Writing Funny about Proposition 8

gay-marriage-still2So you wake up early today. Maybe you go for a run, maybe you walk the dog, maybe, like me, you’re up early because you have a toddler in the house who wakes you up, because they don’t know that you’ve been up the night before trying to write.

But you feel like today is a good day.

It’s so good in fact, that today you’re going to get some good comedy writing done. You’re going to spend today writing some funny!

So you grab your coffee and you sit at your computer and you…

Look at CNN.

Look at E.S.P.N.

Check the Huff Post.

You look in the Top Stories, The sports section, the entertainment section for something that pops out at you that is funny weird, whacky or quirky.

You spend so much time trying to find inspiration to write some thing that could be funny that you don’t wind up being able to write funny at all.

In fact, you write nothing.

Hovering over you is this big amorphous goo labeled “funny” and you can’t seem to make heads or tails of it. (Does goo even have a head or tail?).

What happened?

Mistake #1: You sat down to write something funny.

Mistake #2: You looked for things that are already funny, quirky or weird in stories, news or events.

Mistake #3: You forgot to start with anything that affects you inspires you or pisses you off.

One of the best lessons I ever learned in comedy, I learned from George Carlin. He changed the way I looked at comedy. He said, “Take the stuff that drives you crazy… the stuff that makes you mad… the stuff that makes you want to call ‘bullshit,’ put it all down on paper… then MAKE IT FUNNY!

Take events, situations—whether they be political, sociological or interpersonal—and if they trigger you to call bullshit, get pissed off, angry, upset, confused and write them down; facts and all.

Don’t think about being funny, think about telling the audience what you think is wrong with the idea. How you would fix it. What dumb things have been said about it by dumb people.

Remember the Maxim of the five W’s: Who, What, Where, Why and How. (and Who cares, if you want to take your audience into consideration).

Just write down the facts like a rant.

Then you can go back and plug in the funny using the 12 Major comedy structures and 8 Major psychological elements that trigger human laughter.

I looked at the news, saw that Proposition 8 is trending and read a story on it.

Some parts of the story bothered me so I looked into it and wrote down the facts, wrote down how it affected me. Then I talked it out loud, revisited it and plugged some more funny into it.

Wash, rinse repeat.

Rarely is anything ever ready after the first draft. Most comedy—certainly most stand up—takes rewrites, tests before an audience, then another couple of rewrites.

But if you get the ideas down on the page first, you’re already half-way there. Now you just need to plug in funny.

After a few drafts and some testing this is four minutes or so, of an hour that I did at a fund raiser in front of a predominantly conservative crowd… remember the bit started out with something that pissed me off.

Comedy Clinic Student Books First SAG Commercial

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Gotta share this with you!

One of the reasons I so enjoy teaching comedy is to be able to share in the joy of the success of  my students.

We’ve had some good success in with the students in our classes.

There have been industrials for Kaiser, agency signings, comedy competition winners, a student getting a Showtime comedy special, one student recently getting on Comedy Central, a student booking 3 pilots after having a 2-year dry spell…

nicola-singer

Click the pic to say Hello to Nicole on Twitter!

And now Nicola Singer booking a Downy commercial, (her first SAG commercial)… after a 3-year drought of no bookings.

As a stand up comedian who started as a theater-trained actor, I constantly talk about the benefits of stand up and how it can help you in your acting by forcing you to learn to be courageous and stay present and in the moment.

Stand up also helps you to learn the science behind comedic timing and how and why something serious can be turned into something funny.

When a student books a job in the entertainment field and they feel that the class had something to do with it, it warms my heart.

So I want to share the email that Nicola sent to me after she saw the commercial for the first time.

See if it doesn’t bring you some warm fuzzies too!

[gn_quote style="1"]Hey Jerry, I would like to share this story with you. :-) I booked a Downy commercial a cpl wks back and I just saw it last night/posted it to Facebook today.

If you havent seen it, please take a peek at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciDgUwAg6IY&list=FL4Ymhb9PqMr7y18gh4q8UyA&feature=mh_lolz

This was a comedically heavy role and I feel that standup helped me book it. On the callback, they had us be loose with physical comedy, which I’m fine with, but stand up came into the picture big time when I actually GOT LAUGHS at the callback. All i could think of is, “Really? Wow! Easy crowd.” :-) compared to standing up, everything else seems easy.

Unfortunately it is an Internet only project (not a national commercial so it shouldn’t pay a lot, but its my first SAG commercial!!!), and after a 3 year dry spell of not booking, it feels fantastic to have broken my curse!!! I owe the stand up comedy clinic BiG TIME so please feel free to use it for your marketing purposes if you so desire.

Once again, thank you Jerry Corley for always sharing the love and changing lives!!!

Much love and appreciation, Nicole [/gn_quote]

Congratulations Nicole! and much love and appreciation back! You rock!

 

 

 

“This Audience is Mostly Mormon”

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mormon-note

So one of my favorite students Skyped with me today.

