5 Reasons to Use Imitation and Emulation to Learn Stand-up Comedy

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From the time we are toddlers, we learn by watching and imitating. That’s how we learn to walk, to talk, to express ourselves.

Imitation is the ‘stem-cell’ of our learning ability.

So why not utilize this technique when learning how to be a comedian?

At first, it might seem like cheating, no?

And when I say, “imitate,” I don’t mean “copy.” I mean emulate.

Practice sounding like a certain comedian.

I mean, “but wait!” You might be saying. Stand-up is one of the last real “raw” performance-based art forms. Why would anyone want to imitate?

5 Reasons to Use Imitation or Emulation in your Comedy:

There are several reasons, when you are starting out, to use imitation and emulation develop. Here are a few:

  • It can get you to sounding like a comedian faster.
  • Imitation or emulation can help you discover new inspirations.
  • It can help you find the inflection to make a joke, or bit, really resonate.
  • It can help your brain to recognize the patterns and rhythms that get laughter from the audience
  • It can help you get confident in your pauses and perfect your timing.

Once you start emulating the behaviors of a comedian, you begin to ‘walk in their shoes,’ and you begin to think like one. As a result, more jokes come to you off-handedly during the normal progress of your day and you start recognizing subjects and situations that are ripe for a comedy routine.

As a tool, imitation and emulation is used all the time in life.

Famous guitar players all say that they learned by playing the riffs of the greats, then from those techniques they branched off and developed their own style.

Johnny Carson said he copied Jack Benny to learn how to perfect his timing.

Jerry Seinfeld was clearly influenced by George Carlin.

Robin Williams seemed to take his moves directly from Jonathan Winters.

When you watch Bill Burr, can’t you see a bit of Dennis Leary?

I studied Carlin, Pryor, Cosby and Seinfeld, mostly. When I first started I was very “Seinfeldian.” In fact, I remember going on stage at the Laugh Factory in L.A. one night. Jerry Seinfeld was in the room. I did my set with my jokes, but my inflections and behaviors had a definite Seinfeld feel.

After my performance—which got a decent response, from the audience—I said hello to Seinfeld and he just sort of blew me off. I said to myself, “maybe I I should tone it down a little.”

After that experience, I was lucky enough to meet with George Carlin. He gave me the best insight to comedy;

He said: “Take the stuff that drives you crazy and make it funny!”

That’s when I started to really develop as a comedian.

But it was the study and emulation of my favorite comedians that got me moving in this industry. Within my first two years as a comedian, I developed an hour of material, nailed my first audition with the legendary Bud Friedman, (owner of the Improvisation) in Los Angeles and got booked in Vegas and got my first television booking as a comedian.

After that, I used that television tape to book gigs all over the country and I never looked back.

Stand-up is a Conversation

One of my students is an actress. She’s a really, really good actress. She started doing stand-up in July. Like a lot of actors, she was having trouble eliminating that fourth wall and making the material sound like it was stand-up, rather than an actor’s monologue.

The difference between stand-up and acting is that stand-up is a conversation. It’s hopefully a one-way conversation, but it is more like a conversation. It’s like you’re talking to your friends in your living room or better yet, at a bar.

This actress-comedian was having a difficult time breaking out of the monologue mode. Then she started studying comedians like Whitney Cummings and Amy Schumer. I mean really studying them.

She listened to them for hours! (I recommend that to anyone—take your favorite comedian and listen to them for hours).

She would even repeat their lines while she was in her apartment, trying to emulate their nuances and their voices.

In a matter of a week or two, her act went to the next level. By the time she had her next appearance, she was sounding more like a comedian. Her material was resonating more with the audience. They were responding to her faster and with harder, snappier laughter.

She was becoming a comedian. It was her own material, but she emulated to get the nuance of a comedian.

4 Weeks to Being A Better Writer

To some people this seems crazy…

I get it. The comedian’s nuance and rhythm my come naturally to you. If so, then this post is not for you.

Go do your thing and continue in your own growth and brilliance.

But to you comedians with some years of experience, I still recommend listening to the really good comedians.

When I had been doing comedy for about 8 years, I was on the road for four weeks straight. In my car I had one cassette (yes, I said “cassette!” Don’t judge!). It was Dennis Miller.

