The lesson I learned tonight is that university students are PC to the point that it is unnatural. These are the people posting PC crap all over Facebook! At first I was confused about my inability to connect with the crowd. I felt it from my first joke (about marriage/children).
Some of the other comedians were outright angry at the sensitivity of the audience. This was the first time any of us had performed at a college.
If comedy is indeed a “veiled attack”, then these 19 year olds don’t know comedy! But I got to thinking: If it is funny TO THEM, they will laugh. One guy got up and talked about how after eating chicken vindaloo, his “asshole was blistered”.
At the comedy rooms he never gets a huge laugh with that bit. But last night the crowd loved it. What the fuck? They seem to love descriptive vulgarity … so long as you only make fun of yourself.
Then he went on to say, “After the show I read an article in which Seinfeld says stay away from college campuses at all costs. However there is money to made at such places…
So how do we make this work?”
First, for all the brilliance that is Jerry Seinfeld, he is wrong on this. Jerry is old school and seems stuck in an era that–as far as the 18-24’s are concerned–doesn’t exist. And it seems the more interviews I watch, read or listen to with Seinfeld the more he’s turning into his stubborn old Jewish Dad on his show ‘Seinfeld.’
Due to Jerry’s celebrity, he will continue to be able to work no matter what, but if he doesn’t adjust, he runs the very real risk of becoming mainstream obsolete.
One of the things you learn as an artist, writer, musician, is that different generations have different perceptions of life, therefore their tastes for what’s considered acceptable, changes.
Change, Update or Become Obsolete
Political correctness is nothing new. I started to see this clearly about 23 years ago. Don Rickles did an appearance on Comic Relief in 1992. Rickles is the original ‘insult comic.’ But of course the crowd was filled with people who were at the event to support the benefit to raise money for the homeless and disenfranchised; a very ‘politically correct’ crowd, indeed.
Rickles spent his 7 minutes fighting several groans.
Rickles is a fast and funny comedian, but his inability to play that type of audience was evident.
Rickles showed how out of touch he was with an evolving society. Trying to explain his insults by saying, “I love the ‘blacks;'” (in fact, candidly using a politically incorrect term to explain his act), exposed him as severely dated.
He reminded me of my grandmother when I brought my friend over to dinner. She referred to him as the ‘Colored boy.’ Which was totally weird because he was Puerto Rican. (Kidding).
Being out of touch made Rickles obsolete in the mainstream. He still plays Vegas, but mostly for the crowd that fits his age group and remembers Rickles for Rickles.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold Seinfeld and Rickles in extremely high esteem. I just want to call it how I see it.
Adjust, but don’t lose your voice or your edge!
George Carlin was able to continue to fill venues and remained a college favorite until he died. He kept his voice, kept his edge but also had something for everyone. Carlin was never only one voice.
I remember him saying. “You gotta put in some observation, some wordplay, some fluff. Fluff is important to remind everyone that although you think religion is bullshit, it’s still a comedy show, so lighten the fuck up.”
At some point Carlin also, said, “I don’t give a shit what the audience thinks…” The moment Carlin groomed his act to get on Late Night T.V. and did the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine for two years, I knew as far as that statement was concerned, Carlin had to eat those words. He adjusted and chose the material that was right for that audience.
In fact, we’re all full of shit if we don’t think we care what the audience thinks. Because, at the bottom line, isn’t that why we’re on stage in the first place? If we don’t get a laugh, we figure out the joke until we do. In essence, we all pander.
But I digress…
It’s About the Audience
Yes, the college kids are overtly PC, but it’s not “ruining” comedy. As a comedian/writer you should learn the acronym M-A-P, Material-Audience-Performer. The material has to suit the performer and suit that audience. When the audience changes, the material has to adjust.
I once played a corporate in Salt Lake City. The guy who hired me said that this was a very hip group and they like to make fun of everything, (famous last words, right?).
In my act, I started doing my Mormon section of my set list, (making fun of Mormons). The audience wasn’t laughing.
Evidently, the audience that likes to make fun of everything, did not like making fun of Mormons.
I needed to figure out why this audience wasn’t laughing or I was sunk.
A guy brought up a piece of paper and I read it. It said, “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”
So I looked at the audience, read the note out loud, took my set list out of my pocket and said, “That explains why that part of my act isn’t working.” And I tore up the set list.
The audience laughed at the candid remark, (because I made fun of myself), and I went back to my act, and instead, made jokes about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They felt superior, loved it and laughed!
I adjusted my material to fit the audience, but if I took that experience and I said, “Wow whatever you do, avoid doing corporates at all costs,” because I’m unable to adjust to the crowd, I might as well get out of the business now.
Does this make sense?
My point is this: learn to work the crowd. Learn to adjust your material and shift gears so that the audience follows your trajectory.
In the email above, my student said “if comedy is, in fact a ‘veiled attack,’ then they don’t know comedy.” Allow me to talk about this briefly because comedy is a veiled attack; we’re attacking something. Even ourselves. But the key is to attack UP. Attack above yourself.