He was upset about a comedy show he did.

It was a show he produced.

It was a show he emceed.

And it was a show that he didn’t do as well as he wanted.

“It was especially rough because I put the show together and I didn’t go over as well as I would’ve expected.

What gives?”

There’s no ‘magic’ solution to knowing how an audience will respond but it helps if you understand a little bit about comedian/audience dynamic.

There are a lot of reasons to why an audience doesn’t respond well to certain jokes.

In front of one audience one night a joke might rock, the next night, in front of a different audience, that very same joke might get groans or nothing.

That’s not uncommon and it happens for a reason.

Fortunately we can get a handle on the reasoning.

We might not be able to solve the problem all the time but we can at least understand why so we can make an adjustment, either during the show or at another show.

Sometimes the reasons are right in front of us. Sometimes the reasons are not visible.

Indulge me with a quick scenario:

In the middle nineties, I was doing a gig in Utah for a little known company called Hewlett Packard. We were at a restaurant, upstairs. The audience was well-dressed, some were keeping the bartender at the open bar busy, so I figured, This is going to be fun!

I started my show and I figured since we were in Utah I did a riff of jokes about Mormons that culminated with…

[gn_quote style="1"]…for years I thought RV’s that had those bikes on the front of them… were Mormon hunters… is that wrong?”[/gn_quote]

It received a mediocre laughter at best, but it was nervous laughter and that was only from a select group of people– If you guessed, the ones who were drinking… you’re right!

I couldn’t understand why the audience wasn’t laughing. I mean I just did this round of jokes the night before and got screams and applause!

In the eighth minute, someone in the audience handed me a note.

It said: “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”

That explained it!

They had a background, experiences and an understanding about being Mormon that wasn’t going to allow them to look at my point of view about Mormons and see it as “funny.”

According to Dan O’Shannon in his book, “What Are You Laughing At, these are called “Reception Factors.”

Other ‘Reception Factors” might include:

  • Physical Health
  • Social Situation
  • Feelings about source
  • Method of Communication

There are others, of course but this spreads a vast umbrella over the “Reception Factors” of an audience.

Once I received that note, I was able to adjust. But I don’t just adjust, I acknowledge. I’m about transparency on the stage.

One of the things I learned is that complete candor can save you in moments of discomfort–like this one.

So I read the note out loud and then said, “Wow did I just step in sh–” then I stopped short of saying “shit,” giggled, looked at them as coyly as I could, and said “Poop,” in an overly cute way.

And although that doesn’t sound funny, the situation was funny.

In fact, the audience didn’t just laugh, they applauded…and for different reasons…

The people who were Mormon laughed at my embarrassment and candor, while the people with the cocktails laughed, because the way I delivered it could have been read as a sardonic mocking of the Mormons’ strict adherence to not using profanity.

Or I’m pretty sure that’s what was going on…

Bottom line is this. Use the simple formula of M.A.P. Material-Audience-Performer. The material should suit the audience and should suit the performer.

And when you don’t know what’s going on acknowledge then… ask…then…

Make a joke about yourself, switch gears and do some material that’s not designed to insult the intelligence of that particular audience’s “Reception Factors.”

What are some of your worst experiences with material and audience?

4 Tried and True Tips to Assure You Don’t Bomb…Ever! (Pt. 1)

jason-london-comedy-store You’re up on stage at the Comedy Store, you start your act and lay out your first joke and it doesn’t get a laugh. You feel your face flush.

You say your second joke and it doesn’t get a laugh.

Suddenly the light is brighter. The sweat glands in your scalp activate. Beads of sweat form on your forehead.

Someone in the audience clears their throat.

You say your third joke. Nothing. You stutter a little.

You try to shake it off and smile but it seems that you forgot how to work your face.

Time slows down. It’s ‘Inception’-slow. You’re in the 3rd level; 10 seconds seems like an hour and  you ask yourself, has it been seven minutes yet?

That’s when the realization strikes you; Holy shit. I’m bombing!

I’m eating it with a shovel.

I’m face-planting it into Bandini Mountain.

I’m shitting the bed!

You try to act cool. Your butt tightens, you try to pretend it doesn’t bother you, but even pretending becomes impossible. You continue with your material hoping that the next joke will win them over… will it?

Bombing has happened to everyone. Whether it’s one joke, ten jokes or an entire act. Whether it’s on stage or in a group of people we’ve all said something hoping for a laugh and have, at one time or another, gotten no response and we all feel that failure.

But comedians have it harder. We’re up on stage. We’re in the light.  More is expected of us, because, after all, we’re comedians! The mere fact that we’re on stage at a comedy club or a comedy night, implies that we’ve got the goods…

So how does a comedian NEVER bomb? Is it possible?

I’ve been doing comedy for 27 years professionally and I can tell you that in that time, I’ve bombed about four or five times.

That’s it. And that was in the first few years.

