Comedian Lesson: Paralyzed By Analysis

Trying to make a decision on whether or not to try stand up comedy or whether or not to get into stand-up? It’s not an easy decision. As humans our ability to think about the modeled world is extremely effective our abilities to problem solve and develop an innovative approach to solve a problem is highly advanced. However our ability to foresee the effects of a decision in the distant future is our dilemma. We can get caught up in the decision making process, almost to the point of paralysis; we get stuck in perpetual indecision… or according to Princeton neuroscientist Sam Wang:

Human brains house a tremendously complex prefrontal cortex, which gives us the capability to think about a modeled world and contemplate the future. Where we get caught up is our ability to predict the long-term effects of our decisions. “It’s difficult to judge whether some life decision you make today will make you happy a few years down the road,” says Wang. To get around this limitation, he recommends  learning from someone who has been faced with the same decision: “They can report accurately whether it made them happy or unhappy.”

Finding a Solution

Lot’s people I talk to mention to me that they’ve thought about doing stand up. It’s something they’ve always wanted to do. These people come to me in their forties and fifties. They talked to family and friends and asked them about it and got a mixed response.

What Mr. Wang is saying is that you should talk to someone who has made that decision and seen the result of that choice. It’s almost a real glimpse into the future from someone who has lived it!

I’ve been there. I made the decision long ago that I wanted to do stand up comedy for a living. I knew there would be tough times, but I also knew that if I applied myself that I would accomplish my goals.

It was the best decision of my life! I am immersed in comedy every day. My whole career is based on creating humor as well as teaching it.

If you want to get into stand up comedy. Do it! Give it a shot! You can always change your mind and go manage a car dealership later. It’s better than being stuck at forty or fifty and wondering if you should’ve done it.

Comedy Lessons | Never say Never

I was wrong!

Many students have come up to me and asked, “Can I just put together a tape in my living room?” I’ve always said, “Absolutely not. You should never do that. Make sure shoot a tape that is in front of a live audience.”

Well comedian Jesse Popp proved me wrong. In this little quick interview, Jesse talks about doing comedy only three times before he shot a video of himself in his friend’s basement with three of his friends. “We set up a karaoke machine and a sheet against the wall, and one of my friends was holding a light up and at one point the lamp caught the sheet on fire and we had to do another take… I sent the tape into Comedy Central and it worked out I guess”

Jesse started in 2000 and since then, Jesse has appeared on several comedy shows including Conan, and Comedy Central’s “Half-Hour.”

The point is this: Even though it’s not recommended to send a tape out that you shot in your basement, never say “never.”

Sometimes the best choice is just to get it out there!

Comedy Classes | Video: The Art Of Stand Up – Pt. 1

The Art of Stand Up
As part of my Comedy Classes series, I am including a post that was shared with me from another student. This is a segment from the BBC’s series on The Art of Stand Up (also available on YouTube and the BBC website). It features interviews with many popular comedians from the U.K. and the U.S.

One of the things I highly recommend is to listen to other successful comedians as much as possible. There’s so much to learn and their experiences can help us learn to avoid the mistakes they may have made and to be inspired by their commitment to the craft. I hope you enjoy this as much as I have.

My favorite quote from this video: “It actually is like being able to fly…” Awesome!

What’s your favorite comedy quote?

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Promoting Your Video via Email

Want to email your video to bookers, managers or agents? Here’s a quick tutorial.
So you have your video done and you want people to see it. You put it up on YouTube, but now what? I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how one goes about getting the video out there, so I put a quick tutorial together on how to email your YouTube video. I hope you find this useful!

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Busting The Top 3 Comedy Myths

mythbusters2In the 25 years that I’ve been a professional comedian, I’ve faced a lot of so-called myths that have spread around the comedy circles. It’s amazing that no matter how much you work to diffuse those myths or prove those myths wrong, new comedians seem to continue to nurture and spread tired, hugely over-told and wildly understood myths. I’m using this particular post to point them out and bust them. So that they don’t continue to stifle up-and-comers. Here they are:

1. Don’t laugh at your own jokes.

One of my students was performing her act on stage and despite the fact that she’s an attractive girl, she wore this “scowl” throughout her act. It’s wasn’t a result of her point of view or her emotional approach to the joke, it was just a scowl. At the end of her set I said, “You should smile more. It opens up your face and shows you’re having a good time.”

