Top 10 Tips for Performing in Comedy Competitions2

Comedy competitions are a great way to get your name out there, meet other comics and industry professionals and develop a thick, professional skin. By that I mean that you’ll develop a bullet-proof, confidence when it comes to auditions and higher-stakes performances. Here are some tips that may help you have a better grasp on how to handle these events:

•    PREPARE A TIGHT TWO MINUTES: Most major competitions, including television’s “America’s Got Talent” and “Last Comic Standing,” give you two minutes to perform in the preliminary rounds. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but if you can write and perform a set that returns approximately 10 laughs in that time, you’ll be in the running. That breaks down to a laugh every 15 seconds or so. Don’t let that fool you. It doesn’t mean that you have to do a joke every 15 seconds, it means that in the overall two minutes, it’ll average out to that. The trick is that you structure your set so that you have tags and act-outs that follow your punch lines. With this structure one joke can generate two, three or four laughs, if not more sometimes. If you’re doing other commercial comedy competitions, sometimes you might have five minutes in the prelims. Know your time and know how to finish.

•    BE UNIQUE: Do material that has a unique or original point of view. You are competing against a lot of comedians. Find out what others are doing and do something, ANYTHING different. I’ve sat in the judges seat numerous times. When you see the same stuff over and over it not only gets boring, it will have a negative impact on your score.

•    M.A.P.: stands for MATERIAL-AUDIENCE-PERFORMER. Your material must suit the audience and the performer. Do material that defines YOU. Also groom your material to fit the competition. For example if you are competing for a broadcast television competition, you know that the material must be “television-clean.” Best way to determine this is to YouTube comedians who appear on the Tonight Show and other late night shows and make note of where they draw the line with their material. What’s acceptable innuendo, etc. It’s not only words that get cut by the censors, certain themes are also deemed inappropriate for broadcast T.V. For example if you think you’re clean and you end your set with “…so I went to my room and jerked off!” You’re not going to get on national T.V. and you probably will not make it through the preliminary rounds.

•    BE PROFESSIONAL: seems like a pretty obvious tip. But you would be amazed at how many people behave unprofessionally at these events. From showing up drunk or high to arguing with event coordinators over trivial matters, these behaviors reflect on your professionalism and will definitely reflect on your ability to succeed in a competition. Sometimes competitions come with inconveniences (whether it’s waiting in long lines, cattle calls, dealing with disorganization, etc.) be as cordial as possible and be the guy/girl who can help with the situation rather than hinder it. The organizers discuss the event with each other and if your name comes up and you’re referred to as the “asshole who didn’t want to wait in line,” then guess who’s not moving to the quarters or the semis? Perception is everything. When people don’t know you by reputation all they have is the first impression you give them. You are performing from the moment you fill out that entry form and submit your video so do it as professionally as possible.

•    BE SUPPORTIVE: You are not only involved in a competition to win it, you are also in it to meet and network with other professionals. If you are supportive and friendly, odds are you’ll walk away from the competition with some connections to other future gigs. So do yourself a favor and stay positive and helpful. Don’t walk around bitching about how they could’ve done something better. It’ll usually get around pretty quickly and you’ll be labeled uncooperative. top10

•    SUBMIT QUALITY VIDEO: Back to first impressions. If the competition has you submitting video, submit the best quality you have. Make sure the sound level is good and you can be understood and make sure the video seems reasonably professional. Don’t submit something you shot in front of your fireplace. (Don’t laugh, it’s been done!). Submit something that has been preferably shot in front of a live audience (as opposed to a dead one!) and best reflects the professional image you want to put forth. Also don’t forget–or if you didn’t know–Apple’s iPad and iPhone don’t read flash video, so if you are hosting your own video you need to post it as a .mp4 so that it can be read and playable on those Apple products. If you need FREE video conversion software, visit my post here.

•    FOLLOW THE RULES: All comedy competitions come with rules and terms. A polite piece of advice–READ THEM! It’s called the fine print. Know right off the bat what you’re getting into and what the terms are. You don’t want to get there and realize that you’re not prepared or that you didn’t meet the criteria. For example if they wanted a set to be 2 minutes only. Then you better keep to the time. I don’t care how funny you are, if you break the rules, the organizers will most likely disqualify you. Don’t lose on a technicality. Follow the rules.

