Ira Glass on The Creative Process

Ira Glass on the Creative Process

Do It Again and Again…and Again…

This post was shared by student Patrick Kanehann who’s followed this mantra and has continued to get better and better and better!

Ira Glass, the host of radio’s “This American Life,” shares his insight on doing what you want to do and how to get good at it.

If you truly believe you’re doing what you want to do then do it over and over and over again. And when you feel like quitting, do it some more.

It’s what I tell students in my classes. When you first start, you might not be that good. But when you keep doing it, you get better and you get better and soon you start to realize that your work begins to meet your ambition.

Take a look:

 

Leave a comment!

What are some of your stories about getting started and keeping going?

Stop Thinking Like an Employee

assembly-lineOne of my comedian friends was recently brutally upset by the fact that he had to pay an admission fee to a comedy competition to be considered for it. He failed get into one of the regional prelim competitions so he was told by the organizer that he needed to resubmit in order to be considered for other regional prelims.

He was very upset by this and felt unsatisfied when he vented his frustration to the organizer who runs the festival, so he went public. He vented his frustration on Facebook and Twitter, “exposing” the principal of this festival. In addition, he made various personal accusations and assumptions about the organizer with other comedians in the thread, slinging insults about not only how unprofessional the guy was but also about his clothing and spelling.

WTF?!

The irony being that if you’re accusing someone of being unprofessional while slinging insults about a person’s spelling, clothing, financial situation or other personal attacks, YOU are the one who is being unprofessional.

Pretty ugly.

It all boiled down to one thing. The comedian who was upset spent “seventy dollars” to not even be considered for the competition.

All around; very frustrating. I get it.

This comedian is not alone in his complaint. There are a ton of other comedians who are upset by the results of competitions and the expenditure of real dollars to get into these competitions or to go out on the road, etc.

Let me try to sort some of it out…

This is show-business. Show business is two words, there’s the “show” and there’s the “business.” This business is no different than any other business in that you have to spend money to make money. You have to speculate to accumulate. Sometimes you have to raise the money to be able to invest it in your business. How you raise the money is up to you. But spending money on an administrative fee for a competition is a necessary cost of doing business.

It’s hard for creative people to deal with that, but…

That’s the way it goes.

I remember, a number of years ago, having to pay $25 dollars to a comedy booking company for them to take the time to look at my tape. I’m old school and didn’t believe in so-called PAY-TO-PLAY. So I bitched and moaned to my wife and my parents and any one else who would listen to me about how I thought I was getting “screwed.”

But this particular booker had 25 weeks of work on their schedule. I paid the $25 dollars, didn’t get a review in the time they allotted. I submitted again, paid another $25. Same thing. I sent a letter (remember, it was before e-mail).

They sent a letter back saying that they had so many submissions, that sometimes they just can’t get to a tape before the deadline and that I would have to submit again. I did. Another $25. I was already $75 in the hole! This time they called me and offered me a week of work as a feature act. I thanked them for considering me and while I had them on the phone I said that I would be traveling all the way from Los Angeles to the East coast to do this gig. “Is there any way you could tack on a couple more weeks so I can better justify the cost of travel?” They did. (In business, it’s called an ‘upsell.’). While you have them saying ‘yes,’ get them to say “YES” again!

Sort of like doing your act. If they laugh at the punch line, tag it, top it and do an act-out, to get more laughs from one premise. Same concept.

They gave me 2 more weeks. While on the gig I met the headliner who taught me how to sell t-shirts. I had a great time, gave them solid shows. I showed up early, and I over delivered. I made it my goal to give them the best shows that I was capable of. Then I called their assistant, asked what kind of wine they drank and sent them a “thank-you” case of Merlot; $110. They called me, thanked me for the wine and booked be for 10 more weeks that year.

In total I spent $75 on the submission, $110 on the wine. That’s $185.

That year according to the W-9 I received from them, I made $8250.00. Not a ton of money, but remember I was working as a feature act.

Most Comedians Think Like Employees

Was it worth it for me to spend $75 for the submission, then $110 for the wine? You bet!