At one point I was doing a show during a break for a friend’s band. I got up on stage and started doing my set, I wasn’t getting many laughs and I got visually nervous and these three drunk guys stood at the foot of the stage, one of them said, “look he’s bombing…” and they just started heckling; when one guy ran out of breath, the next guy took over where he left off.

It was miserable and I couldn’t recover.

That night I decided, I’m never bombing again.

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How did I do it?

First I made a couple of changes. I changed my definition of bombing. I changed it from “when my jokes don’t work, I’m bombing,” to “when the audience can’t stand me,” I’m bombing.

Then I wrote 30 or so responses to hecklers.

But I knew I needed more than that. I needed to understand the science behind why I was visually nervous and how to work through it. Once I understood the “why” I could begin to understand “how.” How to solve that problem.

It starts with:

  1. Audience Psychology - one of the greatest things a comedian can learn is the psychology behind an audience.

    Most comedians don’t take the time to think about this.

    According to a new documentary on comedy called “Alone Up There,” some of the comedians interviewed in the movie had a point of view that when a comedian takes the stage it’s “us against them.”

    Do you think this is true? It’s not.

    Think about it. You’ve been in the audience. You’ve watched comedians and when they take that stage. Are you sitting there with your arms folded saying “try to make me laugh douche bag!?”

    No! You’re not.

    You’re most likely waiting for that first joke to make you laugh. You’re want that comedian to make you feel good by getting you to laugh or think.

    You’re always rooting for them, until they give you a reason not too.

    Sure, there are some people in an audience that are there to try to heckle or otherwise interrupt a show, but the real ‘assholes’ are few and far between.

    So, we as comedians, know at an intrinsic level, that the audience is rooting for us.

    Now we just need to take that confidence to the stage.

    Ricky Gervais said it best in an interview on Big Think: “Comedy is about empathy.”

    The audience wants to root for you so give them a reason to.

This post is in 4 parts. Keep an eye on your email box as the parts will be separated by only a day or so… comments?

A Homeless Man’s Guide to Success

Long ago my Dad shared this with me. I found it profoundly applicable in life and suitably fitting in the comedy realm; it’s called “Sunshine’s Law.”

He heard it from one of his college professors, who, in-turn, heard it from a homeless man who was simply named, “Sunshine.”

He said, “Two percent of the people excel at their specialty… eighteen percent are average or just above—and happy being there…

the rest of the EIGHTY PERCENT are on a declining scale of incompetence.”

Think about this little formula.

It’s profound in it’s simplicity and if you truly think about it, it’s not far from the truth.

We see mediocrity everywhere.

How many times have you said to yourself—or to others, “Man, there’s no customer service anymore!”  It seems that it’s a rare occurrence when we actually get good service or kindness or someone going out of their way to make something happen.

Is it because they are in the “eighty percent” category? Maybe so.

I do find that the 2-percent of people who excel in their specialty, drops to 1-percent in the business of comedy. It’s simply because most people see comedy as frivolity and they treat their careers frivolously.

A lot of us got into stand-up because we just didn’t seem to fit in the “normal” world. We wanted to beat the system and what a better way than to make people laugh for a living. Problem is most comedians don’t make a living or make a mediocre living.

Why? Two Reasons:

  • Laziness or
  • Ignorance

Comedy is a business just like any other business and if you learn to treat it as a business, that’s when most of us see successful gains—not only in our bank accounts—but also in our reputations.

How seriously do you take your comedy?

Do you:

  • Set Goals?
  • Write every day?
  • Map out your writing time (at least 1.5 hours 3-4 hours if you’re serious), and adhere to it?
  • Spend a portion of everyday making at least 10 phone calls per day for comedy? (Not just emails…phone calls).
  • Diagram the various ways you can earn money and game plan how to break into that market?
  • Do you have a PROCESS for your writing and your business?
  • Do you have a press kit ready to go NOW? Right NOW?
  • Do you go to mics at least 3 times a week and exchange numbers with other comedians and audience members?
  • Do you never take “NO” for an answer and are you politely persistent?

If you don’t do these things daily or weekly, then you’re not in the 2-percent… and why not? What’s stopping you?

Nothing now, because above is a list of things that I did when I was on the road 38-43 weeks out of each year.

Every day you should have a “To-Do” list of things you’re going to do for your career.  In it’s simplest form it should look like this:

  1. Write 3-10 new jokes (minimum)
  2. Call at least 10 people that could get me work (and ALWAYS, ALWAYS leave a message).
  3. Do a mic or find another open mic
  4. Add another club or booker to your contact or call list.

The list could be longer, but since most comics don’t wake up until at least noon, (if you’re on the West Coast, it’s already 3pm on the East Coast), and your opportunity is shrinking.

But if you did at least 3 of these things daily, then you’ll see your opportunities start to increase week-to-week.

So stop bitching that there’s “no work” and get to work!

Start by setting your goals… Goal number one: “Get myself into the 2-percent!”

What do you do to keep yourself going?