Nobody Has the Credentials to Tell You “You Can’t”

through-a-wall

It Starts with Rejection.

Rejection. We’ve all had our fair share, right?

Being in the business of entertainment; being a comedian a writer, an actor, exposes you to more than your fair share, I believe.

Some of us are more affected by rejection than others. We take rejection as ostracism and we can do damage to ourselves and our careers if we take it too deeply to heart. I don’t know about you but I know some people who have given up after too much rejection.

The problem is sometimes too much is only once.

But the good news is I think we can learn to smash through rejection and overcome it.

In order to help overcome rejection, it would first help to have a handle on what it is so that it doesn’t seem so ominous and out of our ability to control it.

Understanding the Science of Rejection

Psychologists say that the fear of rejection is hard-wired into our brains and was established as some sort of survival mechanism.

Not to dwell too much on the primaeval science of rejection and the fear of it but for the sake of understanding and overcoming it, here it goes:

Back in the day when we were hunter-gatherers, we relied on tribes to survive. If you were rejected by the tribe it meant ostracism, which meant you would lose access to the fire, the food, etc. Which would lead to your ultimate demise.

Therefore the rejection mechanism is sort of an “early warning system” according to Psychologist and author, Guy Winch, Ph.D. When our behavior might get us ostracised we feel rejection and that feeling is supposed to trigger us to change our behavior so we stop being rejected.

To top it all off we humans are social animals, so the rejection can really be harmful. So much so Winch has actually labeled rejection as a psychological “injury.”

He’s not too far off considering that rejection affects the same brain regions and neurotransmitters as does physical pain. Which explains why during a break up you can actually feel physically ill, get a headache, collapse.

Also during rejection, our brain produces natural painkillers; Opioids, that can help us cope with the pain and continue on… or like me, make me sleep.

How Not to Let Rejection Get the Best of You

I was fortunate to have very supportive parents. They encouraged me to get up and face the day, despite rejection. I grew up in an actors’ family and got to see my Dad go to auditions, not get the part and not let it affect his tenacity, and belief in himself. I was able to witness him bounce back the very next day and book two out of three auditions.

So when it came time for me to audition, I didn’t allow the rejection part of it to knock my self-worth. And without conjuring up visuals of Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley and “Affirmations,” the popular sketch on Saturday Night Live back in the day, I would tell myself that I’m good enough and that the reason I didn’t get the part is not that I couldn’t act, but because I just wasn’t the right match.

Psychologists have a similar approach. They say you can prepare for rejection better by identifying the qualities you believe you bring into this world. Write them down.

Hell, write them down several times! Own them and know them. That way when you do receive some rejection, you can walk away from it a little stung, but with your head held high, ready to tackle the next challenge.

You should really take a moment–right now– and write down five to ten values you bring to this world! No really. Right now!

When it comes to rejection, I like to simply say to myself, “No is not an answer and it’s unacceptable.” Of course this is when dealing with the industry of show business, (getting a script approved or getting an audition), and not when I’m with a woman trying to get to third base!  And why am I still trying to get to third base with my wife? When you’re married, isn’t third base where you start?

But wait, we were being serious in this blog post, Dude!

You are ‘Perfect’

I think psychologists have a point when they say you should write down your valuable traits. I believe it’s something that will help you deal with rejection.

I tell my students and myself that they are ‘perfect.’ I’ve said it so much to myself that I inherently believe it.

Now before you get weird on me on that, let me explain…

What I say is, you must believe you are perfect in all your flaws. I encourage my students to own that of themselves.

I honestly believe that about myself and I have a ton of baggage. There are stores in the mall that wish they had as much Samsonite as I do. I have skeletons and massive failures. But I believe that has made me who I am and I’m pretty freakin’ happy with that because I am constantly trying to learn from my mistakes, sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

But that’s okay, because if I take the time to assess and evaluate, I can probably learn.

Your biggest mistakes are your greatest lessons. So when you do screw up and you do fail and you are rejected, you learn valuable lessons and if you walk away from that rejection focusing on what you learned rather than focusing on the rejection and self-talking yourself into depression, you’ll do much better with rejection and succeed more often.

Yes, focus on what you learned, move on, continue believing in yourself. Psychologist have determined that rejection is real. It exists, but how deeply we let it affect us is up to us.

