Develop a Strategy to Avoid Killing the Momentum in Your Career


bridge-new-yorkEver go on a road trip with friends or family. You leave at a certain time and you expect to arrive at a certain time. So in your head you plan what happens when you get there.

If you’re going skiing, you know you’ll have time to stop at your favorite restaurant before you head up to the slopes.

If you’re camping you know you’ll have time to pitch the tent, get the fire going, cook some grub and crack a beer. But then…

Traffic stops. It doesn’t even move. There’s no off ramp. Other people are shutting off their cars. Truckers are getting out of their cabs. That’s never a good sign.

It’s a momentum killer.

That’s what happens when you stop taking action in your career.

When I started in show business, I was an actor. I had the fortunate experience of watching my Dad go through his career as an actor. There were ups and downs. Sometimes the downs were really down.pat-corley-murphy-brown

There were slow periods followed by an actor’s strike then a writer’s strike. My parents had to sell their house during that one.

Eventually my Dad hit the big job. A series regular on a show called “Murphy Brown.” Which was a top 10 show for many years. He was on that show for 10 years. The struggle paid off and he and my mom were set for life.

But the downs were brutal.

I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me.” Now it’s one thing to say that in a matter of wishful thinking and it’s another to take action. So right after I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me,” I said, “How can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?”

In my 20’s I had flaming red hair. I was booking commercials like crazy. Then at some point, my hair started to recede. I wasn’t booking as many as before.

One of my casting directors, Sheila Manning, said, “We love you Jerry, but with that baby face and receding hairline, we just don’t know where to cast you.”

I was suffering the Ron Howard effect.

Some if you will be too young to understand this, but Ron Howard was an actor before he was a director and producer. He had–and still has–a baby face and is completely bald on top. It was hard to cast him with that look. He knew it, so he did a lateral move into directing.

I thank my lucky stars for Sheila Manning, her support and her honesty made me understand that it wasn’t my acting and that I had to figure out a solution to be able to make money without giving up on my creativity.

I thought was else can I do and still be in show business?

I saw an ad for a comedy class and I enrolled. I learned some joke writing concepts.

I eventually left the class because the teacher yelled at me for helping a fellow student.

I know, weird right?

Immediately I started to go to open mics, then I studied all the comedians who made me laugh. I mean really broke it down. I applied 4-8 hours per day to writing jokes and studying comedians.

Then went to 7-10 open mics a week. I noticed that all the comedians I liked had a definite structure to their material. I counted the amount of laughs they got per minute and what triggered the laugh.

I noticed that out of the 20 comedians I was studying, there were definite patterns.

I studied The Tonight Show and the monologue. Recorded the shows. I wrote down the monologue jokes word for word and studied them.

I again noticed repeating patterns in the writing.
I started to write the first parts of the jokes and write my own punchlines. (I never used them, but it was great practice).

Soon I was writing jokes right from the news. At first I struggled with them.

Then I figured the structure and subsequently a process to writing everyday.

The process was paramount!

The process became a system of steps that I applied each day to writing current event jokes. I got this idea when I was learning more about computers.

I figured since I was going to be working a lot with computers, I should know something about how they work. One of the earliest explanations I read was that a computer executes a series of steps automatically to power up and that those steps occur each and every time.

And the computer did this no matter who turned it on or what mood that person was in.
So I realized that if I could apply this process to my joke writing.

Sort of a step1-step 2-step 3=Joke.

Eventually, I started to write jokes on automatic and I was writing a lot of them. Sometimes I’d get really edgy with the jokes and I knew they weren’t right for The Tonight Show, but I went to the Comedy Store and I gave it to a comedian, l (can’t mention his name contractually), whose voice I thought it fit. He did the joke, it got a laugh; a really big laugh!

He said he would buy the joke from me.
I learned I could write more jokes and sell them to other comedians and other places that bought jokes.

Sometimes I would just give jokes away to other comedians I knew couldn’t afford to buy them. That only helped to enhance and spread my reputation as a good joke writer.

Greeting card companies, radio syndicates, other comedians. The more I wrote, the more I sold. Then through reputation people started calling me to write material for them.

I was still performing in the clubs at night. One day I got a call from Jay Leno. He had just started doing The Tonight Show.

