What Louis C.K. Sarah Silverman and Others Did BEFORE They Were Famous

Louis C.K.

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Take a look at Emily Zemler’s article in Esquire on Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and others on how and what they did before they became famous.

I always love reading about this stuff!

Most of us get acquainted with notable comedians only after they hit it big. The challenge and the mystery of their success can be so ominous and make us feel like we could never do it.

Early in our careers, every show seems so crucial. In the article Louis C.K. talks about his first time on stage and how he couldn’t fill five minutes and then didn’t do stand up for another two years!

He also talks about other failures.

This should instill in all of us how important the journey is. That not every or ANY show is a “do-or-die” moment, that mistakes can happen and they can be BIG. I mean how many of us even knew that C.K. made a movie, let alone a couple?

There Are No SINGLE Opportunities

Every career has its ups and downs. Some of us put so much faith in that ONE opportunity we had and blew.

There are no ‘single’ opportunities.

There is the journey of ups and downs. Some ‘downs’ feel catastrophic when they happen, but none except death can keep you down forever.

If I were you; which I’m not—Thank God—because I’ve seen the way you dress and that deep v-neck shirt does not look good on me—but if I were you, I would link that article, screenshot it, save it and use it for a reference each time you feel that you’ve failed or that your career is going nowhere.

Read the article, understand that the great ones failed too. Then get out, get up and do your funny.

And if they don’t laugh, rewrite, get up and do your funny again!

Great article Emily Zemler! Thanks for instilling hope in all comedians who are pounding it out.

P.S. This article was shared with me by Rick Olson; follow him on Facebook or Twitter . Dude’s always finding good stuff!

Learning How to Write Comedy Doesn’t Need to Be A Mystery

COMEDY TECHNIQUE – COMPARE & CONTRAST

 apples_and_oranges
Writing Comedy does not need to be a mystery..

How many times have you sat down and stared at a blank page or a blank computer screen trying to find something funny to write?

Discovering how to write comedy on a regular, routine basis does not need to be a mystery.

There are a vast array of techniques that you can apply on a daily basis during your writing sessions that can help you generate a ton of material.

The Compare and Contrast (also know as complex to simple) comedy structure is a very simple, yet very powerful comedy structure that can get you quick laughs.

It’s used by all the top comedians to varying degrees and is a very effective tool.

Bill Burr uses compare and contrast in a self-deprecating way in order to belittle himself or his achievements.

He’ll compare the achievements of others then reference his own achievements to point out that in comparison to the other persons achievements, he is insignificant.

This taps into the superiority laughter trigger, (making the audience feel superior) and usually winds up with a solid laugh.

Bill uses this in his bit on “Gold Digging Whores” when he talks about the achievements of Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Bill Burr – Compare & Contrast Joke Technique

“Anybody here think they could move to Austria, learn the language, become famous for working out, then be a movie star, then marry into their royalty, then hold public office? How many lifetimes would you need? I’m on my third attempt at Rosetta Stone Spanish!”

Here he gets laughs and an applause break! My theory is that the laughs come from the superiority laughter trigger, but Burr also utilizes recognition and says, “Rosetta Stone” Spanish.

He doesn’t just say “I’m on my third attempt at Spanish.” When he says “Rosetta Stone” ask yourself if you get an instant image of the Rosetta Stone brand in your mind’s eye.

In addition to the image, Rosetta Stone is known as the best method for learning a language fast, so Burr is really cutting himself down.

It’s the recognition of Rosetta Stone that takes that joke up a notch so the applause break comes as part of the recognition.

The audience can’t just laugh they want to give Burr more accolades than just laughter.

*Want to see a full breakdown of how Bill Burr Writes Comedy?

There are several ways to use Compare & Contrast as a comedy structure:

Compare & Contrast Act-Out

Amy Schumer finds this technique extremely useful in creating laughs for her act. In a video on “Certified Funny” Schumer uses this technique very effectively within the first 30 seconds of her act:

 
Amy Schumer – Compare-Contrast Joke Writing Technique

Schumer:

“I’m not shallow at all…

like the guy I’m seeing right now, isn’t even good-looking. Setup

“I’m serious.” Focuser

No one’s ever like: Setup to the Act-out (Here it comes!)

