Business guru, Napolean Hill wrote a best selling book (over 100 million copies sold), called “Think and Grow Rich”
Comedians should have a book called “Think Broke and Stay Broke.”
A large percentage of comedians today have that ‘broke-artist’ mentality. They actually think their way into staying broke.
It’s exactly that mentality that keeps them broke.
Reality vs. Perception
I think part of the problem is reality vs. perception.
Here’s the reality: If you can get laughs consistently and work in almost any environment, you are a valuable commodity.
Here’s the perception: It’s an art, so you shouldn’t think about money.
The problem with that approach is that if you’re not thinking about making money, you ARE thinking about being broke.
When I ran an ad on Facebook for my comedy business seminar called, “How to be the Richest Comedian Nobody’s Heard Of,” where I drill down 20+ ways to monetize your comedy, either in writing or stand-up, one comedian actually commented with, “Don’t even expect to make any money in comedy until you’ve been doing it for 10 years.”
Like somehow 10 years is the magic number?
In other words, “think broke until the end of the 9th year.”
Sad part is, he’s not the only comedian that thinks like this. In fact, I sometimes think that more comedians think this way than not.
This is a bullshit belief system. Why do I say that? Because these comedians love to make these big, broad claims when all the evidence to the contrary is right before their very eyes.
From the first time Jerry Seinfeld took the stage in 1981 at Catch a Rising Star in NYC, it took him only 5 years to get on the “Tonight Show.” After that, he was made.
Letterman was in Indianapolis watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He kept hearing that comedians were appearing at the Comedy Store. He saw an association between the Comedy Store and The Tonight Show, so he moved to L.A., got into the Comedy Store and within 3 years he was on The Tonight Show. He was made.
Both of those guys were making money in comedy before that. Not a lot of money but they were getting paid gigs.
My Own Experience
I was making money less than 2 years into doing comedy and many of my students are doing it just 2 years in as well.
At 27, I had just started dabbling in comedy. I left L.A. to go back to school and finish getting my degree. I wanted to get a degree so I could have something to fall back on just in case my career went in the toilet.
While at college, to make a little money, I got a job teaching comedy traffic school.
At the end of one of my traffic school classes, this student in class approached me. He said, “Hey Jerry. I’m the president of the local Chamber of Commerce. Every year we have an annual dinner where we swear out the old officers and swear in the new. Every year, every Chamber in the country does this. I was wondering if you could emcee that event then do like 30 minutes of comedy. We’ll pay you $800, feed you and give you beer.”
I thought Wow! Beer! 🙂
I did the gig. It was a lot of fun. I hired a videographer to get the event on a broadcast-quality video. I got my check for $800, ate the food and drank a beer.
3 days later, I got a call from the neighboring Chamber of Commerce. The gal said, “Hey Jerry. We hear you did a great job with the Chico Chamber of Commerce. I was wondering if you could do the same for us?”
I did the gig. It went great.
Then I thought how many Chambers of Commerce are there in the country?
Turns out, there’s 7,650.
I mailed out flyers to 200 of them. I booked 28 gigs in a 3 month period, all at $800. That’s $22,400. Or close to $7,500 a month. Not bad for a college kid with no agent, right? And that was in 1991!
Here’s the killer. At that point, I hadn’t done one single club gig yet.
I knew right then, that I had a business. I WAS the BUSINESS.
Note: I don’t say any of this to brag or anything. I say it to point out the possibilities.
Leveraging My Comedy Business
I sent out more fliers and booked hundreds of Chambers around the country.
But, there’s more…
One of the tricks I use to write comedy is to look up definitions. Definitions give you a starting point. When I looked up the definition for the Chamber of Commerce it said, “A local association to promote and protect the interests of the business community in a particular place.”
I thought to myself hmmm… an “association…”
How many associations are there in the U.S.? According to the IRS there is 1.53 million and most of them want a comedian at one of their events.
They just don’t know it: yet.
I recently did a gig for the Northwest Regional Tow Truckers Association, (who even knew they existed?!).
They paid $3500 for one night, flew me in, paid for my hotel and fed me.
And with 1.53 million associations out there, the available gigs is endless.
So when another “broke-thinker” says to me, “you can’t make any money in comedy until you’ve been doing it 10 years:” I say, “No. YOU can’t make any money in comedy. I’M doing okay.”
When you learn how to treat comedy like a business by learning how to create multiple revenue streams, how to scale and how to take advantage of something called “idle capacity,” not only can you learn to make money in comedy, but you can learn to build a comedy enterprise and create a great living.
