In the End, It’s Just You That Crowd and That Microphone

You have been toiling on your act for a while. You’ve written. You’ve tightened. You’ve rehearsed. You’ve sweat. You’ve honed. You feel you’re beginning to find your voice.

You’ve developed a crystalized point of view and a through-line that’s on steroids and you’re ready to flex it like a 20-year-old with a well-earned six-pack.

You’re beginning to feel like you don’t just have laughs, you may just have a purpose!

Then you get a booking at a club you’ve worked in previously and the booker drops this bombshell: “I don’t like this new style of comedy you’re doing. I think you should go back to the old you.”

What do you do?

Several comedians have asked me about this over the years. How much do you adjust your act when a booker doesn’t dig your style?

My answer is “That depends.”

In my career as a comedian, I have walked away from gigs, I have fired managers and I’ve made other decisions–both good and bad–that go against the grain of the take-any-gig-that-comes-my-way attitude. 

And although I probably would’ve never considered doing that in the early part of my career, when I finally started to feel my voice, to really express myself, to come from a place that meant something to me, that’s when I decided to be my own man, my own artist, my own company.

Basically I made a decision that I’m going to succeed or fail based on my own brand, my own goals and my own business model. 

It was both freeing and frightening. But then I got the best advice ever from a surprising source… George Carlin.

When I started out, I emulated a variety comedians. I was studying George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor. I was also a big fan of Bill Hicks.

I’ll admit it, I went with the trend at the time and I was very quirky. I was very “Seinfeldian.”

I was booking a lot of feature work. My first audition for Bud Friedman resulted in being booked in Vegas at least 4 times a year and getting a spot on A & E’s “An Evening at the Improv,” my first television spot as a comedian.

It wasn’t until I met George Carlin that I got the best piece of comedy advice ever. He changed my approach and subsequently, my career.

Carlin said, “There’s a line. Cross it.”

At first I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about. Then he clarified: “Take the stuff that drives you crazy and make it funny. You ever watch T.V. or read the news and call bullshit? That’s your comedy. Use that. But make it funny…

Say something that means something to you. Otherwise you’re just one of those cookie-cutter comedians who ain’t sayin’ anything!”

Then he said, “You can mix it up with fluff, if you have quirky and observational stuff, because the audience needs that playful stuff too, but say something that means something.

Don’t just make them laugh, make them think!”

It was that coincidental meeting that changed my entire approach to comedy. I started building an act that came from a real personal perspective. I started taking the stuff that drove me crazy and started to make it funny.

I started watching the news and reading the paper and when I felt myself call ‘bullshit,’ I wrote it down and made it funny, using paradox and irony, word-play and incongruity. I used powerful benign retaliation like Carlin, Bill Hicks and Chris Rock, (a powerful form of payback-style comedy) that you can learn in my eBook, “Breaking Comedy’s DNA.”

I became more of a socio-political comedian. I also had my quirky, fun observational stuff, but most of my act was driven by my angst and strong point of view. I blended it when I needed to, dropped certain edgy stuff when I did corporates, but most importantly, I felt like I was me!

Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. The rest is visual and emotional.

Shortly after that tip from Carlin, my act changed. I took it on the road. It was getting a good reception.

Then I played a club in Sacramento. It was a club I had performed in for years as a feature, then a headliner. I went there with my new act; a very powerful socio-political act with kind of an underlying theme of tolerance.

Five nights, seven shows; after the first show, the club owner said, “I don’t like this new Jerry. I like the smart, quirky Jerry better.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was stuck. I liked this guy. He booked me a lot. I liked the club. I liked the people.

The next night I came in and did my quirky act. He was happy. But I wasn’t.

In my hotel room that night, I decided that I was going to take Carlin’s advice rather than some club owner’s in Sacramento. I came to work the next night. Did my socio-political act and pulled out all the stops. 

That night I received my first standing ovation. I was beyond surprised.

After the show, the club owner came up to me to congratulate me… or so I thought.

He said he wanted me to finish my week doing my quirky act. and that he already expressed his displeasure with my socio-political act and that if I wasn’t willing to do as he asked, then I wasn’t welcome to work there anymore.

WTF!? Did he not see that standing ovation?

I tried to convince him otherwise, but he wouldn’t budge. I’m not sure why, but I think the issues I was pointing out as ridiculous, he actually believed in.

I finished up that week giving him what he wanted. After all, it is a business and I live by the golden rule, (He who has the gold, makes the rules).

Besides, I had to remember, I’m a guest in his club.

