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 )…
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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?
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”), 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.
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
The audience recognizes how embarrassing that situation would be if it was them, and…
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.
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?
The lesson I learned tonight is that university students are PC to the point that it is unnatural. These are the people posting PC crap all over Facebook! At first I was confused about my inability to connect with the crowd. I felt it from my first joke (about marriage/children).
Some of the other comedians were outright angry at the sensitivity of the audience. This was the first time any of us had performed at a college.
If comedy is indeed a “veiled attack”, then these 19 year olds don’t know comedy! But I got to thinking: If it is funny TO THEM, they will laugh. One guy got up and talked about how after eating chicken vindaloo, his “asshole was blistered”.
At the comedy rooms he never gets a huge laugh with that bit. But last night the crowd loved it. What the fuck? They seem to love descriptive vulgarity … so long as you only make fun of yourself.
Then he went on to say, “After the show I read an article in which Seinfeld says stay away from college campuses at all costs. However there is money to made at such places…
So how do we make this work?”
First, for all the brilliance that is Jerry Seinfeld, he is wrong on this. Jerry is old school and seems stuck in an era that–as far as the 18-24’s are concerned–doesn’t exist. And it seems the more interviews I watch, read or listen to with Seinfeld the more he’s turning into his stubborn old Jewish Dad on his show ‘Seinfeld.’
Due to Jerry’s celebrity, he will continue to be able to work no matter what, but if he doesn’t adjust, he runs the very real risk of becoming mainstream obsolete.
One of the things you learn as an artist, writer, musician, is that different generations have different perceptions of life, therefore their tastes for what’s considered acceptable, changes.
Change, Update or Become Obsolete
Political correctness is nothing new. I started to see this clearly about 23 years ago. Don Rickles did an appearance on Comic Relief in 1992. Rickles is the original ‘insult comic.’ But of course the crowd was filled with people who were at the event to support the benefit to raise money for the homeless and disenfranchised; a very ‘politically correct’ crowd, indeed.
Rickles spent his 7 minutes fighting several groans.
Rickles is a fast and funny comedian, but his inability to play that type of audience was evident.
Rickles showed how out of touch he was with an evolving society. Trying to explain his insults by saying, “I love the ‘blacks;'” (in fact, candidly using a politically incorrect term to explain his act), exposed him as severely dated.
He reminded me of my grandmother when I brought my friend over to dinner. She referred to him as the ‘Colored boy.’ Which was totally weird because he was Puerto Rican. (Kidding).
Being out of touch made Rickles obsolete in the mainstream. He still plays Vegas, but mostly for the crowd that fits his age group and remembers Rickles for Rickles.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold Seinfeld and Rickles in extremely high esteem. I just want to call it how I see it.
Adjust, but don’t lose your voice or your edge!
George Carlin was able to continue to fill venues and remained a college favorite until he died. He kept his voice, kept his edge but also had something for everyone. Carlin was never only one voice.
I remember him saying. “You gotta put in some observation, some wordplay, some fluff. Fluff is important to remind everyone that although you think religion is bullshit, it’s still a comedy show, so lighten the fuck up.”
At some point Carlin also, said, “I don’t give a shit what the audience thinks…” The moment Carlin groomed his act to get on Late Night T.V. and did the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine for two years, I knew as far as that statement was concerned, Carlin had to eat those words. He adjusted and chose the material that was right for that audience.
In fact, we’re all full of shit if we don’t think we care what the audience thinks. Because, at the bottom line, isn’t that why we’re on stage in the first place? If we don’t get a laugh, we figure out the joke until we do. In essence, we all pander.
But I digress…
It’s About the Audience
Yes, the college kids are overtly PC, but it’s not “ruining” comedy. As a comedian/writer you should learn the acronym M-A-P, Material-Audience-Performer. The material has to suit the performer and suit that audience. When the audience changes, the material has to adjust.
I once played a corporate in Salt Lake City. The guy who hired me said that this was a very hip group and they like to make fun of everything, (famous last words, right?).
In my act, I started doing my Mormon section of my set list, (making fun of Mormons). The audience wasn’t laughing.
Evidently, the audience that likes to make fun of everything, did not like making fun of Mormons.
I needed to figure out why this audience wasn’t laughing or I was sunk.
A guy brought up a piece of paper and I read it. It said, “This crowd is mostly Mormon.”
So I looked at the audience, read the note out loud, took my set list out of my pocket and said, “That explains why that part of my act isn’t working.” And I tore up the set list.
The audience laughed at the candid remark, (because I made fun of myself), and I went back to my act, and instead, made jokes about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They felt superior, loved it and laughed!
I adjusted my material to fit the audience, but if I took that experience and I said, “Wow whatever you do, avoid doing corporates at all costs,” because I’m unable to adjust to the crowd, I might as well get out of the business now.
Does this make sense?
My point is this: learn to work the crowd. Learn to adjust your material and shift gears so that the audience follows your trajectory.
