Sometimes, You Have to Bet on Yourself

I wish I could tell you that there was an easy way to comedy stardom ( or at least the ability to pay your rent with it). Just show up, blow up, and glow up. That isn’t the case though. Everyone’s career has a different path. No two people will achieve their comedy goals the same way. There is one thing I can tell you though…sometimes you have to believe in yourself enough to put your money behind it.

Don’t Depend On Others For Your Living

Depending on clubs to accept you, or waiting for someone with a bunch of bar shows to put you on is not a good way of making comedy work for you. I know this because that is what I have done. If no one was calling me for a weekend at their club or a couple of bar dates then I just didn’t do comedy for money that month. It left me feeling hopeless and that I had no chance to succeed at this. You should never wait for people to pay you. Pay yourself, but to do that you have to put money out there.

Ways To Make It Work

If you are someone that is mostly doing bar shows or one nighters, then you should be selling merchandise. I have a whole article on selling merchandise, but I will say it again. SELL SOMETHING! Bands do it. You can do it. T-shirts, stickers, coasters, hats, lighters, socks, just sell something! Now, you are not just dependent on the money you are getting from the show, and that can go towards paying bills.

You not getting booked enough? Then you do the booking. Call up your favorite bar and ask them to let you do something. You may get a “no”, but you may also get a “yes”. Don’t want to perform for the bar crowd? Find a venue that you can perform in. A lot of times a venue will charge you to rent it. Save up and buy the place for the night and push it.

I have friends that have set up months of work by just calling and seeing if they can perform in a venue. They work out the details so they can make some money and they are out performing, but they usually pay for the rental of the place or clean up after the show, and they usually do all their own advertising. They put money in, betting that they can make a return on their investment. They did that because the investment was in themselves.

Why A Lot Of Us Don’t Do This

There are many reasons to not do this. You could lose your shirt if you bet too big (don’t rent a thousand seat theater if you are just a no name like me). That’s the thing though, believing in yourself has to go with a little bit of foresight and reality. If you have been performing for a month and think you have enough time to headline your own show, you may come crashing down to reality.

If you are one of those that sit around, emailing clubs, and messaging your buddies that book one nighters to see if they have anything for you, this could work for you. It is all about taking that step. Take a couple hundred dollars and get some shirts or something made for selling after a show. Book a venue and advertise it and see if you can make some money. It seems daunting because it is. We all want to be able to have our talent equally judged, but that isn’t the case. Not every club booker or every hole in the wall promoter will see you the same. These people don’t care that you put in hours a day writing and you line up at the open mics and you do your two to three minutes and you rewrite and you drive hours and you sleep in crappy motels where you stay awake to listen if anyone smashes your car window. The only one that cares about that is you, and if you care then you should care enough to want to get to the places you think you should.

Why Do I Tell You This

I tell you this because the first twelves years of comedy I did this. I would send email after email to clubs and bookers just hoping that they would enjoy my video and headshot enough to see that I was serious and I was funny enough to pay. I would sit here in this chair wondering what was wrong with me and my act. Is my headshot blurry? Is my video submission not loud enough? Not sharp enough? Did I curse in it? I never took that effort I spent worrying and using it to look for places that I could book myself and making money when I wasn’t doing something for someone else. I didn’t look into the adjacent things I could be doing like submitting to commercials and TV shows. I just sulked.

Then one day I stopped. I got tired of the “We can’t use you” email replies and I took some money and invested in some merchandise and getting myself booked at more private events. Then my attitude started to change. I wasn’t so saddened when a club told me they were booked up because that meant that was a weekend to book a private event. When a bar show fell through I was not going to miss paying my phone bill because I sold enough shirts from the last show to pay it early. I’m not saying it is all sunshine booty rubs. Sometimes I don’t get that private event or I don’t sell any shirts, but that is just how it goes.

I can’t tell you what you should do, but what I can offer you is this. When it is all said and done, do you want to say that you wasted your time chasing after clubs and bookers that had no time for you or do you want to say you gave it your best shot and you bet on yourself. Only you can answer that.

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Social Media Is Not Your Friend

In my time as a comedian, I have changed my mind about many different things, most recently comedy festivals (mostly). Well, after much thought, I have changed my mind on something else. Using social media as the only way to expand your brand.

Social Media is crowded

In the olden days (2005) people got on social media to see if their ex from high school was still with that person they hated. You got a MySpace account and you tried to talk local women to come to your house.

