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!

Comedian Lessons | Jokes About Death

Comedian Lesson: When I tell my students that you can write comedy about anything, I mean that. There are ways–I believe–to talk about anything using humor…
One of my students recently asked if you could write comedy material about family members dying. I said, “Yes!” In fact it’s healing and cathartic and it gives you an opportunity to do more than just jokes. It gives you an chance to be human.

Here’s a 2 minute segment of me doing a bit about my mother dying. Notice how I talk about the incident and talk around it at the same time, using elements that are a part of the story to convey the struggle of being a comedian going through sadness following the death of my mother.

The key is to just starting writing the truth and being honest. Within that you will find the turns, and begin to recognize the places where you can insert double-entendre humor, word, play, incongruity, recognition and surprise. And once you do, you will be able to write comedy, not only about death, but about anything.

How To Write Comedy | Conan Writer Rips On His Boss…

Conan Writer Deon Cole talks about Conan’s tattoos…or the lack thereof, and how he wrote a joke that didn’t make the cut…

Deon talks about how he became a writer on "The Conan O’Brien Show." It’s an interesting story and revealed a side of Deon that I’ve seen before, liked and I’m glad to see he still embodies it. I have enormous respect for Deon. He can get on CNN and talk about a joke that didn’t make the cut. Talk about keepin’ it real, huh? We spend so much time trying to show how good we are, because we have fragile egos and Deon just lays it out for all of us. What does that teach me as a writer and comedian? It teaches me that candor is cool.

When you’re honest with the audience they love you for it. Relate it back to the Ricky Gervais video in my previous post: Rick said that "comedy is about empathy…I want to see someone who stumbles and falls and brushes himself off…" Important lessons. How do you apply this lesson? Time and time again I am asked what if I bomb? What if the audience doesn’t like you. If you’re just trying to get from point A to point B and encountering obstacles along the way, we will like you. We will root for you. In other words, let us see you stumble. Let us see you get back up, because we will root for you the whole way!

What is Funny?

comedy_tragedyWhat is funny?

You really want to know what’s funny? How ‘bout some dumb-ass blogger trying to write an article entitled “What is Funny?!”

Funny is such a subjective term. How is anyone going to write about how to be funny? It’s almost like trying to definitively answer, “Who is God?” Or “What is Love?”

As a comedian of 25 years, a comedy writer for Jay Leno and The Tonight Show, comedy instructor and founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic, (a comedy workshop in Los Angeles), the question is posed to me, literally, every single day. So I thought I’d get serious about it for a minute and try to come up with a possible answer.

Please remember, this is just my theory and by no means a definitive answer. So keep the nasty comments to yourself. I’m still searching too! In other words, shut your conch! J

What is “funny?” You could ask that question in many different ways–“What is funny?” “What is funny?” “What is Funny?” Or even “What’s so funny, bitch?!…” and still come up with a blank stare. I’m not going to proclaim that I know what’s funny to everyone. Funny is very subjective. What is funny to one person is not necessary going to be funny to another. In a nutshell, we’re just guessing, the audience is the judge.

Here’s what I can do. I can analyze funny. In fact, let’s do it together. According to the dictionary, the number one definition of “Funny” is “to cause laughter or amusement.” Most people can agree on that. I was going to say “all people can agree on that, ” but people will find any reason not to agree—just watch the U.S. Congress.

So, for the purpose of this article, let’s all agree on the definition of “Funny;” that it causes laughter or amusement. In this case, since we are looking for laughs, let’s focus on laughter.

Because amusement is even more subjective. To some, the “Tilt-a-Whirl” at a carnival causes amusement. For me, it causes vomit. And here I think we can all agree that—and I’ve done a little research in this area—that vomiting is only amusing…if it’s not you.

Okay, back to what is funny?. How do we find funny? Well since we know that funny equals laughter we can start by looking at the science of laughter. When we do, we discover that according to experts on human behavior, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise.

Now by answering that, do you have any idea how far we’ve come now solving our initial question? It’s almost algebraic. It’s almost an “if-then” statement: What is funny is something that causes laughter. What causes laughter? Surprise, and if A=B and B=C, then A=C, then if Funny=Laughter and Surprise=Laughter, then Funny=Surprise! Got it?

Some people say that you can’t teach stand up comedy or for that matter teach somebody how to be funny. And while I do believe you are born with talent and you develop skill, I also know that if you have a reasonable amount of intelligence and a command of the English language you can learn the structures of how to manipulate words to take something seemingly mundane and turn it into something funny. I teach a comedy class in the Los Angeles area and I can teach just that to average, but amazing people and I’ve had tremendous results. How, you ask?

All it takes is a little surprise. Sid Caesar said, “Comedy is a story with a curlicue.” If you tell me a story and you give it a surprise ending, you have just written your first joke. Tell me something about yourself:

Comedian Tim Bidore used to open with this joke: “I come from a large family…four Moms, five Dads…” He just took something mundane, a cliché of everyday life and really just changed the ending. It’s a curlicue. It’s unexpected. Hence, it’s a surprise. Is it Funny? Let’s go back to the formula If Laughter=Funny, and Surprise=Laughter, then Surprise=Funny.

