Revenge may be Best Cold, but Success is Best Always.

Joe Dungan - Winner, Clean Comedy Challenge 2017

One of the biggest joys of running the Comedy Clinic and imparting what I’ve learned through these many years in comedy is when one of my students has a success moment. It’s rewarding in so many ways.

First off, it’s just totally cool to see one of your students succeed… just that. I remember when I was in that same position and I remember the feeling of winning something or succeeding at something in comedy. That sense of accomplishment is sublime and when one of your students achieves success, it’s like having that feeling all over again.

Joe Dungan, one of my hardest working students and one of my master teachers just won The Clean Comedy Challenge 2017 at the Ice House in Pasadena, CA!

Joe competed against a litany of other comedians. And he must’ve done great because at the end of the performances one of the other comedians said to him, “Get ready to collect your prize money,” implying that it was clear who won the Clean Comedy Challenge.

So how did Joe do it?

As many of you know, it can be a challenge to come up with clean comedy that pops. The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

Joe’s opening line gets them laughing right away “My name is Joe ‘Successful Career’ Dungan, but you can call me Joe Dungan because the ‘Successful Career’ is silent.”

This line accomplishes two things. It self-deprecates, presenting Joe’s dilemma, while using the superiority concept in comedy, instantly letting the audience know that Joe doesn’t take himself too seriously. It also gives us surprise and incongruity because Joe juxtaposes the words “successful career” with a letter that might be silent in a person’s name.

But the structure of that joke is tight. It’s a great opening joke and has the audience on Joe’s side right out of the gate.

Lorne Michaels, the genius behind the success of Saturday Night Live, says that an audience has to be confident in the comedian on stage and there’s nothing better than a well-structured joke right out of the gate to immediately inject a large dose of confidence into that audience.

And that’s the primary focus of the curriculum at the Comedy Clinic. I want you to learn the science and structure of comedy so I empower you with the tools to write comedy that is designed to get laughs by helping you learn the proven structures of comedy and the science behind why people laugh.

I encourage my students to be able to write clean material. You don’t have to do clean material if it’s not your persona, but you should be able to. This way you don’t have to simply rely on shock value to get a laugh.

When you learn to be able to work clean you can work anywhere. It makes you more versatile as a comedian and makes you more likely to succeed as a comedy writer or performer.

Let’s face it, one of the quickest ways to get on the map in comedy is to appear on television and whether it’s Kimmel, Conan, Fallon, Colbert, Meyers or Corden, your material needs to be able to fit in the parameters of that show’s requirements and although many of the shows are showing much more flexibility, you’re still required to be ‘clean.’

Once you have a few appearances on network TV, you are more likely to be able to book higher paid corporate work, get a solid agent and begin developing your professional career even further.

A national TV credit almost instantly thrusts you into the headlining position in most clubs around the country and gives agents a reason to represent you.

But if you’re not able to work clean, the network TV gigs will continue to be off-limits to you as a performer.

If you are able to work clean, almost nothing can stop you.

So congratulations Joe Dungan! Get that video and start getting it out to the talent coordinators booking the Late Night shows on TV.

And to those of you reading this, start learning to write and perform clean. Remember you don’t have to be a clean comedian, but you create exponentially more opportunity if you are able to.

Is Trump’s Election Changing Stand Up Comedy?

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There’s an interesting article in the Rolling Stone on how the election of Donald Trump has somehow changed stand-up comedy.

The Trump voters—who during the campaign seemed quiet, almost a little embarrassed about admitting they were voting for Trump are now emboldened in post-election. They have no problem booing comedians, heckling them or threatening them now that their guy is going to be the president.

Some comedians, like Wanda Sykes, was booed when she called Trump an “orangutang,” and Amy Schumer had 200 people walk out of her show when she condescendingly questioned a Trump supporter after inviting her on the stage– I don’t know it was either that or the fact that the joke she used wasn’t hers… (did I say that out loud?)

It’s a bit of a quagmire considering that we’ve always been able to make fun of presidents and politicians, but this time it seems different. This was definitely the most hotly contested election in modern history.

Not to mention the republican candidate inciting violence against opposing voices by saying things like, “I wish somebody would punch them in the face.”

You would expect this kind of grandstanding and saber rattling from the North Korean president, Kim Jung Un, but not the future leader of the free world.

This kind of brazen talk, emboldened his supporters and gave them the green light to be aggressive so it’s no surprise that comedians are now more vulnerable than ever.