But after my last performance, he cut me my check and I respectfully told him that I’ve made up my mind that the quirky Jerry is no longer true to me and I wanted to evolve–at least in the clubs–and if he didn’t approve, then I wouldn’t be working for him anymore.

When I returned home, the check bounced!  Eight months later, that club went under.

The club closing had nothing to do with me. It was because the club owner was a bad business man. That wasn’t my point of view, but that of the IRS.

The lesson for me in all of this was clear; Be True To You!

In my collective business model, I know that all work in this business is a collaboration. The club owners are absolutely a part of that collaborative effort and as long as it doesn’t hurt the integrity of my act, I am always willing to make some adjustments to it.

But, once you hit that stage, it’s just you, that crowd and that microphone.

Think about it. Even if I did what he wanted rather than what was true to me, my check still would’ve bounced, that club would’ve still gone out of business, and there still would’ve been a gaping three-week hole in my schedule that I would’ve had to fill anyway.

To round it out, before the end of that year, I started working at the rival to that club in Sac. Many of the same people from the previous club came to see me there.

The rival club owner liked me. He liked that I brought an audience with me.
He liked when the audience gave up a standing ovation and…
He liked to have a comedian that wasn’t afraid to say something that means something

Oh, and I liked that his check always cleared.

The Make-It-Or-Break-It Importance of Remembering a Name

How often do you find yourself in this situation: You’re introduced to somebody, and literally seconds later, for the life of you, can’t recall their names?

Some people instantly chalk it up to their brains not functioning and go as far as convincing themselves that they have a bad short-memory or they’re simply “bad” with names; going so far as to affirm it, saying things like, “I’m bad with names, I can remember faces. I always forget people.”

Does this sound like you? 

If it does sound like you–and I can actually see your head nodding as you read this–then you need to know that this tendency has more far reaching implications than you might think and I can tell you from experience, just read on!

Not remembering a person’s name can interfere with your ability to feel confident in meeting new people, or it can mean the difference between a gig booked or not booked.

Meeting New People

Being a stand-up can be isolating. After all, one of the reasons we do this job is because we don’t have to rely on other people. (I know it’s one of the reasons I got into stand-up). It’s just ourselves and the audience. We can get used to that I don’t need anybody attitude and it can reinforce our inability to remember names of people. 

But we must remember that in this business, a high percentage of all work is gained through relationships. And what I mean by a “high percentage” is “almost all.”

In fact, Steven Spielberg said that “Any movie that ever made got made because of a relationship.”  

I’m going to say that again, A high percentage of all work is gained through relationships and remembering someone’s name and repeating it out loud back to the person you just met can have a big impact and leave a lasting impression. You’ve probably heard examples of business and political leaders and one of the things people say about them is, he always remembered my name! 

That person could’ve invented the printing press or saved the free world from it’s utter demise, that stuff gets recorded in the annals of history, but a person recalls that he remembered my name

Are you starting to see how important this could be?

A handshake is an introduction, remembering someone’s name is the beginning of a relationship!

Confidence in Meeting New People

Did you know that this “forgetfulness” can sometimes cause people not to want to meet new people. They are so afraid they will embarrass themselves when they don’t remember someone’s name that they don’t put themselves in situations to meet new people.

This can totally impede your momentum in the business world of comedy so you can see that having a lack of confidence in meeting people can completely destroy opportunity. 

The difference between remembering a name and not remembering a name is the difference between a stranger and a friend or even a job and no job. 

Keep reading and I’ll address simple ways to fix this.

Take a Moment to Solve the Problem

If you’re one of those people who don’t seem to remember names of other people, take some time to think about why. How many of you, (I mean all three of you who read this), have stopped to ask yourselves, what was I thinking about when she was telling me her name?

You’d be amazed at how many people just accept the fact that they can’t remember names. They just think that that’s the way they are and that’s just the way it is.

But taking a simple moment to consider why you can’t remember names will help you target the problem. Once you do that, you can start to find solutions that work. 

And the solution can be simple.

Change Your Attitude

If you’re convinced that you can’t remember names, then it’s time to change your attitude about your ability. If you tell yourself that you can’t remember names, you’re just affirming that notion and convincing your brain to do the exact same thing each time. In other words, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!

So start taking charge and stop accepting that you just don’t remember people’s names and start trying.

Stop being embarrassed if you don’t know someone’s name. Take the initiative and ask! 

Don’t worry so much if you forget someone’s name. Everybody does it. But when you have the good fortune to meet other people, don’t leave the scene until you have their name. And if you forget their name,  use humor!