She said, “ I don’t want to because a comic friend of mine said I shouldn’t laugh at my own jokes.”

That particular rule of thumb is so misunderstood. There’s a difference between enjoying the material and “laughing at your own jokes.” I think that rule is better applied to those comedians who laugh because the joke doesn’t get laughs. The comedian who laughs to say “hey look at me I’m funny…” is what that rule of thumb is better suited for. But you can laugh and enjoy and giggle and play all you want.

If you want to see someone who blasts that rule to smithereens, watch Craig Ferguson work. He has a great time is always laughing at himself.

Here’s a bit of theater science: “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in.” So if you’re having a good time, the audience has no choice but to have a good time.

2. Prop Comics & Guitar Comics are all hacks.

Gotta put this bitch to bed once an for all. There are a lot of comedians that think that just because they prefer to be monologists, that anyone who uses an instrument or a prop is a hack. That’s NOT necessarily true. Guitar and prop comics are simply adding an additional dynamic to the overall show. Those who waste time calling them “hacks” are either naïve or jealous.

A good guitar comic is probably booking more festivals and New Years’ shows at a substantially higher dollar rate than a monologist, because the music can take the audience to another level of participation.

If you are using props, impressions or a guitar, you better be good and the jokes better be solid and interesting, original and funny. There is a tendency for a prop comic, an impressionist or a guitar comic to use their props or instruments to get easy laughs. If you do this, you’re going to wind up being classified as a “hacky” comic. But then again if you were a strict monologist and your material wasn’t interesting intelligent, original or funny, wouldn’t you be considered “hacky” anyway?

carrot top

People make fun of Carrot Top because he’s a prop comic. Why would any comedian waste time and energy bashing someone who’s doing what he loves and making a living. Bash all you want. Carrot Top has his own theater in Vegas and is one of the highest earning comedians alive today. Instead of bashing Carrot Top, comedians should ask themselves, “What can I learn from his success?”

I might not be a big fan of prop comedy, but I’m a fan of Scott Thompson, (Carrot Top).

3. “I Gotta Follow That?”

I hear a lot of comedians wait to go on stage and someone really good just finishes and they say something like, “You mean, I gotta follow that?!”

Here’s what I learned over the years in this business. The audience wants to enjoy every comedian. They really want to hear a unique and different point of view. I learned a long time ago that you’re not “following” any body. You’re just “next.”

This lesson was taught to me in a very unique way. I was a fiery and fast feature comedian back in the day, hungry to step up to the headliner position. I was writing my ass off and rehearsing and touring 35 weeks a year. I wanted to headline. So when I took the stage I poured it on. I would always give the best shows I could.

I was in Sacramento working at a club called Laughs Unlimited and it was the first night of the week and I was working with the lovely Diane Nichols. Diane had been on The Tonight Show with Johnny and Jay. I wanted to blow the doors off the place to prove that even though she was on network T.V., she couldn’t follow this gun slinger.

I went on stage and right out of the gate I was hitting all my jokes. Everything worked. I was on fire. I wrapped up and she came on stage. In an exhausted forty-something voice she said, “Wow, ladies and gentleman how ‘bout a hand for Jerry Corley…what a ball of energy huh? (Big pause)… I wish I had that kind of energy…”

The audience laughed hard. She didn’t miss a beat. She wasn’t worried about following me… she wasn’t even thinking about me. She was doing her thing and since the audience is in whatever state the performer is in, they were right there with her too.

I learned a BIG LESSON that night.

That came back to me later in my career too. I was headlining at a resort in Nevada and this guitar comic I admire, Huck Flynn, was booked as a feature. I thought the booker must have screwed up because he was rocking rooms as a headliner before I even started in comedy. But here I was having to follow him… did he take it easy on me? No way! He got on stage and blew the doors off the place. The audience loved him.

Now it was my turn. I remembered that lesson I learned from Diane Nichols… I got on stage nice and easy and I said, “Wow, ladies and gentleman, how ‘bout a hand for Huck Flynn…he can really play with that guitar, huh? (Big pause)… I’m not even that good playing with myself…”

They forgot about Huck and they were now with me, because I stayed true to me and my groove… because I wasn’t following anybody, I was just next.