Revenge may be Best Cold, but Success is Best Always.

Joe Dungan - Winner, Clean Comedy Challenge 2017

One of the biggest joys of running the Comedy Clinic and imparting what I’ve learned through these many years in comedy is when one of my students has a success moment. It’s rewarding in so many ways.

First off, it’s just totally cool to see one of your students succeed… just that. I remember when I was in that same position and I remember the feeling of winning something or succeeding at something in comedy. That sense of accomplishment is sublime and when one of your students achieves success, it’s like having that feeling all over again.

Joe Dungan, one of my hardest working students and one of my master teachers just won The Clean Comedy Challenge 2017 at the Ice House in Pasadena, CA!

Joe competed against a litany of other comedians. And he must’ve done great because at the end of the performances one of the other comedians said to him, “Get ready to collect your prize money,” implying that it was clear who won the Clean Comedy Challenge.

So how did Joe do it?

As many of you know, it can be a challenge to come up with clean comedy that pops. The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

The primary way to make it work is with tightly structured material so that there’s clear, crisp surprise.

Joe’s opening line gets them laughing right away “My name is Joe ‘Successful Career’ Dungan, but you can call me Joe Dungan because the ‘Successful Career’ is silent.”

This line accomplishes two things. It self-deprecates, presenting Joe’s dilemma, while using the superiority concept in comedy, instantly letting the audience know that Joe doesn’t take himself too seriously. It also gives us surprise and incongruity because Joe juxtaposes the words “successful career” with a letter that might be silent in a person’s name.

But the structure of that joke is tight. It’s a great opening joke and has the audience on Joe’s side right out of the gate.

Lorne Michaels, the genius behind the success of Saturday Night Live, says that an audience has to be confident in the comedian on stage and there’s nothing better than a well-structured joke right out of the gate to immediately inject a large dose of confidence into that audience.

And that’s the primary focus of the curriculum at the Comedy Clinic. I want you to learn the science and structure of comedy so I empower you with the tools to write comedy that is designed to get laughs by helping you learn the proven structures of comedy and the science behind why people laugh.

I encourage my students to be able to write clean material. You don’t have to do clean material if it’s not your persona, but you should be able to. This way you don’t have to simply rely on shock value to get a laugh.

When you learn to be able to work clean you can work anywhere. It makes you more versatile as a comedian and makes you more likely to succeed as a comedy writer or performer.

Let’s face it, one of the quickest ways to get on the map in comedy is to appear on television and whether it’s Kimmel, Conan, Fallon, Colbert, Meyers or Corden, your material needs to be able to fit in the parameters of that show’s requirements and although many of the shows are showing much more flexibility, you’re still required to be ‘clean.’

Once you have a few appearances on network TV, you are more likely to be able to book higher paid corporate work, get a solid agent and begin developing your professional career even further.

A national TV credit almost instantly thrusts you into the headlining position in most clubs around the country and gives agents a reason to represent you.

But if you’re not able to work clean, the network TV gigs will continue to be off-limits to you as a performer.

If you are able to work clean, almost nothing can stop you.

So congratulations Joe Dungan! Get that video and start getting it out to the talent coordinators booking the Late Night shows on TV.

And to those of you reading this, start learning to write and perform clean. Remember you don’t have to be a clean comedian, but you create exponentially more opportunity if you are able to.

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I’m Funny around my Friends, but…

Funny around friends, but
Are you funny around your friends? Do you make your friends laugh in everyday situations, but then you try to put it on the page and it just doesn’t sound like you or the idea that you thought was funny is no longer funny?

It’s like your natural ability to be funny is being killed by the writing.

This is a common complaint with people and there are a lot of things that are going on that cause that to happen.

In this post, I’m going to discuss the main reason as to why we’re funny in person and it gets lost on the page and what you can do to keep your natural funny growing while learning to develop the funny in your writing.

If you’re one of those people who’s naturally funny in the moment with your friends, you should understand that the way you developed that (most likely) is through exposure. I’ve yet to meet a so-called naturally funny person who wasn’t exposed to comedy at a younger age.

My writing partner, Rob Rose, is probably the fastest, funniest guy I’ve ever worked with. He’s so quick when we’re at parties or social gatherings I just stand back and let him do his thing. But Rob wasn’t “born” with this. Rob used to hide in his room (because of an abusive step-father) and watch comedy shows. He watched all the greats. Their structure and timing were immaculate. Because of his constant exposure, he began to repeat jokes and use some stuff in his own dialogue. Eventually, he started to recognize the patterns that created the laugh. By coincidence, in conversation, he would recognize more opportunities to use those patterns with his own words.