But most comedians don’t think this way. In fact, most comedians lack even basic business acumen. Because most comedians think like EMPLOYEES.

How many comedians know the average profit margin of the average business? How many know the definition of cost-basis? I’d bet that there’s not many. Because traditionally our experience is as an employee. Why should I have to spend money in order to get paid?

But you’re not an employee, you’re a business. So it’s time to start thinking the way businesses think. And that’s profit margin and cost-basis.

A quick “ALT-TAB” over to Yahoo Finance, will tell you that the overall average profit margin of all the industries listed is 7.8 percent. What?! 7.8 percent net profit margin?!

After investing $185 in the booker, (all tax deductible, don’t ya know), I made approximately 45 times what I spent. That, by the way, puts all industries listed on the stock exchange to shame in terms of profit.

Would I have earned that if I just bitched about it?

So suck it up, guys. You may have gotten into comedy to skirt the system or not do a nine-to-five or get out of the “rat-race,” Not participate in the business world.

But here’s the reality: You are not only in the business world. YOU are the BUSINESS!

The beauty of it is, is that the business is COMEDY! Hell yeah!

Tune in, tune up, and kick ass!

Have any ideas you can share with how you make a living? Love to hear them!

Not Everyone Peaks in Their Twenties

About six years ago, I was at the famous Friars Club in Beverly Hills. It was showcase night. One of the main bookers from the Montreal Comedy Festival was in L.A. to scout comics for “Just For Laughs,” the biggest comedy festival in America.

All the comics were buzzing about it.

“’The Guy’ from Montreal is here!”

Each comedian was supposed to do 10 minutes. I was sixth in the lineup.

When I was announced, I went up there and knocked out my set.

It got a really good response.

It had a socio-political flavor.

It was fresh and edgy and funny.

When I was done, I felt great about it. I was sure I would get a nod.

‘The Guy’ talked to other comics, then approached me. He had those tired eyes, but he looked friendly.

In a kind and authoritative voice, he said these words, “Hi Jerry. I want to thank you for one of the best showcases I’ve seen this week… Really. I’ve seen maybe two-hundred comics…”

In that moment, I was absolutely flabbergasted. (And I didn’t even know that people still got ‘flabbergasted.’)

That’s a pretty powerful statement,’ I thought to myself. I also thought, “Holy shit. I’m in!”

Then the booker finished what he was saying. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “…but you’re too old.”

You know what I wanted to do at that point? I wanted to punch him in the head and say, “Well, now you’ll have to go back to Canada and tell everyone that you got knocked out by an old dude.”

I felt defeated. But it’s not the first time I heard “No,” and it’s not going to be the last.

I wanted to argue with him, but I learned a long time ago that when a decision has been made, “No” means “No.” And not just in dating!

I heard that same answer two years prior with the Aspen Comedy Festival, for the same reason. ‘The Guy’ for that festival had said that to my manager.

‘The Guy’ for that festival was a Gal!

But in the years following that “No,” I made more money in this business than I had in any of the priors years.

It’s because I decided that I’m wasn’t going to depend on ‘The Guy’ to decide the fate of my success.

I got out and I got to work. I booked my own gigs, made my own calls in the corporate comedy world and built a reputation within that national environment.  The wonderful thing about corporate is so many of  ‘The Guys’ know all of the other ‘Guys.’  So much of my work eventually came by referral… and still does.

Network & Television

Executives and Talent Coordinators with the Networks and Festivals are skewing younger and younger.

Why?

It’s money. This is a business driven by money. The networks and festivals are looking for sponsors; the sponsors most coveted demographic is the 18-34 male.

That’s who they want as their audience. They tend to be more spontaneous buyers and if the advertisers hook them at the younger end of that spectrum, they can build brand loyalty and have a customer for life.

In their business world, it makes sense. I get it.

But here’s where their “algorithm” falls apart:

The talent coordinators and executives who are responsible for booking the talent, equate the 18-34 demo with 18-34 talent. That means that they believe that the 18-34 male audience they want so desperately to watch their shows, will watch the shows if and when the talent is also 18-34.

