Top Tips for Performing in Comedy Competitions
By Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic
Comedy competitions are a great way to get your name out there, meet other comics and industry professionals and develop a thick, professional skin. By that I mean that you’ll develop a bullet-proof, confidence when it comes to auditions and higher-stakes performances. Here are some tips that may help you have a better grasp on how to handle these events:
· PREPARE A TIGHT 2 MINUTES: Most major competitions, including television’s “America’s Got Talent” and “Last Comic Standing, ” give you two minutes to perform in the preliminary rounds. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but if you can write and perform a set that returns approximately 10 laughs in that time, you’ll be in the running. That breaks down to a laugh every 15 seconds or so. Don’t let that fool you. It doesn’t mean that you have to do a joke every 15 seconds, it means that in the overall two minutes, it’ll average out to that. The trick is that you structure your set so that you have tags and act-outs that follow your punch lines. With this structure one joke can generate two, three or four laughs, if not more sometimes.
· M.A.P.: stands for MATERIAL-AUDIENCE-PERFORMER. Your material must suit the audience and the performer. Do material that defines YOU. Also groom your material to fit the competition. For example if you are competing for a broadcast television competition, you know that the material must be “television-clean.” Best way to determine this is to YouTube comedians who appear on the Tonight Show and other late night shows and make note of where they draw the line with their material. What’s acceptable innuendo, etc. It’s not only words that get cut by the censors, certain themes are also deemed inappropriate for broadcast T.V. For example if you think you’re clean and you end your set with “…so I went to my room and jerked off!” You’re not going to get on national T.V. and you probably will not make it through the preliminary rounds.
· BE PROFESSIONAL: seems like a pretty obvious tip. But you would be amazed at how many people behave unprofessionally at these events. From showing up drunk or high to arguing with event coordinators over trivial matters, these behaviors reflect on your professionalism and will definitely reflect on your ability to succeed in a competition. Sometimes competitions come with inconveniences (whether it’s waiting in long lines, cattle calls, dealing with disorganization, etc.) be as cordial as possible and be the guy/girl who can help with the situation rather than hinder it. The organizers discuss the event with each other and if your name comes up and you’re referred to as the “asshole who didn’t want to wait in line, ” then guess who’s not moving to the quarters or the semis? Perception is everything. When people don’t know you by reputation all they have is the first impression you give them. You are performing from the moment you fill out that entry form and submit your video so do it as professionally as possible.
· BE SUPPORTIVE: You are not only involved in a competition to win it, you are also in it to meet and network with other professionals. If you are supportive and friendly, odds are you’ll walk away from the competition with some connections to other future gigs. So do yourself a favor and stay positive and helpful.
· SUBMIT QUALITY VIDEO: Back to first impressions. If the competition has you submitting video, submit the best quality you have. Make sure the sound level is good and you can be understood and make sure the video seems reasonably professional. Don’t submit something you shot in front of your fireplace. (Don’t laugh, it’s been done!). Submit something that has been preferably shot in front of a live audience (as opposed to a dead one!) and best reflects the professional image you want to put forth.
· FOLLOW THE RULES: All comedy competition come with rules and terms. A polite piece of advice–READ THEM! It’s called the fine print. Know right off the bat what you’re getting into and what the terms are. You don’t want to get there and realize that you’re not prepared or that you didn’t meet the criteria. For example if they wanted a set to be 2 minutes only. Then you better keep to the time. I don’t care how funny you are, if you break the rules, the organizers will most likely disqualify you. Don’t lose on a technicality. Follow the rules.
· HAVE FUN!: This is very important. When you do a competition, have a good time. It’s a long-shot that you are going to win. The more competitions you do, the more you improve the higher your odds. So while you’re there have a good time. You’ll enjoy it more it will reflect in your professionalism and it leaves your mind in a better state to identify and create new material. Who knows, while your involved in the competition you might find yourself with a new comedy bit. Five new minutes on doing comedy competitions!
Formula: Creating Surprise Using Implied Expectations
by Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic
Comedy can work in many different ways:
1. You can wait for something funny to happen then write it down and use it later.
2. You can formulate comedy by looking in the newspaper internet or T.V. news and write a joke about it.
3. You can write a simple story about your day, your relationship, your job or your life and use comedy formula to shape it to create laugh points and give the audience laughter.
