I was at the Comedy Store last night. I was talking to a young comedian about crafting a joke and the importance of writing everyday and this other comedian butts in and says, “I don’t give a damn about any of that, I just want to know how to be a famous comedian!”
What this comedian didn’t realize was that I just saw him do about an 10-minute set and not only did he run the light, (went way over his time), disrespecting the audience, the booker and his fellow comics, he also did a whole 2-minute bit about not putting kids on “time-out” but putting them on “knock-out,” (a bit that’s more worn out than a Vegas hooker on New Year’s Eve). When he said “I just want to know how to be a famous comedian,” I remember thinking to myself, not with that act!
I’ve been doing comedy for 25 years. I’ve written for Jay Leno for 8 years. So I try my best not to be negative when I’m around other comedians. I’m honest, just not negative. The truth is there is no direct answer to the quest of “how to be a famous comedian,” but there are guidelines.
Write, write and write some more!
One of the crucial keys to making it in this industry is originality. That’s one thing bookers look for when scouting for talent. They also look for how well you craft a joke. Most stand up comedy on late night talk shows is about well-crafted jokes and routines, not about big act-outs. The only way to develop that is by writing and writing a lot. Most comedians, I’ve noticed don’t actually write a lot. They wait for something funny to happen to them and they write it down or record it somehow. That’s a good way to get material, mind you, but it’s only one way. When you learn the fundamentals of comedy including joke structure and technique, then you can make something funny, rather than wait for something to be funny.
A comedian should be spending several hours every day writing. Most don’t. One of the problems is that most comedians and wanna-be comedians equate comedy with frivolity and they treat their profession frivolously. That’s one way NOT to be a famous comedian.
Stage Time is King!
Once you have a well-crafted act (I have a lot of posts on techniques) of 5-7 minutes, then it’s time to hit the stage. Writing is great for the crafting of the material and really sharpening your sense of humor, but nothing beats getting on the stage. A comedian who is looking for notoriety, (whether they are trying to get famous or not), should be hitting the open-mics at least 3 times a week. If you can’t commit to that, you might want to consider a different line of work. You have to develop your act, your timing and your comfort level on stage so you can learn to be yourself while standing in front of complete strangers and the only way to do that is stage time. Sure, open-mics can be grueling. The audience is usually notoriously comedian-heavy and sometimes they can feel unrewarding. But the mere consistent appearance and mic-work will eventually payoff. If you’re doing good work, you’ll gain respect and reach at least some level of fame with the other comedians.
When I was doing the open mics, I was up at least 4 nights a week, at least and sometimes several times in one night. I gained a reputation as a good writer. There’s a nice feeling that accompanies walking into a room and having people talk about you—in a good way! I was always nice to everyone too and if I heard another comedian do a joke and thought of a tag for the joke I would always write it down and offer it to the comic as a suggestion.
Some of the best advice I got from Jay Leno. He said “write faster than everybody else and your reputation will precede you.” It was true. I was “famous” within certain circles for being a really good writer and comedian.
Develop your act and hit the road!
Once you’ve written and honed an act of between 15-30 minutes of solid material, (“solid” meaning a laugh point every 18-20 seconds), then it’s time to hit the road and develop it. When you start working night after night, you really start to develop as a comedian. The beauty of the road is that you’re out there working on comedy 24 hours a day. You write during the day and perform at night. By the end of 4 months on the road, you should have the makings for about an hour of material. When you feel completely secure in your material. It’s time to start submitting yourself to T.V. talent coordinators. Some bookers take DVD’s, some like to see links on the internet and YouTube.
You can contact the bookers by getting the “Hollywood Creative Directory.” It lists all the shows that are on the air and their staffs. Be sure to check out the style of comedian that gets booked on each show. Fallon is different from Kimmel and Ferguson is different from Leno. Once you feel you fit a certain show. Send a DVD right to the booker with a note that says “I’m a regular watcher of your show and I think my act fits with what you do. Please take a look.” Be sure that your name and contact info is on the DVD and the cover of the DVD as they often they get separated.
There is no certainty of success only the joy of the work!
