Ever go on a road trip with friends or family. You leave at a certain time and you expect to arrive at a certain time. So in your head you plan what happens when you get there.
If you’re going skiing, you know you’ll have time to stop at your favorite restaurant before you head up to the slopes.
If you’re camping you know you’ll have time to pitch the tent, get the fire going, cook some grub and crack a beer. But then…
Traffic stops. It doesn’t even move. There’s no off ramp. Other people are shutting off their cars. Truckers are getting out of their cabs. That’s never a good sign.
It’s a momentum killer.
That’s what happens when you stop taking action in your career.
When I started in show business, I was an actor. I had the fortunate experience of watching my Dad go through his career as an actor. There were ups and downs. Sometimes the downs were really down.
There were slow periods followed by an actor’s strike then a writer’s strike. My parents had to sell their house during that one.
Eventually my Dad hit the big job. A series regular on a show called “Murphy Brown.” Which was a top 10 show for many years. He was on that show for 10 years. The struggle paid off and he and my mom were set for life.
But the downs were brutal.
I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me.” Now it’s one thing to say that in a matter of wishful thinking and it’s another to take action. So right after I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me,” I said, “How can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?”
In my 20’s I had flaming red hair. I was booking commercials like crazy. Then at some point, my hair started to recede. I wasn’t booking as many as before.
One of my casting directors, Sheila Manning, said, “We love you Jerry, but with that baby face and receding hairline, we just don’t know where to cast you.”
I was suffering the Ron Howard effect.
Some if you will be too young to understand this, but Ron Howard was an actor before he was a director and producer. He had–and still has–a baby face and is completely bald on top. It was hard to cast him with that look. He knew it, so he did a lateral move into directing.
I thank my lucky stars for Sheila Manning, her support and her honesty made me understand that it wasn’t my acting and that I had to figure out a solution to be able to make money without giving up on my creativity.
I thought was else can I do and still be in show business?
I saw an ad for a comedy class and I enrolled. I learned some joke writing concepts.
I eventually left the class because the teacher yelled at me for helping a fellow student.
I know, weird right?
Immediately I started to go to open mics, then I studied all the comedians who made me laugh. I mean really broke it down. I applied 4-8 hours per day to writing jokes and studying comedians.
Then went to 7-10 open mics a week. I noticed that all the comedians I liked had a definite structure to their material. I counted the amount of laughs they got per minute and what triggered the laugh.
I noticed that out of the 20 comedians I was studying, there were definite patterns.
I studied The Tonight Show and the monologue. Recorded the shows. I wrote down the monologue jokes word for word and studied them.
I again noticed repeating patterns in the writing.
I started to write the first parts of the jokes and write my own punchlines. (I never used them, but it was great practice).
Soon I was writing jokes right from the news. At first I struggled with them.
Then I figured the structure and subsequently a process to writing everyday.
The process was paramount!
The process became a system of steps that I applied each day to writing current event jokes. I got this idea when I was learning more about computers.
I figured since I was going to be working a lot with computers, I should know something about how they work. One of the earliest explanations I read was that a computer executes a series of steps automatically to power up and that those steps occur each and every time.
And the computer did this no matter who turned it on or what mood that person was in.
So I realized that if I could apply this process to my joke writing.
Sort of a step1-step 2-step 3=Joke.
Eventually, I started to write jokes on automatic and I was writing a lot of them. Sometimes I’d get really edgy with the jokes and I knew they weren’t right for The Tonight Show, but I went to the Comedy Store and I gave it to a comedian, l (can’t mention his name contractually), whose voice I thought it fit. He did the joke, it got a laugh; a really big laugh!
He said he would buy the joke from me.
I learned I could write more jokes and sell them to other comedians and other places that bought jokes.
Sometimes I would just give jokes away to other comedians I knew couldn’t afford to buy them. That only helped to enhance and spread my reputation as a good joke writer.
Greeting card companies, radio syndicates, other comedians. The more I wrote, the more I sold. Then through reputation people started calling me to write material for them.