One thing about Dennis, is he used to use really colorful language in his material. The writing was clever. He used a lot of analogy, simile and metaphor to add texture to his stories. In my view it made the story worth listening to.

By the end of the tour, my comedy also had more compelling language. It was better written and it was getting better response. I kept it in my own voice, but that four weeks with Dennis Miller made me a far better writer!

This particular post is for beginners who are having a hard time getting out of the habit of sounding like they are reciting material and getting more in the habit of sounding like a comedian; like a conversationalist.

For you, if you are struggling with this concept. Try emulating or imitating. It might make you sound like a comedian faster.

Then again, you might already be emulating.

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How Developing Habits Makes You A Better Comedy Writer

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image How do you start your day?

How do you end your day?

I bet that if you walk through the motions, step-by-step, you can pretty much rubber-stamp habits like preparing for bed or waking up to go to work.

Like, for me, going to bed might be mapped out in steps like this:

  • Check the doors to make sure they are locked
  • Turn out the porch light and the light in the Foyer
  • Tell Fairchild (our Butler), that I will have tea in the library prior to turning in.
  • Set the thermostat
  • Get undressed
  • Use the bathroom
  • Brush my teeth, etc.

All of these—except for the smart-ass and fictitious ‘Butler’ comment—I don’t really have to think about.

I do them automatically, and I bet if you mapped out your morning or evening habits, you would probably be able to say you do them automatically too.

What about your morning commute to work? Do you have to think about it? Or is it automatic?

Unless you’re like some people I know who use a G.P.S. to get everywhere, all the time, (and you know who you are), your drive to work is probably automatic. You don’t have to think of the low-level details required to get there.

How does this happen? How to we train our brains to utilize ‘automaticity’ with certain tasks or behaviors?

PRACTICE

That’s right, practice. The behavior of repetition. Repeating a task over and over will help you train your brain to do it automatically.

Without thinking about it.

That makes sense to most of us. But how do you change a habit or better yet, develop a solid habit?

Willpower is a Finite Resource

Relying on sheer willpower to develop a new habit is not necessarily a good idea. Willpower, according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is a finite resource and it suffers depletion after use.

A study actually done on this phenomenon called “ego-depletion,” shows that after willpower is exerted in one area, it becomes harder for an individual to exert it in another.

Have you experienced this?

With the understanding of this new knowledge of “ego-depletion,” it would seem wise to slow down your habit changing and apply it in a more focused way.

If you’re like most people, you probably come up with more than one New Years resolution, right?

Then you try to apply these new behaviors all at once.

“I’m gonna go to the gym everyday…”

“I’m gonna eat more salads.”

“I’m gonna stop drinking, smoking and drugs.”

“I’m gonna write some clean comedy.”

That seems like a small list, but according to the behavior studies, most people have 10 or more resolutions and those who tried to implement and develop these habits all at once, would soon fail miserably at all of them.

Focus on One Task at a Time

One way to really ensure that you will have a high rate of success on developing a new habit is to focus developing only one at a time.

If you slow down and take one habit at a time and give it your complete focus and attention your odds of experiencing ‘ego-depletion’ are drastically reduced.

So if you want to “wake up earlier” or “write some clean comedy,” then try doing only one of those for a month. That’s right 30 days of only one habit.

Although some studies say it takes 60 days to fully develop a new habit, other studies say habits can be developed in 20 days and since we are focusing on one habit at a time, 30 days seems practical.

If you actually applied this and did it for a year, you could make a lot of changes in your comedy writing and in your life, overall.

Start ‘Habitualizing’ Right Now to be Funnier

Today or tomorrow, write down the 10-12 new habits you want to apply to your comedy or your life.

Choose which one is most important to you or most needed.

Then spend the next 30 days implementing it by writing it in your daily calendar and making it an appointment.

Really map it out!

Say for example I want to be funnier in my everyday life. I know through experience, that one of the easiest ways to be funnier is to utilize the Double-entendre comedy structure. Simply put, using the secondary meaning of a word to respond to a comment from someone. They say something with an intended meaning and you respond with the comedic meaning of the word or meaning of the phrase in its entirety.