•    FIND OUT ABOUT THE LIGHT: If you don’t know about the light by now, read this. The light is how the comedy club organizers signal the performer that his/her time is up. Find out where the light is and what procedure they are following. Is the light a flashlight as they might use at Zanies in Chicago? Or is it a light that’s fixed near the back of the room, like at the Improv in Los Angeles? Or is it a picture or neon that illuminates, like at the Comedy Store in L.A.? Know what the light is and when they turn it on. Do they give you a minute light, 30-second light? You are much better knowing this information up front. You don’t what that on your mind when you are performing.

•    HAVE FUN!: This is very important. When you do a competition, have a good time. It’s a long-shot that you are going to win. The more competitions you do, the more you improve, the higher your odds. So while you’re there, have a good time. You’ll enjoy it more. It will reflect in your professionalism and it leaves your mind in a better state to identify and create new material. Who knows?  While your involved in the competition you might find yourself with a new comedy bit. Five new minutes on doing comedy competitions!

•    SEND A “THANK YOU” TO THE ORGANIZERS – Always send a thank you note to the organizers of the comedy competitions. As trivial as this sounds, it’s always good to stay in their good graces. Most organizers for comedy competitions usually run clubs or maintain other booking responsibilities. If you send them a thank you note with a card that has your picture, you’re keeping your face in front of them. They’ll probably look at it and say, “that was cool.” It doesn’t  always convert to work. But it’s better to be remembered as “cool,” because if you stay at it in this business, you will run into those people again.

How To Be A Funny Girl

Here’s another entry into my blog on How to be a funny girl. Why would I bother writing about something like this? Because this business is hungry for funny women! In my opinion there are not enough funny women in comedy. I’ve seen a trend toward an increasing amount recently, but overall there are still not enough funny girls.

In my workshops, I’ve had more women attending lately. I think it’s awesome for a funny girl to hit the stage and make us all laugh. Why? Because ,you begin to learn that women have a different perspective on life and you get to hear them pour out their souls on stage and make it funny.

One of my favorite funny women is Paula Poundstone. She knows how to be a funny girl. She shared her struggles (joking about her suicide attempt), and she shared her quirky observations, (why you have to eat Pop Tarts in two’s).

Most funny girls are either funny and clean or they are edgy and blue. It’s fun when you can get a funny girl that can combine both. 

On this blog I’m going to share one of my new favorite funny girls, this funny girl does just that. This girl knows how to be funny. She’s one of my students at The Stand Up Comedy Clinic. Her name is Pauline Yasuda and she’s one funny girl. During my 8 week course she would bring in a new 5-7 minute act almost every week. We would tweak them with suggestions and heighten the laugh points by clarifying the imagery. But other than a couple of word suggestions and enhancing certain associations in the material, the humor was already present.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch the video for yourself and leave a comment if you think Pauline knows how to be a funny girl.

What’s So Funny?

Years ago, when I was first starting in comedy, I worked with a headliner comedian who said he hadn’t written a new joke in 11 years. Why do so many comedians and comedy writers have such a difficult time writing material? Are you one of those comedians? Do you write everyday? Do you have a difficult time coming up with stuff that’s funny? That might be your dilemma.

What?!

Yeah, that right there! That might be your dilemma; you are trying to come up with something “Funny.”

A comedian or comedy writer doesn’t just come up with something funny, he’s able to take just about anything and turn it into something funny. See the difference? When you sit down to write; you look at the news, read the N.Y. Times, look at the headlines on the internet. Do you ask yourself, “What’s so funny?” What’s funny? Nothing is funny, because most news reports the facts. (I said most because, well, there’s FOX). But what do you do with something that’s not supposed to be funny? The answer is: you do your job. It’s your job to turn it into something that is funny and you do that in comedy by applying comedic formulas.

Two guys walk into a bar…

I come from a large family…

My father was a bastard…

I’m Irish and American Indian…

I have five kids…

Millions of fish washed up in the harbor around Redondo Beach…

On the face of it are any of these lines funny? If you said yes, you’re either really damn funny or your need your head examined! Either way, both are great qualities for being a comedian…

At first glance, those lines are not funny. They don’t read funny. So, what’s so funny?