I was still performing in the clubs at night. One day I got a call from Jay Leno. He had just started doing The Tonight Show.
He tested me right on the phone! Told me a headline from the news that morning and asked me what I would do on that?
Little did he know, I was up that morning writing my jokes and I just happened to write a joke on that exact headline he gave me!
I told him the joke. He laughed. Then hired me on the spot as a contributing writer to The Tonight Show.
Some people say it was “luck.” But really? What is luck? Luck is opportunity meets preparedness!
And that comes from getting busy and staying busy. Setting goals and going for them. Creating a process and a routine so you don’t have to wait for inspiration, instead you can create inspiration. Then taking action so you can avoid killing the momentum in your career.
If you’re good you will work, but you gotta get to work. You’ve got to take action.
Have you ever lost a writing document on your computer after spending hours revising it? You look and look and for the life of you, you cannot find that document!
Few things are more frustrating, except…
Losing years worth of writing documents when a hard drive crashes.
Or have you ever been out and about and a friend calls and needs a copy of a revision of a document? Or a spreadsheet or a presentation? And you wind up saying something like, “I’ll get it out to you as soon as I get back to my computer…”
Or have you ever wanted to collaborate on writing with someone and you get confused about sending each other drafts of each other’s work and you get confused about which draft you’re on or who wrote what?
Or finally… do you hate typing? Do you wish there was a way you could talk and your own personal stenographer would record it and type up all the pages and send them to you?
Well, what if I told you that I have a tool that will solve all those problems. Better yet, what if I told you that the solution was 100% free?
That’s the subject of the video I have for you today. It’s 7-minutes. It will help you see how you can use this very tool and it’s right under your nose every day.
This tool will help you totally improve your writing efficiency, get more efficient, never lose documents and collaborate with anyone in real time. I think you’ll dig it! Check out the video below, then leave me a comment and tell me how you think it might help you be more efficient with your writing!
Just think about it, late night used to sit in a quiet corner of the T.V. scheduled at 11:30. It was the program that people watched after the nightly news and before they went to bed.
Now it’s almost glamorous! There’s a news story pretty much every day about the genre, segments and sketches go viral (like with this ‘new’ opening for Late Night with Seth Meyers), and the hosts get splashed across the front page of Vanity Fair, arguably the elite of celebrity culture magazines.
As the news about Late Night Comedy proliferates in the media, I’ve been receiving more questions. The most common question is: How do you get into Late Night TV Comedy Writing?
You’re going to have a love-hate feeling about how simple the answer is.
It’s… (sound of drum roll, then Tympani, building with urgency to a climactic… pathetic-sound-effect of a fart )…
Ouch. Right? I know there are a ton of people reading this that just checked out. Which explains why there are so few people that actually make it in Late Night TV comedy writing.
As a writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno for 8 years, where I wrote 80-120 jokes a day, I kinda know how much work it is.
But it’s not really work.
There’s an old saying. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. So if you’re writing jokes, it’s not really work is it?
But I know you’re probably reading this to get better answers and I know most people look for a process or steps to help them succeed so I’m going to do my best to map that out for you based on what I did and saw others do.
Step 1: Treat yourself like a professional NOW.
This is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received–besides “You should trim down there!”
The advice was told to me by my comedy writing coach, Gene Perret, (Emmy-award winning comedy writer).
So what does treating yourself like a professional NOW actually mean? To me that meant that I designed a schedule like I was going to work.
Right now, do you have a day job? Do they give you a schedule so you know what days and times you are working? Do you diligently show up at those designated times? Go to lunch at the designated time and leave at the designated time?
If you answered ‘yes’ to that question, now ask yourself if you do the same for your writing career? Or do you just write by some kind of divine inspiration?
If you leave it to divine inspiration that’s fine, but you can’t depend on that inspiration. That type of inspiration is fleeting.
