Craig Ferguson announced Monday night that he’ll be leaving the Late, Late Show at the end of this year. There is a lot of speculation that Ferguson was mistreated and completely overlooked, when CBS passed over him to replace David Letterman who will be retiring at the end of this year.
This after a 10-year run!
He was like a second string quarterback waiting his turn to take over the team.
Imagine if the Green Bay Packers overlooked Aaron Rogers after Brett Favre left the team?
CBS Blew It!
I think CBS completely blew it with this decision. They instead went with Stephen Colbert.
Colbert is very talented, but unproven and untested as a host in a non-satirical, non-character-based environment.
Ferguson is fresh, unique and extremely talented.
The execs who made this decision have ABSOLUTELY NO CONCEPT of the level of talent it takes to go off-script like Ferguson does and riff on a subject and get consistently great laughs. The guy is a genius.
*But Jerry, tell us how you really feel!*
He has an ability to detach from the show and actually make you feel like he’s in your living room; all the while still engaging the studio audience.
Who else does that?!
I don’t understand their reasoning for this decision. The only thing I can hypothesize on is that they are looking to target the 18-34 male demographic; the demo that is so coveted by advertisers and and already targeted by Comedy Central, Colbert’s current home.
But if that’s the case they blew it, as Ferguson and Colbert are virtually the same age!
Writing Positions Are Opening Up
But what does this mean for my readers, (all 3 of you)?
I know that some of you are really into looking to nail a job on a Late Night Show as a writer. This is a truly historic time with the shake-ups that are happening all around late night. Never in my life time have there been so many changes in the late night line up. in the same year.
With Colbert replacing Letterman and Ferguson leaving at the end of this year, new opportunities will be springing up all over the network.
Time to sharpen your pencils, freshen your pens and get your carpel tunnel wrist braces on and start re-typing and re-writing your Late Night TV submission packets.
Those of you who have taken my workshop on writing for late night know that you should be re-tooling your submission packet every 6 months and sending it in to the shows producers on a regular basis.
You should also be tweeting your daily jokes. Why? The Late Night with Seth Meyers people plucked an I.T. worker from Peoria, and put him on the staff for the show after reading his humorous tweets.
Now the Dude is earning a $4000 minimum weekly paycheck as a staff writer on the show. Hell Yes!
So even though I’m in disagreement about the network’s decision to overlook Ferguson, I am laser-beam focused on the new opportunities available for writers.
There is a movie out there called “A Knight’s Tale.” It stars the late Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, a peasant squire, who, after his master dies, changes “his stars” by changing his identity and becoming a knight.
It’s a fairy tale. Or is it?
About a month ago, a regular guy from Peoria, Illinois, who tweeted regular jokes as a way of venting from work and the grind of daily life, got picked up by the executives over at Late Night with Seth Meyers, to be a staff writer on the show after they took notice of his funny tweets.
The problem with condoms is by the time I get the darn things open the moment is ruined and I don’t feel like making balloon animals anymore
Today is the day! I leave for Moscow to teach a master class in American-style comedy to 25 Russian actors who want to learn that brand of stand-up.
I’ve never seen Russian stand-up. In fact, I’ve never seen a Russian smile, so this will be interesting. Of course I’m joking about the smile. I know a lot of Russian-Americans and there are two things they know how to do: laugh and drink vodka!
I’m sure while I’m there, I will be doing plenty of both.
I’ll be there five days. Think about it five days of caviar, vodka and comedy. What could be better?
Flight & Weather
It’s a 10-hour flight to Munich, then a layover and 3 more hours to Moscow. I arrive at 11pm Tuesday night.
It’s gonna be like 90 degrees here today, and when I arrive in Moscow, the low will be 15. Bring on the vodka!
I’ll be updating several times daily, here on my facebook and twitter pages, so come join. Give me some feeback, give me shit give me your thoughts and prayers that my comedy translates well and doesn’t somehow wind up insulting an entire nation and put me in the gulags somewhere in Siberia! So if you don’t see an update, you know I’m rotting in a Russian prison.
You’re attacking someone or something. Even yourself. The basic rule about attacking is: Always attack up. What this means is that in our society an audience roots for the underdog. If you are a white male and you are making jokes about a minority, it is technically attacking “down.” Because the white male still dominates in our society. If you are a male and you are attacking a female (for no understandable reason), you are also attacking “down,” because we still see women as the fairer sex. If you are anyone and you are attacking Special Olympics kids, you are technically attacking “down,” because Special Olympics kids are seen as people that can’t take care of themselves and they need our help. This is a general rule and can be broken from time to time, but I think you get the idea.