We Can Cower or We Can Conquer.

The reason I wrote this blog post is that I’ve seen people–friends of mine–give up their dreams because they were rejected… even once. Then when they hit middle age, they shoulder this huge burden of regret.

When I first auditioned for the Improv, I was rejected three times by co-owner Mark Lonow. If I let that rejection get me down I might never have continued. But on my third rejection from Lonow, I looked him in the eye and said, “You’re not the only way into the Improv, Mark.”

I don’t recommend ever saying that, by the way! I did it because I was hurt (one of the side effects of rejection) and I stupidly lashed out.

But the very next day, I went into the Improv, waited three and a half hours to see Bud Friedman. When I finally saw him, I introduced myself and begged him to let me audition for him.

He said, “Come down tonight and do twelve minutes.”

I thanked him and came back that night with my twelve.

When I was up on stage, after six minutes, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Bud Friedman walk out of the showroom.

My heart sank.

When I finished my act, audience members high-fived me. I heard compliments. I was confused. Why did Bud walk out of the room?

I went up to the bar and waited for Bud. When he finally showed up, these are his exact words: “Very nice set, Mr. Corley. I tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to start you in Vegas and go from there… Oh, and I want you to do the show.”

“What show is that, Bud?”
“A&E’s ‘An Evening at the Improv,’ of course.”
“Of course.”

On the night of the taping of the show, I was in makeup sitting in a chair right next to Bud… as I looked into the mirror, creeping up to me was Mark Lonow, the co-owner, who rejected me three times before.

He leaned into my ear and said in this disdain-filled voice, “How’d you slip through the cracks?”

Bud Friedman looked at him in the mirror and said, “Mark, the last time I checked, my name is first on the Marquis.”

I did the show that night and had a really solid set and after that set, my first T.V. set, my career changed. I haven’t stopped working since.

I share this with you because rejection is a part of this business. We must learn to cope with it and not let it get us down.

And just like the picture way up at the beginning of this post, when we encounter the obstacle of rejection when can either give up, go around or break right through.

There are few things I love more than this business. One of those things is the artists who journey through it. If this blog post gave you some inspiration, drop me a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts and your obstacles and how you overcame them.

I would also like to share with you the article that inspired this post. It is a post that shows original rejection letters to famous people. The post is very appropriately titled:

“10 Painful Rejection Letters To Famous People Proving You Should NEVER Give Up Your Dreams”

it’s by Averi Clements at Distractify.com.

I hope it inspires. Go get ’em!

9 Stand-Up Comedy Specials Worth Streaming This 4th of July

4th-of-July

9 Stand-Up Comedians Worth Streaming on Netflix Now!

I love the 4th of July!

It’s another reason to eat and drink and celebrate something we don’t really get. As comedians or comedy writers, the 4th of July should provide great fodder for material, especially since so much comedy is about dichotomy and paradox. Hobby-Lobby-store-us

And the idea of a FREE America is loaded with it.

Let’s celebrate Independence Day where we are FREE! Let’s celebrate FREEDOM!

In a country where we see somewhere around 40,000 new laws introduced into the books in a single year (2010), the definition of ‘free’ certainly comes with certain (with heavy sarcasm) inverse proportionality.

Isn’t there irony in the fact that just days after the Christians celebrated the Supreme Court ruling favoring Hobby-Lobby, (stating that companies with religious compunctions don’t have to pay for medical insurance to provide female employees with birth control), we celebrate our national day of “Independence.”

It’s comedic irony!

But that’s the beauty of comedy!

Inverse proportionality, paradox, irony and dichotomy rule when it comes to writing comedy.

That’s why, with the help of the folks over at Crushable, I’m posting the 9 Stand-up Comedy Streams You Can Watch on Netflix right now:

1. Aziz AnsariBuried Alive

You might know him as Tom Haverford on the NBC show Parks and Recreation.

It’s no wonder his career got started with an MTV sketch comedy show Human Giant. His stand up is much the same with act-outs of life situations that will make you think, “How come I didn’t think of that?!”

 

2. Louis C.K. – 3 Specials

That’s right! Louis has 3 specials on Netflix as we speak; Live at The Beacon Theater, Chewed Up and Hilarious. Which one to watch? This is a no-brainer, watch them all! Louis was named best comedian alive today by Rolling Stone Magazine and there’s a reason for that. Check him out!

