Tonight Show is Not Just For the Old Folks

Justin Timberlake   Jimmy Fallon s  History Of Rap 5  Is Perfect

Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” is just finishing its first week and it has been an experience in engaging entertainment. Fallon has found that “something” that the show has been missing for the last 20 years; FUN!

Fallon’s ability to do impressions and his talent with music is the driving force of the show. Not to go without mention, the hipness and playfulness of his house band “The Roots,” makes Fallon’s “Tonight” totally entertaining and has turned the Tonight Show from that show than Mom and Dad watch before they go to bed, into a show that could entertain the tweens through the fifty-somethings at least.

I’m fifty (hard to admit it), and I find that show totally engaging.

How does that affect you as a comedian or a writer?

Simple. As a comedian or writer it is always good to reinvent yourself. Update, reboot, rewire, retrofit, restore rehab or renovate. Whatever you want to call it, keeping up to date and staying “now” is what drives engagement.

Now this should not be confused with age or birthdate.

Although Jimmy Fallon represents youth and will help NBC acquire the coveted 18-34 demographic in the late night slot, it doesn’t mean that in order to capture that demo, you must utilize only 18-34 talent.

The biggest draw on cable for a nightly show is still Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Stewart turns 52 this year and Colbert 50).

The key to driving engagement, at least where Fallon is concerned is his ability to be recognizable with his entertainment. He engages the audience with stuff they recognize (Ie: Song parodies and impressions). Even in the sketch above with Justin Timberlake, he slips into a Snoop Dog impression, a Dr. Dre, Ton Loc and Beastie Boys.

Familiarity and recognition drive engagement. If we recognize something we react physically to the television with a point a gesture like, “I’ve seen that,” “I know that!” “I remember that!”

This keeps the viewer watching and the ratings high.

It doesn’t have to be impressions. In fact, I would warn against that, unless you really nail the voice.

But doing something that creates an “in the moment” and “now” dynamic like engaging with the audience, act-outs, interaction with the band, keeps it moving and keeps it now.

There’s an old theatre science theory that states: "The audience is in whatever state the performer is in." Watch Fallon and Timberlake below and see just how much fun they are having and ask yourself, Is the audience having fun too?

What are your thoughts?

Look Who’s Doing College Gigs!

Tony Quach & Jason London

Imagine doing stand-up comedy for only a year and booking your first paid stand-up gig at a University…

One year? Can it be done?

Oh yes it can! And it can be done well!

Tonight at Cal State Northridge, the university students put on a comedy show for like Greek week or something like that. Not many Greeks attended the comedy show because the Greeks were doing what Greeks do; party!

But no Greeks were needed. The room was standing room only and my students: Byron Valino, Tony Quach, Joe Dungan, Jason London and Adrian Herrera put on a fantastic show and got the room greased and ready for headliner Brian Kiley, the Emmy-award winning writer for The Conan O’Brien show who batted clean-up and knocked it home!

Some people say that college kids are hard to make laugh, but the show was filled with laughs from the first comic to the end and Jason London got a standing ovation. Sure it was by one person; his mom, but–

Actually it was from one of the CSUN students in the audience. Jason had one of his best sets yet.

You could actually see the structure of comedy pay off time and time again at this show.

The beauty of this whole thing is that these guys (except for the headliner) have not been doing comedy all that long. Some have been in my classes for less than a year, but it proves that when you learn the craft of humor writing and stand up, you can make even the toughest crowds laugh.

The ‘beautier’ part? They all got paid to do the gig. That’s right; PAID… in L.A.!

Whaaaat?! Who does that? Who pays in L.A.?

Uhm… colleges!

I think my guys are on to something. The University event organizers really loved the gig. They recorded the entire show. So now each of them have a solid video clip of them doing a college comedy event.

Now they can organize that and take it to the other campuses and book some more shows.

How Did They Do This?

I’ll just beat you to the punch now, because I know I’ll get a bunch of comments asking, “how did they get this gig?” It’s a comedian’s nature to ask how to get the gig.

They got it because Tony is an advisor on campus. He asked around, pimped and prodded and finally got the ASB to agree to put on a comedy show.

Because Tony had a relationship in place, he utilized it to pitch his show. Most everything in this town is done because a relationship is in place.