He tested me right on the phone! Told me a headline from the news that morning and asked me what I would do on that?

Little did he know, I was up that morning writing my jokes and I just happened to write a joke on that exact headline he gave me!

I told him the joke. He laughed. Then hired me on the spot as a contributing writer to The Tonight Show.

Some people say it was “luck.” But really? What is luck? Luck is opportunity meets preparedness!

And that comes from getting busy and staying busy. Setting goals and going for them. Creating a process and a routine so you don’t have to wait for inspiration, instead you can create inspiration. Then taking action so you can avoid killing the momentum in your career.

If you’re good you will work, but you gotta get to work. You’ve got to take action.

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Voice Typing: Google Docs Secrets to Improve Your Writing Efficiency

google-docs-tutorial-still
Have you ever lost a writing document on your computer after spending hours revising it? You look and look and for the life of you, you cannot find that document!

Few things are more frustrating, except…

Losing years worth of writing documents when a hard drive crashes.

Or have you ever been out and about and a friend calls and needs a copy of a revision of a document? Or a spreadsheet or a presentation? And you wind up saying something like, “I’ll get it out to you as soon as I get back to my computer…”

Or have you ever wanted to collaborate on writing with someone and you get confused about sending each other drafts of each other’s work and you get confused about which draft you’re on or who wrote what?

Or finally… do you hate typing? Do you wish there was a way you could talk and your own personal stenographer would record it and type up all the pages and send them to you?

Well, what if I told you that I have a tool that will solve all those problems. Better yet, what if I told you that the solution was 100% free?

That’s the subject of the video I have for you today. It’s 7-minutes. It will help you see how you can use this very tool and it’s right under your nose every day.

This tool will help you totally improve your writing efficiency, get more efficient, never lose documents and collaborate with anyone in real time. I think you’ll dig it! Check out the video below, then leave me a comment and tell me how you think it might help you be more efficient with your writing!

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How Do You Get Into Late Night TV Comedy Writing?

Late Night TV Comedy is Booming!

There are more stories in the news and the internet about Late Night TV than ever before. There was even a cover on Vanity Fair featuring the ten Late Night Hosts that are now on the air in the most recent programming schedule on cable and network.

Just think about it, late night used to sit in a quiet corner of the T.V. scheduled at 11:30. It was the program that people watched after the nightly news and before they went to bed.

Now it’s almost glamorous! There’s a news story pretty much every day about the genre, segments and sketches go viral (like with this ‘new’ opening for Late Night with Seth Meyers), and the hosts get splashed across the front page of Vanity Fair, arguably the elite of celebrity culture magazines.

As the news about Late Night Comedy proliferates in the media, I’ve been receiving more questions. The most common question is: How do you get into Late Night TV Comedy Writing?

You’re going to have a love-hate feeling about how simple the answer is.

It’s… (sound of drum roll, then Tympani, building, building… still building and ending urgently with a climactic… sound-effect of a fart )…

“Hard work!”

Ouch. Right? I know there are a ton of people reading this that just checked out. Which explains why there are so few people that actually make it in Late Night TV comedy writing.

As a writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno for 8 years, where I wrote 80-120 jokes a day, I kinda know how much work it is.

But here’s the thing. It’s not really work.

There’s an old saying. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.

So if you’re writing jokes all day every day, it’s not really work is it? Especially if you have a process, like the listing technique. (Get a free tutorial of the listing technique here.)

But I know you’re probably reading this to get better answers and I know most people look for a process or steps to help them succeed so I’m going to do my best to map that out for you based on what I did and saw others do.

Step 1: Treat yourself like a professional NOW.

This is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received–besides “You should trim down there!”

The advice was told to me by my comedy writing coach, Gene Perret, (Emmy-award winning comedy writer).

So what does treating yourself like a professional NOW actually mean?

To me that meant that I designed a schedule like I was going to work.

Right now, do you have a day job? Do they give you a schedule so you know what days and times you are working? Do you diligently show up at those designated times? Go to lunch at the designated time and end your day at the designated time?

If you answered ‘yes’ to that question, now ask yourself if you do the same for your writing career? If you don’t you’re not alone, but you must ask why do so many of NOT give the that kind of commitment to the job we really want?

