There are a lot of sayings I remember from the greats, that stick with me to guide me and motivate me during my journey in comedy. I thought I’d share some with you while telling you a story in this comedy lesson that may help you learn to avoid not being invited back.
Spencer Tracy once said, “Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you meet those same people on the way down.” No place is this more true than in show business. Every business has their fair share of heady, selfish, temperamental people but show business tends to get more than its fair share. And it’s in this business where your attitude can get you in big trouble and that’s what this edition of comedy lessons is focused on.
One of my favorite sayings is actually from a club booker in Vegas: he said, “Jerry, I’m-a break your legs…” Kidding! The booker is Tony Camacho and he books Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at The Tropicana Hotel. He said, “Be remembered NOT for what you do off-stage. Be remembered for what you do on-stage.”
Coming up in this business I learned to always be nicer than expected, earlier than expected and more prepared than expected and I try to convey that to my students in my comedy courses. Clubs have rules and if you don’t respect the rules you can do yourself and your fellow comedians a disservice.
One of those rules in comedy is to “mind the light.” In most comedy clubs, you are given a certain amount of time to perform on stage. At many of the clubs in L.A. it’s 5-7 minutes, sometimes you can get longer, but most clubs you get 5-7. Clubs have a system to let the performer know when their time is up. Usually there is a light set up somewhere in the showroom that will be turned on when you have 1 minute left in your set. After that, the light flashes and that basically means ‘get the hell off the stage.’
Minding your light shows that you are a professional. It shows that you know how to put together a 5-7 minute set, execute it, and get off the stage on time. Subsequently, it shows a T.V. talent coordinator that you know how to craft a tight set and wrap it up on time and in television, time is crucial.
My class recently had a showcase at the Comedy Store in the main room and one of my comedy students decided he would ‘run the light.’ This essentially means he planned to intentionally go over his time to try to get more time on the stage and thus a longer set on video. He bragged about it back stage and then took the stage. At six minutes his light came on and right then he started a bit that was at least 3 minutes long if not longer. At seven minutes the light started to flash and he ignored it, continuing his set.
The show producer cued music stopping this comedian in his tracks. (Music being played is the equivalent of the ‘hook’). The comedian said, “good night” and left the stage. But running the light wasn’t bad enough for this comic, he then bitched and moaned about it backstage while other comedians were trying to get into the right frame of mind to prepare themselves for their sets. Then he stormed out from the backstage area to the back of the showroom and started yelling at the producer, “That’s f**king bullshit. That’s so unprofessional!”
The comedian not only was incredibly unprofessional himself and intentionally ignored the light, he then started blaming everyone else! The guy has zero introspection a sure-fire personality flaw that will ultimately lead to failure…unless you’re Christian Bale.
This is one of the fastest ways to not be asked back by a club producer or booker. Despite the fact that this comedian was told numerous times to mind the light in the past, he thought he’d disrespect the club, the booker and his fellow comedians. The audience heard his yells of protest, too, as he marched to the back of the showroom.
So what’s the comedy lesson? He’ll definitely be remembered, not for what he did on-stage, but for what he did off-stage, and probably won’t—at least by that booker—be invited back.
What’s this video have to do with getting an audition or an agent as a comedian or actor? Good question! The answer is simple: Many actors and comedians don’t get work because they give up trying way too soon. If they are lucky enough to get a booker or an agent on the phone, they get one “NO!” and they give up.
You Need Persistence
A comedian or actor—whether you’re trying to get representation from an agent, get seen by a casting director or get get booked by a club booker, needs persistence, “polite” persistence. We hear someone say “no,” or at best nobody returns our calls or emails and we give up. We get that familiar lump in the pit of our stomachs, that feeling of rejection and we stop calling. Most of us don’t like that feeling, because…well, it doesn’t feel good! So we give up. I mean why revisit that feeling right?