Other than working hard on both parts of the word show-business there are no rules or guarantees to success. My Dad, who was a successful character actor, once said to me, “You have to get into this business for the right reasons. If you get into it to be famous, get out now, because odds are that’s not going to happen. If you get into because it’s who you are and you stay true to being the best you can be and doing the best work possible, you will reach such a great personal level of success and gratification that the idea of how to be a famous comedian won’t be as important as being the best comedian you can be.
“Yes, you can teach comedy. It is a skill as much as an art.” When I tell people I teach comedy. The first thing I usually hear is: “there’s such a thing as comedy schools?” “I didn’t know you could teach comedy!
That’s a point of contention with a lot of people; whether or not you can teach comedy. Well, I can sit here and tell you, unequivocally, that YES, you can teach comedy and, yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as comedy schools. Whether most of them are any good or not is an argument for another day.
I’ve been a professional comedian for 25 years. I’ve toured 40 weeks plus during each of those years. I also wrote for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” for 8 years. About 4 years ago I got the “teaching bug.” I know, sounds like a sickness, right? I opened my own comedy school in Burbank, California. In fact, out of all the comedy schools that are listed here in the Los Angeles area, I think I’m the only comedy teacher in Southern California that has a studio dedicated to comedy 24/7. I have first-hand experience that you CAN teach comedy, because my students go up at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, CA and are told by complete strangers that they are “funny,” and I have comedians who are regulars at the Comedy Store come up to me during their showcases and say, “Those guys are students?” It’s in the stucture.
I don’t know what they do in the other comedy schools, I can only tell you what happens in mine. Time and time again, I get people coming to my comedy school saying they learned more in 1 hour in my classes than they learned from an 8-week course in the other classes. I’m not saying that to blow my own horn—well, partially—I think the reason I’m writing this is to let you know that there is a lot of crap out there. Before you go out and blow four to five-hundred dollars on any of these comedy schools, you need to do your research.
Here’s a quick 3-step process for checking out any of these comedy schools:
- Look up the instructor in the internet. Does he have any video of himself performing comedy? Does he have any samples of his work in written form any where? Blogs, joke lists, comedy-writing submission packages for any of the talk shows? If they don’t have any sample work for you to see then throw out their number.
- If they have video or samples of their joke-telling or joke-writing ability, ask yourself: “Does it make me laugh?” “Does this guy/girl seem to know how to formulate a joke? Do they have timing? Are they getting laughs?
- If they don’t make you laugh, if they don’t seem to know how to formulate a joke and if you don’t think they have timing and can execute, then repeat step 1—throw out there number. Because going to one of those comedy schools where the teacher can’t seem to execute, is like taking flying lessons from someone who’s not a pilot. Eventually, you’re going to crash and burn.
Then ask them if you could sit in and “audit” a class. That’s where you get to see them in action, you get to see how a class is run, whether or not you fit with the “groove” of the comedy teacher and find out who they are.
I’m constantly writing and I still tour. I’m actively doing what I absolutely love and that’s comedy; both writing and performing. As far as video is concerned, you can check out a clip of me below. And it’s not just some random clip of a 2 or 3 minute segment that I pieced together with just the best stuff. It’s an hour set. Take a look! Scan through the bits. Fast forward and go back. When you get to the end, you’ll see a standing ovation. And again, I’m not telling you this to blow my own horn—(really, this time!).
I’m telling you this because I teach what I do and I do what I teach. I teach structure. It’s in the structure where the laughs come from. And I structure my whole set so that at the end there’s a build up and a release that causes the audience to respond with an ovation. It’s all in the structure.
There’s a guy online who’s offering an online comedy course (which I will be launching shortly). I tried to look for video of him online and there is none. He claims it’s because he’s worried that if he makes a come-back to stand up comedy, people will have stolen his material. I’ve got lot’s of video online. The way I figure it, if people steal my material, I’ll just write more…because I can. And so can most of my students, because that’s what I teach them. Comedy schools should teach you COMEDY, don’t you agree; both writing and performing.
So, if you’re looking for comedy schools, I would love for you to check mine out, The Stand Up Comedy Clinic. As you can tell I don’t try to mince words. I tell it like it is. Even if it’s brutal. In the words of Steve Martin, “Comedy is not pretty.”