If you’re white, don’t pick on minorities
If you’re male, don’t pick on women (without recourse)
If you’re female, male, hispanic, black or other… don’t pick on Special Olympics kids.
This is a shortened version of the attack philosophy and it’s only if you don’t have a valid reason, (IE: If you’re a male don’t pick on your wife or ex unless they cheated on you or did you wrong and you share this information with the audience; now you have reason to pick on them and the audience will actually crave for you to retaliate; simple story telling.).
One reason is that he provides lot’s of self deprecation. The edgier the attack the more Tosh picks on himself. The reason he does this is to remind the audience that he really doesn’t take himself too seriously. This allows him to ‘step over the line’ then knock himself down a peg or two.
When you watch his act, you’ll see this pattern repeat. For those who are struggling with the idea that comedy have definite structure, it’s a great lesson. Tosh is masterful at this!
Second Solution: Double Down!
The second is when he does hit on something that’s politically incorrect, he doesn’t bail on it, he doubles down. He pokes at it and pokes at it until the audience (mostly 18-34 males) laugh out of the embarrassment that they shouldn’t be laughing at that joke.
They are also laughing at the ambivalence of Tosh; that Tosh doesn’t care that they didn’t laugh, (or instead, groaned), at the original joke. They audience recognizes that same ambivalence in themselves and since recognition is a top laugher trigger, they laugh.
Doubling down could be as simple as saying something like, “I’m going down this road with or without you people…” Or “Hey I’m twenty-one, this is the shit I talk about,” or “One day you’ll look back and laugh at this, like maybe the day when you actually become adults.”
The point is that all audiences have a degree of overt political correctness corrupting their ability to laugh openly at certain jokes from a comedian–
Be Unstoppable, Don’t Give up… Just figure it out!
Remember Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes? He ate it!
Did he say, “Avoid the Golden Globes at all costs?” No. He came back the very next year and had a great time making fun of the previous year’s performance!
College kids might be more PC than usual, but the object is to figure out what they laugh at, then figure out out of the stuff they laugh at what resonates with your persona, then approach your college set that way.
Go to a college show! See what the kids are relating to and write some stuff that fits your persona but also resonates with the crowd.
For the last two years. Comedian and former student, Tony Ming, produced some shows at Cal State University, Northridge.
He had five comedians doing sets for around a hundred and fifty college kids who were just starting their college careers. All of the comedians were our students…
I gotta tell you right now, none of our students bombed. That’s right, none. I’m not saying that to blow smoke up anyone’s ass. It’s just the plain truth. Each one went up on stage and had terrific sets with solid laughs every 18-20 seconds.
Their sets were all about their obstacles, and their struggles to figure stuff out.
The first year, Brian Kiley was headliner. Brian is the head monologue writer at Conan O’Brien. He performed for fifty-three minutes and EVERY JOKE WORKED!
His jokes worked despite the fact that Brian doesn’t really have any dynamic change in his emotions. His jokes are just nearly perfect in their structure.
Fifty-three minutes in front of a PC college crowd. Rocked.
The following year, I was the headliner in that same room. This time there was an even larger audience. I actually struggled with a few jokes. In my head I was like, Wait a minute. This shit kills at the clubs. What’s up? I then shifted gears, made fun of myself. Made it more interactive, (within my material), with me encountering or sharing similar obstacles with the kids in the crowd and the set went well.
Bottom line is, while still staying true to my style and my voice, I adjusted.
Because after all, this is show business. If the material doesn’t resonate with the purchaser, then, in order to survive, you have to adjust.
I learned a long time ago to approach my comedy as both an art and as a business. Most comedians miss this part of it.
Show Business is two words
Most comedians approach this business like, “Screw the audience, this is about my art.”
To a certain extent it is, but… “Show-BUSINESS” is two words and ‘business’ is usually in all CAPS.
Every performer, must understand is the the “Golden Rule,” which is: “He with the gold, makes the rules,” and if the one with the gold wants it clean or very PC then you have to be able to adjust.
You might consider having several different types of sets:
A set for the clubs (Can get blue, (use profanity or graphic sexual situations), maybe edgy, or politically incorrect)
A set for Colleges (Extra sensitivity toward being clean and very politically correct).
A set for Cruises (Two 45 minute sets; one clean, one a little edgy for the midnight show).
A set for Corporates and Fund raisers, (clean and focusing on theme and interests that usually appeal to the business or industry you are performing for).
A set for Late Night, (A set on late night is 4-minutes, 30-seconds. It’s ‘T.V. Clean’)
It’s something to consider and take seriously, because those college kids will be out of college soon and be the primary audience members of the clubs and mainstream performance venues.
A comedian interested in having longevity should adjust when necessary or resolve to becoming obsolete.
The dream is to stand on stage, hold that mic and tell your jokes, do your bits, get some laughs.
Then you usually want to do it again… and again. But after doing the mics around town and getting in more than your fair share of ‘bringer’ shows, something gnaws at you to move beyond that. You want to do it in front of a ‘real’ audience.