Or maybe you would like to give your dream that kind of commitment but you leave your writing up to some kind of divine inspiration?

If you leave it to divine inspiration that’s fine, but you can’t depend on that inspiration. That type of inspiration is fleeting.

But if you set up a schedule, just like your work schedule, and you report to work on that schedule where you assign yourself writing tasks and goals, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you develop as a writer. And if you develop a process for your writing you will begin to realize that it is much more productive to create inspiration than to wait for inspiration.

When I decided I was going to break into comedy and write for Late Night and do stand up, I set up a schedule. I actually put this in my date book like it was my schedule for work.

late night tv comedy writing

From 7-11am every day I wrote jokes from the newspaper and CNN. My goal was to start with 30-40 jokes a day.

At first, I STRUGGLED to hit that goal. But after a month of consistent writing, I started hitting and surpassing that goal.

Step 2: Give daily assignments to yourself:

There’s nothing worse than sitting in front of your computer or notebook with nothing. I would set goals to write 30-40 late night (current event) monologue jokes, one sketch and one Top 10 List. The next day I might assign myself, 30-40 monologue jokes, one parody, and a desk piece and so on…

If I couldn’t think of anything to write, I would look at my recordings on my VCR (yes VCR…shut up! :-)) and I would write down all the jokes that David Letterman did, then try to make them funnier. I did this as an exercise, one day a week, just like I was at the gym doing “leg” day.

Giving yourself direction and goals is one of the best ways to crush writer’s block. Because, you know your task and you sit down to write it. Often I would assign it the day before and go to sleep at night knowing what I had to do in the morning. It helped me wake up with direction and believe it or not the subconscious gets your mind in gear while you sleep!

Step 3: Target the late night show you want to write for and watch

Believe it or not, this is a step a lot of writer’s miss. They just write jokes, but if you watch your shows and study the hosts, you’ll notice that not all hosts do all types of jokes and that their rhythms are different.

Kimmel will do a different style of joke than Fallon. Colbert will do different jokes than James Corden and if you notice from the above video, Seth Meyers might be scrapping the monologue entirely an opening with a ‘Weekend Update’-style, mock news delivery of jokes which includes more ‘drop-ins.’ (jokes that utilize visual imagery to pop the laugh).

Once you know what host uses what style and rhythm it will also make your writing more efficient.

Check your jokes against the hosts. Write their jokes out. Feel the rhythm of their jokes, study the mechanics and see how it compares to yours. Their jokes will usually start out being more economical and less wordy. This process will help you to really get more efficient.

Test your jokes with your friends or at the clubs and mics.

Step 4: Put together a submission packet

Once you become a proficient joke writer and it shouldn’t take long if you do it consistently, then you can feel like you’ve developed the chops to write for Late Night TV.

Once you feel confident about your work, put together a submission packet.

For the most part a writing packet should contain 2 pages of monologue jokes, a desk piece, and a sketch.

The details are too long and out of the scope of this blog post, but I give you a full template; an actual packet that was submitted in my Late Night Comedy Writing & Submission Course.

In the end it’s…

It’s All About Luck

In this business they often say, “it’s all about luck.” Some people equate that to ‘chance.’ I prefer to say, ‘Luck’ is opportunity meets preparedness. If you’re prepared and the opportunity arises, you’ll be the one who has the luck.

So get yourself prepared and make the luck happen!

If you’re really super interested in learning more about writing for the exploding Late Night TV industry, Sign Up for my Late Night TV Writing industry updates and stay in the loop.

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Opportunity for Writing in Late Night TV Continues to Grow

late night tv hosts

If the powers that be made a decision to do a reality show about Late Night television hosts they might go with the name: “10 and Counting,” (at least for now), because that is the number of hosts that are currently on the tube in both cable and network.

Checking the picture above, (from Vanity Fair’s David Kamp; Photography by Sam Jones), they are as follows: Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, Trevor Noah, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Larry Wilmore, Jimmy Fallon, and Bill Maher.

Ten late night hosts. Who would’ve thought that day would come? I was going to make a lame joke about “10 Little Indians,” but these days, someone out there would read it as racist and I’d get put in front of the PC firing squad, or be labeled a racist, despite the fact that I’m Choctaw.