3. Women Who Kill – Certified Funny

It’s all in the title: This special has features 4 funny girls, Amy Schumer, Rachel Feinstein, Nikki Glaser and Marina Franklin.

Females have been making their mark in comedy and these four girls show you why. This is my kind of chick-flick!

 

 

4. Craig Ferguson – I’m Here to Help

Craig is getting his stand-up out there because he’s no longer going to be hosting his Late, Late Show. He’s also going to be hosting a new game show currently titled “Celebrity Name Game” produced by Freemantle Media.

 

 

5. Maria Bamford – The Special Special Special

To be quite honest, I don’t know how this one even made this list. I like Maria Bamford, but in this special, Maria spends 42 minutes doing comedy in her parents’ living room of their tract home in Eagle Rock, California.

Thank God my parents are already dead, because if I did that to them, it would’ve killed them—or put them to sleep—as this show did to me.

It is, however, an interesting experiment about how important an audience is to spread the energy of laughter. Is the funny getting away from Maria? Check it out and see.

 

 

6. Jim Gaffigan – Mr. Universe

Jim Gaffigan is a comedian that just makes me laugh. He’s filled with recognition and simple-truth/act-outs, (much like Aziz Ansari). Gaffigan actually has 2 specials on Netflix worth streaming. He also has Beyond the Pale.


7. Morgan Murphy – Irish Goodbye

This gal is funny! Not a lot of glam, just pure comedy genius. Originally from Portland, Oregon, this gal spent time writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. You will also get inspired by reading her tweets! @morgan_murphy.

 

 

8. Bo Burnham – What

You think comedians hate guitar comics? Bo Burnham shows that musical comedy is not dead as this 23-year-old—yes 23! (Feel like a loser yet?), plays to a packed house. Bo uses the a lot of paradox and surprise with his songs. Very entertaining. And he must be, dude has massive video downloads.

Hey! comedians who hate other comedians who do music: This guy has over 4 million views on just one YouTube video? How many hits do you have on your video about ‘Online Dating?.’

9. John Mulaney – New In Town

Mulaney was a writer for SNL, need I say more?  He’s a master of Simple Truth/Act-outs, one of my favorite comedic techniques and also usually a favorite technique of comedians who are known for writing sketch comedy. Definitely worth a look!

 

 

So this Fourth of July why not celebrate your independence by popping the top on some beers, turning on the Netflix and streaming some great comedy. And remember to drink responsibly, don’t drive drunk, don’t be drunk in public and don’t urinate in public or disturb the peace, or become a public nuisance, but aside from that go out and be FREE!

5 Reasons to Use Imitation and Emulation to Learn Stand-up Comedy

kids-imitation

From the time we are toddlers, we learn by watching and imitating. That’s how we learn to walk, to talk, to express ourselves.

Imitation is the ‘stem-cell’ of our learning ability.

So why not utilize this technique when learning how to be a comedian?

At first, it might seem like cheating, no?

And when I say, “imitate,” I don’t mean “copy.” I mean emulate.

Practice sounding like a certain comedian.

I mean, “but wait!” You might be saying. Stand-up is one of the last real “raw” performance-based art forms. Why would anyone want to imitate?

5 Reasons to Use Imitation or Emulation in your Comedy:

There are several reasons, when you are starting out, to use imitation and emulation develop. Here are a few:

  • It can get you to sounding like a comedian faster.
  • Imitation or emulation can help you discover new inspirations.
  • It can help you find the inflection to make a joke, or bit, really resonate.
  • It can help your brain to recognize the patterns and rhythms that get laughter from the audience
  • It can help you get confident in your pauses and perfect your timing.

Once you start emulating the behaviors of a comedian, you begin to ‘walk in their shoes,’ and you begin to think like one. As a result, more jokes come to you off-handedly during the normal progress of your day and you start recognizing subjects and situations that are ripe for a comedy routine.

As a tool, imitation and emulation is used all the time in life.

Famous guitar players all say that they learned by playing the riffs of the greats, then from those techniques they branched off and developed their own style.

Johnny Carson said he copied Jack Benny to learn how to perfect his timing.

