Top 3 Ridiculous Myths About Hecklers


There’s a post in Dave Schwenson’s newsletter “How to be a Working Comic,” about hecklers. It’s worth a read and you should definitely check it out. I’m a huge fan of Dave’s and I have a lot of respect for him. He was the manager of the Improv when I got my first T.V. spot and he was largely, (if not entirely), responsible for all my bookings in Vegas.

But I’ve got to address some myths about hecklers and attempt to put them to rest. So in this post I will attempt to bust the top 3 ridiculous myths about hecklers.

You, my devout blog readers (all three of you), will help me get the word out by hitting the like button and tweeting the the post to all your comedian friends and other friends of comedy… right? 🙂

Considering that most of you also have about three friends, we can easily paper the world with this important info!

So let’s get to it.

As stand-ups,we deal with a dynamic that almost no other entertainment professionals deal with. That dynamic is the heckler.

I receive lots of questions about hecklers. The information culled from these emails is interesting. The new comedians have a fear of hecklers and the experienced comedians want advice on how to properly handle hecklers. 

Over the years, I’ve heard hecklers called “jerks,” “A-Holes,” and even “the ‘cancer’ of comedy.” But in my 27 years doing stand-up, I’ve learned a lot about the heckler and here in this post I want to give you some tools and bust the top 3 ridiculous myths about hecklers.

The heckler is, of course, the person in the audience who yells out something during your act. The yelling out has a tendency to throw off a comedian. Comedians can be thrown off their game, forget their material, get all riled up, angry, yell, scream profanities at the heckler.

I don’t believe that helps the show at all.

Not that the heckler should do the talking out in the first place, but the comedian should be able to handle a situation like this comedically.

Once in a great while the occasion arises when you do need to be a little more brutal in your heckle responses, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” said “know thy enemy.” And although I don’t necessarily consider all hecklers my “enemy,” it’s a good rule to follow because it’s far easier to understand and handle this situation if you, as the comedian, understand the heckler.

So first, let’s deal with that.

Myth #1: “It’s Us Against Them”

In a comedy documentary called “Alone Up There,” filmmaker Sean Patrick Shaul interviews many comedians and other comedy professionals to find out what makes a comedian tick.

In the documentary, veteran comedian Bobby Slayton, (The “Pit Bull of Comedy”), bobby slayton comedian boldy says to the camera, “It’s us against them.”

Isn’t that a little dramatic? I have a lot of respect for Slayton. He’s one of the fastest comedians on his feet today and he’s a super helpful guy with other comedians. But the theory that it’s an “us against them” dynamic is shaky at best.

Let’s bust this myth, right now.

I don’t think that theory has been examined even at the most basic level. I mean think about it. You’ve sat in those seats watching a comedy show, right? Have you ever thought it was an us against them thing? Have you ever sat there, as the next comedian is being introduced saying to yourself, “Make us laugh, idiot?!”

Probably not, right? I mean, I usually wait till the comedian is several failed jokes in to say, “Oh boy, this guy doesn’t get it.” But that’s about as close as it gets to us-against-them.

When a comedian is introduced and while he is taking the stage, I’m curious. I’m thinking something like, what’s this guy got? or something like that.

In other words, the typical audience member is rooting for the comedian to do well, not hoping they’ll wanna throw down.

We’re at a comedy club because we want to laugh, not because we want to fight.

I’ve run into very few situations where there was an us-against-them mentality. And the closest it ever got was more of a ‘it’s a me-against-him mentality, or it’s a me-against-that-table mentality. But that situation was rare.

So the “us-against-them” thing? Let’s get rid of that idea right now. The audience is rooting for you to make them laugh. They want the ticket price to be worth it.

Myth #2 “Hecklers are Jerks or A-holes”

Some people automatically jump to the conclusion that hecklers are jerks or “a-holes.” That’s not necessarily true and the comedian has a huge advantage in keeping that interaction with the heckler positive and funny.

First the comedian should understand that the overwhelming majority of hecklers are not trying to ruin your show. Most hecklers are just wanting to embellish or engage. There’s a psychology behind this that may help support this notion.

There’s an old saying, “It’s impossible to dislike anyone who makes you laugh.” Also, when someone laughs they released the same hormones someone does when they fall in love. So when you’re making them laugh they actually have an innate thought that the comedian is their ‘friend.’

So when you have a heckler, think about it this way: Who in your life insults you the most? Probably your best friends. They know everything about you. They do it in a teasing way because they love you, but they can certainly get pretty brutal at times.

Most hecklers are not brutal, they just want to engage or embellish. Sometimes they even tag a joke. If you just treat them like your best friend, (usually with a stinging response and a smile on your face), they will usually laugh with you and you keep the show at a level that can still be identified as “comedy” and not “barfight.”

Myth #3: Hecklers are the Cancer of Comedy

Quite the contrary! Don’t fall so much in love with yourself as a comedian or performer that you forget you wouldn’t exist without that audience. You’re on stage in front of people. It’s a live a event.

Part of the nature of this business is that comedy is a conversation. It’s supposed to be a one-way conversation, but it’s still a conversation and if you say something that offends or something that someone in the audience disagrees with, then you might get a response. It’s your job to be prepared.

Some people don’t have a lot of experience with comedy. Some hecklers think it’s “part of the show.” And some hecklers actually think they are “helping” you.

I don’t know how many times I had a heckler and had to deal with them then after the show they’ll come up to me and say, “I really helped you out tonight, huh?”

To call them the “cancer of comedy” is counter-productive. Think about it. Each time you have a heckler you have to deal with, you become faster on your feet. You learn how to engage with the heckler, while keeping the audience laughing. When you have a heckler you have a great opportunity to engage some of the most powerful laughter triggers in comedy. Embarrassment, Superiority and Release.

  1. The audience feels superior to the heckler you are addressing.
    These psychological laughter triggers working together can create powerful laughter and applause from the audience
  2. The audience recognizes how embarrassing that situation would be if it was them, and…
  3. The audience is releasing tension because it’s not them!

All of these working together can actually make the show more memorable, more energetic while adding a totally unique dynamic. This gives you a chance to be a rockstar. But you have to do the work and prepare for hecklers.

What do you do to prepare?

In my early days, I was heckled once where I couldn’t recover. Three guys were heckling me and when one ran out of breath, the other one picked it up. It was brutal!

I went home that night and vowed that that would not happen again. I did a few things to be more prepared for hecklers. You can do some of these too.

I sat down and wrote about 30 generic heckler responses.

One of the most memorable heckle responses in memory is from Steve Martin. Someone in the crowd shouted something out and Martin responded by saying, “I remember when I had my first beer.” So I thought to myself; how can I respond by insulting the hecklers ability to be out in public?