Not so.

Especially in comedy.

The #1 Late Night show in television for the first quarter of 2013 was “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Jon Stewart (The King of Comedic Irony) turns 51 this year. That’s almost twice the average age of the networks coveted demo.

Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report” is the #2 Ranked Late Night show. Mr. Colbert turns 49 on May 13th.

But it doesn’t stop there. If we look back at the highest rated shows in television (even if you adjust the numbers for new channels and cable), the average age of the talent is nowhere near the age of the executives coveted 18-34 demo.

Let’s take a look. These are the top 10 rated series in the U.S. of all time:

[gn_nivo_slider source="post" link="image" size="500x300" limit="10" effect="fold" speed="600" delay="6000"]

Since the slider does not show it, here are the shows in order of most successful:

  1. M*A*S*H*
  2. Cheers
  3. Seinfeld
  4. Friends*
  5. Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
  6. The Cosby Show
  7. All In The Family
  8. Family Ties
  9. Home Improvement
  10. Frasier

*Friends of course DID fit that demo. But if we were to list the top 20 shows, residing at number 17 is “Golden Girls,” where the average age was just short of  Hospice. That show would negate the demo of “Friends” three times over.

Count in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and you’ll probably agree that the age of the talent is not how the business should be skewed if you want to attract your coveted 18-34 demographic.

It boils down to “funny.” If it’s funny, they will watch.

So, as those of us who have been called “too old” still make them laugh in the clubs and in corporate and cruise environments, maybe ‘The Guy’ will finally pull head out of his ass, look at the evidence that is right in front of him and start booking more talent, based on talent, rather than when they were born.

What does this mean for you?

Well if you’re feeling over the hill, (past 34), keep working, keep making them laugh. Opportunities are everywhere and if you light your own fire, you can work til you drop and love it every step of the way.

In the famous words of Frank Sinatra “I did it my way…” and I would add: And I didn’t have to depend on ‘The Guy.’

 

Tom Hanks Drops An “F Bomb” on G.M.A.

tom hanksWell, I’ve been saying it for years… ‘Good Morning America and Elizabeth Vargas could use a good F*ck."

That would definitely help with the ratings! And what better person to deliver it than the always lovable, Tom Hanks. Yep, ‘THE’ Tom Hanks. The one that all of America adores.

He was making an appearance to pimp his new movie ‘Cloud Atlas,’ where he plays like 75 characters, (Awesome trailer, by the way).

Host Elizabeth Vargas asked him to do one of the characters from the movie.

Tom actually warned that it is mostly "swear words," but Tom is a man of action–and evidently fatigue–because he lit into the accent and within seven words BAM! The F-Bomb drops right dead center in the middle of G.M.A.’s morning broadcast!

All I have to say is that the entire Eastern time zone (viewing it live), needed one less cup of coffee to launch their day.

T.M.Z. and all subsequent broadcast points got the feed with the offending word bleeped out. (Watch the UNEDITED VERSION below).

And it even feels weird calling the word ‘offending.’ Tom Hanks can make anything sound charming.

Comedians deal with this dilemma all the time. On radio, on T.V., we’re asked to give the audience a slice of our act and once in a great while, there could be a slip-up.

Normally, I know exactly what I’m going to do when I appear on radio or T.V. I actually outline techniques for radio interviews for comedians. But I remember it happened to me while we were live on the radio. It was actually a comment about President Bush and I was in Arkansas. Who do you think got hecklers at the show that night?! Smile

What do you do when you slip like that? You do exactly what Tom Hanks did. With charm and shock, apologize to the people who were listening and be sincere. Watch and learn because Tom Hanks teaches a valuable lesson.

America will forgive Tom Hanks and if you handle it right, the listeners or viewers will forgive you too.

Watch the video here:

How To Be A Comedian | Getting the Work

mic_mp720x480After a terrific graduation showcase for one of my classes this week, I sent out an email congratulating everyone on a job well done.