If I decide that I’m going to sharpen that sense or strengthen that muscle in my comedy, I would practice with random sentences, then find a word in that sentence that could have multiple meanings.

Then I would write a few lines in response to the original line using the comedic interpretation of the word.

For example, if I was in the grocery store and the clerk said, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

I might respond with, “Well, I found the wine and some candles, but I couldn’t find a soul-mate… you had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m not into twins…”

Or try to write another line in response to “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

“Everything? Can you tell me where I could find a hot chick who digs bald guys who jerk-off and eat hot pockets?”

If I did this every day for a month, with five random lines, without fail, I would be a sharper, faster, funnier writer in no time. Plus I would have a habit developed to do it everyday.

With 12 months in the year and 12 Major comedic joke structures, applying habits each month could make you one Hell of a writer in a year.

Get to Work

So what are you waiting for? Now that you have a process and an understanding, select those habits you want to change. Implement your focus and start changing the way you work, by developing new habits to become a better comedy writer.

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How To Write Comedy for Corporate Gigs [VIDEO]

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Happy Thanksgiving!

One-of-a-kind comedy writing tutorial.

Just let me start by saying I am thankful for all of you who take the time to read my blog and leave me comments, likes and tweets.

For Thanksgiving I want to give you this video tutorial on writing material for corporates.

As many of you know corporate gigs are the well paid gigs that can really earn you a terrific living in comedy. I spent much of my career doing corporates and earning a terrific living.

The key do grabbing the higher paying gigs in corporate is being able to write material that relates to the company or the niche for which you have been hired to perform.

This video is a FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL on writing comedy material for corporates. It’s not a teaser. It’s much like my video on writing jokes for current events video. It walks you through starting with a subject—in this case: “Title Insurance”—then writing ten minutes of material for that subject.

Watch the video when you have time to sit and watch an hour and eighteen minutes of the sometimes tedious process of putting together ten minutes of material from scratch. In other words it can be boring as hell unless you’re a comedy writing nerd like me!

So grab a cup of coffee and your notebook and enjoy. This is a one-of-a-kind-tutorial and is only one of the techniques I use to write corporate material for a specific niche.  Enjoy!

I would love to hear your feedback!

Happy Thanksgiving!

NOTE: If the video doesn’t appear, refresh the page. Thanks!


 

 

 

 

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Does All Comedy Need to be Based in Truth? [Video]

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There seems to be a misconception out there when it comes to theories behind developing and writing comedy.

One of the most popularly espoused by many comedy instructors is: your comedy must be true.

NOT SO!

I’m not sure how this particular theory got so out of control. I say, “out of control” because I’ve heard from dozens of confused students of comedy on this very matter. So many, in fact, I feel that it’s time to address in on the blog.

So let me be clear: All comedy does not need to be true.

In other words, you can make stuff up!

To be fair, some of the people who have advocated this ‘truth’ misnomer may just be repeating something they’ve heard from other people. Or they are misinterpreting or misunderstanding what “true” is or what it means with regard to developing comedy or developing stories.

Bottom line is that if you only use what’s true, you are seriously limiting yourself and your material. There’s so much available if you use your imagination.

If you allow yourself to get stuck on only what’s true, you’ll deny your creative mind the ability to develop a whole field of new material; sketches, act-outs, and solid ponderable or observational creative material (Jerry Seinfeld-style)

However, truth is a good starting point…

For example, I wrote a bit a long time ago on how people in Texas say “Y’all.”

That is true.

Once I had that tid-bit of information, I wanted to write a funny routine about it, (I’m a comedian so ‘funny’ is usually how I like to write… I try anyway).

One of the most effective ways to write comedy, is to take a character trait of a person and put him or her in a situation that is opposite to their persona and/or character traits. It creates a situation that resolves with an unexpected result. Which creates surprise, thus laughter.

Got it?

So all I needed to do is come up with a character that the audience would never expect to use the phrase “Y’all.”

I thought British Royalty. That’s a good idea, but the odds of meeting British royalty in Texas are slim and improbable—Brits don’t understand Texan accents—so I thought further. Then I came up with the idea of using an austere French person.

Where would I find an austere French person in Texas?

A French restaurant in Dallas!

You can probably feel the presence of the incongruous relationship between those two elements (French person/Texas), already, and the idea is giving you a bit of a tickle.