I wrote: “Looks like someone’s wife gave someone back his balls for the night.” If it seems like that alone won’t work, I might pile on a little by saying, “I’m just kidding, he’s not married. I mean, look at this Dude. That would have to be one rude bitch to be able to tolerate a grown man who has yet to learn how to behave in public.”

Keep in mind. I’m not being too brutal. Just stinging a little as I would my best friends.

If it’s a table of people the guy is in I might ask a rhetorical question like, “So what’s going on here? Are these all your friends or are you the only one in the trailer park with a car? Because I’ve seen your house and I love what you’ve done with the Michelins.”

These lines are time-tested and usually work to shut the heckler up. They’re not brutal lines. They’re playful and they don’t put the heckler into a corner where they feel the need to retaliate.

What happens if you get too brutal?

If you’re too brutal, things can get ugly. I’ve gone too far a couple of times, because of my stubbornness and I’ve gotten a beer bottle thrown at me, gotten punched in the face and threatened by a heckler I brutalized who wanted the last word so badly, he went out to his car and returned with a gun.

Fortunately, the bouncers kept him from returning.

One thing you can do to write heckle lines is to watch YouTube and search hecklers. Write down what the hecklers say and write at least 10 comebacks, because odds are you’re going to hear that same heckle from some other heckler at some point.

The second thing I would highly recommend is to read outside your comfort zone. Comedians should be more well-read than the audience. In reading stuff outside your comfort zone, you open yourself up to new ideas.

I read Popular Mechanics while at the dentist and the article talked about how Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles.

About a month later I was the hired comedian for the Laughlin River Run where about 10 thousand bikers show up for a retreat and take over Laughlin.

At one point during my show, there was this biker who kept spouting off about his “Ole Lady.” At random points in my act he would respond by always referring to “My Ole lady!” At one point some of the other bikers didn’t want to hear it so one guy shouted to me, “Git ’em!” (Meaning he wanted the comedian to deal with the heckler).

I didn’t know what to say at first. Then I remembered the article from Popular Mechanics and said, “Did you know that Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles? They own the sound!” Then I looked right at the dude who was heckling and I said, “I wonder who owns the queef, because I fucked your ‘ole lady’ last night and I think I owe some royalties.”

The entire place exploded with laughter and the heckler raised his hand in a fist and said, “Good one!” Then he shut up for the rest of show.

Sometimes hecklers just want to be acknowledged. He wasn’t trying to be mean, but he was being annoying. When the audience let me know that they were tired of him, I hit him with a response that was related to the niche of the audience I was performing for.

The point of that story is that I wouldn’t have had that information available if I didn’t read outside my comfort zone.


In the end, it’s your job to keep that energy in the realm of comedy. Not turn it into a fight. It’s better for you, it’s better for the crowd and it’s better for the comedy world in general.

Think about it this way: If there are people in the audience who’ve never been to a comedy show before and the energy of the show turns from the positivity of a comedy show to the negative energy of a bar fight, then odds are they will never come to a comedy show again. That’s bad for all of us.

So remember to do your work and keep it funny.

Love to hear your comments and if you enjoyed this piece, give it a “like,” okay?

Why Are These College Kids So Damn PC?

political correctness

Today, I got an email from a student of mine:

The lesson I learned tonight is that university students are PC to the point that it is unnatural. These are the people posting PC crap all over Facebook! At first I was confused about my inability to connect with the crowd. I felt it from my first joke (about marriage/children).


Some of the other comedians were outright angry at the sensitivity of the audience. This was the first time any of us had performed at a college.

If comedy is indeed a “veiled attack”, then these 19 year olds don’t know comedy! But I got to thinking: If it is funny TO THEM, they will laugh. One guy got up and talked about how after eating chicken vindaloo, his “asshole was blistered”.

At the comedy rooms he never gets a huge laugh with that bit. But last night the crowd loved it. What the fuck? They seem to love descriptive vulgarity … so long as you only make fun of yourself.

Then he went on to say, “After the show I read an article in which Seinfeld says stay away from college campuses at all costs. However there is money to made at such places…

So how do we make this work?”

First, for all the brilliance that is Jerry Seinfeld, he is wrong on this. Jerry is old school and seems stuck in an era that–as far as the 18-24’s are concerned–doesn’t exist. And it seems the more interviews I watch, read or listen to with Seinfeld the more he’s turning into his stubborn old Jewish Dad on his show ‘Seinfeld.’

Due to Jerry’s celebrity, he will continue to be able to work no matter what, but if he doesn’t adjust, he runs the very real risk of becoming mainstream obsolete.

One of the things you learn as an artist, writer, musician, is that different generations have different perceptions of life, therefore their tastes for what’s considered acceptable, changes.

Change, Update or Become Obsolete

Political correctness is nothing new. I started to see this clearly about 23 years ago. Don Rickles did an appearance on Comic Relief in 1992. Rickles is the original ‘insult comic.’ But of course the crowd was filled with people who were at the event to support the benefit to raise money for the homeless and disenfranchised; a very ‘politically correct’ crowd, indeed.

Rickles spent his 7 minutes fighting several groans.

Rickles is a fast and funny comedian, but his inability to play that type of audience was evident.

Rickles showed how out of touch he was with an evolving society.  Trying to explain his insults by saying, “I love the ‘blacks;'” (in fact, candidly using a politically incorrect term to explain his act), exposed him as severely dated.

He reminded me of my grandmother when I brought my friend over to dinner. She referred to him as the ‘Colored boy.’ Which was totally weird because he was Puerto Rican. (Kidding).

Being out of touch made Rickles obsolete in the mainstream. He still plays Vegas, but mostly for the crowd that fits his age group and remembers Rickles for Rickles.

Don’t get me wrong, I hold Seinfeld and Rickles in extremely high esteem. I just want to call it how I see it.

Adjust, but don’t lose your voice or your edge!

George Carlin was able to continue to fill venues and remained a college favorite until he died. He kept his voice, kept his edge but also had something for everyone. Carlin was never only one voice.

I remember him saying. “You gotta put in some observation, some wordplay, some fluff. Fluff is important to remind everyone that although you think religion is bullshit, it’s still a comedy show, so lighten the fuck up.”

At some point Carlin also, said, “I don’t give a shit what the audience thinks…” The moment Carlin groomed his act to get on Late Night T.V. and did the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine for two years, I knew as far as that statement was concerned, Carlin had to eat those words. He adjusted and chose the material that was right for that audience.

In fact, we’re all full of shit if we don’t think we care what the audience thinks. Because, at the bottom line, isn’t that why we’re on stage in the first place? If we don’t get a laugh, we figure out the joke until we do. In essence, we all pander.

