Comedy Class Student Lands Comedy Central Gig

2005-08-17 16.21.29One of the goals of a young comedian is to land a gig on Comedy Central, but what happens when you’re far past your twenties?

Do the goals change? In a word, No.

Comedy Clinic student Esther Hersh is a perfect example. When she arrived in comedy class a few weeks ago, instead of running her set, she wanted to rehearse a piece for The Ben Show she was auditioning for the next day on Comedy Central.

She was auditioning for the role of “Gangsta Granny” in a sketch.

We spent about twenty minutes helping her get comfortable with the language of the piece. Even though Esther is referred to as the “Sassy Senior,” it’s no easy task getting a Jewish Senior Citizen from Studio City comfortable with saying “M-F-er!”

And that was her opening line!

We told her that 90-percent of communication in this type of presentation is attitude, emotion and tone of voice and only 10-percent is the words, so she drove the words with a Gangsta attitude.

And just after a couple tries, Esther was pouring out lines that sounded more like a piece from a Richard Pryor routine.

Set that against the fact that she’s all of 5-feet, two inches and holding an AK-47 and you have blaring INCONGRUITY staring you in the face.

Pure comedy formula.

Needless to say Esther booked the job! She’ll be airing on Comedy Central on the premiere episode of The Ben Show starring Ben Hoffman this Thursday, February 28th on Comedy Central.  Check it out!

Way to go, Esther!!!

That kind of success, just makes me want to say “M-F-er!”

A Homeless Man’s Guide to Success

Long ago my Dad shared this with me. I found it profoundly applicable in life and suitably fitting in the comedy realm; it’s called “Sunshine’s Law.”

He heard it from one of his college professors, who, in-turn, heard it from a homeless man who was simply named, “Sunshine.”

He said, “Two percent of the people excel at their specialty: eighteen percent are average or just above—and happy being there:

the rest of the EIGHTY PERCENT are on a declining scale of incompetence.”

Think about this little formula.

It’s profound in it’s simplicity and if you truly think about it, it’s not far from the truth.

We see mediocrity everywhere.

How many times have you said to yourself—or to others, “Man, there’s no customer service anymore!”  It seems that it’s a rare occurrence when we actually get good service or kindness or someone going out of their way to make something happen.

Is it because they are in the “eighty percent” category? Maybe so.

I do find that the 2-percent of people who excel in their specialty, drops to 1-percent in the business of comedy. It’s simply because most people see comedy as frivolity and they treat their careers frivolously.

A lot of us got into stand-up because we just didn’t seem to fit in the “normal” world. We wanted to beat the system and what a better way than to make people laugh for a living. Problem is most comedians don’t make a living or make a mediocre living.

Why? Two Reasons:

  • Laziness or
  • Ignorance

Comedy is a business just like any other business and if you learn to treat it as a business, that’s when most of us see successful gains—not only in our bank accounts—but also in our reputations.

How seriously do you take your comedy?

Do you:

  • Set Goals?
  • Write every day?
  • Map out your writing time (at least 1.5 hours 3-4 hours if you’re serious), and adhere to it?
  • Spend a portion of everyday making at least 10 phone calls per day for comedy? (Not just emails:phone calls).
  • Diagram the various ways you can earn money and game plan how to break into that market?
  • Do you have a PROCESS for your writing and your business?
  • Do you have a press kit ready to go NOW? Right NOW?
  • Do you go to mics at least 3 times a week and exchange numbers with other comedians and audience members?
  • Do you never take “NO” for an answer and are you politely persistent?

If you don’t do these things daily or weekly, then you’re not in the 2-percent… and why not? What’s stopping you?

Nothing now, because above is a list of things that I did when I was on the road 38-43 weeks out of each year.

Every day you should have a “To-Do” list of things you’re going to do for your career.  In it’s simplest form it should look like this:

  1. Write 3-10 new jokes (minimum)
  2. Call at least 10 people that could get me work (and ALWAYS, ALWAYS leave a message).
  3. Do a mic or find another open mic
  4. Add another club or booker to your contact or call list.

The list could be longer, but since most comics don’t wake up until at least noon, (if you’re on the West Coast, it’s already 3pm on the East Coast), and your opportunity is shrinking.

But if you did at least 3 of these things daily, then you’ll see your opportunities start to increase week-to-week.

So stop bitching that there’s “no work” and get to work!

Start by setting your goals… Goal number one: “Get myself into the 2-percent!”

What do you do to keep yourself going?

How To Be Funny (Pt. 1) | A Non-Comedian’s Guide

man_laughing_with_friendsOkay, okay, you’ve talked me into it.

After all the emails, I’m now going to start to dedicate some of the space on this blog for non-comedians; a place where the ‘everyday’ person can get a dose of insight into how to be funny.

Before we get started with the tips, please be advised that being funny is subjective. What one person thinks is funny may draw, from another person, a blank stare or worse a snarl, or a punch in the throat. (It hasn’t happened to me yet, but there’s still hope!).