And this is why I share this information. Because comedians have to get it out of their heads that they are competing with one another. There are enough gigs for everyone. You just have to know where to find them.
All you have to do is stop thinking like a broke artist and start thinking like a business
It was only a matter of time before Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show” on Comedy Central got the axe.
Following that brutal appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner where Wilmore looked like a new comedian trying to get one laugh before he got the light, it seemed like it was just a countdown to Wilmore’s show being struck from the programming board.
Quite frankly I don’t know what Comedy Central was thinking giving Wilmore his own show in the first place. Yes, he’s smart and funny and a great writer, but that doesn’t convert to that on-camera gusto that is needed to develop, let alone compel and retain an audience. Especially an audience of 18-34 males. (Comedy Central’s main demographic).
Sure, Wilmore’s great. But he lacks pizazz and on-camera comes across as dull.
It seems like Comedy Central has been struggling to grab an audience in the variety talk show space since Jon Stewart took his exit.
According to Deadline Hollywood, now that Wilmore is gone, Comedy Central plans to fill the slot with @Midnight until they find a replacement.
That’s a Bad News–Great News Scenario
That’s great news, creatives! Think about it: what’s been missing since Jon Stewart left the Daily Show? The energy, the edge, the razor sharp and laser-quick wit and instincts of Stewart.
Sure Trevor Noah is funny and smart. But he doesn’t have that contemporary, modern high-five-me-at-bar type of gusto. Neither did Wilmore.
I think Comedy Central made a huge mistake allowing John Oliver and Samantha Bee to flee to HBO and TBS. Have you seen either of those shows? They have the edge and the energy that is totally missing at the Daily Show.
And I mean really? TBS? That’s like the ‘witness protection program’ of television; nobody knows they’re there!
Isn’t that right Conan?
If you haven’t seen these two shows, watch ’em. They’re filled with that attack-the-status-quo-energy that the Daily Show currently is missing since Stewart left. In my view the secret sauce comes from the contemporary and relatable analogies the hosts draw to the misgivings of the targets of their ridicule.
They’re not only entertaining us, they are informing us and increasing awareness.
That’s exactly the pattern that was used when Jon Stewart was at the helm.
I’ve got to tell you, that when stuff like this is happening in our industry, I get all charged up!
I mean sure, a show got canceled, but you gotta look at the bright side. The show wasn’t sustaining any numbers.
Where some people see failure, I see amazing opportunity!
I mean what a perfect time to self-produce a show that has that edge.
If I was new writer trying to break in, not only would I be writing and submitting packets every three to six months, I would be collaborating and self-producing a 5 min. edgy variety/talk show just like the Daily Show with the same type of enthusiasm and gusto that was ever-present at that show.
Why would you self-produce?
*Because with the technology we have today, it’s easy. You can download Wirecast (http://www.telestream.net/wirecast/) and produce a multi-cam show using your iPhones.
Want to do it cheaply get the FREE TRIAL of wirecast, then upgrade to eliminate the watermark for $9.99
Better yet, use Open Broadcast Software (http://obsproject.com/). It’s a little less user-friendly, but I’ve heard good things. One of the really good things I heard was that it is FREE! *
**(The asterisks indicate an update since the post was first published).**
The simpler, the better because you don’t want to get bogged down in the editing bay.
Better yet, rehearse a tight 5-minute, well written show and live stream it! Then develop an audience and a subscriber base, then you can create pressure on the the industry to the point where they have to take notice of you.
Think about it. If you develop a really strong following that’s watching you because you stream solid content on a daily or semi-daily basis, somebody in the industry will take notice.
You can put it up on Twitch.tv and build your fanbase. There are gamers on there right now with 30-thousand + subscribers. Subscribers who pay 5 bucks a month to be there.
Even if you have a rusty calculator in your head, it doesn’t take but a second to realize that that’s bank.
Who’s Gaming on That Platform?
Twitch.tv has over 100 million monthly users and they just added a comedy category on that platform. Can you say, “ground floor opportunity?”
Here’s the kicker… 75 percent of the users are male and 73 percent are ages 18-34; Hello? are you listening? That’s the exact demo Comedy Central is coveting!
That’s how you work outside the system to develop notoriety inside the system.
Besides, what an amazingly cool thing to do while you write and develop your Late Night TV packets for (in-system) submission.
You’re basically repurposing your writing, using it on your self-produced show while you’re still submitting it in your packet.
That’s just cool!