A comedian wants to stay edgy and current. Trump keeps making these missteps; either Tweeting about the Chinese or breaking 40 years of U.S. protocol and taking a phone call from the president of Taiwan… misspelling the word unprecedented (he spelled it “unpresidented”), a comedian might think that’s ripe for a joke.

But the political current might open a comedian up to heckles and some of them might get aggressive.

It seems some of these people think Trump’s election means they can openly use the “N-word, or grab a woman in the crotch” but if you dare call the president-elect something as obscene as “that guy from ‘The Apprentice’” and some heckler may likely yell “get off the stage!”

The Rolling Stone article implied that comedians need to change their game. I don’t necessarily agree. I think there has always been a way to talk about politics and religion.

One way is to not only make it funny, but make it funny with unassailable truths. Pick on both sides and understand (this is crucial), your audience.

George Carlin said, “While their mouths are open for laughter, insert some food for thought.”

All comedians and comedy writers should understand the simple M-A-P formula. The best ones already do. M-A-P simply means Material-Audience-Performer. The material should be right for the audience and right for the performer.

There’s a time to go hard and a time to tone down and there’s a time to realize when you’re a guest in someone else’s house.

I was working in Idaho—a pretty conservative state. The previous week, a comedian from L.A. was there doing anti-gun material. He was heckled and he said something like, “I come all the here from L.A. and you disrespect me?”

Are you kidding me? You are in their house. It is YOU who needs to respect them!

There wound up being a fight and the comedian got his ass kicked. I came to town the following week and mentioned the incident.

I said, “you see I think you can do anti-gun material, it just depends on how you say it.”

And a guy yelled out, “Yeah? Go ahead and try!”

I said, “You see, some comedians might look at that as some kind of rude outburst. I see it as us opening up a conversation. And why shouldn’t we? We both disagree on an issue thats important to both of us… my argument is that we spend more money regulating pornography, than we do regulating handguns and I don’t know about you, but I know of very few innocent victims who have been picked off by a misfired pecker.”

This got them laughing, because it was rather innocuous, but true. Now keep in mind, this was the same club that beat up the comedian the week before. But I’m not making it about I’m right—you’re wrong. I’m just making an observation.

See, I think my job as a comedian is to think of a heckler as my best friend. Most of the time hecklers heckle because they want to be included in the conversation. They also want to be heard.

During that time there was an incident where Federal agents had come to Idaho looking for a fringe militia group. It was a big deal in Idaho.

So I then said, “I mean, I’m not saying take away the guns. We need the guns here in Idaho, so we can hunt the Feds.”

This got them laughing.

And I said, “See. We can disagree on shit, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a drink together laugh about. How boring would life be if we all agreed on everything? First of all there would be no makeup sex…”

As a personal aside, I think this election thing is like an NFL playoff game. The winners are basking in the glory of their teams win and they’re gloating. Eventually it will settle down.

That being said, there are going to be situations where hecklers are just being aggressive assholes. Like in the Rolling Stone article, comedian Feraz Ozel, who was raised Muslim was doing his set and someone yelled out, “Homeland Security is right outside!”

I suggested to one of my students (who might look like an intimidating terrorist to an ignorant audience member—despite the fact that his family is from India), that he prepare himself with heckle responses.

Prepare yourself. Which means sitting down and writing material to respond to potential heckles, starting with the one above, “Homeland Security is right outside.”

How would you respond to that?

I might respond by saying something like, “Yeah? You know what’s inside, Jethro? The Constitution.”

Or I might follow it with something like, “Trump said he was draining the swamp… he should of told us he was sending the scum to comedy clubs.”

Using the roast joke method to write material can give you some responses that you can keep in your arsenal. They should be smart and they should be tight.

Try to stick to the facts. Use Trump quotes or facts about Trump. Innuendo and opinion will just leave you open to more attacks.

I also think it is going to be crucial to comedians and club owners to remove patrons who are unruly. An outburst here and there is just the nature of the beast, but a patron spouting hate or getting aggressive should be dealt with promptly. And here’s why…

If a club deals with unruly patrons by removing them promptly, it has the short term impact on making the show enjoyable for everyone. But it has a long-term positive impact of making people feel like a comedy club is a safe place for entertainment.

Club owners must consider that for every 10-20 people in attendance there are 2-3 people who have never been to a comedy club. And if they don’t feel safe because the unruly patron was not dealt with, then they will most likely never come back again.