You could say something like, “I need you tell me your name again… you know, because I’m a good listener…

There’s an old saying, It’s impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh. Besides when you take a moment to ask when you forget, you show the other person that you care enough to ask.

Really listen to a person’s name when they tell you. Imagine the spelling of that name. If you can’t imagine the spelling of that name, then ask them, how do you spell that? 

Ask Them to Spell It

Recently, immediately following a screening for my movie, (“STRETCH,”  available on iTunes and Amazon October 7th; I know, shameless plug), a female producer came up to me to talk to me. She was a really attractive woman wearing Christian Lou Boutin shoes–about $700–so I knew I would have to stay focused. 

She introduced herself and told me her name. She then introduced her boyfriend; “Kuldeep.”  

Because the name was one I hadn’t heard before, I almost just let it go. I remembered by mind saying, Aaah! It’s not worth the effort, he’s only the ‘boyfriend.’ 

But I stopped myself and I put a smile on my face and said, “I’m sorry, would you say that again?” He repeated it and I looked him right in the eyes and said, “What an interesting sounding name. How do you spell that?” He told me and that brief interchange took an extra thirty seconds, but that name was now visually cemented into my brain. I could actually see it.

The producer’s boyfriend’s body language actually changed and he now looked like he felt like he was part of the discussion.

And the producer? Wow! She looked like someone just surprised her with her favorite flowers! That little gesture of really wanting to know her boyfriend’s name seemed to impress her. Either that, or she thought I was hitting on her boyfriend!

It was at that moment I felt the entire conversation shift from less of a formal gotta-meet-everyone-here, to a gotta-get-to-know-this-guy-better, type of thing and that’s when she asked the coveted question most writers want to hear at this type of thing: What else do you have?

This producer actually asked me what else I’ve written so can she read it! For a writer that’s huge. That’s like a booker saying, Send me your stuff, I’d love to have you in my club.”

I took her business card, took a moment to actually read her name on the card to add another layer of memory.

Before they left I shook their hands and said, “A pleasure meeting you, Kuldeep.” Then I shook the producer’s hand and I said, “It was so cool of you to come up and say hello, Nila. I will email the Christmas script so you can read it…  I let a beat pass and I said, “Oh, and Nila… amazing shoes!”

Her face lit up, and she did a little pose, rocked her shoe a little bit and let out a genuine, “Oh my God. Thank you!”

Because, really? Nobody wears a seven-hundred dollar pair of shoes and doesn’t want to be complimented on them!

Evaluate and Follow Up

I felt pretty proud of that introduction. It actually went from a “glad-handing” obligation to a real opportunity, in good part to the extra effort of remembering someone’s name.

I took a quick moment to evaluate what I did; I actually took a moment to really listen. It became important to me to really listen and remember their names. Because I knew on a conscious level that I did not want to walk away from that introduction without remembering their names so I did. 

Also because I did that, I initiated conversation, (how do you spell that, etc.), it kind of put me in control of that conversation. I felt like I was sort of running the show. It demonstrated a level of confidence we (including myself), don’t always have in initial greetings. I felt like I was on stage and they were looking to me for the answers.

Does that make any sense? Those new acquaintances looked at me differently and their respect level shifted instantly.

I met several other people that night. I had to remind myself consciously to stay engaged and stay cognitive of remembering their names. Really listening. Actively listening.

I also met a pretty famous director that night. He also asked What else do you have? He also liked the Christmas script idea and actually said, “I would love to direct that.”

I’m not really a big fan of those ‘schmooze fests,’  but I have to remind myself that they are part of the game.  After all high percentage of all work is gained through relationships, as some guy once said way back at the beginning of this blog post.

So what happened with that producer and that boyfriend? When I got into my car to leave that screening, I immediately keyed the contact info into my smartphone, I sent her an email about what a pleasure it was to meet her and Kuldeep. I also attached the Christmas script she was interested in, (I keep all important docs in my phone!).

In the subject line I put: “[Director’s Name] said he wants to direct this!”

That script was read immediately by that producer with the great shoes, and the process has begun to get it sold. It has a good chance too, I think, because that guy Kuldeep?  Turns out he’s a millionaire business mogul who finances films!

So when it comes to remembering names… don’t you think it’s time you make it a priority? 

Let’s do this! 

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Help You Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

10 Ways Lady Gaga Can Turbo Charge Your Comedy Career

Are You Serious?

I can hear it now… the voices saying what the f*@k?!

What do you mean, Lady Gaga?

It seems difficult to believe, after all, we’re comedians.

Haven’t we all made fun of Lady Gaga?

I know I’ve done some jokes about her; A meat-suit, really?