Jerry Seinfeld was clearly influenced by George Carlin.

Robin Williams seemed to take his moves directly from Jonathan Winters.

When you watch Bill Burr, can’t you see a bit of Dennis Leary?

I studied Carlin, Pryor, Cosby and Seinfeld, mostly. When I first started I was very “Seinfeldian.” In fact, I remember going on stage at the Laugh Factory in L.A. one night. Jerry Seinfeld was in the room. I did my set with my jokes, but my inflections and behaviors had a definite Seinfeld feel.

After my performance—which got a decent response, from the audience—I said hello to Seinfeld and he just sort of blew me off. I said to myself, “maybe I I should tone it down a little.”

After that experience, I was lucky enough to meet with George Carlin. He gave me the best insight to comedy;

He said: “Take the stuff that drives you crazy and make it funny!”

That’s when I started to really develop as a comedian.

But it was the study and emulation of my favorite comedians that got me moving in this industry. Within my first two years as a comedian, I developed an hour of material, nailed my first audition with the legendary Bud Friedman, (owner of the Improvisation) in Los Angeles and got booked in Vegas and got my first television booking as a comedian.

After that, I used that television tape to book gigs all over the country and I never looked back.

Stand-up is a Conversation

One of my students is an actress. She’s a really, really good actress. She started doing stand-up in July. Like a lot of actors, she was having trouble eliminating that fourth wall and making the material sound like it was stand-up, rather than an actor’s monologue.

The difference between stand-up and acting is that stand-up is a conversation. It’s hopefully a one-way conversation, but it is more like a conversation. It’s like you’re talking to your friends in your living room or better yet, at a bar.

This actress-comedian was having a difficult time breaking out of the monologue mode. Then she started studying comedians like Whitney Cummings and Amy Schumer. I mean really studying them.

She listened to them for hours! (I recommend that to anyone—take your favorite comedian and listen to them for hours).

She would even repeat their lines while she was in her apartment, trying to emulate their nuances and their voices.

In a matter of a week or two, her act went to the next level. By the time she had her next appearance, she was sounding more like a comedian. Her material was resonating more with the audience. They were responding to her faster and with harder, snappier laughter.

She was becoming a comedian. It was her own material, but she emulated to get the nuance of a comedian.

4 Weeks to Being A Better Writer

To some people this seems crazy…

I get it. The comedian’s nuance and rhythm my come naturally to you. If so, then this post is not for you.

Go do your thing and continue in your own growth and brilliance.

But to you comedians with some years of experience, I still recommend listening to the really good comedians.

When I had been doing comedy for about 8 years, I was on the road for four weeks straight. In my car I had one cassette (yes, I said “cassette!” Don’t judge!). It was Dennis Miller.

One thing about Dennis, is he used to use really colorful language in his material. The writing was clever. He used a lot of analogy, simile and metaphor to add texture to his stories. In my view it made the story worth listening to.

By the end of the tour, my comedy also had more compelling language. It was better written and it was getting better response. I kept it in my own voice, but that four weeks with Dennis Miller made me a far better writer!

This particular post is for beginners who are having a hard time getting out of the habit of sounding like they are reciting material and getting more in the habit of sounding like a comedian; like a conversationalist.

For you, if you are struggling with this concept. Try emulating or imitating. It might make you sound like a comedian faster.

Then again, you might already be emulating.

Tenacious D Is Putting On a Comedy Festival in L.A.

Great News!
Fresh from the wire over at Technology Tell’s entertainment blog:
Tenacious D is planning the Festival Supreme, a music and comedy festival of the like Los Angeles has never seen. It’s the first of it’s kind in my memory. It will be featuring top comedians and performers like Zach Galifianakis, Adam Sandler, The Mr. Show Experience (featuring David Cross and Bob Odenkirk), and Reggie Watts.
Sarah Silverman is also slated to perform.

The great news is that this is a real comedy festival with real stars!

It’ll be interesting to see how L.A. supports an event like this. Considering you can usually get a pretty decent lineup of top comics almost any night of the week at any one of  the top comedy clubs in L.A. But it’s usually a surprise, as opposed to a scheduled festival.

What’s the schedule? Glad you asked! Keep Saturday, October 19th open and save your pennies; ninety-nine thousand of them to be exact, because the tickets to this bad boy are starting at $99.