When I met Rob he was already a funny guy. He was part of a 2-man comedy team that just messed around at an open mic in Sacramento.

A couple of years later, he started going on the road with me as a solo act. His first night on stage, he bombed… horribly. What do I mean by that? He was only able to do about a minute and a half. He was supposed to do thirty!

He thought that just because he was such a funny guy, he could go up on stage and wing it. But being funny in person doesn’t always equate to being funny within a certain time frame on stage and on cue.

In stand-up comedy, you have to get them early and you’re expected to get a laugh every 18-20 seconds (minimum), on average. Rob didn’t get a laugh in the first 90 seconds… started sweating said, “Good night!” and ran off the stage.

We had a contract to provide a 90-minute show. So I had to go up and do 90-minutes. Lol!

Looking back on it, Rob laughs about that night. It’s still embarrassing, but he laughs about it.

After that night Rob and I spent the entire next day going over his act. I turned on a video camera, (It was one of those camcorders that had the VHS tape in it), and had Rob come into the room like it was a stage and do his act, by reading it off the page.

Every time he messed it up, he would go back out of the room and we’d start the tape over. He would come back and start his set like he was actually starting his act.

Yep, just like two grown-ass men playing pretend!

Eventually, Rob got it. We took the tape and put it in Rob’s VCR player in his hotel room.

He listened to it over and over.

He’s so good in the moment and on the fly that I said, “If you ever feel stuck, just go to your strength,” (being in the moment).

That night Rob crushed it so hard that people were asking for his autograph after the show.

The key is, we played to his strength which is being in the moment.

Before I forget, one crucial point: We went over Rob’s act orally, then I wrote down every joke/story. The reason I wrote it down was because when Rob actually wrote his jokes, he had a tendency to “overwrite” them. He would overwrite them to the point where they were no longer funny.

Rob eventually fixed that. But only through a lot of practice writing jokes and writing dialogue.

Comedy has a certain structure. Rob spent his childhood learning that structure orally to that structure and it worked when he was in the moment.

In essence, when Rob was learning orally, he was using different regions of the brain to access his funny mechanism. But that’s not all…

Throughout our entire school careers, when we are taught to write, we are brainwashed (in a sense) to write in prose. We’re taught creative writing, but usually with a focus on using correct grammar, punctuation, etc. And it’s usually dull when read aloud.

Try this take even an exciting book of fiction and try reading it aloud. It will “sound” like a book.

Stand-up, on the other hand, is a conversation, (usually one-sided). We’re expected to be present like we would be at a party with our friends.

Problem is we’ve spent years learning to write NOT the way we speak. We speak in broken sentences, in slang, with contractions, etc.

It’s amazing to watch someone who’s developing their skill at writing. They could crack a great joke right in front of you. And the moment you ask them to write it down, they fall back on their learning of writing in school, trying to use correct punctuation, grammar, etc., and they over write the joke.

That can kill the joke.

It’s not just common in stand-up, but also in script writing. It’s hard to find someone who can write great dialogue. Why? Because dialogue is

Why? Because dialogue is conversation.

There are many different ways to correct this. It takes time to learn how to write the way you talk. Too many to cover in this blog post.

However, you can start by learning to record your jokes with your friends. By first recognizing that they’re laughing at what you’re saying, then getting it on the recorder on your iPhone or Android device. Then transcribing the joke exactly as you said it without falling back into your grade school lessons and writing the way you were taught, but writing the way you speak.

If you practice this often, you will soon learn to write the way you talk.

Another way to do it is to write your jokes like you’re writing a Facebook post, a text or an email. When we’re doing that we have a tendency to write like we’re talking to a specific person.

If  you’re funny in person, but lose the funny when you put it on the page, focus on your strength of being funny in the moment with your friends.

Practice your joke writing during the day but when you hit the stage focus on your strength

Eventually, your writing will match your personality.

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The First Key to Success no Matter What Your Specialty

First Key to Success Jerry Corley

I see it time and time again, people who have amazing possibilities and opportunities, but don’t seem to capitalize on them and succeed.

