Add More Laughs by Putting On Your Comedy Toolbelt

comedy_tool_belt

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.

Join over 10,000 other stand-up comedy and comedy writing enthusiasts and Sign up for the Comedy Clinic newsletter and receive FREE comedy tips, tricks and gig information.

 

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?

Got Haters? Stay True, Practice and Turn it Into Opportunity

bullying in school

I have a student who emailed me recently about people hating on him.

He’s a little awkward on stage. He’s working on it, but he comes across as the guy next door or maybe the ‘creepy’ guy next door.

I see a lot of promise in him. He reminds me of Comedian George Miller; Miller was awkward, always wore sweaters. Made 56 appearances on Late Night with David Letterman.

comedian george miller

My student lives in a small town in Canada, doesn’t have a lot of friends, but works hard on his writing. Problem is, when you live in a small town, it’s hard to get stage time.

But he keeps at it.

He’s got a lot of the locals including the local club owner who constantly berate him. They put him down, they tease, they pick.

He said, “Jerry, you’ve got to help me. I just have these guys totally hating on me all the time. What do I do?”

Stay true. Keep working. Keep practicing. Beat them to the punch.

The Bullies Made me Do It!

I despise bullies. I was bullied as a kid. I remember one of the bullies getting me in a headlock on the school bus in New York and just punching away at my head while other students just sat there watching. (Maybe that explains why I’m so weird!).

That wasn’t the only time I was bullied, but that’s the one that really stands out, because one of the people standing there watching was my older brother.

We were raised in a loving compassionate family. Not a fighting family. We didn’t know how to fight. So I don’t blame my brother. He didn’t have a skill set to know how to deal with that situation.

I can zero back on that moment on the bus with laser beam focus. That’s why I despise bullies.

But…

I often wonder if I would’ve ever become a comedian if it wasn’t for those bullying moments. I often think that’s why learned to joke and to beat the jerks to the punch with humor.

It’s Impossible to Dislike Someone Who Makes You Laugh

There’s an old saying, “It’s impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh.”

By the 8th grade, I was getting funny. I learned from another kid in my class, Andrew Madejczyk. (pronounced Majezick).

Andy was fast on the draw. He mostly did wordplay stuff but was always getting laughs in class.

I realized that I was usually thinking the same thing he was, but I just didn’t say it out loud.

I always thought it was so funny that a word that was intended to mean one thing could so easily mean another thing.

That’s when I understood the 9th Laughter Trigger; coincidence. We laugh at coincidence. We love it!

I realized that nobody was getting Andy in headlocks and punching him on the bus: well, mostly because he didn’t take the bus, but he wasn’t really ever bullied.

Probably because he was always making them laugh.

I thought, I need to get funnier before someone headlocks me again.

My parents had a lot of comedy albums at home. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, mostly. My neighbors had Bill Cosby. Their parents didn’t let them listen to Carlin and Pryor because they weren’t appropriate and Bill Cosby was.

–Who’s appropriate now, bitches?!

I memorized George Carlin albums. I realized that when Carlin repeated slogans from commercials that people identified with, the audience laughed.

That’s the 3rd laughter trigger; recognition.

I was beginning to understand. Now if I can only use it to get a laugh…

“Hey Jerry! What’s the Story?”

I used to get teased at school just because of my name. There was a commercial that ran on the local TV stations. It was for an appliance club store called JGE Appliances.

The commercial would feature this blue collar type guy standing in front of a wall with a sign that simply said “JGE.” He was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a hard hat.

Someone from offstage would shout, “Hey Jerry. What’s the story?”

Then in a Brooklyn accent, the hard hat guy would say, “The story is you come to JGE with the right make or model unit number you wanna buy. Show your union or civil service card at the door and you’re in, because JGE is not open to the general public. Only Union members and their families.”

Offstage Voice: “So that’s the story?”

Then he would shout: “That’s the stoooorryyyy!” He’d lean back with his arms wide and his t-shirt would rise up revealing his bare stomach.

That was the commercial.

Nobody Can Make you Feel Inferior Unless You Give Them Permission

The thing is; my name is Jerry.

At least 3 or 4 times a day, people at school would shout out, “Hey Jerry! What’s the story?”

I used to really annoy me. I hated it! It would make me feel stupid and awkward, especially when people would laugh. I felt like they were laughing at me.

My Mother said to me, “Nobody can make you feel inferior unless you give them permission.”

What could I do that wouldn’t make me feel inferior?

I did what Carlin did. I memorized the commercial. I thought if they laugh when Carlin repeats a commercials slogan, maybe they’ll laugh when I repeat the commercial too.

I practiced the commercial at home made sure I had it down. I went back to school the next day and while walking in the hall someone yelled, “Hey Jerry, what’s the story?”

In my best Brooklyn accent, I let it rip. I said, “The story is you come to JGE with the right Make or Model unit number you wanna buy, show your union or civil service card at the door and you’re in! Cuz’ JGE is not open to the general public, only to union members and their families:”

I waited.

Several people shouted in a sorry demonstration of unison: “So that’s the story?”