You want a quick show that’s well-written with cutting jokes and with a host that has a strong and dynamic identity; preferably with an edge of sarcasm or cynicism.
In other words, someone who’s not afraid to call ‘bullshit,’ and make it relatable and funny.
So if you don’t know how to write comedy in that fickle Late Night TV structure, then now’s the time to get those skills so you can begin to participate at a level that just 2 years ago was unheard of.
So get to work on your shows, creatives!
Comedy Central is dying to see it!
In September of 1993 I was in the comedy condo of a comedy club in Dallas, TX. It was the morning after my third night there and the phone rang.
“Hello, it’s Jerry.”
“Jerry? It’s Harry:” Harry was a manager I had just signed with a few months before.
He saw me at a showcase at Igby’s in West L.A. on the same night that Ray Romano and Kevin James did their network showcase for NBC.
Harry had some big names in his stable and I thought it was a good move to work with him.That’s good news, my manager’s calling. Maybe he’s got some work for me…
“Hey Harry. Tell me some good news.”
“I just wanted to let you know that I get 20% of whatever work you’re doing, regardless of if I book it.”I know, right? I’m thinking to myself, this guy doesn’t even ask how the shows are going. He just gets right to the money. The money he thinks he’s entitled to.
For the last couple years, I had been methodically making phone calls and sending out videos. Since I already had an one-hour act under my belt, a full 60% of my day was dedicated to booking work and developing new contacts and 40% to writing material.
That work had paid off because I was booked for the rest of the year and the first 2 months of the following year. For this manager to call me and tell me he’s gonna get 20% of that just seemed ridiculous.
So I said, “I’m sorry, Harry. I don’t think I heard you right. Can you repeat that?”
“I just wanted to let you know that I get 20% of whatever work you’re doing, regardless of if I book it.”
I straightened up, took a breath and said, “Harry, I’ve always wanted to say this. (It was a throwback to the movies from the 40’s), ‘WE’RE THROUGH!'”
: and I hung up the phone.
About 10 seconds later, he called again. He said, “You have a problem with me making money?” I said, “I don’t have a problem with you making money, Harry. But I do have a problem with you trying to take money from me that you haven’t earned. I might as well give 20% to the homeless, because they’re doing as much for my career.”
I hung up and never heard from Harry again.
That phone call scared me. It scared me, but it also inspired me into truly lighting a fire under my ass and figuring out how to take my act and make real money.
I got to work and the next year I made nearly 3x as much as the previous year. I learned how to leverage my comedy and turn it into a product. I learned how to double, triple and even quadruple the amount of money I made per night, per show.
Then I learned how to tap into markets that were paying me more in one night than I was making in an entire week at a club.
Then I learned about something called “Idle Capacity…” (Hint: It adds a lot of money to your bank account)
Hanging up on my manager was scary but empowering, because when you do something like that your only choice is to go prove yourself.
Not only that, consider the opposite: This guy’s integrity was questionable so how do I expect that to reflect on me?
That phone call was life changing and it helped motivate me to really kick ass in this business and turn my comedy career into a comedy enterprise where I’M the BOSS and I can choose what gigs to take.
Being able to feel like you are in charge of your destiny rather than waiting for someone to call you or book you is more than just empowering, it’s life changing.
Don’t get me wrong, a great manager or agent is invaluable, but one who doesn’t do anything is shit.
You may have heard that I’m teaching a comedy success seminar next Saturday, August 6th, at my studio in Burbank, CA. It’s called “How to be the Richest Comedian Nobody’s Ever Heard Of.It’s going to be a powerful event with killer tools you can use to gain more leverage in your career and really get paid for your comedy.
Click the link and get in because at minimum it will light a fire under your ass. And if you actually apply the information and execute, it will change your career or your life.
Watching for opportunity to write for Late Night TV is sort of like following the NASDAQ or NYSE.
In the market, every time there’s movement in a company’s management, the stock fluctuates.
Fluctuation means opportunity.
When you pay attention, it could be life changing. If you purchased 2000 shares of Apple stock at this time in 2005, at $5.60, it would’ve cost you $11,200.
Today, even as Apple stock is down from its highs, that same stock would be worth $197,320.00
[Chart courtesy of Google Finance]
That’s a huge profit on your money.
Which is why stock market investors watch the market and study a company’s maneuvers with an eagle’s eye; for that opportunity to turn $11k into $200k.
When a good brand is having some bad luck it’s a great time to move in.
So what does that have to do with writing for Late Night TV?