Are you one of those people? Do you feel like you’re not moving forward or succeeding the way you want or with the speed with which you want?

There may be a way to help you start to change that trajectory with one adjustment in the way you approach life and your own decision making. In other words, by changing the way you think.

Clear Negative Thoughts

Many of us create our own obstacles and our own failures just by the way we think. This type of behavior can have profound effects on the outcomes in our lives. It’s so powerful in fact, experts say that it can mean the difference between success and failure.

You might fit in this group if you have a tendency to do the following. Do you…

  • Blame outside forces for the negative things that happen to you?
  • Resist being open to mistakes by not listening or do you talk over people who are critical of you and offering advice?
  • Feel hurt and angry when people are critical of your work?
  • Always find excuses for situations or events when they don’t go your way?
  • Highlight the negative experiences about an event or endeavor?
  • Respond to the question “how’s your day?” with “Ugh!” “FML,” “Don’t even ask!” or something similar?

If you have a tendency to do any of these things then success might be more elusive to you than it needs to be.

Here’s the good news: YOU have the power to control it. You can change by understanding what is stopping you, then taking one single action to change it.

Keep in mind, it won’t happen overnight, but you can get started immediately.

Key point: negative thoughts and blaming outside elements for you not succeeding is a victim’s mentality and it will only cause you to continue to be a victim subjected to outside forces and everyone else’s thoughts and actions.

Not good.

First, you need to accept–I mean totally OWN the fact that MISTAKES are a successful person’s ASSETS and not owning and evaluating them keeps you from learning from those mistakes. Which only helps you to you repeat negative behaviors and keeps you from overcoming obstacles and moving closer to your goals.

Making the adjustment that you yourself are responsible for the choices you make that impact your destiny is absolutely paramount to your success.

I Am My Destiny

So many people struggle with this concept. One of the reasons is that the negative type of thinking is their comfort zone and it is where they reside on a day-to-day basis. It’s how they wake up. It’s how they live their day. According to experts, this is often due to upbringing, education or the people we choose to surround ourselves with.

It’s hard to break that habit because negative thoughts are not only present but subconsciously it’s comfortable for us to live in the negative because it was an ingrained part of our youth. Also consider that if birds of a feather flock together, you may be choosing, currently, to surround yourself with people who also think negatively and blame outside forces. This will only perpetuate the negativity that will serve to reinforce negative thought processes that drive you because it’s all you are hearing. So it sounds, “right.

Mix together that with the fact that changing that ingrained thought process requires you to move out of your comfort zone–which usually requires uncomfortable work on yourself.

You can see how people can take the path of least resistance and stay the way they are. Because moving outside your comfort zone is hard.

Sometimes, the people you surround yourself with in a support group or a mastermind can also perpetuate this failed thinking. They do so by assuring you that you don’t have control over your behaviors, that there’s a force greater than you that is responsible. This can have long-term negative impacts on your success.

This can have long-term negative impacts on your success.

There is a rush of freedom that comes with releasing responsibility to a greater power. That rush feels so good that it can’t be bad for you, right?

It can be crushing to your long-term success if you don’t also assume accountability for your behaviors by knowing, intrinsically, that you yourself are responsible for your choices.

Keep in mind that you’re certainly not alone in this type of behavior. The majority of people seem to have this tendency to think negatively. But knowing that you can consciously change this behavior by just deciding to do so creates a sublime power.

It’s similar to the goal-obstacle-take action plan I wrote about in a previous blog. It simply starts with a decision to change your locus of control from external forces to internal forces… or one that is fully YOU!

It is a decision that YOU push the buttons that not only steer the ship but give it the power to propel forward.

In other words, stop playing victim to life’s conditions and situations, and instead of reacting emotionally to them, take responsibility for them.

It’s owning control of your own destiny, not cowardly relinquishing the control to some unknown force that’s “greater than you.” I’m not arguing that there is a force greater than you out there that exists or not. That’s not important. What is important is that you KNOW that YOU exist. And that YOU have the scientifically proven ability to make changes in the way you think, behave and react that can flip your trajectory from one that seems to fail to one that more consistently succeeds.

This kind of teaching that you’re not responsible drives me crazy and is utterly senseless. Think about it this way: If you’re not responsible for your own failures then subconsciously your brain will tell you that you’re not responsible for your own successes.

And if you can’t be responsible for your own successes… then why take action at all? It’s cognitive dissonance that leads so many people to repeat their failures.