But we also understand the adage, the audience is the judge and in this case the audience still laughs at that line every time…and what is laughter equal to? FUNNY! Now we’re starting to get it!

Let’s look at it in another way…

How about when you go to the grocery store? When you check out, what does the clerk always say? “Did you find everything you were looking for?” Right? How do you usually respond? By saying, “Yes.” Because even if you didn’t find everything you were looking for, you just don’t want to deal with it.

What if you really took a moment, looked at that question and answered it in a unique way and surprising way?

First, look at the question: “Did you find everything you were looking for?” We know what he/she means when they ask that question. What they’re asking is: Did you find everything you were looking for while you were shopping today.

What if we blew it up a little? What if we took the meaning to the next level? “Did you find everything you’re looking for?” But this time we analyze it in a more “universal” sense, what do most people look for, not at the store, but in life; the meaning of life, or a soul mate, or love?

So what if we took one of those interpretations and responded to the question differently? Does it change? Let’s look:

Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?

Me: (Looking at the items on the conveyor) Well, I found some wine and some candlelight, but I couldn’t find my soulmate. You had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m just not into twins.

But then you realize that sometimes there might be someone that thinks you’re trying to relate women to fish. So you change it just to be silly:

Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?

Me: Well, I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find my soul mate. So instead, I got Cheeze Whiz!”

Now you have something that’s clever and unique. It will get a laugh every time at the grocery store and since it’s impossible to hate someone who makes you laugh, the next time you go into that store, they’re going to have everything you’re looking for!

Of course this is only one way to create laughter. This method creates surprise by saying something unexpected by using a comedy formula called, Double Entendre. It’s French. The literal interpretation is: “Two meanings.”

In my comedy courses I’ve broken down ten major comedy formulas that are used in contemporary comedy today. These formulas are used, literally, by all the comedians working today. Bottom line is if they make you laugh they are using one of these formulas.

When you learn these formulas and learn how to properly apply them, you can learn to effectively create surprise and as we learned earlier, surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for my next article: “Who is God…or is God Love?”

Jerry Corley’s Stand Up Comedy Clinic is an 8-week comedy class based in Los Angeles. Jerry teaches the fundamentals of comedy and humor writing and works hand-in-hand with students to help them create their own 5-7 minute stand-up act, which they perform in a Los Angeles Comedy Club.

Is Stage Time the “Only Way” to Learn Comedy?

By Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

I just got an email from someone who said, “The only way to learn stand up comedy is stage time.” That’s a common response, but is it really well thought out? I would have to say, “No.” If the comedian is like a surgeon and the audience are his patients, this comedian must have the stench of death following close behind.

Is it fair to make that comparison? After all, medicine is not comedy.

Think about it this way. It you were to compare being a comedian to piloting an airplane, how many of you would want to fly “Open-Mic Airlines?”

Comedy is an art form and stand up comedy is a performing art, as is music, acting, dancing, singing and magic. Sorry mimes, if I left you out. However, what some people forget is that the comedian, unless he’s just buying jokes or stealing them—why, Carlos Mencia, has your name has become synonymous with that theme?—then the comedian is also a writer.

Every single one of those art forms has a learning learning curve. Comedy, in its form, is most like magic. As magic is about misdirection and surprise, so is comedy. In fact, scientifically, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise. When the magician takes the ball into his hand waves the wand over it and says, “abracadabra, ” “presto-chango, ” “expelliarmus, ” (or whatever magicians are saying these days)  and the magician opens his hand and the ball is gone, we smile, we giggle, because we have been surprised. But if a magician doesn’t learn the formula, if the ball doesn’t disappear and reappear or worse, if we see where the ball is going, then there is no surprise and there is no magic and the smiles and giggles will be replaced by groans and boos and hisses. Misdirection and surprise are part of the comedian’s fundamentals as well and must be learned before getting “stagetime, ” otherwise those same groans, boos and hisses—and worse, will follow the comedian.

Structurally, comedy is also about story telling and music. Most of us know that a good story and a good piece of music has a beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately, most comedians don’t know this or don’t know to put it in their acts…certainly they need this over at SNL. When you do build this in, you stand out. Audiences love resolution and they respond with applause. It’s as simple as a musical scale, if you sing: DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI-, the audience is going to feel unresolved. They will feel like something is missing. However, if you sing, DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI-DO, the audience will feel compelled to raise their hands in applause. Learn your fundamentals, your scales, your rudiments, then can you make beautiful music.

It’s the same thing in comedy. Stagetime is definitely the way to hone your skills of performing comedy, but if you learn what makes people laugh and you learn to identify surprise, irony, incongruity and recognition, then apply that to your performance before you get your “stagetime, ” you probably would’ve saved the audiences you’ve encountered a lot of misery you unwittingly injected into their hearts, their memories and their olfactories, because the potency of the stench of death you most certainly left behind would’ve been a lot less significant.