But that’s not the point of this post. The point is to provide you with the eye-opening realization that Late Night TV is not going anywhere. It’s here and it’s not just thriving; it’s EXPLODING.

The pay is $4000 a week, minimum for a staff writer on a network show. If you write a 2-min. sketch and it makes it to air, you get paid an additional $4K. So a good writer can make a great living in Late Night.

It’s seems like not a day goes by when another sketch or clip from one of the late night shows goes viral on the internet.

I can remember a day when Leno and Letterman were fighting over the hosting spot for The Tonight Show. If you don’t remember this, it was BIG. They even wrote a couple of books about it and did a movie.

At the time pundits thought that that battle was going to wind up fracturing the audience and other doomsday theories that teetered on the ultimate demise of Late Night T.V. as a viable entertainment format.

But it’s Hollywood. Those are the same end-of-the-world elite who said that the VCR was going to lead to the end of movie theaters, as the T.V. was going to lead to the end of radio and the radio was the end of live performances.

And, in case you didn’t know, the internet is leading to the end of it all. 🙂

But those who know the internet are keenly aware that it is just an additional way for everyone to get even more exposure.

The fact is Late Night T.V. is big and it’s continuing to grow. From the picture above you can see clearly that all the Late Night hosts are male. But that’s soon going to change as Chelsea Handler plans to launch her new Late Night show on Netflix sometime in 2016.

nbcu-seeso

Not only that NBC is planning an all-comedy Video-on-Demand (VOD) portal called ‘Seeso,’ that is already developing original content. (Yeah, I know, what’s up with the name?).

But what does this mean for you? Opportunity!

The opportunity for writing in Late Night TV continues to explode. We’ve never had more movement in that industry. There are more shows. And more shows need more content. Who’s going to provide that content?  Comedians and writers like you!

It’s time again to start thinking about putting your Late Night Writing packets together and start submitting.

Writing for the fickle and very specific format of Late Night television takes a unique skill set. Learning that skill set could set you up with one of the coveted jobs as a Late Night T.V. Comedy writer.

Why coveted? The pay is $4000 a week, minimum for a staff writer on a network show. If you write a 2-min. sketch and it makes it to air, you get paid an additional $4K. So a good writer can make a great living in Late Night.

And with 10 hosts and growing, there’s never been a better time than now to prepare.

Leave a comment below if Late Night TV Comedy Writing is something you’re coveting! And if it is, what is are the top 2 obstacles that are stopping you from going for it?

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Top 3 Ridiculous Myths About Hecklers

top-3-ridiculous-myths-about-hecklers

There’s a post in Dave Schwenson’s newsletter “How to be a Working Comic,” about hecklers. It’s worth a read and you should definitely check it out. I’m a huge fan of Dave’s and I have a lot of respect for him. He was the manager of the Improv when I got my first T.V. spot and he was largely, (if not entirely), responsible for all my bookings in Vegas.

But I’ve got to address some myths about hecklers and attempt to put them to rest. So in this post I will attempt to bust the top 3 ridiculous myths about hecklers.

You, my devout blog readers (all three of you), will help me get the word out by hitting the like button and tweeting the the post to all your comedian friends and other friends of comedy… right? 🙂

Considering that most of you also have about three friends, we can easily paper the world with this important info!

So let’s get to it.

As stand-ups,we deal with a dynamic that almost no other entertainment professionals deal with. That dynamic is the heckler.

I receive lots of questions about hecklers. The information culled from these emails is interesting. The new comedians have a fear of hecklers and the experienced comedians want advice on how to properly handle hecklers. 

Over the years, I’ve heard hecklers called “jerks,” “A-Holes,” and even “the ‘cancer’ of comedy.” But in my 27 years doing stand-up, I’ve learned a lot about the heckler and here in this post I want to give you some tools and bust the top 3 ridiculous myths about hecklers.

The heckler is, of course, the person in the audience who yells out something during your act. The yelling out has a tendency to throw off a comedian. Comedians can be thrown off their game, forget their material, get all riled up, angry, yell, scream profanities at the heckler.

I don’t believe that helps the show at all.