Some of you might even have the desire to take your act on the road for a spell.
And get paid.
So how do you do get to go on the road and get paid? In a word, the answer is ‘work.’
Getting the Gigs is About Work and Relationships
Usually in order to hit the road these days you need to have about thirty minutes of material. Being able to get up in front of an audience and do thirty minutes, a solid thirty, qualifies you to work as a ‘feature act.’ A feature act is usually the comedian who goes on after the emcee and before the headliner.
So Byron writes and he writes and he writes. He’s got all his jokes organized in his Evernote app. Every class he brings in the new material he’s working on along with some of his older stuff.
We tweak the new material, tighten the structure, clarify the associations that sometimes keep the joke from tracking clearly, we add act-outs, tags, toppers, etc.
Taking the notes from the feedback in class and adding it to the material helps the material develop faster and helps you reach your laugh-point goals. The class also gives Byron a weekly writing goal.
The second thing that Byron does well is he goes out to the mics. He mingles. He meets people. That’s how he got this gig.
In my classes, I also hook up comedians (who are ready) with some of the bookers I have relationships with, who book these gigs.
Sometimes, just a word to the booker can help that booker feel like they are making a more informed decision to book a new comedian.
Getting the gig is only one step. Now you gotta hit the road, shake off the nerves and get up on stage in a strange place with a new kind of pressure.
A Comedian Must Learn to Take Some ‘Bullets’
On the road, the feature act has to take some bullets.
In an ‘A’ comedy club, there is usually a house emcee who does about ten minutes and warms up the audience.
But in a one-niter club, it’s a little different. You’re usually in a converted bar, or showroom of some sort and the emcee is a bartender or a local guy who gets up and tells a joke or two (if you’re lucky), then introduces the feature act; sometimes in a way that barely resembles and introduction.
Most of these guys haven’t had any training, they haven’t really warmed up the audience… they just bring you up to a cold room and a cold stage. As a result, the feature comedian is now responsible for warming up the audience, getting some laughs and keeping their attention.
Sometimes it takes a few minutes; in some cases, thirty minutes.
That’s why we call it ‘taking bullets.’
But if you’ve done your work, if you’ve put in your time and you display your showmanship; never letting them see you sweat, following through with your professionalism and your ‘A’ material, then you could do really well…
… and if you’re smart, you’ll learn a thing or two.
Or a million things.
Byron Hits The Road
Mill Casino Coos Bay, Oregon
That’s what Comedy Clinic student, Bryon Valino did last week. He hit the road, went up to Oregon and performed at the Mill Casino in North Bend. His first ‘road’ gig.
The feedback was solid. He got good laughs in the early show, with the older crowd and didn’t get as many laughs in the later show, with the younger crowd.
Byron’s worked other show situations in town and out to get him prepared for the road gig. He did some college shows for Cal State Northridge and he booked a local comedy club with comedian and friend Tony Ming and they put butts in the seats and did 20-30 minutes each to get prepared.
Byron’s got some solid material. His delivery is somewhere between a version of Steven Wright and Anthony Jeselnik. It’s not fast, it’s not super edgy or tremendously energetic. But he is funny.
It’s one of those acts that needs the audience to pay attention. He’ll do great in ‘A’ clubs where the audience is there to do one thing; watch comedy, but in some of the road rooms, the comedy show is just a way to kill time, maybe get drunk before going dancing or to a party or to ‘hook up.’ In those rooms, you learn to work a lot harder.
Why Do Those Gigs?
Some people ask if those gigs aren’t as great, why do them? For that answer we might ask the mountain climber why he climbs Kilimanjaro; ‘Because it’s there.’
Those gigs give you chops. They give you a great place to practice doing your thirty. They build you stronger and faster and sharpen your instincts like nothing else. And like climbing Kilimanjaro, you could die.
In a nutshell, when you learn to play the road, you can play anywhere.
It Helps to Work with a Good Headlining Comedian
When you play the road, you come back a better performer. Instantly more seasoned and with a fire to do more, work harder and get back out there. Especially if you were lucky enough to work with a good and helpful headliner.
Bryon worked with Tommy Savitt. Tommy is an award-winning comedian who’s been on the road almost as long as I have. Tommy has done T.V. and toured all over the world. Tommy’s got chops. He’s also got compassion and he chatted with Byron both before and after his sets.
So Byron did the work, developed his set, hit the road and did his thirty minutes.
Can’t wait to see him again in class. He’ll be sharper, stronger, fearless and ready to develop more material. Because something tells me he’s got a new goal; to get to sixty minutes.
You Rock, Byron! Keep up the solid work, soon it will be your name on the Marquis!
Take a moment to leave a comment below and send a shout out to Byron!
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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. â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 themâ€”or put them to sleepâ€”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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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-oldâ€”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 â€“ 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!
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 performanceâ€”which got a decent response, from the audienceâ€”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 anyoneâ€”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.