Even Pros Get Hecklers

It never fails when you’re doing comedy; you’re trying to get the audience warmed up and you get heckled. How do you handle them? First of all, most hecklers aren’t there to hurt your show. Believe it or not, they usually think they are trying to “help you.”

Each heckle is a new opportunity to hone your ad-lib skills and work in some formula so that a surprise appears in your response and results in a laugh from the audience. The last thing you want to do is spend too much time with a heckler this ensures that the heckler won that battle, because a main portion of your act was focused on giving him the attention that he was seeking in the first place.

I was at the M-Bar in Hollywood last night watching one of my students, Josh Weinstock, do a show. The M-Bar is a lovely lounge with great lighting and sound. The M.C. was working hard to get the audience warmed up. He was doing his set, not getting great laughs and at one point, got frustrated. He looked at a guy sitting in the front and said “what are you doing here?”

The guy said,  “Pretending to watch comedy.”

Well, the M.C. was stung, but he riffed it away the best he could in that moment. But you could tell that the comment wounded him. He spent too much time trying to respond to the heckle and didn’t get much laughter from it. The best way to respond to a heckler–well besides hitting them with a sledge hammer–is to give them the equivalent of that in a funny response. The more experience you have the better you master the art of heckle-responses. But there is a process that you can use too:

  1. Listen to what was said. In this case it was “I’m pretending to watch comedy…”
  2. Process the information. Repeat what the heckler said so you can be assured the audience heard it.
  3. Use your knowledge and skill in creating surprise to get laughs and respond.

I heard the heckler that night. “I’m pretending to watch comedy…” If I was the comedian I would’ve said, “You’re pretending to watch comedy? (Look at him.) That’s ironic, because at that exact same time I was pretending to watch an asshole…I’m just kidding, dude…I wasn’t pretending.”

That’s going to get a laugh from the audience. It’s simple. It’s a reverse so it creates surprise. And it reaffirms to the audience that you are in control.

Your Comedy Is Exotic

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The masses love to watch movies. We watch movies to be taken to exotic places; places we’ve never seen or been to so that we may have that experience, if even for the 90 minutes that we are in the theater. It’s no different with a comedy act. Your comedy act is your story. And if the story is compelling and interesting and takes us to an exotic place than YOU will stand out from most comics out there who just try to be funny. Anyone can be funny, but it’s when you can take the audience on a journey with vivid images and show them something they haven’t seen before either from your unique point of view or your unique life experience. 
I recently taught a seminar at the World Series Of Comedy in Las Vegas and I had the pleasure of meeting many talented comedians all trying to do the same thing; improve their act, sharpen their skills, make themselves better and more noticeable so they will work more. At  breakfast I was talking to a comedian who was raised in the mean streets of Minnesota, in the hood. He began to tell me that he didn’t think the audience was interested in his life because it wasn’t exciting or flashy. He said he did “external” comedy rather than talk about himself because he didn’t think anyone would give a damn. 
I asked him about his upbringing and the neighborhood that he was raised in and he began to tell me in vivid colors about what a shit hole it was. How he and his brother managed to get to school by playing make-believe. “Make believe we’re in the army and we have to avoid getting shot by the enemy.”  Problem was the enemy drove in cars that had doors painted with the words, “To Protect and Serve.” He went on to tell me more about his single mom. “She was married, but the reason we called  her ‘single mom’ is because that all the cash she ever had in her purse. A single.” He continued for about a half-hour. I was so compelled in the story that I didn’t eat my breakfast. While he was talking about his upbringing, I took notes and recited back to much of what he told me. He just realized that he had a 3 to 4 minute bit about his life and when he heard me say it he realized how exotic his life actually was.

3-Steps To Finding A Good Comedy Instructor

3-Steps To Finding A Good Comedy Instructor

“My Name Is Jerry Corley. I Teach Stand Up Comedy…and I’d Like To Report A Crime:”

I’ve been a professional comedian for over twenty years. I’ve spent many years working 38 to 40 weeks on the road. I’ve written for television shows, including spending 8 years as a contributing writer on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I’ve written entire shows for comedians, including one for an impressionist who, as a result, booked 43 weeks at a Las Vegas Resort. The resort closed shortly after that, but they honored the remainder of his contract: 35 remaining weeks x $10, 000:not a bad pay day!