But I digress…

It’s About the Audience

Yes, the college kids are overtly PC, but it’s not “ruining” comedy. As a comedian/writer you should learn the acronym M-A-P, Material-Audience-Performer. The material has to suit the performer and suit that audience. When the audience changes, the material has to adjust.

I once played a corporate in Salt Lake City. The guy who hired me said that this was a very hip group and they like to make fun of everything, (famous last words, right?).

In my act, I started doing my Mormon section of my set list, (making fun of Mormons). The audience wasn’t laughing.

Evidently, the audience that likes to make fun of everything, did not like making fun of Mormons.

I needed to figure out why this audience wasn’t laughing or I was sunk.

A guy brought up a piece of paper and I read it. It said, “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”

So I looked at the audience, read the note out loud, took my set list out of my pocket and said, “That explains why that part of my act isn’t working.” And I tore up the set list.

The audience laughed at the candid remark, (because I made fun of myself), and I went back to my act, and instead, made jokes about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

They felt superior, loved it and laughed!

I adjusted my material to fit the audience, but if I took that experience and I said, “Wow whatever you do, avoid doing corporates at all costs,” because I’m unable to adjust to the crowd, I might as well get out of the business now.

Does this make sense?

My point is this: learn to work the crowd. Learn to adjust your material and shift gears so that the audience follows your trajectory.

In the email above, my student said “if comedy is, in fact a ‘veiled attack,’ then they don’t know comedy.” Allow me to talk about this briefly because comedy is a veiled attack; we’re attacking something. Even ourselves.  But the key is to attack UP. Attack above yourself.

  • If you’re white, don’t pick on minorities
  • If you’re male, don’t pick on women (without recourse)
  • If you’re female, male, hispanic, black or other… don’t pick on Special Olympics kids.

This is a shortened version of the attack philosophy and it’s only if you don’t have a valid reason, (IE: If you’re a male don’t pick on your wife or ex unless they cheated on you or did you wrong and you share this information with the audience; now you have reason to pick on them and the audience will actually crave for you to retaliate; simple story telling.).

One Solution: Lot’s of Self-Deprecation!

That being said, you should check out my deconstruction of Daniel Tosh. He’s loved by the college kids and he’s soooo NOT PC!

So why does his material work?

One reason is that he provides lot’s of self deprecation. The edgier the attack the more Tosh picks on himself. The reason he does this is to remind the audience that he really doesn’t take himself too seriously. This allows him to ‘step over the line’ then knock himself down a peg or two.

When you watch his act, you’ll see this pattern repeat. For those who are struggling with the idea that comedy have definite structure, it’s a great lesson. Tosh is masterful at this!

Second Solution: Double Down!

The second is when he does hit on something that’s politically incorrect, he doesn’t bail on it, he doubles down. He pokes at it and pokes at it until the audience (mostly 18-34 males) laugh out of the embarrassment that they shouldn’t be laughing at that joke.

They are also laughing at the ambivalence of Tosh; that Tosh doesn’t care that they didn’t laugh, (or instead, groaned), at the original joke. They audience recognizes that same ambivalence in themselves and since recognition is a top laugher trigger, they laugh.

Doubling down could be as simple as saying something like, “I’m going down this road with or without you people…” Or “Hey I’m twenty-one, this is the shit I talk about,” or “One day you’ll look back and laugh at this, like maybe the day when you actually become adults.”

The point is that all audiences have a degree of overt political correctness corrupting their ability to laugh openly at certain jokes from a comedian–

Be Unstoppable, Don’t Give up… Just figure it out!

Remember Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes? He ate it!
Did he say, “Avoid the Golden Globes at all costs?” No. He came back the very next year and had a great time making fun of the previous year’s performance!

College kids might be more PC than usual, but the object is to figure out what they laugh at, then figure out out of the stuff they laugh at what resonates with your persona, then approach your college set that way.

Go to a college show! See what the kids are relating to and write some stuff that fits your persona but also resonates with the crowd.

For the last two years. Comedian and former student, Tony Ming, produced some shows at Cal State University, Northridge.

He had five comedians doing sets for around a hundred and fifty college kids who were just starting their college careers. All of the comedians were our students…

I gotta tell you right now, none of our students bombed. That’s right, none. I’m not saying that to blow smoke up anyone’s ass. It’s just the plain truth. Each one went up on stage and had terrific sets with solid laughs every 18-20 seconds.

Their sets were all about their obstacles, and their struggles to figure stuff out.

The first year, Brian Kiley was headliner. Brian is the head monologue writer at Conan O’Brien. He performed for fifty-three minutes and  EVERY JOKE WORKED!

His jokes worked despite the fact that Brian doesn’t really have any dynamic change in his emotions. His jokes are just nearly perfect in their structure.

Fifty-three minutes in front of a PC college crowd. Rocked.

The following year, I was the headliner in that same room. This time there was an even larger audience. I actually struggled with a few jokes. In my head I was like, Wait a minute. This shit kills at the clubs. What’s up?  I then shifted gears, made fun of myself. Made it more interactive, (within my material), with me encountering or sharing similar obstacles with the kids in the crowd and the set went well.

Bottom line is, while still staying true to my style and my voice, I adjusted.

Because after all, this is show business. If the material doesn’t resonate with the purchaser, then, in order to survive, you have to adjust.

I learned a long time ago to approach my comedy as both an art and as a business. Most comedians miss this part of it.

Show Business is two words

Most comedians approach this business like,  “Screw the audience, this is about my art.”

To a certain extent it is, but… “Show-BUSINESS” is two words and ‘business’ is usually in all CAPS.

Every performer, must understand is the the “Golden Rule,” which is: “He with the gold, makes the rules,” and if the one with the gold wants it clean or very PC then you have to be able to adjust.

You might consider having several different types of sets:

  • A set for the clubs (Can get blue, (use profanity or graphic sexual situations), maybe edgy, or politically incorrect)
  • A set for Colleges (Extra sensitivity toward being clean and very politically correct).
  • A set for Cruises (Two 45 minute sets; one clean, one a little edgy for the midnight show).
  • A set for Corporates and Fund raisers, (clean and focusing on theme and interests that usually appeal to the business or industry you are performing for).
  • A set for Late Night, (A set on late night is 4-minutes, 30-seconds. It’s ‘T.V. Clean’)

It’s something to consider and take seriously, because those college kids will be out of college soon and be the primary audience members of the clubs and mainstream performance venues.

A comedian interested in having longevity should adjust when necessary or resolve to becoming obsolete.

Stop Overthinking the Joke. Sometimes It’s Just ‘Funny’


If there was a big yellow caution sign for anyone in the comedy world it should be “Watch for Big Head”

One of my most notorious weaknesses in comedy is trying to be too clever.

I’ve spent nearly thirty years, not only as a comedian and comedy writer, but also as a comedy scientist; figuring out what makes something funny and how to bottle it so it can be reproduced at will.