The core character condition one needs to develop is accountability.

Experts say that all great leaders have this one quality in common. That quality is a willingness not only to accept accountability but to race to it. To own the mistakes that occur not only within ourselves but within an organization. It’s the-buck-stops-here approach.

Well, who is the leader of your life but you? Self-leadership requires the same accountability, the same introspection.

Take Positive Steps Now

So start making choices to take accountability for your own destiny. By first making the decision to start your day positive.

And if it’s not a positive day, take responsibility for that. Think about why and what you could have done to make it more positive and more productive. Because today is tomorrow’s yesterday and if you take the time and make the decision to learn from those mistakes, the lessons learned can be applied to your tomorrow to make it better.

It’s a lot of responsibility knowing that you’re in charge of your own success, but it’s also extremely rewarding knowing that you have all the power you need to succeed.

I know a lot of this may sound like gobbledygook. But if you take a moment to consider it, I think you’ll discover that the gobbledegook has some value.

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10 Tips for Getting Hired Writing for Late Night TV by NOT Following the “Rules.”

late show stephen colbert marquis at the Ed Sullivan Theater

In almost every script writing book I’ve ever read, authors like to assume there are rules to that need to be followed in the entertainment industry in order for you to break in. I’m here to tell you there are NO RULES. In fact, I think I know more people in the business who have gotten a job working as actors, writers, and comedians who basically wrote their own rules.

Mark Wahlberg, for example basically designed his own career made his own path and is now a mogul in the entertainment industry. Brian Donaldson, an IT guy from Peoria got plucked from Twitter by Late Night with Seth Meyers. And I got a job writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in a very untraditional way, without experience, connections or a resume. I just proved in a phone call with Jay Leno that I could write current events jokes that were worthy.

So I have put together for you my 10 tips for getting a hired writing as a Late Night TV Writer by NOT Following the Rules.

1. DVR all the Late Night Shows each week. Spend time watching them and studying the monologues, desk bits and sketches. (You’d be amazed at how many people who want to write for Late Night TV are NOT doing this—mind blowing, right?).

2. Write 20 current event jokes, then listen to the top Late Night TV hosts deliver their jokes. You’ll find that the rhythm of your jokes usually has a tendency to match (or come close to matching) the rhythm of one particular host. I had a student who said he couldn’t figure out which one, then he listened to Chelsea Handler. Soon after, he wound up getting a job writing for Chelsea Handler.

3. Set a goal to write 25-40 current events jokes per day. It may be hard at first. When I first started I could only write 3 jokes per day. With coaching and persistence and learning a process, within 18 months I was able to eventually write 80-120 jokes per day. You don’t need to hit that mark of 80-120 to work in Late Night TV. Most writers are pumping out 25-40 per day.

4. Put together a submission packet of 2 pages of monologue jokes, a desk bit idea and a sketch idea. There’s no need to write a script for the sketch, just write the idea in a synopsis. For the desk bit, write the name, the concept, then include 4 jokes.

5. Watch the credit crawl of the show or shows you want to submit for. Find out who the head writer is. (Usually they are credited as “Supervising Writer”). Call the show’s production office. (You can find that on IMDB Pro). Tell them “I love what you’re doing with YOUR show. I think I would be a good fit as a writer. I would love to submit a packet. Can you tell me specifically what you look for in a sample packet?” (Write down this conversation or record it so you have the details).

6. Format your sample packet to match those specific requirements, write a cover letter (doesn’t need to be elaborate, just to the point). Be sure your name and contact info is on every page of the submission packet and send it in. Better yet FED-EX it or even better messenger it (if you live in the immediate vicinity in the same city as the show).

7. Follow up with a phone call or twenty. The head writer of a show is busy. But polite persistence pays off. Ask them if they received your packet and what is the best time frame to follow up. If they give you that information, be sure you respect it.

8. Continue writing every day. Your new goal is to finesse a newer fresher packet for the next submission. (Which should be every 3 months). It’s important to understand that you’re probably not going to get the job on the first submission. That’s totally OKAY! But following up via phone and submitting new writing packets helps to build a relationship with the head writer and most jobs are gotten because of some kind of a relationship.