One of my students sent me an email: “The compliments are nice, but when does it translate into a paid gig?”

That’s a great question and is one of the most burning questions comedians have who are starting out in this business.

The hard and fast reality is this: It NEVER “translates” into a paid gig! Let’s get this straight…

No one will ever walk up to you after you do a random showcase and offer you a job. If it does happen, then it will be a rare occasion indeed.

I have had students who have showcased and got approached by managers or agents and developed other key relationships at a showcase, but to have someone come up to you and offer you a job without you developing a relationship with them first, is very rare. Especially in L.A.

Does this mean you cannot convert what you’ve learned in a class into a paying career? Of course not. What it means is that YOU have to get out there and chase the work.

The student who asked me this question is a sweet, kind woman who has a funny act, but doesn’t hit the mics regularly.

She reminds me of the “Guy And The Lottery Ticket” joke:

“A man is sitting on the sidewalk in front of a liquor store that sells lottery tickets. Every day you can hear him praying, “Please God, let me win the lottery. Please God let me win the lottery… Then one day a priest sees him on the sidewalk, empty-handed, praying. The man catching the eye of the priest says, “Father, is there a God? I’ve been praying for weeks… how come God won’t let me win the lottery?” The priest puts his hand on the man’s shoulder and says, “First, my son… you have to buy a ticket.”

The only thing I know for sure is what has happened to me in my 25-year career as a stand up comedian: I was hitting the mics 3-6 times a week. I was meeting other comedians. I was developing relationships and building a reputation.

One of the first paid gigs I got was when I was doing an open mic in Chatsworth, CA. I’d done this open mic probably twenty-five times. I would arrive at the bar at sign-up time and stay till close, supporting the other comics. I developed a casual business relationship with the booker. He liked my style and was impressed that every time I hit that mic, I had new material and was getting consistent laughs. He commented on it and asked how much time I had. I said, “about an hour.”

He asked if I had video… and I had a couple of tapes in the backpack I carried with me wherever I went. I handed it to him. He was impressed that I had one on me. (I thought to myself Wow! Some of that “crazy” shit my Dad told me to do is paying off!) The booker took the video home to watch it. I was excited.

The very next week I went back to that open mic, my heart soaring with anticipation of getting a job. When I got there I found out that the booker who took my tape just went out on the road to do his “new” act. That man’s name was Carlos Mencia…

JUST KIDDING! It wasn’t Mencia…

But he did go out on the road for two weeks. I was disappointed that I would have to wait for him to return, but I was already going to that open mic for about six months so what was another two weeks? The very next day the booker called me and told me he liked the video and he had a gig for me in West Covina at a place called Lamp Post Pizza. It paid a hundred bucks and you got food and a couple of drink tickets. I thought to myself: “I’VE MADE IT!”

I did the show and did really well. I got my hundred bucks, but was too nervous to enjoy the free food. I came home and was so excited that I got paid for telling jokes! I basically got paid for doing something that used to get me into trouble back in school! Fuckin’ Eh!

I was so excited and jacked up from that experience, that I researched and called everyone I knew that did comedy. I found something called Comedy USA, a publication that culled and printed information for comedians, bookers and clubs. I called all of clubs listed. Ninety percent said “NO.”  I called more. I got a Fed-Ex account, got my tape duplicated and sent it out to everyone I could. Slowly, I started to get work. Most of it was filling in for last minute cancelations and some of it was driving 5 to 6 hours to make fifty bucks, but it was a start.

I spent 5 days a week, making at least 10 calls per day for my career. I sent out tapes, traveled to clubs and auditioned in person whenever I could. Eventually one job turned in to several jobs. I did this all without an agent or manager, (Sometimes my wife called as my manager). Eventually I turned it into a career doing 40-45 weeks of work a year and more. But I chased it and I worked it. Every. Single. Day.

My point is this: YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK! YOU have to hit the mics 3-6 times a week. YOU have to develop the act to where it’s nearly flawless and YOU have to chase the work to win this comedy lottery…

In the words of the Priest: “First, my son, you have to buy a ticket!”