And if you’re looking for comedy schools that you can take online, please do drop me an email and let me know. I will keep you posted when mine is completed and up on line, (ETA: October 1, 2011). This is my passion, my art, it’s what I live for and I love it. Thanks for taking a second to hear me rant on comedy schools.
Enjoy the video (it’s when I had hair!). And please leave a comment to tell me what you thought. Good or bad. Because we make our greatest strides when we learn from our mistakes. Keep laughing, my bitches! (And I mean that with love and in jest…so shut your pie hole!).
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“How can I be a funny girl? You can never find anything on how to be a funny girl!” This young lady said to me recently. Interesting question, because literally every single day I get asked questions about comedy; “How can I get into comedy?” “Can I learn to be funny?” “How do I get into stand up?” You name it, when it comes to comedy, I get asked. I realized that I never got asked, specifically, about how to be a funny girl.
I Googled it and she was right! You don’t ever find anything on how to be a funny girl. There aren’t a lot of resources on how to be a funny girl. So I decided to post this blog and dedicate it to being a funny girl.
For the purposes of this post—and so I don’t risk getting pummeled with emails about the word “girl” vs. the word “woman,” I’m going to keep to the title of the post and include women under the umbrella as well, so when I write about how to be a funny girl, I’m also including women on this, because the woman who originally asked that question was well into her 30’s.
I will also address this to young ladies at least 12-years of age and older. The reason? At twelve most kids begin to develop the ability for complex reasoning. It allows for a greater understanding of incongruity and irony, two keys to humor.
Let’s start with why you would want to be funny. First of all, at a social level, funny, is not only a great self-defense mechanism, it helps to get us out of some pretty sticky situations, it’s also a great way to communicate and break through the “stranger barrier” early when meeting someone. When you’re making someone laugh it’s literally impossible for them to dislike you at the same time. So you get to be liked! That’s one reason to seek an answer to the question, “How to be a funny girl.”
In a more professional sense, the comedy industry; be it television, stand up, screen, desperately needs more funny women. Really! It does. It seems that there are so few female comedians. There are even fewer funny ones!
So let’s cover how to be a funny girl. There are a couple of adjustments to being a funny girl, due to societal expectations of being a girl, but we’ll get into that later. Ultimately,, believe it or not, being a funny girl is much like learning to be a funny boy…or man…or guy.
First you should understand the science of Funny.
“Funny” if you look it up, is something that causes laughter. And when you understand that the number element that triggers human laughter is surprise, then you’re already way ahead. Now, you have to ask yourself: how do I create surprise? It’s not by jumping around and acting all weird! It can be very subtle, but very effective. Here are two key ways to create surprise:
- Say something unexpected
- Do or say something that’s incongrous (doesn’t fit)
Let’s cover each of these so you can see how effective they are. Once you have an idea about them, you will start to look for these things in your daily life’s conversations and observations. For the sake of space and time, in this post, I will focuse on the unexpected. I’ll write part 2 about incongruity later.
First, say something unexpected: it’s as simple as changing what is normally said. Like when Rosanne Barr said, “My mother says, ‘The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ I think the best way to a man’s heart is straight through his chest.”
You can take cliches like that and do what’s called reforming the cliche; which is basically changing the ending of the cliche. How does that fit into your daily life? Take, for example, one of your girlfriends. Everyone knows someone who seems to have a new boyfriend every week. If you don’t know that person, then she might be YOU!
Okay, say this girl’s name is Jill. And I named her that because I knew someone like this in high school. I mean this chick always had a new boyfriend. So you might say. “Jill’s always got a different boyfriend. I can just see her wedding, ‘Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband til death do you part…or next Tuesday?'”
Or what if there was a guy you really liked, “Josh is soooo hot. I’ve wanted to make out with him for like a year–and I’ve only know him 2 weeks!”
“That chick called me a slut and I’m no slut–except on Sundays…then all bets are off…because that’s when my neighbor Earl comes over and brings beer and duct tape!”
Of course you’re kidding, but how about that for saying something unexpected?