That all changed when two comedians of note Kevin Hart and Dane Cook, gained a lot of fame (and money) by using social media to it’s fullest. They started gaining fans, by reaching out to people in the places they were performing. Once a couple rappers sold millions of ringtones through their social media push, everyone trying to sell something used it not as a place to booty call an ex, but to make a buck. Some relied on it too heavily.

Social Media tricks you

Once people started using social media as an internet hub, it became harder to use the tricks that got Hart and Cook into the millionaire’s club. It wasn’t just that people would ignore you bombarding their inbox with show adverts to shows they couldn’t attend, social media platforms started using tricks to make sure you spent money to have your “brand” seen by everyone that followed you.

Just because you have so many people following you, doesn’t mean they all see what you posted. This makes it hard for a low level comedian to use social media effectively. Yes, you could spend some money to have more people see your comedy flyers, but you are less likely to have your stuff seen by people your organically found.

What is the solution

Owning a website ensures that people see your stuff. All of it. Yes, having a social media presence is still important, but having a website makes sure that the people that like you will always be able to see what you are up too. Your website is the only sure fire way to get your message out there.

I used to be one of those people that depended on just a facebook page and I would push it, but people can follow it and still not know that you have a show near them. I made a website awhile ago and get just as much traction to that then I do my facebook page. People remember my name and they type that into their search engine of choice and my site pops up. There they can see when and where I am and get to see video of my face just to make sure I am too their liking.

Social media is still important

I don’t think social media will ever not be an option for artist because so many people are on some sort of social media platform. That is the appeal of it. It’s just that with the way these platforms manipulate what everyone sees really makes it hard for an up and coming comedian to use it to get more asses in seats. Sure you can spend money to get it in front of many people, but they only see what you advertise. That is why a website is crucial so they audiences get a better picture of you and are more likely to come watch you perform.

Joke Punch Up: The Act Out

For the final entry in this series on sharpening up jokes, we go to the one that doesn’t really involve any writing at all. The act out.

What does this mean?

The act out is just using actions to better emphasize your material. The act out can be subtle or outrageous, but sometimes jokes need a visual aid to push what makes it funny.

Timing is crucial during any act out you are going to do. An act out too soon and you telegraph your jokes and one too late loses all impact. It should look natural to the audience and not seem forced. Look at your material and see what things can be added visually to help sell the joke.

Subtle and not so Subtle

You don’t have to flop around on the ground to sell a joke. If you are a more laid back comedian something as simple as rapid movements during intense parts of your jokes may be enough to add more spice to it. Simple hand motions that elaborate on certain aspects of your material can be enough to paint a more vivid picture for the audience.

Not everyone is good at being subtle however, some of us need to be a little more animated when performing act outs to get the point across. Use sounds to better describe detail in your jokes instead of just talking about it. Use the stool if need be (don’t hump it though because every open mic comedian has done that) what you are trying to do is add effects to what you are saying.

Extra Tips

If you plan on act outs make sure you know where everything on stage is located. If you place the mic stand right beside you and decide to twirl you may end up hitting it. I like to set it behind me and use the front of the stage more, but you have to make sure you know where the edge of the stage is. I have almost fallen off many stages acting like an idiot.

I would suggest if you are going to include act outs in your sets, to try subtlety and increase it as you get comfortable with it. Don’t just get up and start running around the stage if your material doesn’t warrant those actions.

Out of all the ways to punch up material, this is the one that is the most optional. I have seen it turn good jokes into great jokes, but that is if you are comfortable with doing it in the first place. Don’t think of it as acting crazy on stage. You don’t have to be like Jim Carey. You can do simple things that can really make a joke bite!

Well, that is it for this series I really hope you enjoyed it. Come back next week where I will tell you how to turn your back hair into a makeshift mic stand. Nah, I’m not gonna do anything like that, but I will do something.

Joke Punch Up: The Tag

We have gone over cadence, and cutting down material. This week, we will be discussing a way to enhance your material by adding tags.

What is a Tag?

A tag is another punchline attached to the end of a joke. The usual structure of a joke goes setup > punchline. With tags, the structure is now setup > punchline > tag.

Tags are Important

One thing I see with a lot of first time comedians is that they will have a great premise, but after the punchline they move on to another joke. There is nothing wrong with that, but if it is a great premise, like say a crazy news story, you can make that joke even better by adding tags to it. That means writing less material to get the same amount of laughs.

