Got a call from a young comedian today. Didn’t recognize the number, but I took the call anyway.
He said, “Thanks for taking my call. I really need some advice…”
I sighed to myself and thought… I knew I shouldn’t have answered the phone…
Then I heard his voice crack a little.
Dude was hurting. He went on to tell me what was up. He said, “I have a show tonight. My girlfriend just broke up with me and I’m fu**ing crushed. She won’t even talk to me. What do I do?”
I thought to myself, Did you call the right number? I’m a joke writer!
Then he said, “How do I go on stage and be funny when everything hurts?”
I like to help people. I thrive in it, but when he said that, I could feel myself like, I don’t know–jump–to the occasion.
I didn’t know whether the comedian in me was feeling heroic or schadenfreude; some kind of sadistic enjoyment that someone else was suffering.
So I took a breath and just let words come out of my mouth. I’m sure it was rambling–like these blog posts the three of you endure from me!
I said, “I’m sorry you’re going through such pain. Don’t fight it. You’re human. Embrace it.
“Allow yourself to wallow in it and experience it, but when that spotlight turns on and they call your name… it’s showtime… got it?!
“Because feeling overwhelmed by emotion is only one part of being human. Another part being able to turn on your own light, shift your emotion and give them a show, even if it’s on a fucking dime.
Because being a performer is not what we do, it’s who we are.”
I know that might sound cliche or trite to the point of sounding ingenuous, but nothing could be truer.
When I first started in this business, one of my life changing moments occurred when I heard a joke by Rodney Dangerfield (now, you have to imagine his voice saying this joke for the best effect).
He said, “Comedy is in my blood; too bad it’s not in my material!”
And though I laughed at the punchline, it was the set up that I really felt to my bones. I thought comedy is in my blood. And that was the moment I decided to do it for the rest of my life.
And in the rest of your life, you are going to experience ups and downs, breakups and deaths, but that doesn’t change who you are.
That light still goes on at eight o’clock and that audience has paid good money to laugh. So for that five minutes, thirty minutes or an hour, you have to bring it and bring it hard.
My talk seemed to help this young man on the phone, because his voice changed. He became animated.
“You’re right!” He said. His voice cracked again, but this time for a different reason; he was excited.
“Thank you for taking my call and thank you for the advice, man. Really!”
We hung up the phone. (Okay, didn’t really ‘hang up’ the phone. I pressed a button…)
But, if I didn’t say it on the phone, I’ll say it here: ‘Thank YOU, young comedian!’
After that call, I felt I was supposed to feel proud of myself and, I don’t know–maybe heroic?
But in that precise moment, my eyes filled with tears and I realized, that call was as much for him as it was for me.
In short, we’re human. Allow yourself to feel, to go through the ups and downs of life. But when that light goes on, give them a show and be unstoppable!
After all, being a comedian or a performer is not what you do; it’s who you are.
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.
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!
Can you turn a supermodel into a comedian?
I’ve been comedian for nearly thirty years. I have been coaching comedians, (formally), for about six years. During that time I’ve had a lot of thrills, but nothing can replace the feeling you get when you receive a text like this:
“You changed my life.”
About two years ago, I was sitting at home writing and the phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line was a woman’s. There was an accent. I couldn’t figure it out where it was from.
You know when you can’t quite figure out the accent right away?
The woman’s voice said, “Hello. I’m so glad you answered. My name is Eugenia Kuzmina. I am a model and I want to be a stand-up comedian.”
“Tell me about yourself,” I said. She said she was Russian and that she had always been interested by stand-up comedy and that I came highly recommended. (I’ll take flattery anywhere I can get it so, listened further).
I was on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to take her on as a student. I believe you can teach anyone the craft of comedy. I’ve taught people who I was told were the “most unfunny person I’ve ever met,” and I’ve taught people with brain damage and I’ve learned long ago not to prejudge anyone’s ability.
I got beyond that a long time ago. There have been too many young comedians, athletes and musicians have proved me wrong.
But I was busy and I didn’t want someone who was going to be a headache. So I said to this model: “I’m going to send you an email with an introduction. Let’s pretend that I am an emcee introducing you on the stage. I want you to answer the email and come up with a response that you think is funny.”
In the email said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, our next performer comes to us from the world of high fashion. In fact she must be really hungry because I just saw her in the green room devouring an entire Tic-Tac. Please help me welcome, Eugenia Kuzmina!”
About twenty minutes later, I received an email from Eugenia. Her response was: “Devouring an entire Tic-Tac. That is funny, but not true. I am a model, I would never eat an entire meal at one sitting…”
We booked our first meeting.
Since then, Eugenia has appeared the World Famous Comedy Store a number of times, she has signed with several new agents (because of stand-up), and recently booked her first appearance as a comedian in Las Vegas in the Paul Scally Show at the Grand Hotel.
Now Eugenia has been doing some impromptu sketch comedy, pulling pranks with the public, including a prank she pulled in France at the Cannes Film Festival that has studios requesting meetings… to do comedy.
So can you turn a supermodel into a comedian? Time will tell, but I think the answer is leaning toward a resounding “YES.”
Now, I know some people are going to get upset about this post. Some might suggest that I’m focusing on what society might consider as “pretty.”
The point of this post is not to create an argument about who or what is ‘pretty’ in this business. The point of the post is to direct attention to the fact that the face of comedy is changing.
Traditionally, women who were considered “pretty” weren’t looked at as serious comedians. But as a comedian, part of what I do is to shatter the status quo.
I’m a firm believer in the fact that females can be funny. I believe that the precedent that was set by Johnny Carson set nearly thirty years ago when he said that pretty women don’t belong in comedy was flawed.
Not only that, I believe that they don’t have to play down their femininity to get a laugh. Amy Schumer has been proving that and I’ve had several female comedians in my classes who are beautiful AND funny who’ve gone on to have success.
I’ve coached the lovely actress Sascha Knopf, to help her reach the finals of California’s Funniest Female,
I worked with Andi Wagner-Barton (bottom-left) who went on to get an agent, book several commercials and her first role in a film.
And I’m fortunate enough to work with the lovely and feisty Laura Lee Botsacos. Who just booked her first paid gig at Aces Comedy Club in Murrieta, CA.
It’s fun and heart-warming to be a part of a movement that has (pardon the pun) dug its heels into the comedy scene around the globe and is changing the perception of what has been traditionally recognized as funny.
So ladies, whether you’re a supermodel or an athlete; a mom or a nerd, if you’ve thought about doing stand-up, (or taking a class)–just like these ladies–success on the comedy stage could be just around the corner.
Drop by the Comedy Clinic to say “hi,” or sit in a class. Our comedy community is amazing and supportive. And in our green room, we even have Tic-Tacs.
It Starts with Rejection.
Rejection. We’ve all had our fair share, right?
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:
“10 Painful Rejection Letters To Famous People Proving You Should NEVER Give Up Your Dreams”
it’s by Averi Clements at Distractify.com.
I hope it inspires. Go get ’em!