That’s not only bad for comedy, it’s bad for business.

But as a comedian, I think the point is that when you’re in a room that is going to lean conservative, then you’ve got to skew your material so you can still make your point, but you make your point while people are laughing. It’s not selling out. It’s making an adjustment (like you might doing network TV or a corporate), because you’re a professional.

Like George Carlin said, while their mouths are open for laughter, insert some food for thought.

I don’t have all the answers, I would love to hear your thoughts on this new world we work in!

Add More Laughs by Putting On Your Comedy Toolbelt

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Looking to add more laughs into your act? Sometimes just applying some deliberate writing you can use mechanics to add some quick laughs as you advance the routine.

According to Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live, one of the crucial things an audience looks for in a comedian who first steps on stage is confidence.

Confidence is a two-way street; you as the performer have to have confidence in yourself for the audience to have confidence in your ability to make them laugh.

Immediate Laughs Build Confidence Fast

One way to build confidence in your act is to have a quick laugh within the first 10-15 seconds of taking the stage.

Economy is key. Challenge yourself to a game of how fast you can get to the joke. How many words before you can get the audience to laugh?

We built a laugh into Eugenia Kuzmina’s act by using her the emcee’s intro as a set up. The emcee says, “Ladies and gentlemen, coming to the stage now is a fashion model who wants to be a comedian. Please welcome Eugenia Kuzmina.

Eugenia enters the stage doing the fashion model’s scissored gate like she’s on a fashion runway. She walks to each end of the stage and poses just like she’s on the runway. Then approaches the mic, sighs, and then says, “I’m so hungry.”

So she gets a big laugh with as little as three words. Most of the time the audience begins giggling on her entrance, which helps to build the laugh on the line.

Years ago I did a show at a casino/resort in Nevada that had a fire the week before that threatened the cancellation of the show. That news was in the paper (remember newspapers?). It was also on the news.

When I was introduced, I walked on stage with a fire extinguisher, set it down next to me and… before I said anything, the audience laughed, then broke into applause.

Zero words.

Problem with that is if I want to rely on that gimmick to get laughs, before I come to town I would have to arrange for the venue to have a fire.

Applying the Maxim of the 5 w’s to Add Laughs

The good news is that many times the jokes are already sitting there in your existing act. You just need to use put on your comedy tool belt.

Using one of my students recent intros, watch how we took introduction and added 3 more quick laughs, giving her 7 laughs in the first 30 seconds.

Here is the intro to a set written by Laura Breech, one of my students:

“So I moved here recently and decided to check out the LA dating scene, so I dusted off that online profile…again. I’ve been on a few dates, and I don’t get why things never go anywhere. I’m doing all the things you’re supposed to on a first date: I’m getting dressed up, I’m making polite conversation, I’m swallowing…Hahah, JK, that doesn’t happen. Not on a first date! I’m a spitter. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but dude, I live in LA now. I’ve gotta count calories…”

It’s a good opening and has three laughs, but I took a look at the draft and thought there was a possibility to add a few more laughs.

I looked at each sentence and utilized the maxim of the 5 W’s (Who? What? Where? Why? When? And How?).

This was the result:

“So recently, I moved to L.A. for the same reason as most people; just to make absolutely certain that I’ll never be able to afford a home. And recently I decided to get into extreme sports; you know, the LA dating scene… so I dusted off that online profile… again. I’ve been on a few dates–okay, seventeen of them–(ahem)… and I don’t get why things never go anywhere. I’m doing all the things you’re supposed to on a first date: I’m getting dressed up, I’m making polite conversation, I’m swallowing…Ha!, Just kidding, that doesn’t happen. Not on a first date! I’m a spitter. Dude! I live in LA now. I gotta count calories…”

So just by asking questions like Why did I move to L.A.? and How is the “L.A. dating scene” different from other dating scenes? “What do I mean by a ‘few’ dates?, We were able to add about 3 more laughs to this opening for a total of 7 laughs in the first 30 seconds.

That averages out to a laugh every 4.2 seconds. That’s a great start and executed properly that opening will assuredly demonstrate ability and give that audience a hypodermic filled with confidence.

Go Even Further

But, wait, there’s more! Just because that’s the opening bit she performed at her show, it doesn’t mean we can’t evolve the piece even further.

