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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3 Ways a Comedian can Cope with Criticism

coping with criticism

Comedians are a vulnerable bunch. If pleasing the audience isn’t hard enough, many times we comedians also have to cope with criticism even after we get off the stage.

Sometimes we hear it from club owners or managers. Sometimes we hear it from other comedians and sometimes from an audience member who just watched you and decided that their experience in telemarketing gives them the credentials to bestow on you their expert tips on how you can kill it at your next gig.

“You were crushing it up until that last joke. Just didn’t seem to fit.”
“You’d be funnier if you had fewer F-bombs.”
“You shouldn’t do political material, it makes people uncomfortable.”
“Jokes about rape are inappropriate.”

The list of critique can go on and on.

But before I go off on that, Let’s be clear that there’s a difference between criticism and a note.

Criticism is just when someone offers a critique of what you said or did. A note is also a form of critique, but it also offers a suggestion on what you could possibly do to correct it.

When you’ve been doing this a long time you’ve probably learned how to hit the “off” switch to most of that. But when you’re a new comedian in the business, the criticism can be dejecting and the notes can be overwhelming.

New comedians face this a lot. They’ll have a bunch of people telling them what they need to do to improve a joke or their act.

How do you sort through all of the noise and do what’s right? How do you even know what is right?

Here are some tips for dealing with, understanding and coping with criticism.

  1. Most criticism doesn’t come from a bad place, so first don’t be an asshole about it. Be professional and listen gracefully (or passively). Say, “thank you,” and move on.
  2. There’s no way you can implement every note you receive from everyone into your comedy act. Choose a mentor in your comedic circle (maybe 2), and consider only that advice. It will, first of all, be a lot easier to sort through the notes and secondly if that person is reliable, odds are you’ll get to where you’re going a lot faster.
  3. Sometimes the tips can be something like, you went “too dirty” or “you drop too many F-bombs.” Here’s where it gets tricky. I think you should BE ABLE to work clean. You DON’t HAVE to work clean, but you should be able to. If a booker knows you can work clean it opens up a surprising amount of other opportunities. I’ve been on the road at a club, doing my act. My act can get dirty, but these bookers know that I can work clean. I’ve had club owners book me to do a corporate earlier in the evening, before the show, get back to the club and do the show. A corporate gig can pay me more than the entire week at that club. If I can’t work clean, guess what? I just missed out on a boat load of cash.

Here’s the tricky part. Dropping the f-bomb too much may be an indication that you don’t have any real content or jokes. It also can indicate that you’re lacking an authentic emotional point of view.

On the other hand, it might be what drives your comedic persona. You have to be willing to truly explore your craft and ask whether or not the f-bomb is absolutely necessary to you or if you are using it as a crutch.

If it is something that absolutely drives your persona. If it is inherently who you are, or who your character is then don’t change. Your path to success might be a little longer, but your audience will find you.

I have a student who is a female. She’s smart, she’s attractive, she’s from New York, she was raised by a tough father and she drops the F-bomb. But I also think it fits her persona and her character would be less defined if she didn’t.

She submitted for a comedy competition and the founder of the competition said to me that he likes her, but she uses the f-bomb too much. I told her this and you know what she said?

“That’s fucking ridiculous!”

And she was vehement about it! She went off on a tangent about how sick and tired she is of political correctness and this double standard that men have about women and their comedy.

And she has a point, because the very night that competition founder told me that she uses too many f-bombs, one of the comedians in his competition dropped 47 f-bombs in a 25 minute final round set. He placed third out of 40 in the competition.

So I approached the founder after the competition and said, “that dude used the f-bomb 47 times and he placed third. You need to reconsider whether my student really uses the f-bomb too much or whether you’re just a sexist.”

The following week my student wrote a 6-minute rant about the uses of the word “fuck.” It’s funny, it’s honest and it defines her. So I told her to tighten it, record it on video and submit it back to this comedy festival.

The point is you have to make choices. And if you’re going to make a choice about who you are, then make that choice and don’t apologize for it. In this business you have to learn to develop an unwavering confidence about yourself.

Because no matter what you do, some people will love you and some people will hate you.

And if you go in knowing that dropping the F-bomb limits where you can play and you make that decision anyway, that’s up to you. It’s not the safest choice, but if I wanted to get into this business to be safe, I would’ve been a fucking telemarketer.

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The Most Powerful Tool for Your Joke Writing

comedy toolbox

Here is something I want to be sure you have at your disposal. It is what I would call the most powerful tool for your joke writing. It is something everyone who’s into writing comedy material should have in their toolbox.

Even if you’re naturally funny.

It is the incongruity listing sheet. This is what I use each time I want to write jokes using the incongruity technique by taking two dissimilar ideas and converging them. It helps you create associations between dissimilar ideas.

Read the following example then download the sheet at keep it handy. It is literally one of the most powerful ways to write jokes.

But first…

Understanding Incongruity in Comedy

Incongruity is when you have a setup that contains two or more dissimilar ideas. You turn it into a juxtaposition of two ideas and create jokes.

Not all joke setups are built with the two dissimilar or contrasting ideas present.

Example:

The news keeps showing us images of President Trump signing executive orders.

In that setup there’s isn’t a clear juxtaposition of contrasting elements present. No two contrasting ideas really stand out.

What I would do is take that image of the president signing the bill and list everything I see in the picture.

Without a doubt I would wind up listing “those black folders,” since they are so prominent in every photo.

Sometimes, if the obvious contrasting ideas are not there, I will remind myself to try to use an analogy.

One way to reshape the setup so that it does contain that obvious juxtaposition is by using analogy or “is like.”