Well you have to keep calling and keeping in touch because it’s your job. Many times, even after you meet an agent or casting director and they see that you are good, they simply forget who you are. It’s a simple as that. They are not attacking you personally they just don’t think about you, because they are incapable…because few humans have the capacity to truly multi-task.
Take an actress for example. My student Kim Hopkins is a fine actress. She attends casting workshops and consistently gets the highest ratings in her reviews from casting directors. They literally gush over her. A manager she’s been trying to get to represent her can’t understand why she’s not getting called in.
“Why aren’t they calling you in for these auditions?”
It all comes down to multi-tasking.
Although our brains are bad with multi-tasking, they are excellent with focusing on one task at a time. So when Kim does the workshop, the casting director may love her and think she’s the bee’s knees. But when that casting director goes back to work and has a thousand submissions for a job Kim might be perfect for, Kim is not even close to being in their thoughts, simply because it’s impossible! The brain doesn’t operate that way.
This is Where The Manager Comes In
If the manager was doing their job, they would give a call to the casting director and remind them that Kim was in their workshop. That simple reminder that operates what’s known as bottom-up brain function (something that gets our attention like a phone ringing), could be the trick to getting Kim into the brain of the casting director. Does that make sense?
If I was a manager and I knew an actress was going to the workshops and getting great reviews with casting directors that were consistently working, I would represent that actress in a flash, because she just made my job a thousand times easier! All I have to do is submit, then make a phone call to remind the casting director about the actress.
How Does This Affect You As a Comedian or Actor?
So how does this affect you as a comedian or actor? Well, you have to keep calling every three weeks or so. Keep them posted on what you’re doing via Facebook, your website, twitter. Visit them often at casting workshops. Drop by a club to do a guest set. Make sure you keep reminding them who your are, stay polite and persistent, and never let the lack of return phone calls get you down. It’s nothing personal, they just can’t multi-task.
Here’s another in my series on How To Be A Famous Comedian. (Disclaimer: if you’re in it to be famous, you’re in it for all the wrong reasons…you need to be in it because it’s in YOU–wait is that a Gatorade commercial? However, one of the ways to learn how to be a famous comedian is to learn from the comedians who are already famous so here’s an interesting clip from Ricky Gervais, one of my favorites)
In my classes I teach that the comedian has to be liked. You never put yourself above the audience. As the audience, we want to root for you. When you stand up there and you think you’re “all that,” you’re not going to get any respect from the audience and you’re certainly not going to get any respect from Ricky Gervais.
Take this approach into consideration when you’re writing your comedy material. When you pump yourself up for any reason, knock yourself down a peg. When I talk about my time playing soccer I say this: “When I was 20 I played professional soccer–for a short period of time, as it was a game of skill–“ Then I go on to tell this story of how I played on an all Latino team and was the only white guy. But boosting myself up by saying I played professional soccer, may sound like bragging to the audience, so I follow it immediately by “for a short period of time, as it was a game of skill.” It knocks me back down a peg.
Stand up comedy is not about being prettier, sexier or smarter than the audience, it’s about stumbling…and getting back up. It’s one of the oldest formulas in comedy…I’m just trying to get from point A to point B and I keep running into obstacles. Here’s the irony: the more you stumble and get back up, the more the audience roots for you to win. I hope you enjoy the clip from Ricky Gervais. Take a look at my other blog posts, there’s a lot of information about comedy and if you liked this video, please leave a comment below. Stay funny!
Chris Rubeiz came to The Stand Up Comedy Clinic as a talented actor and a writer who had done some improv and had some acting jobs. He had also written and shot some sketches and shorts. But he had never done stand up and always wanted to.
In the first couple of weeks Chris struggled with material. His act was all about taking a sh*t at work…(not in the office but in the restroom), all while his boss was in the other stall. Could be funny, but I let him know the limitations of having an all ‘scat’ set.