However, this is not to be misunderstood. If you can set the person up (who is “beneath” you) as an antagonist that needs retaliation, then the audience will root for you to get back at them and make fun of them. Don’t be afraid to attack “down,” just make sure there is just cause.
I missed out on a Letterman audition because the talent coordinator told me that I was attacking my ex-wife for no reason. For time sake, I had cut the set-up to the joke which was how she cheated on me. If the audience had that information, the joke would’ve been more effective.
Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone
If someone gets offended because you use the word pee or if you curse, GOOD! Maybe they are NOT your audience. You cannot be all things to everyone. Be YOU! Unless you are doing corporates or kids’ shows or doing warm-up for studio audiences, don’t worry about being all things to everyone. In comedy people love to hear a unique perspective. George Carlin said “there’s nothing wrong with fluff. Sometimes the audience needs it, but do comedy that says something.” If you’re doing comedy that “walks” some of the room that could be a good thing. Out of those people who stayed, there could be a percentage that wind up being die-hard fans; You know, people who will follow you anywhere!
It may seem simple to understand. But what is funny? I run into people all the time (sometimes in my classes) that say, “I just want to express myself. I don’t want to write it down.” “When I write it down it doesn’t come out funny.” I understand this dilemma. It makes total sense. Sometimes when you try to hard to stick to a script, it can feel awkward or unnatural. In doing stand-up comedy, there is a fine line between doing the material as written and “free-styling.”
Here’s the key to understanding comedy: Every time the audience laughs, there is a stimulus present in the material or the action. In other words, SOMETHING triggered the audience’s laughter. Part of the science of comedy is learning what those triggers are and then how to exploit them whenever you want so that you can repeat them, almost at will.
Those laughter triggers are hidden within the structure of comedy. So whether it’s Jerry Seinfeld using recognition triggers and incongruity or it’s Bill Burr using compare and contrast, incongruity and incongruity act-outs, driven by a strong emotional point of view, their structures are very strong and very present in their material. In other words they are NOT just riffing at will. If you have read my book “Breaking Comedy’s D.N.A.,” you will learn those structures and you will begin to be able to identify them in all comedians. When you do that you can then start to plug them in to your material and you will find that the laughs start increasing exponentially.
Without the structure in your material, it simply becomes a story or an opinion that you’re sharing with the audience. All the while the audience is thinking: That’s nice, but I’m here to laugh.”
In other words, be natural. Sound conversational, but your structure is going to get the laughs.
Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” is just finishing its first week and it has been an experience in engaging entertainment. Fallon has found that “something” that the show has been missing for the last 20 years; FUN!
Fallon’s ability to do impressions and his talent with music is the driving force of the show. Not to go without mention, the hipness and playfulness of his house band “The Roots,” makes Fallon’s “Tonight” totally entertaining and has turned the Tonight Show from that show than Mom and Dad watch before they go to bed, into a show that could entertain the tweens through the fifty-somethings at least.
I’m fifty (hard to admit it), and I find that show totally engaging.
How does that affect you as a comedian or a writer?
Simple. As a comedian or writer it is always good to reinvent yourself. Update, reboot, rewire, retrofit, restore rehab or renovate. Whatever you want to call it, keeping up to date and staying “now” is what drives engagement.
Now this should not be confused with age or birthdate.
Although Jimmy Fallon represents youth and will help NBC acquire the coveted 18-34 demographic in the late night slot, it doesn’t mean that in order to capture that demo, you must utilize only 18-34 talent.
The biggest draw on cable for a nightly show is still Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Stewart turns 52 this year and Colbert 50).
The key to driving engagement, at least where Fallon is concerned is his ability to be recognizable with his entertainment. He engages the audience with stuff they recognize (Ie: Song parodies and impressions). Even in the sketch above with Justin Timberlake, he slips into a Snoop Dog impression, a Dr. Dre, Ton Loc and Beastie Boys.
Familiarity and recognition drive engagement. If we recognize something we react physically to the television with a point a gesture like, “I’ve seen that,” “I know that!” “I remember that!”
This keeps the viewer watching and the ratings high.
It doesn’t have to be impressions. In fact, I would warn against that, unless you really nail the voice.
But doing something that creates an “in the moment” and “now” dynamic like engaging with the audience, act-outs, interaction with the band, keeps it moving and keeps it now.
There’s an old theatre science theory that states: "The audience is in whatever state the performer is in." Watch Fallon and Timberlake below and see just how much fun they are having and ask yourself, Is the audience having fun too?