In the email above, my student said “if comedy is, in fact a ‘veiled attack,’ then they don’t know comedy.” Allow me to talk about this briefly because comedy is a veiled attack; we’re attacking something. Even ourselves. But the key is to attack UP. Attack above yourself.
If you’re white, don’t pick on minorities
If you’re male, don’t pick on women (without recourse)
If you’re female, male, hispanic, black or other… don’t pick on Special Olympics kids.
This is a shortened version of the attack philosophy and it’s only if you don’t have a valid reason, (IE: If you’re a male don’t pick on your wife or ex unless they cheated on you or did you wrong and you share this information with the audience; now you have reason to pick on them and the audience will actually crave for you to retaliate; simple story telling.).
One reason is that he provides lot’s of self deprecation. The edgier the attack the more Tosh picks on himself. The reason he does this is to remind the audience that he really doesn’t take himself too seriously. This allows him to ‘step over the line’ then knock himself down a peg or two.
When you watch his act, you’ll see this pattern repeat. For those who are struggling with the idea that comedy have definite structure, it’s a great lesson. Tosh is masterful at this!
Second Solution: Double Down!
The second is when he does hit on something that’s politically incorrect, he doesn’t bail on it, he doubles down. He pokes at it and pokes at it until the audience (mostly 18-34 males) laugh out of the embarrassment that they shouldn’t be laughing at that joke.
They are also laughing at the ambivalence of Tosh; that Tosh doesn’t care that they didn’t laugh, (or instead, groaned), at the original joke. They audience recognizes that same ambivalence in themselves and since recognition is a top laugher trigger, they laugh.
Doubling down could be as simple as saying something like, “I’m going down this road with or without you people…” Or “Hey I’m twenty-one, this is the shit I talk about,” or “One day you’ll look back and laugh at this, like maybe the day when you actually become adults.”
The point is that all audiences have a degree of overt political correctness corrupting their ability to laugh openly at certain jokes from a comedian–
Be Unstoppable, Don’t Give up… Just figure it out!
Remember Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes? He ate it!
Did he say, “Avoid the Golden Globes at all costs?” No. He came back the very next year and had a great time making fun of the previous year’s performance!
College kids might be more PC than usual, but the object is to figure out what they laugh at, then figure out out of the stuff they laugh at what resonates with your persona, then approach your college set that way.
Go to a college show! See what the kids are relating to and write some stuff that fits your persona but also resonates with the crowd.
For the last two years. Comedian and former student, Tony Ming, produced some shows at Cal State University, Northridge.
He had five comedians doing sets for around a hundred and fifty college kids who were just starting their college careers. All of the comedians were our students…
I gotta tell you right now, none of our students bombed. That’s right, none. I’m not saying that to blow smoke up anyone’s ass. It’s just the plain truth. Each one went up on stage and had terrific sets with solid laughs every 18-20 seconds.
Their sets were all about their obstacles, and their struggles to figure stuff out.
The first year, Brian Kiley was headliner. Brian is the head monologue writer at Conan O’Brien. He performed for fifty-three minutes and EVERY JOKE WORKED!
His jokes worked despite the fact that Brian doesn’t really have any dynamic change in his emotions. His jokes are just nearly perfect in their structure.
Fifty-three minutes in front of a PC college crowd. Rocked.
The following year, I was the headliner in that same room. This time there was an even larger audience. I actually struggled with a few jokes. In my head I was like, Wait a minute. This shit kills at the clubs. What’s up? I then shifted gears, made fun of myself. Made it more interactive, (within my material), with me encountering or sharing similar obstacles with the kids in the crowd and the set went well.
Bottom line is, while still staying true to my style and my voice, I adjusted.
Because after all, this is show business. If the material doesn’t resonate with the purchaser, then, in order to survive, you have to adjust.
I learned a long time ago to approach my comedy as both an art and as a business. Most comedians miss this part of it.
Show Business is two words
Most comedians approach this business like, “Screw the audience, this is about my art.”
To a certain extent it is, but… “Show-BUSINESS” is two words and ‘business’ is usually in all CAPS.
Every performer, must understand is the the “Golden Rule,” which is: “He with the gold, makes the rules,” and if the one with the gold wants it clean or very PC then you have to be able to adjust.
You might consider having several different types of sets:
A set for the clubs (Can get blue, (use profanity or graphic sexual situations), maybe edgy, or politically incorrect)
A set for Colleges (Extra sensitivity toward being clean and very politically correct).
A set for Cruises (Two 45 minute sets; one clean, one a little edgy for the midnight show).
A set for Corporates and Fund raisers, (clean and focusing on theme and interests that usually appeal to the business or industry you are performing for).
A set for Late Night, (A set on late night is 4-minutes, 30-seconds. It’s ‘T.V. Clean’)
It’s something to consider and take seriously, because those college kids will be out of college soon and be the primary audience members of the clubs and mainstream performance venues.
A comedian interested in having longevity should adjust when necessary or resolve to becoming obsolete.