I’ve structured my shows to give performances that receive standing ovations. Now I teach what I know. I still do corporates and other gigs, but without the long weeks away from home and family.

I love teaching.

When potential students contact me on the phone or email, one of the first things they ask me is, “How can you tell whether a comedy instructor is good and I’m not wasting my money?” Well, first if you have a good rapport on the phone and you think you’ll get along with the instructor, follow these simple steps to be sure that you’ll be satisfied in your choice:

Step 1: See if your instructor has any video of himself or herself performing stand up online. If they do, watch it. If they don’t, contact that instructor either by phone or email and ask them if they have any video of their stand up that you can watch. If they don’t have any, go to:

Step 2: Hang up the phone and throw away the email, because really, what are they going to teach you? The only thing they have demonstrated is how not to do comedy.

Step 3: If they do have video, watch it. Does it make you laugh? Can you hear the structure? Are they confident? Is their delivery, writing and choice of material interesting and Intelligent? Again, does it make you laugh? If the answer to any of those questions is “no, ” then repeat step 2.

Why am I being so hard on comedy teachers? I’ll tell you why. I love this industry. I love the art form of comedy and I am passionate about the science of laughter and structure of comedy. I study it. I write it. I perform it. I can sit down and write funny about anything. (At least that’s what I tell myself each time I sit down to write funny about anything!) I believe a humorist should be able to, with practice and work, make any logical grouping of words, funny.

I see a lot of instructors out there ready to take your money. Comedy classes aren’t expensive, really, but for struggling artists they are. So before you plunk down your hard-earned 3 to 5 hundred dollars, your instructor should be able to demonstrate how to write a joke from scratch and make it funny. They should be able to step on that stage, with the pressure of an audience and perform it themselves.

I believe a good part of teaching is demonstrating. If they can’t demonstrate it, how in the world are they to effectively teach it? They might be able to regurgitate what they read in say, Judy Carter’s books and even Xerox that material and issue it to you in class as a hand out and claim they are teaching. They may also offer a student a critique only by telling the student when they think something is “HACK!”

Is this teaching? Maybe to some it is. But I believe it boils down to this: Would you learn how to paint an abstract or still life from somebody who can’t paint? Would you take driving lessons from someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license? Would you—you get the point.

You might learn a little something from those kinds of instructors, but a comedy instructor without an actual act is like a flight instructor without a pilot’s license. Odds are you are destined to crash! Simply, they lack the first-hand ability to apply the fundamentals of humor and create a laugh-out-loud article, essay, speech or stand up performance. And here’s the problem: you just paid five hundred bucks for that. That, my friends, is criminal.

I Do Stories Damn It!

I Do Stories, Damn it!

People often say to me, “But I don’t
do jokes. I do stories!”

get it. Most successful modern comedians tell stories. Audiences
have become extremely comedy-savvy over the years. Unless you’re
really unique, most audiences don’t want to hear “jokes.”

That being said, “What is a joke?”
Is the only definition of a joke equal to a setup and a punch
line being delivered with a tone and pace that result in a presentation
that screams: “Hey look here audience, I’m telling
a joke!, ” followed by a rim-shot?

I don’t think so. Jokes, when done
well are stories with a surprise twist. And since surprise
is the number one ingredient necessary to trigger human laughter
if you tell a story with a surprise twist, it will usually result
in laughter, therefore you have just told a joke.

Believe it or not, Dane Cook tells jokes. So does John Stewart,
Robin Williams, Brian Regan, George Lopez. They are just disguising
them as stories. The better disguised they are, the more effective
the surprise is when it jumps out at us, the harder we laugh.

Take a look at the
following video
. Tell me where the jokes are? How are
they disguised? What makes them funny?

Learn to do your material
as a conversation piece, a rant, a lecture, whatever. The key
is to disguise the fact that you’re doing a joke and just tell
us the story. Sadly,
many young students of comedy try to find the funny before
they tell the story. Try this instead: Tell the story first
then re-write it adding the
funny, using the techniques and formulas you’ll begin
to master at the Stand
Up Comedy Clinic

New Classes Starting
Monday, July 20th. Sign up now and perform in a showcase in
7 weeks.