Some of the greatest comedians on the planet use this to take even an ok premise and turn it into something golden. Tags can be used to build up the funniness of the joke. Take this example: You are writing a joke and the first punchline you thought of was alright, but after looking at the joke a couple more times, you see that you came up with a couple even better punchlines. You can stash those punchlines away and switch it up depending on the situation, or you can build upon the original punchline by tagging it with the other punchlines you created. It ramps up the material and you got to use all the punchlines you thought of and made a joke even better.

Tags can Lengthen a Joke

By adding tags to your material, you can also make a joke longer. If you came up with a premise for a joke and have a punchline for it, but like the joke enough to add on to it, just tag onto the premise. Add questions and answer with punchlines. You are still talking about the same premise, but you have made the joke longer by attaching more to the original joke.

Pitfalls of Tags

Some fall into the trap of tagging with less funny punchlines. If you are not sure of the other punchlines you wrote for a joke then it would be better to leave that joke to one punchline and moving on then to make a joke worse by adding tags. It is better to leave a premise with more to pull from later than to kill it with a bunch of tags that aren’t funny.

Conclusion

I don’t consider myself a very good tagger of jokes. I will write a punchline and not really have anything else to add to it. There are times when I will have a question about a situation I discussed in the premise and so I will just answer it myself either ridiculously or seriously. Either way I can pull a bit of laughter from that.

Tagging isn’t a substitute to good joke writing. If the premise is not connecting with people then no matter how many times you tag the joke, it won’t make it magically funny. This is like a steroid. It enhances a joke that already works. I can’t recall ever seeing a bad joke become good by adding more to it.

Next week should be the final article on this subject with act outs. Thanks for reading!

Joke Punch Up: YOU NEED TO CUT IT!!

This is the second of several articles that I am writing about ways to “punch up” your material. Last week, I wrote about using cadence as a way to easily punch up a joke. This week, we will discuss trimming of material.

Here is one of the biggest faults I see in material written by new comedians, the jokes are TOO DAMN LONG! See the thing is, school has trained us to write at length about stuff. When you have a report you need to turn in, and it has to be four pages long, we will write and add a whole bunch of details to get that word count up.

The thing with writing jokes is that less is usually better (we will talk about when it isn’t later). Some people can write a joke and immediately tell that a parts need to be cut in order to get to the funny sooner. Some of us can not do that.

What Needs To Be Cut?

Sometimes too much detail will spoil the punchline you are about to deliver. When you are looking at a joke to rewrite, ask yourself these questions: Did I hint at the punchline too soon? Did I explain the premise of my joke so thoroughly that it weakens the punchline? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you need to CUT IT!!

Another thing I see in a lot of material is when the comedian writing it hasn’t slimmed down the premise to a precise point and has to spend a lot of words just to explain what they are going to “turn on”. If you have to spend more than ten seconds trying to explain what you are talking about, then the joke may not be any good. You should write the material in a way that when you are setting it up, everyone should understand what you are saying (or almost everyone, not everyone will get every reference you are trying to go after).

Look at your material for any pieces that are just dangling there with no purpose. If you mention someone’s shirt, it should either pertain to the joke in some way or be a way to get laughs (like if you are telling a story). In a book, authors love to go into detail about things so they can paint the picture more vividly. In Stand-up comedy, you want to obscure enough detail so that the punchline paints most of the image in. If you are talking about how incompetent your boss is and that is the punchline to the joke, more detail about his incompetence dilutes the punchline to the point that it can just be seen as the end of a funny statement.

You should think of your material how a magician thinks of their tricks. You should only show the audience what you want them to see in order for them to understand what you are doing, but not know how it is going to end.

When To Not Cut

I said earlier that there is a time when more is better and that is when you are telling a story. Now, trimming of your stories should still be sought after, but not to the degree that normal jokes are. You want to paint more of a picture because the parts of the story that will be considered punchlines need context. You can’t tell a story about a gun going off accidentally if you never talked about the gun. I would suggest you not pull a Moby Dick and talk for five minutes about the seat fabric during your first make out session, but you should let the audience know (if it will help the punchline of course) that the fabric sucked.

Conclusion

There is a saying in writing: “Kill your darlings”. In stand-up, you don’t necessarily have to kill them, but you may have to amputate a couple limbs. Trimming material can make it more precise, can add more spice to the punchline, and help you get in more material. I think a lot of comedians are so hung up on just being able to stay on stage for a certain amount of time that they do not consider that they are up there with a lot of “hollow” jokes. You don’t want to tell a show booker that you can do 15 minutes if most of that is filled with hot air.