Do you have a relationship in place that you can utilize to pitch a college gig? A corporate? A fund raiser?

Some of you might be thinking… “Man I don’t know anybody like that.” And you might leave it at that, never bothering to try to make a connection. But you don’t need to have a connection.

If you don’t have any connections, make them!

 

How I Got My First College Gigs

When I first started doing colleges, I didn’t know anyone, but I had a solid tape.

I purchased Peterson’s guide to the college market and I started contacting colleges via letter and phone. (Yes, I said, ‘letter!’ It was before e-mail!).

I received some responses. I pitched my shows and low and behold (“low and behold” what does that even mean?), I started booking gigs.

My first year doing this, I only booked three college gigs, but after that it was five, then ten; partly because I spoke to some of the same people I tried to pitch the previous year. They remembered me.

See? Relationships!

Each gig was paying $750-$1500.

When I started, I didn’t have any connections and I didn’t know anyone. But I did have a relationship in place. It was a relationship with Peterson’s guide to colleges. Each one of those contacts, became leads. And each one of those leads became relationships.

Then it was just a matter of getting them to say “yes.”

So when you say, “how do you get these college gigs?” There’s an answer: Build relationships!

Relationship to the next power

Tony Quach, who booked this comedy show tonight at Northridge’s campus, took this relationship idea to the next level. Not only did he book his friends (fellow comedians who were also classmates at my Comedy Clinic), he also reached out to Brian Kiley, (head monologue writer on Conan), and offered him the headlining spot.

Prior to this, Tony was not even on Brian Kiley’s radar. Know what he is now?

A relationship.

–Great work guys! Can’t wait to headline your next college show! 

C’mon! I thought we had a relationship?!

Patton Oswalt: “I stole a Joke. Not consciously.”

patton-oswaltIn a recent blog post about joke-thieving, I posted that Howie Mandel allegedly caught a comedian named Greg Wilson “stealing” a joke on America’s Got Talent.

It generated a lot of comments; some agreeing, some disagreeing with my post, some attacked, some complimented. Some people sent private emails to avoid getting into it in the comment thread.

The piece was written in a heightened way to draw attention to a dilemma we always face as writers and comedians; intellectual property theft.

Whether it’s a joke or a movie script or a television pilot idea, I’ve experienced it personally at several levels. And I expect to experience it more.

But the questions remain:

What do you do about it when it happens to you?

How do you keep from doing it yourself?

Who cares if I use someone else’s material?

I think the best advice I got on joke-stealing is from Jay Leno. He said, “Just write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

He also says to people that accuse him of stealing a joke, “You keep it. I’ll write more.” Great advice. I highly recommend not only following it, but making it your code.

My Irish temper sometimes impedes my ability to make sound and reasonable decisions in a lot of situations. It can especially get in the way when someone steals a joke.

Temper can manifest itself in many ways. It once manifested in the Comedy Store parking lot with another comedian’s bloody head bouncing off the hood of a Trans Am.

Some of you might be saying, “Oh my God, Jerry! I can’t believe you would do such a thing to a Trans Am!”

Why not? It was the nineties and Trans Ams were so previous decade!

Despite the fact that I’m no longer the guy who reacts like that, I still like to defer to people who are smarter when it comes to trying to sort out an answer to a popular problem…

Patton Oswalt is smart, funny involved and completely dedicated to the business of comedy. I follow his tweets (when I can) and read his “Spew.

I think it’s always a good idea to follow people who are smarter than you, funnier than you and ultimately more successful than you so that you can continue your journey to be the best you can be.

One of the suggestions he gives in his “Closed Letter To Myself about Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes,” is to let the joke thief steal. Eventually he’ll reach that point of no return, where the thief will—with the help of other comedians’ material—reach the level of network T.V. as a performer or a writer, then crash and burn because they didn’t get to that level by developing their own creativity.

Because at that level when it’s all on them to ‘create,’ their creative well is a dust bowl. They become the reason for their own demise.

So take some time (it’s a long piece so grab some coffee), and give Patton’s article a read. I think he’s got a better solution to understanding the thievery dilemma than I.

I mean, unless you really hate Trans Ams.

Stop Thinking Like an Employee

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

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

WTF?!