The same thing that happens at Apple happens in Late Night TV all the time!
A writer interested in writing for Late Night TV, should be paying close attention to the movements that happen behind the scenes just like a market investor eyes the NYSE or the NASDAQ.
Because turning $11k into $200k over a period of 11 years is a sweet investment, but a job writing in Late Night TV can turn $0 into $200k in a year, because that’s the minimum salary for a staff writer working in Late Night.
So a writer should be paying close attention to the Late Night TV market, because drama is happening big time over at CBS.
A new showrunner coming to “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and rumors flying around that James Corden might be tapped to replace Colbert as host, add fuel to the fire that there is going to be huge movement in late night TV, especially at The Late Show.
Shows like this are always in flux. The average tenure of a Late Night writer is 2 years so the staffs are always somewhat fluid, but you know the network has real concerns when they bring aboard a new showrunner.
Those facts alone are something to pay attention to, but add to that the fact that Colbert’s ratings at The Late Show are less than promising and The Late Show not getting any Emmy nominations this year are a huge concern.
I mean, that hasn’t happened since 2003.
Consider that Colbert brought most of his writing staff from The Colbert Report to The Late Show. Some heads are bound to roll.
That means opportunity!
When the Audience Tunes in to Watch the Character
Interestingly enough, none of that surprises me. When CBS president, Les Moonves, gave the cold shoulder to Craig Ferguson and opted instead to offer the Late Show position to Colbert, I lambasted him.
I didn’t think that Colbert was a proper fit for the throne previously occupied by David Letterman.
He’s especially not a fit because the person that made The Colbert Report so successful was NOT Stephen Colbert, but his character; that buffoon conservative who was parodying a talk show host.
It was the character he played who was popular.
So when you move to The Late Show and decide that you’re not going bring the character with you, your fans probably won’t follow.
Because the audience is tuning in to see the character.
Imagine hearing this: Ladies and Gentleman, heeeere’s Dan Whitney! How would you respond? Probably not excited right?
But what if I said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, heeeere’s Larry the Cable Guy!” Those Larry the Cable Guy fans would go crazy… even though Larry the Cable Guy and Dan Whitney are the same person. Dan Whitney plays a character called Larry the Cable Guy. And it’s Larry the Cable Guy who we’ve tuned in to see.
But even if we choose a performer with a character that has the same name as the performer and that performer decides not to do the character we’ve grown to love, it usually ends up in failure or imminent career demise.
When Steve Martin took the podium at the New York Public library in front of a sold out audience, then lectured about his art collection, fans were bored to bits, to the point where the event goers were given refunds.
They did that because they paid to see Steve Martin, that “wild and crazy guy!,” not an art historian.
Usually known for his high energy, shirtless performances, glam rocker Billy Idol did a concert about a year ago where he sat on a stool and played acoustic guitar. The audience–his biggest fans–booed and heckled him.
I mean, come on, Billy, at least take your shirt off!
Or like when Jim Carrey decided he wanted to be taken as a serious dramatic actor–well, how many of you just furrowed your brows and said, “I’m sorry, who?”
The fact is, when you build a career based on a character and that character builds a frenzied fan base, then you decide that you don’t want to do that character anymore, chances are–or at least history shows–that your fans are not fans of you, they are fans of your character.
Moonves should’ve seen this coming, based on the trail of Hollywood road kill that lay before him.
Did I just go on a rant?
Late Night Writers Should See This as Opportunity
My point is this: Writers who want to get into Late Night TV should be paying close attention to what’s happening in behind the scenes in Late Night TV.
There’s amazing opportunities happening and right now anyone who’s interested should be preparing their writing packets and sending them into their favorite shows.
Why your “favorite” show and not just Colbert?
Because, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is going to probably fire some writers and replace them with other writers; some will no doubt, be from the staffs of existing shows.
Those shows will now also have openings that will need to be filled.
This creates opportunities all over the the Late Night landscape.
So, writers, get your packets written and take advantage of these incredible opportunities.
You never know, it could turn out to be your Apple.
Sign Me Up for Late Night TV Writing Industry Updates!
Ratings are down for Late Night Shows. Of course they are. We don’t have 3 networks like we did back in the day. There are hundreds of channels to choose from so Late Night Talk Shows are competing for an audience harder than a new product competing for shelf space in a supermarket.
It’s a super competitive market out there which is why I came up with 3 Reasons Late Night TV Needs Fresh Writers.