9. Reach out to people on Facebook or in your circles. Ask anyone and everyone if they know somebody who works at one of the Late Night Shows you are targeting. I had a good friend whose buddy was the guy who held the cue cards for Jay Leno at the Tonight Show. He worked his ass off to write a submission packet and had the cue card guy deliver the packet to Jay Leno. In two months, he got a job as a contributing writer for the show and eventually ended up on staff.

10. Find out where the hosts are making personal appearances and show up. Bring a sample writing packet with you. If you are fortunate enough to make contact with them then give them your packet. I would include a mailing label with the address of the production office on the envelope along with a return address. If you can’t meet with them. Find the stage manager of the auditorium where they are appearing. Ask him to deliver it to the host.

So these are 10 kick ass tips for getting your packet written and submitted. There are no guarantees in this business. Your only guarantee is YOURSELF. But, if you never give up, you continue improving, you continue submitting and you continue building your relationships and I can assure you that you will get noticed and most likely (if your skills are solid), you will get a job in this amazing business.

Please leave me a comment below. Part of your job is to develop a conversation even comments on forums can help to start you on the path to developing relationships! 🙂

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Are You Taking Advantage of the Immense Opportunities in Comedy?

opportunities in comedy

I started in stand-up comedy in the late eighties right at the end of the first major comedy boom.

There was a glut of comedy shows on TV. Because of the need for content, TV shows were booking comedians who were just not quite ready. As a result, audiences were getting burned out on it.

Shows like VH-1 Stand-up Spotlight, A&E’s “An Evening at the Improv,” Caroline’s Comedy Hour, Comic Strip Live, Comedy Central’s The A-List… The channels were full of stand-up comedy shows.

In fact, one night, I was at a comedy club in Phoenix and out in the bar, the bartender laughed because I was on the TV on A&E’s An Evening at the Improv. As a joke, he changed the channel to VH-1’s Stand-up Spotlight and I was in the middle of a set on that show.

And if a schmuck like me was appearing simultaneously on two comedy shows, you know there was too much comedy on TV! That kind of frequency belongs to someone like Jerry Seinfeld or Dave Chappelle.

For more than a decade comedy went through a slow period. There were no longer lines outside comedy clubs. The TV comedy shows got canceled and loads of clubs closed around the country.

But in the last 5 years, comedy is going through a resurgence that has never been seen before in history.

And you are right in the middle of it. But are you taking advantage of the immense opportunities in comedy that are right in front of you?

We live in a day where the internet, social media and streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Originals and YouTube Red are all investing heavily in new content.

Concepts that were once passed up by the networks are now being picked up by the streaming platforms.

The landscape is changing all around. The sitcom is being redefined where more shows are being shot on location rather than in a studio with 4 to 5 predefined sets. You can probably thank Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm for this new direction.

The immense success of the sketch show of Key & Peele is making content providers hungrier for comedy.

The Late Night landscape has done a 180 in the way that genre used to treat politics. Stephen Colbert has literally gone off the rails in attacking the president with his comedy.

It’s more than just a monologue, it’s personal!

Even the content-creating software available is jumping on this new creative train. There use to be one standard software for formatting script content. It was Final Draft. Now, the mainstream companies are getting in the business. Amazon has come out with Amazon Storywriter, a free software, and Adobe, the designers the dominant company for editing software (Premiere Pro), has introduced Adobe Story a multi-layered scripting, budgeting, and scheduling program for writers.

What should this change be saying to you?

It should be saying loud and clear that you need to up your game and develop your writing chops so that you can start developing that additional revenue stream as a comedian.

Being able to write and produce content changes your game from working club to club and pay check to pay check to having the opportunity to create and build financial stability and remain relevant in entertainment.

Whether you investigate the opportunities in writing for Late Night TV (which has exploded), writing television shows or writing screenplays, adding that skill-set to your repertoire is almost essential for you to develop security and a long-lasting career in comedy.

This is all great news because just writing every day and learning to develop your skill as a writer is the first step toward getting there.

I started as an actor. I added stand-up to my skillset so I could work when I wasn’t working. I was also writing headline jokes every day, submitting jokes for greeting cards, magazines, and radio. This served not only just to earn some side revenue, but every day I was getting better at writing my jokes.

Then I started writing scripts. I made some progress there, sold a sitcom teleplay, then reached my goal of writing and executive producing a movie, (Stretch, starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood).

That success opened up more opportunities.

So get to work!

There’s no better time than now to start considering developing your writing because the opportunities in comedy are bigger and better than ever!

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