I use all three techniques to write the comedy I write, but writing the story from scratch is one of my favorite ways to write comedy because it all comes from me and no one else will be doing it.
Let me illustrate a simple way to apply formula to this technique:
A student of mine wrote a little something about having her first hot flash:
“…my kids were asleep and I’m standing in the kitchen with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire. I tore off my clothes. Thankfully I wasn’t at Ralphs (local supermarket).” It’s a funny situation, and it might get a chuckle but how do we structure it to create surprise and really get a solid laugh?
It’s a excerpt from a story about her life. So I thought to myself. What if we take out her literal reference to where she was?
“…my kids were asleep and I’m standing with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire. I tore off my clothes. Thankfully I wasn’t at Ralphs (local supermarket).”
Now what we have is an assumption that the she is in her house.
One of the key foundations of comedy is to set up an implied expectation for the audience, then shatter that expectation. So if we have set up an expectation that she is at home, how can we spin that to surprise the audience?
“I had my first hot flash the other night. My kids were asleep and I’m standing with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire. I tore off all my clothes. I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack—because we were at Ralph’s.
Now we have a joke! We have a setup: I had my first hot flash the other night. My kids were asleep and I’m standing with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire so I tore off all my clothes.
We have an implied expectation that she and her husband are at home, because the kids are asleep.
We have misdirection and tension build-up: I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack. This statement takes the audience’s concern away from the idea that there is a punch line coming because …I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack…”
And then we have the punch: …because we were at Ralph’s.
So you could see how “because we were at Ralph’s” surprises the audience, because it is unexpected surprise created from implying that she was at home.
Most of your best jokes utilize formula to surprise the audience and since surprise is the number one element necessary to trigger human laughter, this basic comedy formula can help you create consistency in your humor.
Humor has structure and therefore it can be taught.
Check out a class at www.standupcomedyclinic.com
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3-Steps To Finding A Good Comedy Instructor
“My Name Is Jerry Corley. I Teach Stand Up Comedy…and I’d Like To Report A Crime…”
I’ve been a professional comedian for over twenty years. I’ve spent many years working 38 to 40 weeks on the road. I’ve written for television shows, including spending 8 years as a contributing writer on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I’ve written entire shows for comedians, including one for an impressionist who, as a result, booked 43 weeks at a Las Vegas Resort. The resort closed shortly after that, but they honored the remainder of his contract: 35 remaining weeks x $10, 000…not a bad pay day!
I’ve structured my shows to give performances that receive standing ovations. Now I teach what I know. I still do corporates and other gigs, but without the long weeks away from home and family.
I love teaching.
When potential students contact me on the phone or email, one of the first things they ask me is, “How can you tell whether a comedy instructor is good and I’m not wasting my money?” Well, first if you have a good rapport on the phone and you think you’ll get along with the instructor, follow these simple steps to be sure that you’ll be satisfied in your choice:
Step 1: See if your instructor has any video of himself or herself performing stand up online. If they do, watch it. If they don’t, contact that instructor either by phone or email and ask them if they have any video of their stand up that you can watch. If they don’t have any, go to…
Step 2: Hang up the phone and throw away the email, because really, what are they going to teach you? The only thing they have demonstrated is how not to do comedy.
Step 3: If they do have video, watch it. Does it make you laugh? Can you hear the structure? Are they confident? Is their delivery, writing and choice of material interesting and Intelligent? Again, does it make you laugh? If the answer to any of those questions is “no, ” then repeat step 2.
Why am I being so hard on comedy teachers? I’ll tell you why. I love this industry. I love the art form of comedy and I am passionate about the science of laughter and structure of comedy. I study it. I write it. I perform it. I can sit down and write funny about anything. (At least that’s what I tell myself each time I sit down to write funny about anything!) I believe a humorist should be able to, with practice and work, make any logical grouping of words, funny.
I see a lot of instructors out there ready to take your money. Comedy classes aren’t expensive, really, but for struggling artists they are. So before you plunk down your hard-earned 3 to 5 hundred dollars, your instructor should be able to demonstrate how to write a joke from scratch and make it funny. They should be able to step on that stage, with the pressure of an audience and perform it themselves.