“Who’s that?” Act-out (Compare)

They’re like: Setup to the contrast

“What Happened? Is he Ill? Should we call someone?” Contrasting Act-out

See how cleverly Schumer uses this technique to create the laugh on the way to the “A” joke of ‘not being shallow?’

Once you understand the power of Compare and Contrast as a comedic structure, you’ll be able to plug it in to your act when you need an additional laugh.

One of the advantages of this technique is that it is truly structured. The audience will quickly focus when you hit them with a compare and contrast line.

Because by it’s nature it’s one of those lines that gets just gets audiences focused. That’s one of the reasons commercials that use that side-by-side comparison are so successful. Because it’s sort of a puzzle and an audience gets to participate mentally.

Also much of compare and contrast is dealing with the recognition laughter trigger. The comparisons are familiar to an audience and if you’ve read my book or are familiar with the psychological laughter triggers of a human being, then you know how powerful recognition can be.

Exercise:

Pick 3 Compare & Contrast Subjects and Write 5-10 Comparisons for each. You don’t have to be as clever as Schumer or Burr. In fact I want you to do simple comparisons for your exercise. It will help you mine your brain for these contrasts and help you to train yourself to recognize them in your daily life: Here are some examples:

  • Men – Women
  • Conservatives – Liberals
  • Gay People – Straight People
  • Rich People – Broke People
  • Hot Chicks – Ugly (or not so hot) Chicks
  • Black People – White People
  • Fat People – Skinny People
  • Cats – Dogs
  • Casey Kasem – Ryan Seacrest
  • Mother’s Day – Father’s Day
  • Tony Stewart – Martha Stewart
  • Jews – Catholics

We could go on and on, but…

Let’s take the simple example of Women and Men. I was at my niece’s graduation party recently and lots of family showed up as well as my niece’s friends. The World Cup was on and it was an interesting observation to see how quickly the genders split up and found their spots at the house. The Men were inside the house watching the World Cup and the Women were outside sitting in the Gazebo.

Men and Women

The conversations the men were having and the conversations the women were having were the same only different: Men were like, “Did you see that play? That’s ridiculous! If that’s not a damn foul, I don’t know what is!” And the women were like, “Did you hear who Kim is dating?” It’s ridiculous! He’s 10 years younger. If that’s not craddle-robbing I don’t know what is!”

So, in also utilizing the “Paired-Phrase” structure, in paring the rhythms of the two act-outs, we also heighten the joke.

Another Example: Specificity

Is it me, or did you notice how when you saw Casey Kasem and Ryan Seacrest, the specificity of those items conjured up new ideas. Was there more focus? Did you see images? Sometimes getting specific can give you more motivation to write jokes.

In the example of Tony Stewart (Nascar driver) and Martha Stewart (Magazine editor, entrepreneur), I actually got that idea from Twitter. I was looking through tweets and I saw the name “@Melissa Stewart” and at first glance I thought it was @MarthaStewart.

So in looking for an exaggerated incongruity I thought it would be funny to mistake @MarthaStewart for an opposite, say, @MartyStewart.

In a compare and contrast exercise in my head I said, “If I followed @MarthaStewart I could finally get my master bedroom to coordinate. If I followed @MartyStewart I could probably do the same, but it would be in a bold sports theme.

The thinking being, of course, that we associate good decorating with Martha Stewart while Marty sounds like a beer drinking guy who spends his weekends watching sports.

In a revised draft, using specificity, I decided that in might be better to use a more commonly known Nascar driver, Tony Stewart, (yes, I had to look him up). People who know Tony Stewart. His name is used often enough in middle America.

So the joke might wind up reading:

“I was on Twitter and instead of following @MarthaStewart I accidentally followed @TonyStewart. My rug still ties in the room, but in a bold @Nascar theme!”

Are you starting to get some ideas? Now get to work and write your own! Have fun!

Why *This is My Art* is Utter Nonsense

art-and-businessI was at party recently and I had the privilege of meeting another veteran comedian, a comedian who had reached a certain notable level of success.

We were talking about comedy and I had mentioned that one of my students—Sascha Knopf—was a finalist in the ‘CA’s Funniest Female’ Comedy Competition this year, and another student of mine—Pauline Yasuda—won it in 2013.

This comedian looked me dead in the eye and said, “I don’t believe in competitions. This is my art.”

“You’re falling into that trap, are you?”