But if you set up a schedule, just like your work schedule, and you report to work on that schedule where you assign yourself writing tasks and goals, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you develop as a writer. And if you develop a process for writing you will begin to realize that it is much more productive to create inspiration than to wait for inspiration.
When I decided I was going to break into comedy and write for Late Night and do stand up, I set up a schedule. I actually put this in my date book like it was my schedule for work.
From 7-11am every day I wrote jokes from the newspaper and CNN. My goal was to start with 30-40 jokes a day.
At first, I STRUGGLED to hit that goal. But after a month of consistent writing, I started hitting and surpassing that goal.
Step 2: Give daily assignments to yourself:
There’s nothing worse than sitting in front of your computer or notebook with nothing. I would set goals to write 30-40 late night (current event) monologue jokes, one sketch and one Top 10 List. The next day I might assign myself, 30-40 monologue jokes, one parody, and a desk piece and so on…
If I couldn’t think of anything to write, I would look at my recordings on my VCR (shut up! :-)) and I would write down all the jokes that David Letterman did, then try to make them funnier.
Giving yourself direction and goals is one of the best ways to crush writer’s block. Because, you know your task and you sit down to write it. Often I would assign it the day before and go to sleep at night knowing what I had to do in the morning. It helped me wake up with direction and believe it or not the subconscious gets your mind in gear while you sleep!
Step 3: Target the late night show you want to write for and watch
Believe it or not, this is a step a lot of writer’s miss. They just write jokes, but if you watch your shows and study the hosts, you’ll notice that not all hosts do all types of jokes and that their rhythms are different.
Kimmel will do a different style of joke than Fallon. Colbert will do different jokes than James Corden and if you notice from the above video, Seth Meyers might be scrapping the monologue entirely an opening with a ‘Weekend Update’-style, mock news delivery of jokes which includes more ‘drop-ins.’ (jokes that utilize visual imagery to pop the laugh).
Once you know what host uses what style and rhythm it will also make your writing more efficient.
Check your jokes against the hosts. Write their jokes out. Feel the rhythm of their jokes, study the mechanics and see how it compares to yours. Their jokes will usually start out being more economical and less wordy. This process will help you to really get more efficient.
Test your jokes with your friends or at the clubs and mics.
Step 4: Put together a submission packet
Once you become a proficient joke writer and it shouldn’t take long if you do it consistently, then you can feel like you’ve developed the chops to write for Late Night TV.
Once you feel confident about your work, put together a submission packet.
For the most part a writing packet should contain 2 pages of monologue jokes, a desk piece, and a sketch.
The details are too long and out of the scope of this blog post.
In the end it’s…
It’s All About Luck
In this business they often say, “it’s all about luck.” Some people equate that to ‘chance.’ I prefer to say, ‘Luck’ is opportunity meets preparedness. If you’re prepared and the opportunity arises, you’ll be the one who has the luck.
I’ve been very fortunate in my personal and professional life. I did my first acting job when I was eighteen months old, played on a professional soccer team at 19 years old (for a short period of time because I… sucked.), played in a very cool horn band, (I played the trombone), appeared in a lot of commercials in my twenties, I transitioned into comedy and comedy writing, I played the road for years, (many years 43 weeks a year), I wrote for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno for eight years.
I founded a school that teaches comedy writing, stand-up and improv, develops comedians and gets them working.
I recently evolved and transitioned and added another Me and created, executive produced and co-wrote a major motion picture called Stretch (a comedy-action-thriller), which had a star-studded cast.
Oh and I helped raise a terrific group of kids (most in college, but still with a 15-year-old and 4-year-old).
I did and continue to do, because I keep moving, keep learning and keep innovating.
There were plenty of backslides and points of desperation, (failed relationships, dry spells, periods of lower income, etc.)…
But, one of the things I remind myself of is that that this life is constant. In order to achieve success, you must constantly and continuously reinvent yourself.
One of the most frequent questions people ask is “what’s the secret to success?”
