costs $30,000 annually. The other one $12,000 annually.

That’s quite an investment!

According to Forbes, when they graduate they are looking at an average starting salary of $42,000 a year.

And that’s IF they land a job in their specialty.

It doesn’t take an MIT graduate to realize it’s gonna take a while to make a profit on that investment.

To make matters worse, you’re already 4-5 years in on your investment.

Which leads me to…

200,005 reasons to write for Late Night TV:

REASON 1 thru 200,000
According to the Writer’s Guild of America, the starting salary for a writer in Late Night is $4,000 per week. Most of these shows are yearly. And even if you took 10-12 weeks off per year, that’s over $200,000 a year!

That’s base starting pay!

If you write a 2-minute sketch and that gets on the air, you earn another 3,875.00 for that sketch…
… and if you write a song parody, you get ASCAP fees.

Not bad, but that’s not all…

REASON #200,001
Writing for Late Night TV is still one of the only jobs in the industry where you can get hired without experience and without a resume! You just have to show that you can write funny. That’s how I got my job writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and how a lot of guys I know got their jobs.

REASON #200,002
The cost of the investment in the education to get the skills for Late Night TV writing is microscopic compared to traditional career preparation. I learned the skill set by studying with some of the top writers in the business. They showed me the process to write jokes and I turned it into several processes that ensured that I could sit down and produce 80-120 jokes from scratch every single day. Even on the days where I wasn’t “feelin’ it.”

REASON #200,003
Access to this education used to only be available in L.A. or New York. Until now.
I’ve put together a 10-part online video course that will get you cranking out Late Night jokes like a machine.

It’s a systematic process that takes the guessing out of joke writing and helps you surpass the competition. So now, wherever you are, you can develop the skillset to write for Late Night TV you have no excuse not to dive in, get the skills and start submitting for a Late Night Writing job.

REASON #200,004
One thing they don’t teach you in college is the secret behind getting the job in your career, but I will walk you through the simple secret of how to submit and how to find the right person to submit to and how to find out specifically what a particular show looks for in a submission packet.

REASON #200,005
For a limited time I’m launching this course and making it available to you at a 66 percent off the regular price. And when I say a limited time, I mean like 5 days limited! The Late Night TV Comedy Writing and Submission Course Online will never be available at this price again.

So there are your 200,005 reasons you should pursue a job to write for Late Night TV.

Go get the course. Go get the job!