A lot of veteran comedians and my creative writing teacher got me to a point where I take a joke and sometimes I will perform it, and then realize that it is too long and complicated. Comedy competitions are a great way to cut material out of necessity. Sometimes when a joke works out of the gate, we never really look back and see if there is any correcting that needs to be done. It’s not until you see great joke writers with material so razor sharp that you realize that you have to cut stuff to hit the punchline sooner or you just wasted five minutes of time to tell three jokes.

When we talked about cadence last week, I feel as though that is more of an elective way of punching up a joke. Cutting material down is something every comedian should be trying to do to make their jokes more effective. I hope I helped you with that. I will be back next week with part 3 of the Joke Punch up series.


Joke Punch Up: Cadence

This is the first of a series of posts about ways to punch up material. When I say “punch up” I mean taking material and making it funnier or making it funny in the first place. These won’t be terribly long posts, but I hope they help the novice be able to sharpen their jokes.

Cadence

When I mean cadence I am talking about how the joke is actually coming out of your mouth. How are you saying the words that you wrote. A lot of comedians starting out will emulate a comedian that they admire and copy their cadence. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but at some point you should want to sound like something else.

Some comedians will write the way they will tell the material on stage and never really change it much after that. When the material doesn’t “hit” as hard as they expect or doesn’t work at all they will ditch it for stuff that does work when it was the way the jokes is being said that is at fault. When you are telling this joke, look for instances where the problem isn’t the writing itself, but how you are saying it. Should the joke be told with a more mellow inflection in your voice? Should the premise sound hopeful? These are things that can help a joke without touching another word in it.

Timing is Everything

I see a lot of young comedians step on stage with their three minutes and rush through it with no feeling: like they are reading a book report. Putting feeling into material will help it more than trimming ever can! I would say timing is a component of cadence and is a skill that if mastered, can make a ok joke pretty good. Pause for a second before you deliver the punchline. Give complicated setups time to be understood. Don’t step on laughter by moving on with material. These are great ways to make a joke better without rewriting.

Conclusion

So, cadence is an easy way to make a joke better. Changing the speed at which you are saying the material and learning when and where to pause can add more suspense to material. It can also hide flaws in your stage persona. Go to your next open mic with these things in mind and try all the material that you have been having trouble with and see if this doesn’t help. If it doesn’t then stay tuned for next week’s post on punching up your material.

International Comedian

I went up to Victoria, British Columbia last weekend, and had a blasty blast. Here is what I learned.

It’s Not Hard to Get Booked

I have been doing comedy for almost fifteen years, and this was my first time going abroad for comedy. I think I was just afraid of the disconnect. Even though it is Canada, and I didn’t have to learn a new language, it is still another country with a culture all its own. I now know that all that worry was for nothing, and I want to go back VERY soon.

Certain Details May Be Lost…

We normally write about the things we are familiar with. So sometimes your material will have a landmark or event that is unique to a time and place. I had to make sure they knew what a Costco was because one of my favorite jokes is very detailed about the warehouse shopping giant. I would advise people going abroad their first time to comb their material and make sure you can substitute a replacement for whatever it is you are talking about. If you can’t then you may want to avoid the joke as to not confuse people.

Politics

The last night performing, I made a comment about their Prime Minister and heard a light hiss from the audience. That is because from the time I heard of him until that set, he has been in a scandal. I don’t keep abreast of world politics, so I would not know that. After I said he seemed cool, my brain immediately yelled for me to stop. That is when I think I saved it by telling them of the alternative. If I had the chance to do it again, I would have avoided the subject all together or just research a little more so I could be better prepared.

Some Things Everyone Knows About

R.Kelly. Michael Jackson. Donald Trump. People know about these things. Some things are universal and will work as long as the culture isn’t a 180 degree departure from your own.

The Take Away

I learned that comedy is comedy and people will laugh as long as you are funny and spend a little time getting to know them. I got a lot of laughs from talking about walking around their city. People know things about their city and when someone points it out, it can bring an audience together. I would advise again troupes that cities may have heard before. Like I would not perform in Tacoma, Wa and talk about the smell, or go to Detroit and talk about the empty houses…unless I thought I had a unique spin (which is seldom, but possible).

I think if you are a working comedian, you owe it to yourself to go to another country. It can really tell you a lot about your material and the way you perform. Do you have too many local references? Do you have a tendency to alienate the populace? These are things that could help you as a performer.

Next week I will begin a series of blogs on punching up material. I think we will start with just performing the material and work from there. Hope to see you back next week!