Comedy News | Obama Speech Writer Turns Exec. Producer

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Jon Lovett, a former speech writer for President Barack Obama, who left the administration over the summer to pursue a writing career in Hollywood, has made good on his goal. NBC has given a put-pilot commitment on a new 30-minute single-camera, half-hour comedy, "1600 Penn."

It will focus on the lighter side of a fictional president’s dysfunctional family living at the most famous address in the world. (Imagine what the swing-set in the backyard looks like…"Hey kids, whatever you do, don’t press that red button!").

This is the first comedy about The White House and the president to reach one of the major networks. Prime time had some success with NBC’s "West Wing" and ABC’s "Commander in Chief," and Comedy Central had a short-lived series that featured a ‘Dubya’ look-alike called "That’s My Bush," which lampooned a sitting president while UPN did a conceptualized comedy set in the era of Abraham Lincoln when they did "The Secret Life of Desmond Pfeiffer." But this is the first 30-minute sit-comJason Winer of Comedy hit Modern Family.

This is a pretty significant event in the television world for a couple of reasons. One is mentioned just above, but NBC has only given out a handful of put-pilot commitments for the 2012-13 season, which shows the faith NBC has in previously untested Lovett.

Lovett will be on the comedy project as executive producer and will be joined by Modern Family director, Jason Winer and "The Book of Mormon" star Josh Gad also as executive producers.

From a comedy perspective, I’m interested to see how this will play out and if it can support a substantial enough television audience to keep it on the air. In my view it would need really solid writing that focuses on the family’s struggles, (ala the Huxtables in "The Cosby Show" or The Baxters in "Family Ties"), because it won’t float on the concept alone.

How To Comedian | How To Get Gigs

dealThat’s no typo up there in the title. I’m going to rebrand the word; change it from not only a noun, but also to a verb. The act of being a comedian. The connotation is so narrow isn’t it. “…An entertainer who seeks to make people laugh with sketches and funny monologues…” But being a comedian is so much more.

“How To Comedian” is my series on equaling out the word show-business and giving comedians tools so get work, the business end of the equation. Since I was 23, I haven’t had a full-time job. Everything I’ve done has to do with being a comedian and focusing on comedy. There have been times when I slowed down on the road to spend more time with family, but ultimately all my income has come from knowing how to comedian. That includes telling the jokes and making a living.

When I hang around the comedy store or talk to other comedians, their primary concern is getting work. “There’s not enough work out there…” is the common line.

I’m going to tell you something right now: there’s more work available as a comedian than you can even imagine.

Here’s the catch: to get started, you need 3 things:

  • You just have to know where to find it.
  • You have to have the balls to go and get it.
  • And you have to be able to work CLEAN!

Wow! Is that all? It may seem like a small requirement and it is, but in reality only a small percentage of comedians out there have these qualities. Some have balls but can’t work clean. Some work clean, but don’t know where to find the work or they don’t have balls.

Sad, but true. Stick with me, my cheeky laugh-makers, I will guide you through.

Every year from November to January, I am booked solid with “corporates” and other events that pay between $600 and $5000 per appearance. (To be completely transparent, the $5000 gigs are not as common, but they do bite sometimes when I pitch them this price). Those gigs pretty much set me up for the following year. Not bad, huh? I’ve been doing that since my early twenties in gigs no one has ever heard of. But it didn’t come easy.

First, I had to learn to work clean. When I started, I didn’t think I could even step on stage until I had an hour worth of material. No one told me what I needed. I didn’t have anyone to guide me. So I wrote and wrote until I had an hour. My only audience at that time, to try my material out on, was my parents and the comedy traffic school I was teaching. The material had to be clean.

So I had an hour or so of clean material. It’s not as hard as you think to write clean. REALLY. Browse through some of my posts, read my blog on using analogy to write jokes and look at my video on writing 15 jokes in 30 minutes, you’ll begin to see how easy it becomes writing material.