And although I know what she was trying to say and I respect it; it’s a common trap that ‘artists’ fall into and it’s utter nonsense.

This Is Not Art School

I didn’t engage in a discussion with this comedian about the topic, but it’s an important lesson to address and should be part of Art School 101 for everyone whether you’re an actor, dancer, writer, painter or comedian.

It’s an especially important lesson if you’re in one of those arts where there is little—if any—formal training; like stand-up comedy.

That lesson is:

This is Show Business, not Art School.

There is a difference. In art school we can do whatever we want. We can paint, or sculpt or write and be as creative as we want, flavoring our art to our own tastes, express ourselves purely without regard to the world’s judgment.

If they think it’s bland or too spicy, ‘screw them’ because it is my art and beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in art school the beholder is you and a handful of other artists, but mostly you, because at Art School, you write the checks (or if you’re lucky, you are the offspring of parents with money, then it’s their check).

When you get into Show Business—which is two distinct words—read that again and let it sink in: Show-Business is two words. Each word should have equal weight, but they don’t. They call it a business because it is just that. If you don’t put butts in the seats or sell your art, nobody gives a damn.

In show-business, who is the ‘beholder?’

  • Club bookers
  • Talent Coordinators
  • Casting Directors
  • Listeners (if it’s radio)
  • The network
  • The Advertisers
  • The audience

You are therefore beholden to those who make the decisions and write the checks. After all, comedy is not performed in a vacuum. You have to please those who are in charge and that includes the audience.

Don’t get me wrong, a strong developed point of view and character are essential to making you unique and brand-able, but you have to adjust when the ‘beholders’ demand it.

*A side-note:

If you are such a powerful presence and your brand of art is generating ticket sales, filling arenas, generating a million followers on social media, the ‘beholders’ will acquiesce and will see the beauty in what you do, because they will see the revenue that you will generate.

But that’s only because they see that as good ‘business,’ because, really, most decision makers in this business don’t know what’s good or what’s funny.

Let me repeat that: Most decision makers in this business don’t know what’s good or what’s funny…

I mean c’mon! They released and distributed a remake of “The Three Stooges!”

Talk about being completely disconnected from the mass appeal of a comedy audience! (FYI Fox: Comedy Audiences have evolved beyond the hysteria from a ball-peen hammer to the head—if it was ever even hysterical in the first place).

That movie’s colossal failure underscores the concept that the audience is the final judge and they are a part of what makes up the essence of show business.

What’s that make us as comedians?

Comedians Are The Ultimate Panderers

Did that sting? Yeah, it hurt to write it too, but it’s true, so get over it.

Art? Yes, but not like in an painter who paints a picture and puts it out there. You either like it or you don’t.

In comedy we seek immediate gratification. That’s one reason we do this amazing art-form. But to get that gratification we have to adjust our subject matter and our jokes so we get laughs.

If we perform material and it doesn’t get laughs we immediately do two things:

  1. Re-write the material, or…
  2. Throw it away

We adjust to what the audience laughs at. You can be pure and and artist all you want, but you have to be aware of the audience and if they are laughing… and if they’re not, you make the adjustment.

Because if they are not laughing, you are not a comedian; you are a talker.

And in their comedy club or on their comedy show, a booker or a talent coordinator doesn’t want a talker.

Take a comedian like Bill Burr or throw back to Bill Hicks; you might think they just say (or said) anything they want, but that’s not true. They work their acts and edit and rewrite, keeping what works and throwing out what doesn’t.

Comedians adjust because we want laughs. Laughs get us noticed and laughs get us work. Because we’re not in it simply for the art. We’re in it because we not only love what we do but our goal is to make a living doing it.

It’s business and show-business is the game.

Comedy competitions are a part of the game.

There are few things, besides a personal reference from a legendary comic, that can help boost your notoriety faster than a strong finish at a notable comedy competition:

In short comedy competitions:

  • Are solid resume boosters
  • Get eyebrows raised
  • Demonstrate a level of credibility
  • Provide invaluable networking opportunities
  • Give an opportunity to put out a press release
  • Great ways to impress an agent or manager and snag representation

So, although being an artist is commendable and I work hard on my art, the end result is that this is show business and to ignore that fact and only focus on the art is, in my opinion, a naïve approach to the business.