Not that the heckler should do the talking out in the first place, but the comedian should be able to handle a situation like this comedically.

Once in a great while the occasion arises when you do need to be a little more brutal in your heckle responses, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” said “know thy enemy.” And although I don’t necessarily consider all hecklers my “enemy,” it’s a good rule to follow because it’s far easier to understand and handle this situation if you, as the comedian, understand the heckler.

So first, let’s deal with that.

Myth #1: “It’s Us Against Them”

In a comedy documentary called “Alone Up There,” filmmaker Sean Patrick Shaul interviews many comedians and other comedy professionals to find out what makes a comedian tick.

In the documentary, veteran comedian Bobby Slayton, (The “Pit Bull of Comedy”), bobby slayton comedian boldy says to the camera, “It’s us against them.”

Isn’t that a little dramatic? I have a lot of respect for Slayton. He’s one of the fastest comedians on his feet today and he’s a super helpful guy with other comedians. But the theory that it’s an “us against them” dynamic is shaky at best.

Let’s bust this myth, right now.

I don’t think that theory has been examined even at the most basic level. I mean think about it. You’ve sat in those seats watching a comedy show, right? Have you ever thought it was an us against them thing? Have you ever sat there, as the next comedian is being introduced saying to yourself, “Make us laugh, idiot?!”

Probably not, right? I mean, I usually wait till the comedian is several failed jokes in to say, “Oh boy, this guy doesn’t get it.” But that’s about as close as it gets to us-against-them.

When a comedian is introduced and while he is taking the stage, I’m curious. I’m thinking something like, what’s this guy got? or something like that.

In other words, the typical audience member is rooting for the comedian to do well, not hoping they’ll wanna throw down.

We’re at a comedy club because we want to laugh, not because we want to fight.

I’ve run into very few situations where there was an us-against-them mentality. And the closest it ever got was more of a ‘it’s a me-against-him mentality, or it’s a me-against-that-table mentality. But that situation was rare.

So the “us-against-them” thing? Let’s get rid of that idea right now. The audience is rooting for you to make them laugh. They want the ticket price to be worth it.

Myth #2 “Hecklers are Jerks or A-holes”

Some people automatically jump to the conclusion that hecklers are jerks or “a-holes.” That’s not necessarily true and the comedian has a huge advantage in keeping that interaction with the heckler positive and funny.

First the comedian should understand that the overwhelming majority of hecklers are not trying to ruin your show. Most hecklers are just wanting to embellish or engage. There’s a psychology behind this that may help support this notion.

There’s an old saying, “It’s impossible to dislike anyone who makes you laugh.” Also, when someone laughs they released the same hormones someone does when they fall in love. So when you’re making them laugh they actually have an innate thought that the comedian is their ‘friend.’

So when you have a heckler, think about it this way: Who in your life insults you the most? Probably your best friends. They know everything about you. They do it in a teasing way because they love you, but they can certainly get pretty brutal at times.

Most hecklers are not brutal, they just want to engage or embellish. Sometimes they even tag a joke. If you just treat them like your best friend, (usually with a stinging response and a smile on your face), they will usually laugh with you and you keep the show at a level that can still be identified as “comedy” and not “barfight.”

Myth #3: Hecklers are the Cancer of Comedy

Quite the contrary! Don’t fall so much in love with yourself as a comedian or performer that you forget you wouldn’t exist without that audience. You’re on stage in front of people. It’s a live a event.

Part of the nature of this business is that comedy is a conversation. It’s supposed to be a one-way conversation, but it’s still a conversation and if you say something that offends or something that someone in the audience disagrees with, then you might get a response. It’s your job to be prepared.

Some people don’t have a lot of experience with comedy. Some hecklers think it’s “part of the show.” And some hecklers actually think they are “helping” you.

I don’t know how many times I had a heckler and had to deal with them then after the show they’ll come up to me and say, “I really helped you out tonight, huh?”

To call them the “cancer of comedy” is counter-productive. Think about it. Each time you have a heckler you have to deal with, you become faster on your feet. You learn how to engage with the heckler, while keeping the audience laughing. When you have a heckler you have a great opportunity to engage some of the most powerful laughter triggers in comedy. Embarrassment, Superiority and Release.