Well Chris did what few people do…he really went to work. In 8 short weeks, Chris wrote and developed a brand new 7-minute comedy set that had teeth and and definite laugh points and best of all structure. I emphasized that it is the structure in your comedy that will set you apart from other comedians and it will give you definite, crisp laugh points.
After he performed his culmination set in The Belly Room at the world famous Comedy Store, he was asked back to perform in the Main Room. Now I’m under no illusions as to why he was asked to return. Despite the fact that his set was solid, he brought a bunch of people to the club that night and the booker wanted him to repeat that feat and bring more to the Mainroom. After all, it is a “bringer” show.
I try not to knock another man’s hustle and I get the game. I didn’t come up through the trenches of comedy participating in bringer shows and I have no qualms sharing my feelings about them.
In my classes I teach at my comedy studio, I try to be as transparent as possible about what a bringer show is and how it works. I want my students to have no illusions about this business—both the positives and negatives. I suggest to my students to use the ‘bringers’ to their advantage and only participate when they can benefit from them. (I.E.: If an agent is coming or a manager or casting director, or if there is a chance to get a great tape).
So Chris called and asked my advice. He said he wanted to try the Mainroom once and the booker had told him that an agent was going to be present. I’m not going to mention his name, but I know the booker and he has a good reputation and is a very talented comedian himself, (that should narrow down the choices, huh?). The gig fit the criteria we discussed so Chris did the Mainroom.
Low and behold, the booker once again exceeded his reputation and the agent was in the room. Chris brought his people, rocked his set and the agent asked him for a meeting. Chris signed with Jamie Ferrar of JFA this week.
Navigating this business requires good instincts and a thoughtful approach. Chris is one of those guys who is not only creative and talented but also a thinker. He approached this with thought and good instincts and it paid off. His talent, work ethic and drive will continue to take him down the road of success and I’m glad to be a part of it! Congratulations Chris! Jamie is getting the better end of the deal.
I was just writing something about a video I came across on YouTube. It was Louis C.K. paying tribute to the great George Carlin. Then I received an email from a student of mine referring me to HuffPost Comedy which is a segment of the Huffington post. They had beat me to it and written their own piece on Louis’s tribute.
Louis says so many of the things that I have said about George Carlin, so I am going to share those thoughts on it. I am no HuffPost writer so if you want to ready their article you can find it here.
In the video, Louis talks about how George Carlin inspired him to dig deeper and find more material. Like a lot of comedians I know, Louis had the same act for 15 years. Think about it! Fifteen years of the same material! George Carlin would do an HBO special, then chuck out all the material he did in that special and write a brand new act for the next special. How’s that for inspiration?
I had an opportunity to meet George about 20 years ago and the advice he gave me was gold. He said, “Take the stuff that drives you absolutely f**king crazy and make it funny…” That was when my entire approach to comedy changed.
In the video below you’ll get to see Louis C.K. talk about a similar experience he had in his career as a result of George Carlin. I think George has inspired many of us. He certainly inspired me and still does. So many things he said still resonate in my mind and I still apply them in my writing and teaching.
I am always writing and I encourage my students to write constantly, dig deeper, really go for it to find the jokes and say something that’s important to you, something that actually means something. George said there’s three levels of comedy:
Funny with good ideas.
Funny with good ideas and compelling language.
It’s great advice.
People are blown away that George Carlin actually threw away an act and wrote an entirely new act each and every year. One of the reasons is we are often taught that it’s really hard to come up with material. And it is sometimes, but so what? Who said it was going to be easy, right?
There are other reasons we fight that urge to write. In some comedy classes, teachers actually say to their students, “if you write one new joke every week, at the end of the year you’ll have fifty-two new jokes and I think, What?! Hey, if you’re a television writer and you write one new joke every day, you’re fired!
Bottom line is this: George Carlin taught us that ideas are a dime a dozen. As comedians, we are an endless fountain of material, we just have to dig deep to find it.
Enjoy the video! Louis has earned the right to pay this tribute. He is probably the next George Carlin.