I believe a good part of teaching is demonstrating. If they can’t demonstrate it, how in the world are they to effectively teach it? They might be able to regurgitate what they read in say, Judy Carter’s books and even Xerox that material and issue it to you in class as a hand out and claim they are teaching. They may also offer a student a critique only by telling the student when they think something is “HACK!”
Is this teaching? Maybe to some it is. But I believe it boils down to this: Would you learn how to paint an abstract or still life from somebody who can’t paint? Would you take driving lessons from someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license? Would you—you get the point.
You might learn a little something from those kinds of instructors, but a comedy instructor without an actual act is like a flight instructor without a pilot’s license. Odds are you are destined to crash! Simply, they lack the first-hand ability to apply the fundamentals of humor and create a laugh-out-loud article, essay, speech or stand up performance. And here’s the problem: you just paid five hundred bucks for that. That, my friends, is criminal.
Jerry Corley is the founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic. You can find more information at http://www.standupcomedyclinic.com
Yahoo Sports revealed that Brett Favre will reportedly stay retired. Yeah, and in an unrelated story Amy Winehouse says she’ll stay sober.
Professor Gates and Officer Crowley met with President Obama at the White House for a beer. I think it was a fabulous opportunity to demonstrate that two people can disagree and still be gentlemen. After the third beer things got a little heated. Professor Gates, punched Officer Crowley in the face and accused him of “looking at his bitch”.
Officer James Crowley, who teaches racial sensitivity to fellow officers, was offered another beer and politely refused it saying, “the last time I drank too much, I missed out on election day and when I finally woke up, my head was hurting, the room was spinning and our new president was black!
A white dude came out to the to serve beers on a platter to a black president in the White House. Man have we come a long way.
At the gathering, Officer James Crowley looked confused. When prompted he said, “I don’t know, I’m sitting at a table with two black men and a white man is serving us… Am I being punked?”
Joe Biden was there. He wasn’t invited, but he wasn’t going to miss out on free beer. He showed up and within a minute already had some verbal miscues. They handed him a glass of beer and he was like, “What the f**k, I thought this was a kegger?”
Joe Biden was also at the gathering. He wasn’t invited, but they thought having another white guy present would even it up a little. If Crowley thought it was just him and two black men he may have felt ganged up on and that situation could’ve easily turned pepper-spray-ugly.
What disappointed me about this whole thing is that our president was drinking Bud Light. Can’t our president have a better choice in beer? I think a more appropriate beer for a White House Gathering would have been a Samuel Adams.
The president says he prefers a good Colt 45, but didn’t think waving that in Crowley’s face would help end racial profiling.
L.A. County Coroner’s Office said that Michael Jackson’s autopsy will be delayed indefinitely. Apparently there’s yet another scandal; while autopsying his body, they dug deeper and found out it was Joan Rivers.
Telling a story in comedy is good. Did you know that one of the most
popular comedy teachers in L.A. says, “Don’t do stories!”
Funny, because some of the most successful comedians in the business
do stories. Jerry Seinfeld? Stories. Bill Cosby? Stories. Dane Cook?
Stories. Sometimes I wonder if those instructors watch comedy.
The key is to have laugh points in your stories. The stories should
be filled with surprises and word play that keeps the audience laughing
while you are trying to make your point. The story should also end with
a solid punch and utilize interesting and compelling language.
That will separate you from the pack.
My writing partner, Rob Rose, is great at coming up with compelling language. He can make the most mundane thing sound brilliant and funny. For example: we were writing a story about an “ex” who has a drinking problem.
She would sneak out to the garage to drink beer, while the rest of the family was watching television. The problem was that she would then accuse the husband of being a bad father. So he wrote,
“I’m giving the kids baths, helping them with their homework and she’s downing ‘road-cokes’ in the garage with the f*cking lights out.”
You can even remove the profanity and it still jumps off the page and
heightens the impact of the story. The sheer delivery and uniqueness
of the use of euphemisms will get a laugh simply because it’s
a funny way to say she was in the garage drinking beer.
So say it, but only different, and stand out from the pack!