I said, ‘Dat’s the stooooorryyyy!!!” I raised up my shirt and showed my belly.

It got huge laughs: and you know what?

It no longer bothered me that people shouted “Hey Jerry, what’s the story?!”

I looked forward to it and I haven’t had my head in a headlock ever since.

There are always going to be haters…

Stay true, keep writing, keep practicing and beat them to the punch.

The Perfect Opportunity

east side comedy

My family moved out of New York when I was 13. Years later I went back to get into stand-up. The first club I auditioned at was East Side Comedy in Huntington, Long Island.

The club owner, Richie Minervini, was also the emcee. He said to me, “What do you want me to say about you?”

I said, “Just say, ‘This next guy is from California and his name is Jerry.'”

He said, “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Minervini brought me up. “This next guy is from California. His name is Jerry.”

I took the mic and said, “My name is Jerry.”

Some guy in the crowd said, “Hey Jerry! What’s the story?”

The crowd laughed.

I did my thing… they laughed again…

… and for the rest of the night.

Thank you, bullies!

Performing the Same Jokes Doesn’t Make it Boring

byron-valino-flappers

I just got an email from a young comedian who was worried about doing the same jokes he did last time he was on stage; “… it’s a ‘bringer show‘ and I’m expected to have 5 people there. My friends are coming and if I do the same jokes it’s going to be boring.”

I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard this.

Let me share something with you about that:

There’s nothing wrong with doing the same material you did the last time…

… as long as it’s great material!

I’ve been doing stand-up for 27 years. I work a lot. I’m constantly writing new material. But I have a core set that I’ve developed that gets a great response and often when I’m doing my hour or 90-minute show, it gets a standing ovation.

I have people come to see me who have seen me before. Sometimes they ask me to do their favorite bits. If it works into what I’m doing that road trip, I’ll pop it in.

A while back, I was doing a week in Oklahoma City and this biker walks up to me before the show and says, “Hey Man! I saw you here a while back and I want you to do that ‘Cow’ routine that you did last time. Brought the entire chapter with me. Forty of us bikers rode over an hour just to see ya.”

I looked at the table he referred to and there they were; forty bikers.

You know what? You could be damn sure I did the request!

When some random person approaches you in a club and makes a request based on what they saw the last time it should speak to you as a performer.

It says that you left an impression and, to them, the material was memorable and had an impact on them and they want to hear it again.

So guess what? You’re proabably NOT “boring” them.

Sometimes, as I’m developing my new act, someone might come up to me after a show and say, “I wish you did that bit you do about Mormons. I love that bit.”

In another example, Brian Kiley, who’s the head monologue writer over at The Conan O’Brien Show, is a local favorite in L.A. clubs.

He is often doing the exact same 7-10 minutes and you’ll hear a lot of jokes you’ve heard him do at other times.

He’s usually honing and testing the set because he has a T.V. spot coming up that he’s rehearsing for.

But here’s the cool part: whenever he’s on stage, not only is the audience laughing, but the back of the comedy club will be lined with comedians who’ve heard him before. His jokes are so strong and well-written that the comedians want to hear them again.

It’s the same reason we watch certain movies again or listen to our favorite songs, because they resonate with us and they make us laugh, cry or reminisce.

When you song search on Spotify, are you usually looking for songs you don’t know, or songs you’ve heard before and want to hear again?

When I was younger they had these things called comedy albums. (LOL!) Then they had comedy cd’s, then comedy VHS videos; now it’s DVD’s, links, netflix and YouTube.

But back in the day I had George Carlin’s albums, Richard Pryor’s, Steven Martin’s. We didn’t just listen to those albums one time, we listen to them–I don’t know–hundreds of times?

I remember Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’. I had the album and the video. I watched it over and over again. Same routine. Loved it each time. Who says we don’t want to hear the same jokes?

Just because they are the same jokes, doesn’t make them ‘lame’ jokes.

Remember, even if your friends are reluctant to laugh at they jokes they’ve heard, it doesn’t matter because the audience is always different and if the material is awesome, the people who haven’t heard it will be laughing. And I assure you, because laughter is a socially contagious experience, your friends will be laughing too.

When you’re starting out, I cannot emphasize the importance of building that core act. You should do it constantly, revise, refine and polish. Add act-outs, tags and toppers. Until it crushes.

Worrying about your friends hearing the same jokes is counter-productive to you really developing and polishing your act. Not to mention that it can have a cascading negative impact on your development.

It limits you because if you’re always doing new material you never get to ‘own’ it. Therefore you’re always somewhat in your head and never truly present and in the moment.

As a result you never come across as utterly confident and if you’re not utterly confident, nobody in television will want to book you and your friends will still experience discomfort and won’t want to come to your next show anyway.

So don’t worry so much about your friends. Throw in a new joke or two into your core set and develop an act that’s memorable.

Because when the 40 bikers ride over an hour to see your show and request their favorite bit, a bit they’ve heard before, you can be totally assured that you are NOT ‘BORING.’

Go get ’em!