Sometimes I’ll write a joke and think to myself, ‘that’s too simple… that’s not going to get a big laugh,’ only to try the joke on stage and get not just a great laugh, but an applause break.

I wrote a joke the other day and opened with it that night at the Comedy Store:

“The republicans are consulting with Caitlyn Jenner on how to best deal with Donald Trump. You know, since she’s now the expert on how to quickly eliminate a dick.”

The joke got a crisp laugh, then solid applause followed… and just earlier I was in my ‘big head’ I wondering whether that would even get a good laugh.

It’s Easy to Get Too Clever

The more experience we have in comedy, the easier it is to get too clever; to get stuck in analysis of the joke.

Most solid comedy is about simple associations, recognition and release of tension. Because Caitlyn Jenner, Donald Trump and the presidential race are all politically charged and issues that are now, it’s more likely to create tension and provide for solid release. And since release is the one of the top triggers for applause, it worked.

But because I was in my ‘big head,’ I second guessed myself.

If it Sounds Funny, Do It!

Sometimes, we have to remember to get out of our own way and write what we think is funny. Does it sound funny? Does it feel funny? Then do it.

Emmy Award-winning writer, Gene Perret said, “Sometimes the joke doesn’t need to be categorized. Sometimes it defies explanation, it’s just funny.

He goes on to say,

“Steven Wright, one of the most inventive comedy writers of all time, has a line that defies categorizing, that reads:

“When I was a kid we had a sandbox in our back yard that was filled with quicksand. I was an only child… eventually.”

Kathleen Madigan had a line in her act during the time when the book Final Exit, a controversial book on how to commit suicide, was first published. She talked about being in a bookstore checkout line behind a customer who was buying it.

“The guy was about to pay $19.95 for a book on how to commit suicide. I said, ‘Hey man, I’ll stab you in the head for five dollars.'”

Mr. Perret makes a good point. Although each of these jokes has a definite reason that they would trigger laughs, they don’t necessarily fit into any category. They are just funny.

I like explaining and understanding ‘why’ something is funny. It’s my life’s work. But sometimes you don’t need an explanation, sometimes funny is just funny.

So resist the temptation of getting into over analysis of the joke, if it feels funny, just do it.

In other words, watch out for ‘big head.’


How to Write Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction

Wanna learn what makes Daniel Tosh tick? Some people just think he’s an arrogant A-hole. But there’s more to Tosh than meets the eye.

Take a look at this deconstruction of an 8-minute segment of Tosh’s special “Happy Thoughts” and learn exactly the tools Tosh uses to get laughs.

Some Background on Tosh

Happy Thoughts was released in 2011 and was Daniel Tosh’s second big comedy special after his acclaimed debut stand-up special, ‘Completely Serious.’

Prior to this, Tosh was already hosting and executive producing Tosh 2.0 for Comedy Central. He already had a huge fan base that knows his character and what he does as a comedian; he presents you with a slice of life from a cynic’s double-edged switch blade.

Tosh was born in Germany and raised in Florida as the son of a preacher, which may explain his notorious cynicism toward life. I know if I was raised as a preacher’s kid, I would think the world was full of crap too.

So as we deconstruct a little Tosh here, (about 8 minutes), understand that most of the audience already ‘gets’ him and his point of view and if you don’t, it’s basically through the eyes of a bit of a clever, nerdy, skeptic.

I say, nerdy because the Tosh went to Astronaut High School: and yes, he did graduate.

He could’ve been named “Most likely to have a countdown,” because on his website, he actually had a clock counting down to his thirty-eighth birthday. It was then where he said that if he wasn’t a success, he would retire from comedy and kill himself: or move to the beach.

When the clock finally counted down his fans sent emails telling him he was a success.

He now lives at the beach.

How Tosh Gets Laughs

Watch how Tosh uses all the comedy structures and taps into all the laughter triggers we discuss and have made our mantra at the Comedy Clinic.

So watch the video then come back and see line-by-line, how Tosh triggers the laugh each and every time. There’s almost no mystery to how or why he gets laughs.

One absolute take-away I got from this video is that Tosh is NOT just an “attack” comedian. Tosh continuously uses self-deprecation to remind the audience that he doesn’t take himself that seriously. Count how many ways he uses it.

You’ll learn a lot about diversifying your own self-deprecation and how many different ways you can write it.

It’s all in the structure. Here we go…


TOSH: San Francisco..

TOSH: Alright you’re ruining the show.
(Cheers subside).

TOSH: Thank you for clapping for what my parents are ashamed of.
(LAUGHS). Self-deprecation.

TOSH: San Francisco. Yes.

TOSH: My third favorite city to do comedy in.
(LAUGHS). Surprise. Unexpected. Ambivalence. Most comedians give praise. He tells them pretty much that they weren’t good enough for first. Think about it this way:

When someone gives praise, we’re so used to hearing them say something like, “you’re the best.” Instead he gives them a solid and specific ranking of ‘third.’ (Unexpected). And because of the tension of the live audience, it heightens the moment.

It’s almost like if a guy and girl are in bed and he he says, “If we were in school what kind of grade would you give my dick?” Girl’s like, “C-minus.” That would be a funny situation.

You would expect in a heightened moment like that the girl would absolutely give her lover an A but she not only surprises us with less than that, she actually gets really specific with the ‘minus.’

TOSH: That’s not bad right? Top ten. Congratulations.

Tags to the previous line. The audience is laughing at the quirky incongruity that he’s congratulating them on placing third.

TOSH: More butt-fucking per square foot: (LAUGHS) than anywhere else in the world.

There are many times when you hear a skilled comedian say something that elicits a groan, or makes the audience pull back, but instead of dropping it, the comedian will repeat it and repeat it again. What he is using is the the ambivalence laughter trigger at its essence.

It’s like he’s saying, I will say it over and over letting you know that I know it’s inappropriate, but I’m saying it anyway: that totally pulls the ambivalence trigger and that also creates surprise. It’s also part of Tosh’s rules-don’t-apply-to-me character.

TOSH: That’s you guys, that’s you.
Talking right at them, creates tension and release and also embarrassment, again, because of the outlandish accusation.

That takes balls people.

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction2

But he’s not done yet. He carries it further when he then uses incongruity and association in his next joke:

TOSH: Put that on your post cards. (LAUGHS) “San Francisco: more butt-fucking per square foot: miss you.” Tosh adds the “miss you” line as part of the the recognizable piece of the post card tag.

Recognition is powerful. How many of you saw the image of the postcard; especially when Tosh said “Miss You?”