Despite the subjectiveness of ‘funny,’ there are certain strategies and techniques that you can apply to your daily conversation that will drastically increase your ability to be recognized as “funny.”

And: it’s not as hard as you might think, because much of learning how to be funny is surprisingly scientific.

It is a scientific fact (proven through scientific case study and scientific process), that a human being laughs when they are surprised.

You should be writing that word down right now. SURPRISE. It’s key. In fact out of the 9 Major Human Laughter Triggers, if you focused on surprise alone, in a short period of time, you could be recognized as the funniest guy in your school, at your work or in your cell block. (I write that, because as it turns out a lot of inmates have been reading my blog).

I guess you can avoid being someone’s bitch if you’re making them laugh!

The problem with surprise is that it also causes us to startle or cry.

So we have to understand how to apply it so it works to help us achieve our goal—and that’s to make someone laugh.

We laugh when we are surprised in a benign way or in a way that doesn’t threaten our safety or our reputation.

So let’s start with owning the fact that the number one trigger for human laughter is surprise.

Actually there are, (at a psychological level), 9 major laugh triggers for the human being.

Since one of those triggers is tickling, there are eight which are applicable to what we are trying to do and that is to make people laugh in every day situations;

  • At work
  • At School
  • In Social situations
  • Dating
  • Giving presentations or speaking engagements
  • Teaching
  • Leadership
  • Job interviews
  • Auditions, etc.

The great thing, is that if you’re NOT a comedian, a LITTLE humor goes a LONG way! You don’t have the same requirements and expectations as a comedian does, so a small surprise in the middle of a talk can be very effective.

If you’re known for being a square or completely ‘un-funny,’ then a small joke can be hysterical because everyone is so used to your normally subdued personality and the wordplay is unexpected which creates crisp surprise and BOOM a laugh.

For example Conrad Hilton founder of Hilton Hotels was noted for being a dry and serious human being. When interviewed at a business function in January, he was asked, “What are some of your New Year’s resolutions?”

He replied, “I would just ask that people put the shower curtain INSIDE the tub.

Not incredibly funny by any means, but since Mr. Hilton is rarely ever seen saying anything that is NOT serious, it got a big laugh. It was the SURPRISE that triggered the laugh mechanism.

The eight major laughter triggers for the human being are:

  • Surprise
  • Embarrassment
  • Recognition
  • Incongruity
  • Release
  • Superiority
  • Ambivalence
  • Configurational

Some comedy writing gurus have stated that the last one, ‘configurational’ doesn’t apply to commercially accepted comedy today, but that’s completely wrong.

Configurational jokes are those that make an audience think and solve the punchline. If you think of Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg, you know that that kind of comedy is alive and well.

Well Mitch Hedberg is dead, so I guess it’s only half-alive.

Hedberg and Wright still have had such influence, many comedians are emulating their style and becoming very successful.

You can’t watch Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg without starting to think funny or incongruously yourself.

But, after watching you might ask “how’s that help me to be funny?”

I’m glad you asked.

Sometimes just seeing it in action gives you a better understanding of how to apply it.

Understanding surprise as a laughter trigger is just the first step.

The real fun comes when you apply the techniques yourself.

You can be the most boring person in the world but if you engage surprise effectively, you could easily get a laugh.

One of my favorite techniques to get a laugh in everyday situations is to use the double entendre comedy formula. It’s one of techniques I teach in my 12-Steps to How To Be Funny for the every day person.

Double entendre means ‘two meanings.’

If you really take a moment and listen to the English language, you’ll find that we have a ton of words that have multiple meanings. All you have to do is think of the alternate meaning.

If you know someone that turns everything you say into a sexual connotation, then you know someone who uses double entendre to get a laugh.

GUY #1: You gonna be able to get your haircut this weekend?

GUY #2: Yeah, Cara said she could do me, Saturday.

GUY #1: Then, when’s she gonna cut your hair?

All you have to do is think of alternate meanings for common words.

For example, say you’re at the grocery store and the clerk at the counter says, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Think in steps:

Step #1: What do they mean by that?

Step #2: Is there a word in that statement that I can change the meaning of?

Step#3: What is their intended meaning of that word?

Step#4: What’s my ‘comedic’ interpretation of the word?

CLERK: Did you find everything you were looking for?

YOU: Well, I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find a soul mate. You had Mahi-mahi, but I’m not into twins.

Let’s try another one in a different joke format:

I was on the road with a comic. As he got off the phone with his girlfriend he said to me, “That’s a relief. My girlfriend got a cat to keep her company while I’m on the road.” Then I said, “Bad news is, that cat is a six-foot-two jazz musician.”

With the simple double-entendre formula, you can actually train yourself to recognize the multiple meanings of words and respond to it with a comedic or ‘alternate’ interpretation.

It’s fast. It’s easy and tons of fun: Sounds like my fat ex-girlfriend!

So use double-entendre and you’ll be on your way to learning how to be funny!