Or if an annoying guy thinks you’re hot and says something like, “Babe, you’re coming home with me!” You can say something like, “Dude, you couldn’t put this on lay-away.”
You can learn how to be a funny girl by watching truly funny female comedians. Try this as an experiment: watch comedians like Rita Rudner, Rosanne Barr (early years), Ellen DeGenerous, Diane Ford, Jo Caufield (British). These ladies have awesome comedy structure (meaning they do a great job creating surprise), study thier lines and, as an exercise, write down their jokes. Identify the set up and try to write different punch line. That’ll start giving you an idea of how a joke is formulated.
All of the ladies I mentioned above create surprise very effectively by saying something unexpected. They also all use incongruity well. Once you begin to understand how the jokes are put together and what makes them work, you will start to look for that formula in your own dialogue and conversation and if you recognize it, you can say something unexpected and get laughs. Once you get laughs, you are now a funny girl.
The business of Comedy can be brutal. Here’s a couple of simple tips to get you going on the right track.
Have you ever set up a lemonade stand as a kid? You thought it would be great putting your portable table out with a pitcher filled with lemonade and some paper cups and you had a business.
But you sat there in the sun and your only customers were your Mom, Dad, and if you were lucky a neighbor’s Mom. And after a long day in the sun in anticipation of making money, you wound up exactly the way you started…broke. The only difference is afterwards, you were a broke with a suntan—except in my case, a sunburn!
How does this relate to comedy? In comedy without customers, you are not a business. You’re just a broke stand up comedian.
So, how do you remedy this situation? I’m going to give you the answer. It’s quite simple actually: HARD WORK!
Did you know that less than 2 percent of the comedians that start out in this business actually continue on to any level of financial success? That’s right. 2 percent! That’s a brutal statistic isn’t it?
The good news is that when you compare it to the other performing arts, the stats are similar. In the acting profession, according to the Screen Actors Guild, (the primary union that handles actors), the percentage of actors working at any given time is about 2 percent.
One of the reasons the failure rate in comedy is so high is because most people who get into this business—don’t treat it as such. They equate comedy with frivolity and thus, treat their profession, frivolously.
Most beginning comedians I run into also have day jobs and complain that after a day at work they have no energy to write or work on their act. I totally understand that dilemma. When you’re starting out it’s hard to balance your day job with building your comedy career. The good news is it CAN be done.
As a comedian, you should focus on three things:
- Building relationships
But how do you do that when you have limited time? I mean you work after all!
“Show Business” is two words. You have the SHOW and you have the BUSINESS. You have to start thinking of your comedy career as a business—your OWN business and you need to start working it like your own business NOW. Not, “I’ll think about it…” NOW!
In most start-up businesses, it’s not unheard of for the owners to put in 18-hour days. You, as the owner, have to do everything. You work as the owner, the sales team, the accountant, human resources and the janitor. 18-hour days are pretty standard.
As a comedian, it’s very similar. You are the writer, the performer and the booker.
So, when you are starting as comedian, treat it like your own business. Put in the time. Build a schedule into your calendar. Give yourself at least a 2-3 hour period where you are working on your writing at least 4-5 days a week. Print a “DO-NOT-DISTURB” sign and post it on your door. Let everyone in the house know that during this period of time, you are writing and DO IT!
It may seem tough at first, but eventually it’ll become a part of your daily routine. But it is important to put it on your schedule. Treat it like you are reporting to work. When you do that, you train your mind to prepare for it. It helps you to follow-up and meet that goal.
You also have to plan to get mic time. Once you have 5-7 minutes of material, it’s time to hit the mics. You should be up at a mic somewhere in front of people at least 2-3 times per week, if you’re in a town where it’s accessible. If you’re near a town where comedy is accessible, then you should find ways to hit a mic at least a couple times a month. If this means getting in the car and driving to the next town…then do it! I remember driving 5-6 hours to do a gig for FREE just to get the stage time and make another business connection.
Sometimes I’ll tell a comedian that and they’ll say, “but that means you’ve lost money on gas!” I understand you’re frustration. I really do. But this is a business and in business you need to spend money to make money. You need to speculate to accumulate. You spent money to get experience and make a connection. Besides it’s tax deductible once you start to pursue this as a career. It’s training. It’s research and development. It’s travel.