Tosh now transitions, by using some self-deprecation:

TOSH: Now, if you’ve not seen me perform before, I am NOT good live: heads up.
Perfect time to knock himself down a peg after picking on San Francisco. And notice the tag ‘heads up…’ It might seem innocuous, but it’s well-planted to get another tickle from the audience to keep them rolling.

Everyone should consider reviewing their core act and really studying where one might put some extra tags and toppers that ‘color’ their jokes. Not only do tags and toppers add more laugh points, but they serve the purpose of making the jokes sound more conversational.

This is one of the key reasons people don’t think Tosh does ‘jokes.’  Reading this break-down you can clearly see that he does. He’s just terrific at finessing the material!

Quick side note: the San Francisco-Butt-Fucking premise is nothing original. But he does approach it in an interesting way.

TOSH: If I offend anybody tonight, I apologize. That’s not my intention. I’m not going to guess what your personal line of decency is, I cross my own from time to time: it’s how I know I still have one. (LAUGHS)

It’s simple truth and also a little bit of self-deprecation, in that he implies that he has to check to see if he has a line of decency. (and that’s funny!) And it’s a terrific way to ease into his next joke which is an attack joke. But not directly, as he finesses into it by saying:

TOSH: I have no problem with illegal immigration in this country… except for the fact that they don’t serve on jury duty.

I love this line because it is so unexpected, right? Who would’ve thought to use illegal immigrants on jury duty? Brilliant! But that just warms up the audience for his next line:

TOSH: That’s horse shit! It should be the other way around, they should serve exclusively on jury duty: yeah!

This elicits laughter and a solid applause break, first because the incongruity (we don’t usually think of illegal immigrants on jury duty and secondly the audience applauds because it’s a social situation that creates a lot of tension and he found a way to utilize illegal immigrants to solve what is considered a hassle for most people (jury duty), imposed on us by the ‘Man.’

So there’s benign retaliation and paradox present because we utilize what’s considered a social problem to take care of another social problem. Benign retaliation is like the perfect joke structure because it has an antagonist and a protagonist.

Tosh finds a way to have the antagonist (illegal immigrants) used to go after the other antagonist (government mandated jury duty). Clever & Paradoxical.

Paradox is one of those structures that doesn’t always reach the level of comedic irony. But it is an impressive tool that can take your writing to the next level.

But that only sets the audience up for the double edge of the joke:

TOSH: Then it finally would be a jury of one’s own peers: (ouch)

Laughter, applause, groans: (And notice how he let’s them have their moment), because he stepped over the “line.” But being Tosh, he doesn’t pull back he presses the subject further:

TOSH: It’s not a stereotype if it’s always true. (Simple Truth. His simple truth, but we get it).
This goads the audience in typical Tosh fashion; not apologizing for the overreaching statement, which through his character, is what makes it funny.

On top of that, notice he said, “always true.” That surreptitiously takes this joke to a level of absurdity, so that if you’re listening closely, you can tell he’s clowning and not serious. You can get away with this level of absurdity when you’re using the ambivalence laughter trigger as well as benign retaliation.

It gets the audience laughing at the fact that they shouldn’t be laughing: then he pushes again.
TOSH: Yeah, then it becomes law.

Then he pushes yet again, but then teases the audience.

TOSH: That joke is called, “Latinos are Criminals.” (They laugh-groan), That’s just the title, it doesn’t mean anything. (Using simple truth to call them out on their judgement of the material).

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction3

This one of my favorite things Tosh does. He says “Latinos are Criminals” with his tongue planted deeply in his cheek and when the audience still groans, he remains playful and calls them out by saying, “That’s just the title:” It’s his way of continuously reminding the audience that they just might be overreacting.

After another hard-hitting bit of material, Tosh then does some more self-deprecation; this time by using his girlfriend. The girlfriend in this case is sort of used in a quasi benign-retaliation scenario. He also uses compare and contrast to build it more into a joke format:

TOSH: Sometimes before I walk on stage my girlfriend might say, “Have a great show. Break a leg.” This is what she said to me a few weeks ago, right before I walked on stage, she said, “Hey, you ever worry about gettin’ shot when you’re out there?”
I’m like, ‘what the hell is wrong with you?’
She followed it with, “You should move around more.”
This is a perfect setup for benign retaliation, with which Tosh responds…
‘Uh, You should go back to reading your vampire books.’

I should move around more? As if a sniper would get frustrated; ‘I can’t keep up. He lives.’
(Notice how Tosh doesn’t bail on the act-out, he continues to play it through even as the audience is laughing. He gives the “thumbs-up” as though he was the sniper).

TOSH: You ever scratch your girlfriend with a hangnail and pretend you’re Wolverine?

This is an interesting joke choice. It’s almost a non-sequitur. It seems to come completely out of left field. It’s so surprising and disconnected that the audience laughs. There’s also recognition present. I’ve scratched my girlfriend with a hangnail, but never pretended I was Wolverine–since comedy is heightened-reality the pretending is plausible.

Here’s what’s super interesting to me. Since Tosh added the Wolverine element, he continues with the story simply by imposing the values of the plot points of Wolverine on himself:

TOSH: She’s like, “Knock it off.” I’m like (character voice): ‘You made me like this…’ Then you run into the woods, you’re naked. You’ve gotta figure things out; ‘where’d I come from?’ ‘why am I wearing dog tags?’ ‘DID I SERVE?!’

This is awesome example of pure structure getting the laugh. The idea barely makes any sense but since Tosh uses the Wolverine element to drive an act-out scenario and includes recognizable story points from the movie “Wolverine,” the audience laughs.

TOSH: A lot of times people complain that their significant other takes too long to get ready to go out at night. I’ve never had that complaint. And I think it’s because I never want to go anywhere. (LAUGH). Strange huh? Why did the audience laugh at that?

It’s not that funny on the page. But if you listen rhythm of the joke it’s a paired phrase (‘never had that complaint’ / ‘never want to go anywhere’). Another example of the structure getting triggering the audience’s laughter mechanism.

TOSH: So I could care less how long it takes her to get ready. That’s just less time I have to spend with her horrible friends pretending I don’t want to kill myself. (LAUGH) Here’s another example of heightened reality. The laughter trigger at play here is ambivalence. Heightened and exaggerated.

There is surprise that also results from the seemingly cold-hearted ambivalence. But with Tosh, we’ve already established that when he goes this deep he’s all tongue-in-cheek. Plus EVERYONE has been in a relationship where they have to endure their significant other’s friends. So recognition is also very present. This is what stimulates that applause.

TOSH: She’ll take an hour and a half to get ready, she’ll come down and be like, “Oh my God, you were so patient.” I’ll be like, “For what? You look disgusting! Right? Yeah! Now she’s crying… whatever! I just bought myself another two hours to watch the game!

Again outrageous. Almost not believable.