I know this: there is not one secret. But I do know one secret and that secret I learned from Tony Robbins, (who, by the way, got it from Dale Carnegie, who got it from Napolean Hill, who got it from… you get the point).
Tony said, “Find out what the successful people are doing, copy it and you will be successful.”
Which leads me to this post. It’s a little inspiration from Jack Cheng, (www.jackcheng.com). It’s called “The Better You.”
If it inspires you, leave me a comment. Share it. Go forth and conquer!
THE BETTER YOU
by Jack Cheng
Someone is sitting at your desk. There is something familiar about this person. From a distance, this person bears a striking resemblance to you: they have the same frame, the same face, the same features as you. But as you get closer, you begin to notice subtle differences between this person and yourself.
They look like they eat healthier and exercise a little more regularly. Their posture is slightly better and their clothes have fewer wrinkles.
This person is the Better You.
The Better You knows the same things you know. They’ve had the same successes you’ve had, and they’ve made the same mistakes.
They strive for the same virtues and falter to the same vices. The Better You procrastinates, too. The Better You is not perfect. But the difference between you and the Better You is that the latter reacts a little faster, with a little more willpower. They practice their virtues a little more often and succumb to their vices a little less often. They rein in their procrastination a little quicker. They start their work a little earlier. They know when to take a break a little sooner.
The Better You knows, just as you know, that doing what you love is difficult but worthwhile. They know, just as you know, that the difficulty is what makes it worthwhile in the first place. They know, as you know, that if everything was easy, nothing would have significance, and you wouldn’t need to adopt new metaphors or read new books about how to do the work you should be doing.
The Better You is your believable possible. Your believable possible is your potential in any given moment, the person you know at your very core that you are capable of being at this instant. Your believable possible exists at the edge of your perceived ability. Your believable possible is frightening and uncomfortable, but not to the point of paralysis. Your believable possible is just uncomfortable enough.
We all have different believable possibles. Bruce Lee’s believable possible was being the most dangerous man in the world. Muhammad Al’s was being the greatest boxer of all time. Your own believable possible maybe slightly less ambitious. But only you know what your own believable possible is.
The Better You is not a fixed, singular being. The Better You springs new from each moment, is born and dies with each action you take. Each action creates a new set of possibilities. The Better You is an alternate dynamic present, rather than a fixed, static past.
Measuring yourself against the Better You is no mere matter of racing to beat the person you were the day before. Instead, you’re racing to keep up with the person you could be right now.
The Better You wants you to meet them where they are. The Better You is the ant that has strayed from the colony and discovered a source of food.
The Better You knows the way. It says: follow me. And even when there is no food in sight, you know where the trail will take you in the end. The Better You will never lead you astray. So you follow the trail. You sit at the desk and place your hands on your tools—on your keyboard and mouse, your notebook and pen, your palette and brush—and you start on your way.
There are the rare moments of alignment, moments when you reunite with the Better You, when you match the Better You move for move. They are sitting at the desk and working and writing and sketching, and you are sitting at the same desk and working and writing and sketching.
You and the Better You are occupying the same physical space and the same mental space. You are completely engaged in the work before you. And when you are doing the work you should be doing, the work the Better You is doing, you become whole, fully there.
The joy of alignment makes alignment more frequent, and as alignment becomes more frequent, something interesting happens: you begin to see a different person, a better Better You. The new Better You is slightly out of reach, just as the old one was, because there is no limit to Better.
Better is the mechanized rabbit on the rail at a greyhound race. Better is propelled by motors and microprocessors and magic and things our dog-brains cannot comprehend, our dog-bodies cannot outrun.But the Better You knows, just as you know, that the thrill is in the chase, that happiness is motion, and that fulfillment is the constant striving for that which is just beyond our reach.
The Better You knows this is the way it has always been, and the way it always will be. And you know it, too.
JACK CHENG is writer, designer, and entrepreneur based in Brooklyn. He is the author of These Days, o novel about the human side of technology, published in spring 2013.