But here’s the point: Comedians love to talk smack about people. In one way it’s our job. Isn’t that what we do; make fun of stuff?

But we also have to realize that we can learn from those very same people that we make fun of.

Lady Gaga has built an incredible career. She has tens of millions of followers on social media and her fans don’t just tolerate her, they LOVE her!

So check out the SlideShare presentation below.

It might actually help you choose a direction, give you some ideas and finally light a fire under your lazy comedy ass!

CBS Blew It! – Craig Ferguson Announces He’s Leaving ‘Late Late Show’

Craig Ferguson announces he'll be leaving the Late, Late Show

The field is totally opening up!

Craig Ferguson announced Monday night that he’ll be leaving the Late, Late Show at the end of this year.  There is a lot of speculation that Ferguson was mistreated and completely overlooked, when CBS passed over him to replace David Letterman who will be retiring at the end of this year.

This after a 10-year run!

He was like a second string quarterback waiting his turn to take over the team.

Imagine if the Green Bay Packers overlooked Aaron Rogers after Brett Favre left the team?

Tragic!

CBS Blew It!

I think CBS completely blew it with this decision. They instead went with Stephen Colbert.

Colbert is very talented, but unproven and untested as a host in a non-satirical, non-character-based environment.

Ferguson is fresh, unique and extremely talented.

The execs who made this decision have ABSOLUTELY NO CONCEPT of the level of talent it takes to go off-script like Ferguson does and riff on a subject and get consistently great laughs. The guy is a genius.

*But Jerry, tell us how you really feel!*

He has an ability to detach from the show and actually make you feel like he’s in your living room; all the while still engaging the studio audience.

Who else does that?!

Answer: Nobody!

I don’t understand their reasoning for this decision. The only thing I can hypothesize on is that they are looking to target the 18-34 male demographic; the demo that is so coveted by advertisers and and already targeted by Comedy Central, Colbert’s current home.

But if that’s the case they blew it, as Ferguson and Colbert are virtually the same age!

Writing Positions Are Opening Up

But what does this mean for my readers, (all 3 of you)?

I know that some of you are really into looking to nail a job on a Late Night Show as a writer. This is a truly historic time with the shake-ups that are happening all around late night. Never in my life time have there been so many changes in the late night line up. in the same year.

With Colbert replacing Letterman and Ferguson leaving at the end of this year, new opportunities will be springing up all over the network.

Time to sharpen your pencils, freshen your pens and get your carpel tunnel wrist braces on and start re-typing and re-writing your Late Night TV submission packets.

Those of you who have taken my workshop on writing for late night know that you should be re-tooling your submission packet every 6 months and sending it in to the shows producers on a regular basis.

You should also be tweeting your daily jokes. Why?  The Late Night with Seth Meyers people plucked an I.T. worker from Peoria, and put him on the staff for the show after reading his humorous tweets.

Now the Dude is earning a $4000 minimum weekly paycheck as a staff writer on the show. Hell Yes!

So even though I’m in disagreement about the network’s decision to overlook Ferguson, I am laser-beam focused on the new opportunities available for writers.

Get writing!

Late Show With Seth Meyers Plucks ‘I.T. Guy From Peoria’ as Writer

Heath Ledger in a Knights Tale

There is a movie out there called “A Knight’s Tale.” It stars the late Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, a peasant squire, who, after his master dies, changes “his stars” by changing his identity and becoming a knight.

It’s a fairy tale. Or is it?

About a month ago, a regular guy from Peoria, Illinois, who tweeted regular jokes as a way of venting from work and the grind of daily life, got picked up by the executives over at Late Night with Seth Meyers, to be a staff writer on the show after they took notice of his funny tweets.

 

I’ve been telling my students for several years now that they need to be tweeting their jokes regularly to get their writing out there, seen by others. Now it seems that crazy idea is paying off.

In the blink of a tweet, Bryan Donaldson a family man, went from a clock puncher for an insurance company to a staff writer on network television.

Is this sheer luck? No! He worked hard everyday tweeting jokes and gaining followers on Twitter. He’s a classic example of opportunity meeting preparedness.

Through his diligent and funny tweeting, Donaldson got an opportunity of a lifetime.

Can you do the same? Maybe so.

The point I’m trying to make is opportunity is out there every single day. But most of us are not doing what we need to do to take advantage of it.

You should be writing every day, generating material. Either to tweet or for practice. Every time you write, you get better. And that’s the goal; to be prepared when opportunity arises.

Then, like Heath Ledger’s character in “A Knight’s Tale,” you too might be able to “change your stars.”