The news keeps showing us images of President Trump signing these executive orders… he’s got those black folders. It’s like he’s holding up a menu; Insert an act out, like I’m at a restaurant ordering food: “… and the lady will have the Filet mignon, grilled asparagus and a ban on Muslims.”

And since we’ve created the menu (in a restaurant) as the second or contrasting element we could continue to tag the joke with something like,

“And when they’re done with that black folder at that signing table, do they just have the hostess wipe it off and use it for the next seating?”

When the Setup Already Contains a Second Idea

Sometimes the set up includes it’s own contrasting ideas, as in:

“The body of a 40-year-old woman was found in a processing plant for McDonald’s restaurants.”

In that statement, you clearly have two or more contrasting elements present in the setup; the body of a 40-year-old woman and McDonald’s. So you don’t have to use analogy as a device to create the contrasting element. You could just use your list and put McDonald’s in one column and Body of a 40-year-old woman in the other and look for ideas that could fit in the other column either literally or as a metaphor.

For example in the list for body of a 40-year-old woman, I would probably have the word “breasts.” Can “breasts” fit in the other column for McDonald’s?

Sure! They could use it as chicken breasts, right?

Where does McDonald’s use Chicken breasts? In Chicken sandwiches. Since McDonald’s always seems to be facing scrutiny on whether or not their sandwiches contain real meat, I could make the joke like this:

“The body of a 40-year-old woman was found in a processing plant for McDonald’s restaurants. A spokesman for McDonald’s put a positive spin on it saying ‘Now McDonald’s can claim that their chicken sandwich is made with REAL breasts… 40-year-old SAGGY breasts, but real breasts, nonetheless… would you like thighs with that?”

With that one setup and the toppers I added, I could get 3 to 4 laughs out of one joke idea. Booker look for a laugh every 18-20 seconds. You could easily hit that bullseye with one joke.

So you can see how powerful this particular technique is for writing comedy.

Try it yourself.

Download the worksheet for the listing technique, print it out and use it any time!

Hope this helps!

If you want to visit this concept more thoroughly, check out the 2-Day Comedy Writing Workshop in Vegas or my eBook “Breaking Comedy’s DNA.”

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Get Your Image Sizes Right with This Social Media Image Size Cheat Sheet

social-media-image-size-cheat-sheet

If you’ve spent any time reading my blog or attending any of my classes, you know how important your presence on social media has become.

One of the first questions, talent executives at the studio level ask about an artist’s qualifications these days is “how’s his social media following?”

Whether it’s Twitter or Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, a social media following is super important. It’s no longer that thing the kids are using, it’s that thing that the Neilson’s are actually using to calculate the popularity of a show.

A social media following can make or break whether or not you get a job on a TV show.

But that’s not the only way to look at it.

It actually gives enormous control over to the artist. If the artist busts her ass to create a massive social media presence, then the artist can start to write her own ticket to notoriety.

If you’ve been involved in social media at all you should know that a post with an image gets as much as 120 percent more engagement than average posts. So, if you’re not using images in your social media, you’re probably cheating yourself out of engagement.

But when you use images, the images sizes differ for each platform. If you don’t use the correct size on the correct platform, then heads are cut off and your images look weird and unprofessional. I’ve made those mistakes several times and I feel foolish and amateurish.

Once I saw a graphic that showed all the proper social media image sizes for each different platform, I saved it, downloaded it and tacked in on to my wall in front of my computer. Since then I haven’t made any mistakes–well, I’ve still made a ton of mistakes, just not as many.

That chart helped me a lot so I thought I’d put one together myself for the 2017 requirements and share it with you…

You can look at it on this blog or you can download it at a full 600px x 1866px in a PDF right here.

Just right-click (cmd+click) for Mac and choose ‘save image as’ and save it to your hard drive. It’s a full sized cheat sheet you can post on your wall.

Now there shouldn’t be any more obstacles to you setting up your YouTube Channel with custom thumbnails for your videos or uploading the right sized photo for your Facebook cover or tweeting a photo that doesn’t chop off your head.

Just as a side note when posting on Twitter. Always leave padding (space between the edge of the content and the image border). It may look great on your initial post, but when it’s time to retweet and image, often it will chop off your head on someone else’s feed.

Also, it’s always good to check for updates on the image size requirements for social media as they always seem to be changing.

I hope this image size cheat sheet helps you to be more efficient in posting to your social media accounts.

If anyone has any other advice they’d like to share please feel free to leave a comment below!

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“The History of Comedy” to Air as Part of an 8-part Series on CNN

On Thursday CNN announced that it will be airing a new 8-part series named “The History of Comedy,” focusing primarily on how the political landscape has been reflected upon by outspoken comedians.

It’ll be interesting to watch this since the comedians they have listed, (except for a few)m are not necessarily the names that would pop into my mind when I’m thinking about political comedy.

The release from CNN said that the series (Premiering Thursday, February 9th at 9pm), will feature interview with big names in comedy as well as weave in archival footage from others to show how comedy “has influenced the country’s social and political landscape throughout history.”

The comedians CNN listed on their release who are outspoken on today’s political scene are Judd Apatow, Norman Lear, Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, Samantha Bee, Larry David, Kathy Griffin, George Lopez, Keegan-Michael Key, Patton Oswalt and W. Kamau Bell.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) — a former “Saturday Night Live” star — will also offer commentary, according to the network.

I’m interested to see how this series premieres. The quick video trailer they’ve provided doesn’t give us much to go on, but anything comedy is always of interest to me. The History of Comedy fits that.

If you’re interested remember to set your DVR to record “The History of Comedy” on CNN.

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