What’s funny is that you can take these lines and easily turn them into something that is funny. First, you have to understand the basics of what makes people laugh [link]. Once you understand that, you can start to apply the basic comedy formulas. They are basic, but they are so powerful that, when used correctly, they can trigger the laughter from an audience and that’s what you’re looking for as a comic.

I’ll take these lines and use two comedic formulas (Incongruity or The Reverse) to make the lines funny by doing a take-off (commenting on the sentence).

First, if we know that surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter, then we know we have to try to get into the head of the listener. Let’s look at the first line:

Two guys walk into a bar. In the listener’s head, what are they thinking? What kind of bar? A bar that serves liquor would probably be the best assumption right? So let’s change the meaning of the word “bar.” What if we changed the meaning of the word bar to like a post or a steel bar that’s hanging so low that we would bump our heads on it if we didn’t duck. Now how does the line read?

Two guys walk into a bar…which is kind of stupid, cuz’ if the first one hits it, the next one’s gonna see it, right?

See what we did there? We shattered the audience’s assumption of the meaning of the word ‘bar.’ And came up with something funny. So if we look at the other lines we might have:

I come from a large family…four moms, five dads.

My father was a bastard…he wasn’t a bad guy, he just didn’t know his father.

I’m Irish and American Indian… you know what that means; I pretty much have V.I.P. seats waiting for me at any A.A. meeting.

I have five kids… so I’m half-Mormon…

Millions of fish washed up in the Harbor around Redondo Beach… There’s good news and bad news; The bad news is it’s going to take weeks to clean that up that mess. The good news is: Now the common man knows what it smells like when Kirsti Alley sunbathes nude.

So instead of looking for something funny to write, just find something and turn it into something funny.

Then when someone asks, “What’s so funny?” You’ll be able to say, “Me!”

How To Be A Famous Comedian | Letterman Jabs Leno…

People often ask me how Jay Leno is viewed in the public eye. I don’t like to talk unfavorably about anyone (that’s a lie), but here’s Letterman taking a jab. Notice how much he enjoyed the poke…

It’s fun to watch Letterman have some fun with this!

How To Be A Comedian-Actor and Book More Gigs

What do I mean by “comedian-actor?” Well in my years as an actor/comedian I’ve never seen the acting business be so competitive as it is today. My actor friends are constantly complaining—and rightly so—that they’re not working as much as they used to. Nobody is really. There are valid reasons for that: more reality television, less scripted, would be one reason. But another reason is competition.

Think about it, years ago we used to be submitted to jobs by our agents who used a messenger to drop off headshots and resumes at casting offices. We were usually up against anywhere from 100 to 600 other actors for one job.

Now, everything is done electronically. Submissions are done with the click of a mouse and we now find ourselves competing with 1200 to 1600 submissions and more. How do you stand out? One suggestion: Don’t just stand out, Stand Up!

That’s right. I studied acting for many years both in New York and L.A. My father was a successful character actor for 60 years and I learned that you could be out of work for a stretch. That was why I originally started doing stand up. So I could work when I “wasn’t working.”

I found that doing comedy kept me busy and also kept me on the radars of casting directors I had built relationships with…

Why? Because, for the most part, industry decision-makers revere comedians. They have enormous respect for what we do, partly because they fear doing it themselves. When a casting director, creative director or rep sees you doing comedy and having a good set, they equate that laughter to laughter coming from an audience in a movie theatre or a living room. It’s quite powerful…as Dick Cook, former Chairman of Disney said, “Funny is money.”

I’ve had several actors take my course and wind up getting some great traction in their careers. Several have booked jobs or gotten agents. One of my favorite stories is Michelle Gomez (above). She took my class, I helped her develop a 10-minute comedy routine that she performed at the Comedy Store. She had a lot of industry attend and she wound up booking 2 pilots. And in the year prior, she couldn’t get arrested!

After she booked the pilots she sent an email to me that said, “Jerry, thank you for single-handedly restoring my confidence…”  That is a lovely compliment, yes?

What’s my point? Stand Up Comedy is an excellent showcase for an actor. It shows that you have confidence and poise and shows that you can deliver the goods and get laughs…and after all, funny is money, right?