So once I had the character and the situation. I had to create the story and the act-out.

So the bit goes like this:

“I was out of the country recently, I was in Texas. You ever notice that everyone says, “Y’all” in Texas. Everyone! You can go to other parts of the country and you’ll have pockets of the population that say “y’all,” but everyone in Texas says, “Y’all.” Like, one time, I was in a very expensive French restaurant in Dallas—which is a joke in itself—I was at the top of this hotel. Very French restaurant; the waiter was also very French. He had the little French mustache, the towel over his arm, the body odor. He comes up to our table and he’s like, “Good afternoon, Mademoiselle, Monsieur… Welcome to Café Lu Bonne… what can I get for Y’all.” I was like, “You just blew the atmosphere there ‘Pierre.

He turns around, he’s got a faded Copenhagen circle on the back of his Tuxedo pants… That’ll teach me for eating at a restaurant called, “Chateu de Big-Ass Barbecue.”

This bit is intended to be performed and not written, but it’s a bit that works any time, any where I am performing; clubs, corporates, parties, one-niters. It’s a no-fail joke.

Take a quick look at the video of that joke:

Jerry Corley at Wiseguys Comedy Club in Salt Lake City

Here’s the thing: IT NEVER HAPPENED! The entire scenario is a made-up story.

Bottom line is that comedy doesn’t have to be true to be funny and effective.

Here’s the caveat: comedy has to be believable and probable. If this was written outside the realm of believability, then the audience would not ‘buy it’ and the joke would fail.

The thing to remember is that comedy is heightened reality not complete absurdity. As audiences we love to be fooled, but we hate to be made fools of…

Make sense?

One of the other fallible pieces of information that students get subjected to is “don’t tell stories.”  NOT TRUE!

Notice the above joke. Is it a story or a joke?

It’s both. It is a story with seven laugh points, (in orange). It’s a bit that lasts about a minute, but includes seven laughs along the way.

Seven laughs in a minute. Considering that most clubs like the Improv, Comedy Store, Laugh Factory, etcetera, look for comedians to have a laugh every 18-20 seconds, seven in a minute doubles that. It’s a solid bit.

What do we gain from this?

Stories are fine, just as long as you have laugh points along the way!

What say you?

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Big Sky Comedy Competition has Big Time Industry

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Don’t miss this one!

I know, I know… what the Hell? Big Sky Comedy Competition? Why bother?

I’ll give you 3 reasons:

ICM

CBS

IMPROVs

These are just a few of the talent coordinators and agents that were present at last years festival/competition. I expect just as good a turn out or better at this year’s competition with scheduled additional attendance of talent coordinators from the Funny Bones Comedy Clubs and FOX.

This festival is put on by Wayne Wilcox and his team of talent coordinators and producers. From what I’ve heard they are doing a great job building this festival.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of getting involved in any comedy competition or festival. It’s not just about the competition. Although winning would be great, it’s not everything. Meeting and mingling and developing relationships with other comics and bookers is the primary goal of any competition.

One of the best pieces of advice I received about auditions and try-outs is from an old musician friend of mine. He’s a professional studio drummer and makes a good living touring with top headlining bands.

He said, “Audition for everything. Because even if you don’t get the gig, you meet those same people again and if you’ve been working hard, when they see you again, they see the improvement. Anyone would want to work with the artist who is constantly working hard to get better.”

And he’s right. As you know this can be a small world. You bump into a lot of the same people. Every opportunity leads to another opportunity.

To freshen up read my top tips on performing at .

How To Submit

It’s really easy to submit for this competition:

  1. Visit Big Sky Comedy’s and click the link.
  2. Fill out the form.
  3. Pay the $30 Fee with your credit card.
  4. Submit your 5-minute video link.
  5. Submit before September 15!

Please be sure that your video is ONLY 5 minutes. I think it’s best not to have an edited video, but times have changed and lots of these festivals don’t care. They just want to see what you can bring to the festival.

24 Comedians will be selected for the competition. Here’s the great part, according to the promo on the website, your food and hotel are paid for! What?! That’s right. If you make it into this festival, your food and hotel are paid for!

So submit your videos now and Good luck! Remember the deadline is September 15th!

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