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

Pretty ugly.

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

All around; very frustrating. I get it.

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

Let me try to sort some of it out…

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

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

That’s the way it goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Comedians Think Like Employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tune in, tune up, and kick ass!

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

BUSTED! Comedian Caught Stealing Another Comic’s Material During ‘America’s Got Talent’ Taping?

America's Got Talent

The Greg Wilson is Accused of Stealing Another Comedian’s Material while recording America’s Got Talent

According to the story that I first read on Slashfilm.com, comedian-contestant, The Greg Wilson, was performing on “America’s Got Talent.” He went to his closing bit which was an act-out of a mimed argument of a couple arguing in a car.

The crowd loved it, the first two judges loved it. When they got to Howie, he asked the contestant, (The Greg Wilson), “Did you write this, or are you performing someone else’s material?”

OUCH!

Right there in front of the audience and the cameras at the Pantages in Los Angeles, he gets asked if he stole material!

DOUBLE OUCH!

To top it all off, Howie says that he knows the comic that does the bit in question. Then he reveals the name of the comic: “Frank Nicotero.” Some of you may say, “Who the hell is Frank Nicotero?” Well, Frank is a comic who has been around for quite a while. He’s smart and funny… and he also just happens to be the warm-up comedian for… (drum-roll please)…

AMERICA’S GOT TALENT!

So The Greg Wilson is being accused of stealing a bit from a comedian who (unbeknownst to him) is in the SAME ROOM!

DOUBLE OUCH with an “OH SNAP!”

Being accused of stealing material is a big deal in this business. It’s scummy. It’s pathetic. And it can ruin a reputation and possibly a career… isn’t that right Carlos Mencia?

But to be snagged while doing it for a television show that gets to broadcast out to tens of millions is epic!

Here’s where it gets a little gritty:

I watched both comedians performing the bit:

Here’s Frank Nicotero:

Here’s The Greg Wilson: (The Bit starts at 3:43)

See The Differences?

When I watched both of the videos my initial reaction was this:

This bit is a high concept bit that could easily be performed by two different comedians. We’ve all seen couples fighting in a car and I could see that two comedians could come up with similar bits on that concept.

Based on the two versions, I thought that Greg Wilson did a more concise job defining the different characters and acting them out, but…

Jay Leno said to me: “There are no ethics in this business. You have to write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

[gn_quote style=”1″]Your reputation will precede you…[/gn_quote]

That’s where this conflict begins to sort itself out; and we can begin to answer the question of if the idea was stolen.

If we consider the fact that Frank Nicotero is a seasoned professional who has hosted a television show called “Street Smarts” for 5 years and has had additional success and has a reputation that is super solid in this business, the origination of the bit in question starts to become clear.

But this is what settled it for me…

According to people who know both guys, It’s said that The Greg Wilson KNOWS Frank and Greg has SEEN FRANK PERFORM THAT BIT for years. I mean the bit goes back to 1993 for Frank Nicotero. It has been Frank’s closing piece for a very long time.

That’s where it’s No Bueno.

It boils down to this: Having a reputation for being a solid writer and comedian with fresh ideas by actually doing the work and writing on a regular basis is crucial in developing your reputation.

By doing a comedy bit that is known to be a signature bit of another comedian, The Greg Wilson has created a dilemma for himself that he now needs to overcome. He has seriously tainted his reputation and that is now being spread via the internet and social media.

If this story continues to have legs, it could really have an impact on his career and what other people in this business think of him.

Also consider this: America’s Got Talent is a reality show. It stays on the air as long as the ratings stay high. Much of the ratings are driven by conflict and drama on the show and although Frank was told that The Greg Wilson’s bit will never be aired…

A decision might be made by the show’s producers to air the segment just for the sheer drama and conflict. It’s bound to drive ratings and new blog posts, shares on Facebook and tweets on Twitter.

This story doesn’t die here. It reanimates when the show airs in about 6 weeks for potentially tens of millions of viewers watching on T.V. and potentially millions in the blogosphere and social media all pointing to the headline of The Greg Wilson allegedly stealing Frank Nicotero’s routine and performing it on Television.

Your reputation precedes you, indeed.

Love to hear your thoughts on this situation pro or con…