The first thing that pops into my mind is that Laura compared L.A. dating to extreme sports. That tells us that there are two dissimilar ideas converging and that we can do a listing technique to generate some associative jokes to flesh this piece out even more.

So go ahead. Take your existing material and develop it further just by utilizing the comedic tools you have at your disposal and build that confidence in your comedy with more laughs.

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3 Reasons Why Firing My Manager is the Best Thing I Did for My Comedy Career!

 phone firing my manager
In September of 1993 I was in the comedy condo of a comedy club in Dallas, TX. It was the morning after my third night there and the phone rang.
“Hello, it’s Jerry.”
“Jerry? It’s Harry:” Harry was a manager I had just signed with a few months before.
He saw me at a showcase at Igby’s in West L.A. on the same night that Ray Romano and Kevin James did their network showcase for NBC.
Harry had some big names in his stable and I thought it was a good move to work with him.That’s good news, my manager’s calling. Maybe he’s got some work for me…
“Hey Harry. Tell me some good news.”

“I just wanted to let you know that I get 20% of whatever work you’re doing, regardless of if I book it.”I know, right? I’m thinking to myself, this guy doesn’t even ask how the shows are going. He just gets right to the money. The money he thinks he’s entitled to.

For the last couple years, I had been methodically making phone calls and sending out videos. Since I already had an one-hour act under my belt, a full 60% of my day was dedicated to booking work and developing new contacts and 40% to writing material.

That work had paid off because I was booked for the rest of the year and the first 2 months of the following year. For this manager to call me and tell me he’s gonna get 20% of that just seemed ridiculous.

So I said, “I’m sorry, Harry. I don’t think I heard you right. Can you repeat that?”

“I just wanted to let you know that I get 20% of whatever work you’re doing, regardless of if I book it.”

I straightened up, took a breath and said, “Harry, I’ve always wanted to say this. (It was a throwback to the movies from the 40’s), ‘WE’RE THROUGH!'”

: and I hung up the phone.

About 10 seconds later, he called again. He said, “You have a problem with me making money?” I said, “I don’t have a problem with you making money, Harry. But I do have a problem with you trying to take money from me that you haven’t earned. I might as well give 20% to the homeless, because they’re doing as much for my career.”

I hung up and never heard from Harry again.

That phone call scared me. It scared me, but it also inspired me into truly lighting a fire under my ass and figuring out how to take my act and make real money.

I got to work and the next year I made nearly 3x as much as the previous year. I learned how to leverage my comedy and turn it into a product. I learned how to double, triple and even quadruple the amount of money I made per night, per show.

Then I learned how to tap into markets that were paying me more in one night than I was making in an entire week at a club.

Then I learned about something called “Idle Capacity…” (Hint: It adds a lot of money to your bank account)

Hanging up on my manager was scary but empowering, because when you do something like that your only choice is to go prove yourself.

Not only that, consider the opposite: This guy’s integrity was questionable so how do I expect that to reflect on me?

That phone call was life changing and it helped motivate me to really kick ass in this business and turn my comedy career into a comedy enterprise where I’M the BOSS and I can choose what gigs to take.

Being able to feel like you are in charge of your destiny rather than waiting for someone to call you or book you is more than just empowering, it’s life changing.
Don’t get me wrong, a great manager or agent is invaluable, but one who doesn’t do anything is shit.

You may have heard that I’m teaching a comedy success seminar next Saturday, August 6th, at my studio in Burbank, CA. It’s called “How to be the Richest Comedian Nobody’s Ever Heard Of.It’s going to be a powerful event with killer tools you can use to gain more leverage in your career and really get paid for your comedy.

Click the link and get in because at minimum it will light a fire under your ass. And if you actually apply the information and execute, it will change your career or your life.

Comedians Get More Applause Using This One Powerful Technique

get more applause breaks in your comedy

Vengeance is Mine!

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

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

My Ex, who cheated on me, called me on Halloween. She said, “Jerry, I don’t know what to pretend to be for Halloween.” I said, “Why don’t you just dress normally and pretend you’re in a committed relationship?”

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

Listen to the Audio Version

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

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

There are two reasons for this:

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

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

It’s a brilliant concept!

An Antagonist Makes the Revenge Delicious

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

… like when Rosanne Barr says,

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

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

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

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

…or hang yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Antagonist Enables You to be More Edgy

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

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

Revenge as a Literary Device

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

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

Be Sure There is a Reason for the Retaliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite benign retaliation stories?