  1. The audience feels superior to the heckler you are addressing.
    These psychological laughter triggers working together can create powerful laughter and applause from the audience
  2. The audience recognizes how embarrassing that situation would be if it was them, and…
  3. The audience is releasing tension because it’s not them!

All of these working together can actually make the show more memorable, more energetic while adding a totally unique dynamic. This gives you a chance to be a rockstar. But you have to do the work and prepare for hecklers.

What do you do to prepare?

In my early days, I was heckled once where I couldn’t recover. Three guys were heckling me and when one ran out of breath, the other one picked it up. It was brutal!

I went home that night and vowed that that would not happen again. I did a few things to be more prepared for hecklers. You can do some of these too.

I sat down and wrote about 30 generic heckler responses.

One of the most memorable heckle responses in memory is from Steve Martin. Someone in the crowd shouted something out and Martin responded by saying, “I remember when I had my first beer.” So I thought to myself; how can I respond by insulting the hecklers ability to be out in public?

I wrote: “Looks like someone’s wife gave someone back his balls for the night.” If it seems like that alone won’t work, I might pile on a little by saying, “I’m just kidding, he’s not married. I mean, look at this Dude. That would have to be one rude bitch to be able to tolerate a grown man who has yet to learn how to behave in public.”

Keep in mind. I’m not being too brutal. Just stinging a little as I would my best friends.

If it’s a table of people the guy is in I might ask a rhetorical question like, “So what’s going on here? Are these all your friends or are you the only one in the trailer park with a car? Because I’ve seen your house and I love what you’ve done with the Michelins.”

These lines are time-tested and usually work to shut the heckler up. They’re not brutal lines. They’re playful and they don’t put the heckler into a corner where they feel the need to retaliate.

What happens if you get too brutal?

If you’re too brutal, things can get ugly. I’ve gone too far a couple of times, because of my stubbornness and I’ve gotten a beer bottle thrown at me, gotten punched in the face and threatened by a heckler I brutalized who wanted the last word so badly, he went out to his car and returned with a gun.

Fortunately, the bouncers kept him from returning.

One thing you can do to write heckle lines is to watch YouTube and search hecklers. Write down what the hecklers say and write at least 10 comebacks, because odds are you’re going to hear that same heckle from some other heckler at some point.

The second thing I would highly recommend is to read outside your comfort zone. Comedians should be more well-read than the audience. In reading stuff outside your comfort zone, you open yourself up to new ideas.

I read Popular Mechanics while at the dentist and the article talked about how Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles.

About a month later I was the hired comedian for the Laughlin River Run where about 10 thousand bikers show up for a retreat and take over Laughlin.

At one point during my show, there was this biker who kept spouting off about his “Ole Lady.” At random points in my act he would respond by always referring to “My Ole lady!” At one point some of the other bikers didn’t want to hear it so one guy shouted to me, “Git ’em!” (Meaning he wanted the comedian to deal with the heckler).

I didn’t know what to say at first. Then I remembered the article from Popular Mechanics and said, “Did you know that Harley Davidson patented the sound of their motorcycles? They own the sound!” Then I looked right at the dude who was heckling and I said, “I wonder who owns the queef, because I fucked your ‘ole lady’ last night and I think I owe some royalties.”

The entire place exploded with laughter and the heckler raised his hand in a fist and said, “Good one!” Then he shut up for the rest of show.

Sometimes hecklers just want to be acknowledged. He wasn’t trying to be mean, but he was being annoying. When the audience let me know that they were tired of him, I hit him with a response that was related to the niche of the audience I was performing for.

The point of that story is that I wouldn’t have had that information available if I didn’t read outside my comfort zone.

Conclusion:

In the end, it’s your job to keep that energy in the realm of comedy. Not turn it into a fight. It’s better for you, it’s better for the crowd and it’s better for the comedy world in general.

Think about it this way: If there are people in the audience who’ve never been to a comedy show before and the energy of the show turns from the positivity of a comedy show to the negative energy of a bar fight, then odds are they will never come to a comedy show again. That’s bad for all of us.

So remember to do your work and keep it funny.

Love to hear your comments and if you enjoyed this piece, give it a “like,” okay?

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