Once you have your hour of clean material, (really, all you need is around 40 minutes), and you’ve honed it and rehearsed it so that it generates laughs every 20-30 seconds, (In club auditions they look for a laugh-point every 18-20 seconds, but for corporate you have more flexibility), you can begin to move to the next step: Knowing where to find the gigs.

My suggestion is to start locally. Call your local Toastmasters, Rotary Clubs and other similar organizations (they all have websites). Tell them you would like to do 15-30 minutes of comedy for one of their luncheons. Offer to do it for FREE. That’s right. FREE.

Trust me on this. When you give away your best stuff, they will buy anything from you.

When you do an event like this for free, ask them not to tell people that you’re doing it for free. Give them a professional solid, funny show and you will be amazed at how many business cards are thrust at you after your appearance. All these folks own businesses and are looking for something new. They see how effective a comedian can be at a corporate event and now that they got a taste, they’ll want to see if they can afford you.

I do this every year at different Rotary Clubs in the area and it works like magic. I always book at least one gig, usually more. Think about it, for an hour or two of my time, I book a gig that usually pays a minimum of $1000.

So let’s start there. I don’t want to make this blog too long. Comedians have a short attention span! See, this is where having balls comes in. You can’t just wait for the work to come to you, you’ve got to go out and get the work! That’s your job. That’s the first step in really learning how to comedian!

The irony of this scenario is even though this technique works like magic. Over 97 percent of comedians won’t do this and I’ll see the same faces at the Comedy Store saying, “There’s not enough work out there…”

Power to the punch line!

How To Be A Famous Comedian | Get an Audition

 

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.

How To Be A Famous Comedian | Letterman Jabs Leno…

People often ask me how Jay Leno is viewed in the public eye. I don’t like to talk unfavorably about anyone (that’s a lie), but here’s Letterman taking a jab. Notice how much he enjoyed the poke…

It’s fun to watch Letterman have some fun with this!

How To Be A Comedian-Actor and Book More Gigs

What do I mean by “comedian-actor?” Well in my years as an actor/comedian I’ve never seen the acting business be so competitive as it is today. My actor friends are constantly complaining—and rightly so—that they’re not working as much as they used to. Nobody is really. There are valid reasons for that: more reality television, less scripted, would be one reason. But another reason is competition.

Think about it, years ago we used to be submitted to jobs by our agents who used a messenger to drop off headshots and resumes at casting offices. We were usually up against anywhere from 100 to 600 other actors for one job.

Now, everything is done electronically. Submissions are done with the click of a mouse and we now find ourselves competing with 1200 to 1600 submissions and more. How do you stand out? One suggestion: Don’t just stand out, Stand Up!

That’s right. I studied acting for many years both in New York and L.A. My father was a successful character actor for 60 years and I learned that you could be out of work for a stretch. That was why I originally started doing stand up. So I could work when I “wasn’t working.”

I found that doing comedy kept me busy and also kept me on the radars of casting directors I had built relationships with…

Why? Because, for the most part, industry decision-makers revere comedians. They have enormous respect for what we do, partly because they fear doing it themselves. When a casting director, creative director or rep sees you doing comedy and having a good set, they equate that laughter to laughter coming from an audience in a movie theatre or a living room. It’s quite powerful…as Dick Cook, former Chairman of Disney said, “Funny is money.”

I’ve had several actors take my course and wind up getting some great traction in their careers. Several have booked jobs or gotten agents. One of my favorite stories is Michelle Gomez (above). She took my class, I helped her develop a 10-minute comedy routine that she performed at the Comedy Store. She had a lot of industry attend and she wound up booking 2 pilots. And in the year prior, she couldn’t get arrested!

After she booked the pilots she sent an email to me that said, “Jerry, thank you for single-handedly restoring my confidence…”  That is a lovely compliment, yes?

What’s my point? Stand Up Comedy is an excellent showcase for an actor. It shows that you have confidence and poise and shows that you can deliver the goods and get laughs…and after all, funny is money, right?