But it’s Tosh, so we go with it. Ambivalence and recognition, pure and simple, is what is stimulating the laughs. But who else besides Tosh could get away with that? But in Tosh style, he know it crosses the line, but this time instead of self-deprecating, he pushes more:

TOSH: Yeah, it’s not like she’s gonna break up with me: she’s ten years younger. She’s one opinion away from being replaced. (This elicits groans and applause; evil and good fighting it out in the audience). Then Tosh uses more ambivalence:

TOSH: I can say that. I have a television show. (LAUGHS) Yeah, the power at our household has shifted dramatically. (LAUGHS) Pure ambivalence again. Tosh even sort of turns away from the audience in an sort-of “I-don’t-even-care-what-you-think” pose. Ambivalence creates surprise, because, really?

Who says that sort of stuff in public? (Except comedians). Also keep in mind he’s sort of giggling throughout. That’s important when doing run-on ambivalence. If the audience knows you’re joking then they want to joke with you. Also remember that people love to be given permission to misbehave.

This taps into the release laughter trigger as well, leaving the audience with sort of the feeling of: I’ve always wanted to vent like that:

When Tosh says, “The power at our house has shifted dramatically.” He taps into the structure of associative humor (he just tagged the joke using a phrase that related to the original subject matter).

Since the audience is already rolling with the laughs, comments (or tags and toppers) that associate to what you just said will carry the laughs further. Plus it has the added benefit of keeping it conversational.

Then, once again, Tosh comes back with self-deprecation, but with an interesting twist:

TOSH: Now, if you’re following me on Twitter, you know that I had diarrhea today. (LAUGHS) Non-sequitur surprise, self deprecation. (Remember: anytime Tosh self-deprecates, he’s using the superiority laughter trigger; making the audience feel superior, while reminding them that he has flaws and doesn’t really take himself too seriously).

TOSH: Am I using that website properly? (LAUGH). Mischievous, playful, incongruity and recognition.

TOSH: Sometimes I like to sit on the toilet in reverse. (LAUGH; you could even say “cheap” laugh), but nonetheless, this non-sequitur performs well giving us a silly transition to a silly visual. (Really? Who didn’t get a visual of a guy straddling the toilet backwards in that scenario?!).

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh4
Then Tosh pauses giving the audience a real chance to contemplate what he just said. He then uses an act-out of the audience macro conscience:

TOSH: We’re listening. (LAUGHS)… I’ll give you one guess as to why they laughed here; If recognition triggers the audience’s collective conscience to say I’ve seen that, I’ve heard that, I’ve done that. Isn’t it just as powerful–if not more so–for the audience to say, I’m doing that?!

That also taps into coincidence, doesn’t it? And after all, when something is coincidental isn’t it also surprising?

Then to heighten the play, Tosh, does an act out of sitting on the toilet backwards and the possible conversation one might have with oneself. This conjures another solid laugh with applause. Often the act-out tag does this because it taps into the listener recognizing the situation that the comedian just set up.

Study that structure; it’s awesome. Some comedians utilize that one structure for nearly their entire acts. It’s powerful.

TOSH: Yeah, the people that are clapping right now are the ones who are saying, “Okay all kidding aside, that guy is a genius.” Again he uses the tactic of assuming what the audience is saying: He’s tapping into recognition and coincidence.

The audience recognizes that even though they’re probably not thinking that exactly, they may be thinking, hmmm, never thought about that: or something similar.

Even if they’re not thinking that, what Tosh did was plant that visual of him sitting on the toilet backwards, (in effect saying ‘anyone can do this’), in their collective minds, so that when he refers to it (even with the tactic of assuming what the audience is saying) it’s still an associative tag to the original setup of “sitting on the toilet backwards.”

Great technique.

TOSH: No, no, no, no: it’s the simplicity. I’ve been sitting on that thing my whole life. You’re telling me that I can turn around, have a bowl of cereal, (LAUGH): yeah: set the alarm ten minutes later, (LAUGH): multi-task, (LAUGH)… alright, nobody should eat while on the toilet: (ACT-OUT: Dumb Guy): “But I’m lactose intolerant and I’ve always wanted to enjoy a bowl of Puffins with whole milk:”

Keep in mind this whole joke is a shit joke. I mostly veer away from shit jokes, but you have to admit, it’s a pretty clever approach to doing shit joke. Also if you study the run Tosh does with this: that last bit continues with short–sometimes, one word–tags; each getting a solid laugh.

This is why Tosh is looked at as one of the top comics today. His ability to keep the audience rolling in laughter.

Immediately following this, once again Tosh goes into self-deprecation; this time it’s someone calling him out via email he received about this joke. Those who think Tosh is just an attack comic are missing out on the finer techniques he’s using as a comedic artist, painting in a stumble everywhere it’s needed to remind the audience that he has flaws too.

TOSH: Somebody emailed me and they’re like, “Hey Dipshit:” Which for the record is a wonderful subject line if you ever want me to read your email: Oh, let’s see what this nice fan has to say:! You had me at hello: (LAUGHS).

Tosh is wonderful at both blending quick act-outs and the milking the act-out tags. Realize that everytime he speaks either as another person or character, or his own consciousness, he’s doing a bit of an act-out.

Then he not only says the line “Oh, let’s see what this nice fan has to say:” He pushes it again with a frivolous “You-had-me-at-hello” comment that is also recognizable. And gets a strong laugh. (Recognition is such a powerful laughter trigger!) Cleverly crafted for increased laugh points.

Then he gets back to the act-out of the fan who emailed…

TOSH: (ACT-OUT): “You know you have to take your pants completely off to sit on the toilet backwards. (PAUSES, REFLECTS ACKNOWLEDGES HE’S BUSTED). Touche. Alright. So I don’t research. It’s a pre-shower shit agreed? Can we move on? Sticklers to every joke detail! (PAUSE) You ever have a post-shower shit? Oh! Might as well go back to bed and start your whole day over. (LAUGHS).

There’s a bit of very clever self-deprecation. Tosh is allowing some non-existent fan to put him in his place. This is a great way to use Candor. Candor is nearly a never-miss tactic to use with any audience. It’s admitting to the audience that you are flawed.

Who won’t accept you when you admit to being flawed. Candor taps into the superiority laughter trigger (making the audience feel superior) while also buying yourself some more comedic credibility.

Notice Tosh is using the same sparring technique he used with the tete a tete he had with his girlfriend. She wins, then he wins, then she wins, then he ultimately wins. Using this tactic taps into the benign retaliation strategy.

This strategy usually always works at some level because the audience is not included. It’s a similar tactic to having a back and forth with someone in the audience only there’s less tension. The key is that the entire time, the audience feels superior either to Tosh (when he loses) or to the third party (when they lose).