Once you develop 10-15 minutes of solid material (by solid, I mean that it’s generating laughs every 18-20 seconds or so), then it’s time for you to become the sales team. Start hitting the phones, the email, Facebook and Linked In to make connections with comedy club bookers, club owners and talent coordinators.
Go to the clubs meet other comedians, find out who’s booking what and how to get in touch with them.
You should be at this point making no less than 10 phone calls per day for your career. That’s right, 10. But just having that number in your head helps you doesn’t it?!
Call comedy clubs, Rotary Clubs, Toastmasters, offer your services for free at local events, parties, annual banquets for chambers of commerce. Teach a comedy traffic school. It’s amazing how quickly you can hone your act when you have a captive audience!
Ultimately, if you study the fundamentals of comedy, you get to be a good joke writer and a better comedian with mic time and practice, you will find that doors will start to open.
Treat everyone with respect, over-deliver wherever you go, and be the guy who will do favors and help other people out. Be nice to everyone. Even the people you don’t like. Be nice! You never know when they will be in a position to help you!
This is only a summary of how to go about this there are many other ways to develop your comedy business. There are many tried and true techniques that I will go over in future articles.
In a nutshell, remember that people who start their own business put in around 18 hours a day. Think about the time you put into your comedy business and if you’re not treating it like your OWN business and you’re not putting in the time, then you might as well go to your kitchen, get a folding table and set up a lemonade stand.
How a comedian can use visual imagery in his comedy material to trigger stronger laughs.
By Jerry Corley | The Stand Up Comedy Clinic
A young comedian came up to me at the Comedy Store the other night and said, “Did you see my set? I think I’m doing good, but how could I be more funny?”
I did see his comedy set. He had some pretty good jokes. Some structure was off, like not saving the punch word for the end of the joke, etc.
I didn’t have a lot of time to talk—and if you know me, you know I could stay up all night in front of the Comedy Store talking about comedy structure—then, when the sun starts cracking the horizon, say, “Wanna grab a bite to eat?”
But since my time was limited, I gave him one bit of comedy advice that I thought would help. I figured it was probably better to give him just one comedy tip, because I have a tendency to overload people with information, which in all honesty, just creates confusion…and since this comedian was confused anyway (and I mean that in a nice way! ), I just gave him this suggestion. I hope it can help you in your comedy writing too!
Go back and analyze your comedy material and find the jokes where you can put in more visual imagery.
Using strong visual imagery receives a more crystallized response from a comedy audience than a joke where the imagery isn’t clear.
IE: “I’m losing my hair. There are some times when it really bothers me. Especially, in the mornings, when my wife is running her fingers through my hair…but I already left for work.”
There is a clear visual perception of hair on the pillow in the mind’s eye. That concise visual elicits greater immediate response from a comedy audience than a more vague joke might, like:
“They say that the state of your apartment represents the state of your mind. Right now my apartment is experiencing a frontal lobe issue.”
Despite both jokes being funny, (both jokes have been time-tested in front of comedy audiences all over the country and have gotten consistent laughs), the first one has a clearer visual. One of the reasons might be that most people have never seen a frontal lobe and can’t visualize it clearly. They get the idea of the joke, but it takes a second.
But let’s look at another version of the second joke:
“I need to get it together. They say that your apartment represents the state of your mind. Right now the inside of my apartment looks like the inside of my purse!”
Did you get a clear visual there? Did the joke seem more crisp? Was the visual more crystallized in your mind and as a result, the punch more effective?
We’ve seen the inside of a purse. Even if you’re a male comedian you could structure that joke to say, “Right now the inside of my apartment looks like the inside of my girlfriend’s purse.”
…and as a guy, this joke now has a double possibility for some added comedy…
“Right now the inside of my apartment looks like the inside of my girlfriend’s purse… The worst part is, my girlfriend’s purse was just found by my wife!”
Now there’s two comedic visuals. The inside of a purse and the memories we have of the faces of pissed off spouses.
So add visual imagery to your stand up comedy material and your writing and remember If you can see the picture clearly, odds are the audience will be able to see it too.