Not too bad a price considering there are going to be four stages all at, or around, the Santa Monica pier.

Sounds like fun! In fact I’m gonna head over to the festival’s website right now and get a couple of tix!

BUSTED! Comedian Caught Stealing Another Comic’s Material During ‘America’s Got Talent’ Taping?

America's Got Talent

The Greg Wilson is Accused of Stealing Another Comedian’s Material while recording America’s Got Talent

According to the story that I first read on Slashfilm.com, comedian-contestant, The Greg Wilson, was performing on “America’s Got Talent.” He went to his closing bit which was an act-out of a mimed argument of a couple arguing in a car.

The crowd loved it, the first two judges loved it. When they got to Howie, he asked the contestant, (The Greg Wilson), “Did you write this, or are you performing someone else’s material?”

OUCH!

Right there in front of the audience and the cameras at the Pantages in Los Angeles, he gets asked if he stole material!

DOUBLE OUCH!

To top it all off, Howie says that he knows the comic that does the bit in question. Then he reveals the name of the comic: “Frank Nicotero.” Some of you may say, “Who the hell is Frank Nicotero?” Well, Frank is a comic who has been around for quite a while. He’s smart and funny… and he also just happens to be the warm-up comedian for… (drum-roll please)…

AMERICA’S GOT TALENT!

So The Greg Wilson is being accused of stealing a bit from a comedian who (unbeknownst to him) is in the SAME ROOM!

DOUBLE OUCH with an “OH SNAP!”

Being accused of stealing material is a big deal in this business. It’s scummy. It’s pathetic. And it can ruin a reputation and possibly a career… isn’t that right Carlos Mencia?

But to be snagged while doing it for a television show that gets to broadcast out to tens of millions is epic!

Here’s where it gets a little gritty:

I watched both comedians performing the bit:

Here’s Frank Nicotero:

Here’s The Greg Wilson: (The Bit starts at 3:43)

See The Differences?

When I watched both of the videos my initial reaction was this:

This bit is a high concept bit that could easily be performed by two different comedians. We’ve all seen couples fighting in a car and I could see that two comedians could come up with similar bits on that concept.

Based on the two versions, I thought that Greg Wilson did a more concise job defining the different characters and acting them out, but…

Jay Leno said to me: “There are no ethics in this business. You have to write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

[gn_quote style=”1″]Your reputation will precede you…[/gn_quote]

That’s where this conflict begins to sort itself out; and we can begin to answer the question of if the idea was stolen.

If we consider the fact that Frank Nicotero is a seasoned professional who has hosted a television show called “Street Smarts” for 5 years and has had additional success and has a reputation that is super solid in this business, the origination of the bit in question starts to become clear.

But this is what settled it for me…

According to people who know both guys, It’s said that The Greg Wilson KNOWS Frank and Greg has SEEN FRANK PERFORM THAT BIT for years. I mean the bit goes back to 1993 for Frank Nicotero. It has been Frank’s closing piece for a very long time.

That’s where it’s No Bueno.

It boils down to this: Having a reputation for being a solid writer and comedian with fresh ideas by actually doing the work and writing on a regular basis is crucial in developing your reputation.

By doing a comedy bit that is known to be a signature bit of another comedian, The Greg Wilson has created a dilemma for himself that he now needs to overcome. He has seriously tainted his reputation and that is now being spread via the internet and social media.

If this story continues to have legs, it could really have an impact on his career and what other people in this business think of him.

Also consider this: America’s Got Talent is a reality show. It stays on the air as long as the ratings stay high. Much of the ratings are driven by conflict and drama on the show and although Frank was told that The Greg Wilson’s bit will never be aired…

A decision might be made by the show’s producers to air the segment just for the sheer drama and conflict. It’s bound to drive ratings and new blog posts, shares on Facebook and tweets on Twitter.

This story doesn’t die here. It reanimates when the show airs in about 6 weeks for potentially tens of millions of viewers watching on T.V. and potentially millions in the blogosphere and social media all pointing to the headline of The Greg Wilson allegedly stealing Frank Nicotero’s routine and performing it on Television.

Your reputation precedes you, indeed.

Love to hear your thoughts on this situation pro or con…