There’s genius working here on many levels. First, Tosh uses an email, that criticizes his joke, as material for his own act! This is why I don’t mind hecklers, they always provide me with fodder for another show. In a way they’re writing for me and they don’t know it.

Second, when Tosh ‘reads’ the email, and says, “Hey dipshit…” at that very moment, don’t you crave for Tosh to get back at this emailing critic? If your emotions, even a small degree, were urging Tosh to have a comeback for this emailing critic, then Tosh did his job at getting you, the listener, actively involved in his story. Awesome!

Tosh then continues to tag (he uses act-out tags brilliantly) to create a run similar to the Wolverine run he did earlier.

TOSH: Things are wrong! That’s not the order of events. There’s a glitch in the matrix. This world’s not real. Mom! (LAUGHS) Wipe me! (APPLAUSE BREAK).

This run builds tension and when it finally releases the audience is tapped on laughter so they acknowledge the cleverness of the run with applause.

TOSH: Am I the only person that hopes David Beckham has sex with Brad Pitt? (SMALL CHUCKLE) I don’t know who’s in charge of casting in Hollywood, but make it happen before one of them is out of their prime. (SMALL LAUGH) Could you imagine those two men together making love? (BIGGER LAUGH).

Here we have massive incongruity, surprise and recognition laughter triggers at play.

TOSH: If there’s a man in here who’s junk doesn’t wiggle just a little bit at the thought of those two men together… (LAUGH) Embarrassment, surprise and recognition are at play here.

TOSH: This has nothing to do with your homophobic sexual preference. At that level it’s art you monkey! Okay? (Wry grin) (LAUGHS) Ambivalence, recognition and incongruity. Plus the added surprise that he would call someone “monkey.” (Interesting and surprising choice of words).

You should be honored that you share the same restroom with those Greek Gods. (SMALL LAUGH) A topper to continue the roll of the joke.

TOSH: Can you imagine if they had a child (TOSH uses classic comedy structure of “what if?” Instead uses “can you imagine?” This allows the listener to participate in something that can’t really happen). But we still get a vague image of an imaginary good-looking baby.

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh5


TOSH:(ACT-OUT: Celestial sound effect): Was that Simba? What the f**k? Was that Simba? (Small laughs). Was that the Beckham-Pitt kid? Was that “Pitt-Kham?” (BIG LAUGH) If you guessed recognition with this one, you’re catching on.

This was recorded during the time when the media was joint branding couples and babies, (IE: “Brad-Jolie”).

TOSH: The most beautiful child the world has ever seen: picture baby-Jesus with better abs. (LAUGHS). That’s a good-looking baby.

Simple incongruity and recognition here; apply the values of a baby on to Jesus and vice-versa. Did you get clear and real imagery in your mind’s eye? Then Tosh did his job.

The more clear the recognizable imagery, the more an opportunity for a solid laugh. But he pushes further and farther than anyone expects:

TOSH: If they had a baby Abercrombie store? They’d hire him to work the front door: (LAUGHS)

Interesting right? There’s not even a punch line here or anything. But that’s the power of tags and toppers along with real recognition.

When he says Abercrombie, do you see the store? Specificity is important when you’re performing because you want the audience to see the images you are creating.

The more specific you get, the more it increases the possibility for a laugh and using recognizable brands is a great and simple way of doing this.

Now Tosh does classic Tosh; he starts to do an act out. Posing like the baby.

TOSH: Right. Just standing there, shirtless… propped up. He can’t stand yet: just leaning against the wall: (Laugh)

Again the imagery is funny. Creating visual imagery. And when Tosh does this there is massive incongruity because we’ve seen the carved manikins and models they use at Abercrombie with their six-packs. Tosh is putting a baby in this scenario and the incongruity and recognition is what is triggering the laughs.

Now he does something really interesting. In the middle of his special, he shifts gears and changes the story from a real baby to a “poster” of a baby, (we’ll get into the reasons he may have made this choice later).

TOSH: Big poster: Big poster of himself: just standin’– little tight Pampers: and you’d walk in and you’d be like, (ACT-OUT): I don’t want to say this: but I want to fuck that baby. (BIG LAUGH with BIG GROANS) The audience laughs due to the big surprise and the incongruity and ambivalence of actually imposing a baby into a sexual situation.

But this is where TOSH does this thing; instead of backing off when the audience begins to release their groan, he pushes harder:

TOSH: Oh man do I want to fuck that baby!

Then he adds and act-out within an act-out:

TOSH: If I had three wishes, two of them would be to fuck that baby and one would be for more wishes. (LAUGHS). (ACT-OUT: as the Genie or person who grants wishes) “Well you can’t do that:” Well then I wanna fuck the baby a third time: (More LAUGHS with some possible GROANS) Tosh continues to plow through:

TOSH: I want to use all three wishes bangin’ that baby! (LAUGHS with some applause)… Tosh again heads them off at the pass:

TOSH: Go ahead dumb people: be offended by a joke that doesn’t have a plausible premise. (LAUGHS). Oh, I’d love to read your email: (ACT-OUT: Reading an email as the person who sent it): “I felt you went over the line a bit: when you theoretically wanted to fornicate with a mythical child: (LAUGHS & APPLAUSE)… END OF SEGMENT.

Summarizing Tosh’s Act

The baby part is one of my favorite parts of this segment of Tosh’s act (which in its entirety is over an hour), because he pushes the audiences groan button by intentionally stepping over the line, but in a non existent scenario. Then he continuously pushes harder.

The magic of what he did here is that the scenario is so over the top (but in imagination; remember he said, “Imagine if those two had a child:) When something is put into imagination we’ll imagine the plausibility because it’s like a dream. But even though they started with groans, Tosh got them to a place of nervous, self-conscious laughter.

I call this ‘funeral’ or ‘church’ laughter. It’s that nervous laughter that happens when you know you shouldn’t be laughing at the material, but it is funny so you laugh both at the material and at the fact that you shouldn’t be laughing.

This kind of laughter is contagious.

Then at the very end he calls out the “dumb people.” This is a great technique to utilize embarrassment, superiority, recognition and simple truth.

By calling out the dumb people the vast majority of the audience knows he’s not talking about them, so they feel both superiority and embarrassment for the “dumb people” and then when he talks about someone’s possible email, we get the to the simple truth of what actually just transpired. A non-existent story about something that never happened and never would happen.

By doing this, in a roundabout way, Tosh calls the audience out on their own over sensitivity toward what is just a comedy routine. This releases the audience from their tension and it resolves in a nice applause break, which very effectively, concludes the bit.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before I wrap what has to be my longest blog post, remember when Tosh shifted gears and said it was a ‘poster’ of a baby? Let’s briefly examine why Tosh shifted gears. I believe it’s because he finally did realize that he might be crossing his own line of decency, (that or the show’s producer).