New Hosts Almost Across the Board
Not sure if you’ve been watching, but it’s an interesting time in Late Night TV. We have new hosts across the the networks with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Seth Meyers.
Who would’ve thought the day would come when Jimmy Kimmel is the veteran host. He debuted in January, 2003.
As far as the ratings are concerned, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is far in the lead in that regard, but it’s not the ratings that are getting my attention. It’s not the hosts. I think the hosts are capable and talented.
It’s what’s happening behind the scenes, in the staff rooms that bothers me. So indulge me as a jump into reason number one:
I’m usually not guy who armchair-quarterback’s late shows, but lazy writing is something that bothers me to my core. I think it’s one reason why Late Night TV needs fresh writers.
There are writers on those staffs who are making a lot of money. The basic salary for a staff writer on a Late Night show is $4000 per week. That’s the base. You’d figure that if you were making that kind of money, you would bust your ass to keep that job.
The laziness first hit me when I was watching Seth Meyers over at ‘Late Night.’ I like Seth Meyers. Never saw him do stand-up, but loved him on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and when I saw him host the ESPY awards in 2010, I was totally sold that he would be a solid Late Night host. I was also aware that he was bringing over a bunch of seasoned writers from Saturday Night Live to write on ‘Late Night’ so I was excited for some rockstar material.
Retreading Old Sketches
When I first tuned in, they had Meyers doing a sketch where he looks in the mirror doing “Affirmations.” “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me!”
Ring a bell?
I’m like, What?! That’s Stuart Smalley, Al Franken’s character!
What’s so significant about that? That character first hit the air on Saturday Night Live in 1991 from a sketch of the same name.
#Lazy Writing. You would figure that the writers coming over to Late Night from SNL would bring experience, not recycled sketches.
As a Late Night TV writer, it’s your job to make your host look amazing and funny, not like he’s a retread from last century.
And “Late Night” airs in the 12:30 time slot in much of the country so what a great opportunity to be cutting edge and do something completely unique, right?
I mean where’s the lightning strikes? Where’s the ‘WTF’ moments? I just don’t see it.
Some of these writers are treating their comedy material like I treat my cough syrup with codeine; they use it way after its expiration date.
Severely Dated References
The most recent disappointment was over at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He did a joke about Donald Trump taking the Nevada primaries and dropped in a reference to Siegfried and Roy.
Those guys haven’t been on a Vegas stage for 16 years.
Sixteen years! I mean while you’re at it, why don’t you just drop in a Y2K reference!
I mean, think about it this way: of the networks’ coveted demo of 18-34 males, none of them would have been old enough to even go to Vegas when Siegfried and Roy were actually relevant!
The youngest would’ve been two and the oldest would’ve been eighteen. How the hell are they even supposed to know who Siegfried and Roy are?
C’mon writers! Get out of your cubicles and tap celebrity culture of today, not last generation!
I would’ve let that go, but then I saw this:
James Corden at the Late Late Show did the same joke that they did over at Late Night with Stephen Colbert. I know that happens and all and I can hear some of you saying it’s ‘parallel thought’ and I get it, but not only was the joke done on the same network, but it was done the following night; a full show cycle later.
Is nobody doing their homework?
The good news is that it IS a ‘WTF’ moment. The bad news is that it’s NOT the type ‘WTF’ moment that makes your host look like a rockstar. It’s the type of ‘WTF’ that will take your ratings in the direction the stock market goes everytime China farts.
I’m not writing about this simply to trash talk the shows. Those of you who know me, know that I’m a big supporter of people succeeding.
When Conan first hit the air he sucked and I celebrated when he found his groove, but I can tell you, with Conan, it was never about lazy writing, it was about his comfort as a host.
But in Late Night today it’s about the writers. When I was writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno I remember a veteran writer telling me that the burnout rate in late night writing is about 2 years.
Maybe some of these writers are experiencing burnout.
The reason I write this is there are a ton of fresh writers out there who would kill for the opportunity to be a late night writer.
Some email me from all over asking about how to get into the biz.
I got in because I found myself in college spending my days writing jokes on celebrity culture and current events rather than going to class.
So instead of fighting it I just came back to L.A. and wrote every day until I landed a job writing for the Tonight Show.
Are you like me? Do you do the same thing? Well then start setting goals to start writing 30-40 jokes a day.
Compare them with what’s on the Late Night shows and see if you’re better.
Because Late Night TV needs rockstars. Late Night TV need YOU!
Maybe YOU could be the one to help these hosts finally bring the ‘WTF’ moment.
Go get ’em!