Think about it, he went from what seemed like the polished version of his joke to suddenly calling it a ‘poster’ of a baby… because even though it’s in our imaginations, fornicating with a poster of a mythical baby is easier to digest than imagining it being a real, living baby.

This totally validates Tosh as not just some frivolous attack comedian, but as a mischievous, wickedly sardonic craftsman of comedy.

Laughs Per Minute

In this short 8-minute segment, Tosh got a ton of laughter and applause; in fact in this video, 72 laugh points in 8 minutes. That averages 9 laugh points per minute throughout this entire 8-minute segment that we’ve examined.

That’s pretty awesome, considering that the average is 4 per minute.

Once you examine this deconstruction of Tosh, who I now have a renewed respect for as a comedic craftsman, I think you will find that his use of the laughter triggers and comedy structures is exactly how he created the stimuli for the audience to release their laughter.

After all, you who are reading this (all three of you) already know that it’s not magic and it’s not a guessing game, it’s a well-crafted understanding and implementation of the art and science known as comedy.

Don’t Watch Comedy Passively

When you study comedians live or on video, you shouldn’t just watch passively, but with the intention of learning. Ask yourself, what’s the take-away? With Tosh these are my take-aways:

Play through my act-outs. Don’t bail too soon.
When I hit something that the audience takes as too edgy, I will commit to saying it over and over a few times until they laugh at the fact that they shouldn’t be laughing at what I’m saying. Turn their groans into funeral or “church” laughter.

Remember to use self-deprecation to remind the audience (and myself) not to take myself too seriously, (Remember comedy is about obstacles).

I hope you enjoyed this. Please share the love and leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this evaluation.

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Getting Gigs – Student Byron Valino Hits the Road

byron valino

The dream is to stand on stage, hold that mic and tell your jokes, do your bits, get some laughs.

Then you usually want to do it again… and again. But after doing the mics around town and getting in more than your fair share of ‘bringer’ shows, something gnaws at you to move beyond that. You want to do it in front of a ‘real’ audience.

Some of you might even have the desire to take your act on the road for a spell.

And get paid.

So how do you do get to go on the road and get paid? In a word, the answer is ‘work.’

Hard work.

Getting the Gigs is About Work and Relationships

Usually in order to hit the road these days you need to have about thirty minutes of material. Being able to get up in front of an audience and do thirty minutes, a solid thirty, qualifies you to work as a ‘feature act.’ A feature act is usually the comedian who goes on after the emcee and before the headliner.

So Byron writes and he writes and he writes. He’s got all his jokes organized in his Evernote app. Every class he brings in the new material he’s working on along with some of his older stuff.

We tweak the new material, tighten the structure, clarify the associations that sometimes keep the joke from tracking clearly, we add act-outs, tags, toppers, etc.

Taking the notes from the feedback in class and adding it to the material helps the material develop faster and helps you reach your laugh-point goals. The class also gives Byron a weekly writing goal.

The second thing that Byron does well is he goes out to the mics. He mingles. He meets people. That’s how he got this gig.

In my classes, I also hook up comedians (who are ready) with some of the bookers I have relationships with, who book these gigs.

Sometimes, just a word to the booker can help that booker feel like they are making a more informed decision to book a new comedian.


Getting the gig is only one step. Now you gotta hit the road, shake off the nerves and get up on stage in a strange place with a new kind of pressure.

A Comedian Must Learn to Take Some ‘Bullets’

On the road, the feature act has to take some bullets.

In an ‘A’ comedy club, there is usually a house emcee who does about ten minutes and warms up the audience.

But in a one-niter club, it’s a little different. You’re usually in a converted bar, or showroom of some sort and the emcee is a bartender or a local guy who gets up and tells a joke or two (if you’re lucky), then introduces the feature act; sometimes in a way that barely resembles and introduction.

Most of these guys haven’t had any training, they haven’t really warmed up the audience… they just bring you up to a cold room and a cold stage. As a result, the feature comedian is now responsible for warming up the audience, getting some laughs and keeping their attention.

Sometimes it takes a few minutes; in some cases, thirty minutes.

That’s why we call it ‘taking bullets.’

But if you’ve done your work, if you’ve put in your time and you display your showmanship; never letting them see you sweat, following through with your professionalism and your ‘A’ material, then you could do really well…

… and if you’re smart, you’ll learn a thing or two.

Or a million things.

Byron Hits The Road


Mill Casino Coos Bay, Oregon

That’s what Comedy Clinic student, Bryon Valino did last week. He hit the road, went up to Oregon and performed at the Mill Casino in North Bend. His first ‘road’ gig.

The feedback was solid. He got good laughs in the early show, with the older crowd and didn’t get as many laughs in the later show, with the younger crowd.

Byron’s worked other show situations in town and out to get him prepared for the road gig. He did some college shows for Cal State Northridge and he booked a local comedy club with comedian and friend Tony Ming and they put butts in the seats and did 20-30 minutes each to get prepared.

Byron’s got some solid material. His delivery is somewhere between a version of Steven Wright and Anthony Jeselnik. It’s not fast, it’s not super edgy or tremendously energetic. But he is funny.

It’s one of those acts that needs the audience to pay attention. He’ll do great in ‘A’ clubs where the audience is there to do one thing; watch comedy, but in some of the road rooms, the comedy show is just a way to kill time, maybe get drunk before going dancing or to a party or to ‘hook up.’ In those rooms, you learn to work a lot harder.

Why Do Those Gigs?

Some people ask if those gigs aren’t as great, why do them? For that answer we might ask the mountain climber why he climbs Kilimanjaro; ‘Because it’s there.’

Those gigs give you chops. They give you a great place to practice doing your thirty. They build you stronger and faster and sharpen your instincts like nothing else. And like climbing Kilimanjaro, you could die.

In a nutshell, when you learn to play the road, you can play anywhere.

It Helps to Work with a Good Headlining Comedian

When you play the road, you come back a better performer. Instantly more seasoned and with a fire to do more, work harder and get back out there. Especially if you were lucky enough to work with a good and helpful headliner.

tommy savitt

Tommy Savitt

Bryon worked with Tommy Savitt. Tommy is an award-winning comedian who’s been on the road almost as long as I have. Tommy has done T.V. and toured all over the world. Tommy’s got chops. He’s also got compassion and he chatted with Byron both before and after his sets.

So Byron did the work, developed his set, hit the road and did his thirty minutes.

Can’t wait to see him again in class. He’ll be sharper, stronger, fearless and ready to develop more material. Because something tells me he’s got a new goal; to get to sixty minutes.

You Rock, Byron! Keep up the solid work, soon it will be your name on the Marquis!

Take a moment to leave a comment below and send a shout out to Byron!