Open Mics

I love open mics.  It is like the salon of old timey France.  You can talk to people, work out and exchange ideas.  For those that don’t know, an open mic is a place that anyone can go and basically practice their craft.  There are music open mics and poem open mics and mixed open mics where you just got up and do whatever you want to do.  I have done them all and I prefer doing just a straight comedy open mic because then you are in there with like minded people.  There is nothing wrong with doing an open mic that is not comedy oriented, but if you are just started out and can find an open mic I would suggest that so you can get a good gauge on your material.

People go to open mics for many reasons, but I think open mics are made for artist to practice their stuff and to get better.  Instead of staying home and not getting audience feedback, the open mic helps you see what works and what doesn’t.  An open mic is basically a lab where you, the scientist, go and experiment.  I do have a couple of suggestions for comedians though.  First, if you are just starting out you will want to adhere to the rules of the mic.  That is find out what the rules are.  If they don’t want you to say the C-word or the N-word (And you know what those words are) then you have to prepare for that.  Also you want to know the time allotted. A lot of open mics, especially in a big city, have a lot of comics and not that much time, and they can not afford to have you do 10 minutes.  If you go over the time you may be asked not to come back. You have to understand that stage time is a valuable commodity to the comic that is starting out and it is taken seriously when it is betrayed.

If you are just starting out, the open mic is also a great way to get to know other comics and get aquatinted with the staff or owner of the place the open mic is being held.  This is the second most valuable part of open mics. Comics talk to other comics and if you are good, your name will get out there and you can get more opportunities to  perform (some may even be for money!).  Keep in mind that it works the other way as well, if you are breaking the rules or not at a level to go further than your name can get out there just as easily.

I want to take this time to dispel a couple of myths about open mics.  If you are an audience member and you thought you were going to get a live version of premium blend (A comedy central show that might still be on), you are mistaken.  This is where comics work on material.  Some of it may work, some of it may suck, but it is a necessary part of comedy.  You have to take that into account when you are going to an open mic.  People will fluctuate wildly from week to week because they may be working on new material or sharpening old stuff.

Another myth is for comics.  You don’t always have to do your “A” material at an open mic every time you are there.  A lot of comics like to do there good stuff when they are at an open mic for the first time to be established as a good comic and that isn’t a bad idea, but if you are going there regularly, then you should not be doing that all the time.  I see that as a waste of valuable time.  You could be using that time to work on being a better comic, then showing everyone that you are a good comic.

Personally, I go to open mics to work on new stuff and to hang out with comics.  Spokane has a tight knit group of comics and I consider them friends.  So, I get to do new material in front of my friends every week (sometimes more than that!).  Because I go to open mics a lot I get a lot of stage time and can polish jokes and just hang out.  When I am in Seattle, it is mainly the same way.  Sometimes I go up and do my good stuff so I can show people that I am not an beginning comic, but have been doing this for pay for 9 years.  I feel weird doing this, but it is necessary to get in with the comics that are out there booking shows and knows club owners. Next week we will talk about the comics that book shows.  Thank you for reading!

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Dirty Vs. Clean Material

This is a much more contentious topic then a lot of people realize because there is a pretty great divide between people who write “clean” comedy to people who write “dirty” comedy.  There are misconceptions to both and there are best uses for both.  I think we should look at all of that.

When someone says they are a “clean” comic (I will stop with the “”s now), what they mean can be different depending on who the audience is.  Clean and working a show for a religious group is different from clean and working on TV.  What a lot of people mean though when they say they write clean material or are a clean comic is that they write and perform comedy that doesn’t have curse words and does not go into topics like sex and drugs.  A common misconception that a lot of people think about these types of comics is that they are not funny.  I have worked with many comics that perform without cursing and stuff and they are some of the funniest people on the planet.  Kermit Apio is a prime example of a comic that does clean material, and is one of the best comics touring the nation today (this is the first time I have put a comic’s name in my blog and I am nervous about it).  Another misconception that is usually held with comics is that if you are a clean comic you will not be able to do well in a rowdy atmosphere.  I think that is wrong.  I think that if a crowd wants comedy, the subject matter should not be a concern, but rather how funny the joke is.

Dirty comics are the opposite.  They will perform with curse words in their act and they will joke about sex and drugs and any other topic that may rub people the wrong way.  The biggest misconception of the dirty comic is that people believe it is easier to write dirty than it is to write clean.  This is a misconception due, in my view, to the fact that a lot of comics that start out will have a lot of cursing in their material. I think this has more to do with how people are in real life.  Personally, I curse a lot more when I am nervous.  I think it is a verbal crutch, like say ummm a lot.  Writing funny jokes is hard no matter if you put a bunch of fucks in it or not.  A lot of comics also think that if they curse and talk about subjects that are a little off putting (like abortion) that that can be a replacement for a punchline.  That is not.  There are shock comics out there and in my observations, a lot of them kind of sink or swim from performance to performance.

Which one is best?  Both of them!  If you want to be a successful comedian, you should be able to do more than just one thing.  Now, if in real life you don’t curse and talk about banging and stuff then it would be a bad idea to start doing that in your act.  What you want is the audience to see the real you so they build a better connection to you and make the comedy experience an even deeper one.  If you write nothing, but dick jokes and that is you, then by all means go for it, but be warned that you will not be getting booked at the local bingo parlor.  Now, I will admit that a clean comedy will get you in a lot more places.  That is natural. You have to be aware that a lot of comedy shows are taking place in establishments that want to sell stuff to the people that walk in the door.  They don’t want your dead baby jokes turning people off from buying another bud light.  Personally, I write what comes to me, and I perform what is appropriate for that occasion.  If they don’t care how dirty I get I can get there (which a lot of people still think isn’t that bad), and when I am needed to be clean I can be that.  That is how you maximize the amount of shows you can get booked for.  If you are wanting to be a paid comedian, then this is something you should be striving for more than some point.  If you want to curse it up then do that.  Just know what you are getting into.  And if you want to be squeaky clean, just know that you may not get a great response everywhere.  If you are in a rowdy bar that wants dick and pussy jokes and you are talking about road trips, they may turn on you.  That is why my best advice is to write what comes to you and be prepared with having two sets.  One that can be told when you have no restrictions and one that can be told when you have to curtail a lot of subjects and words.

Thank you very much for checking out my blog, I truly appreciate it.

Writing Jokes And Stuff

I remember when I first started doing comedy, that I went to the local library and picked up a book that talked all about comedy.  As soon as I opened it I realized that the part that I didn’t even want to read was the section on how to write jokes.  Personally, I’ve always felt it was weird for someone to tell other people how to write jokes.  If you make people laugh, there you go, you are half the way there.  Now, that may seem like a very simple solution to something that seems daunting, but I will try to explain why I think writing jokes is something you can not teach.

The entire purpose of writing material is so you can be unique.  I feel when someone is teaching you how to construct a joke it’s like building a bunch of houses that look the same.  If you are using someone else’s structure and methods, how are you able to find what works for you.  I can tell you how I write jokes, but that is only as helpful as a piece of information about my methods.  Not something you should be trying to follow.

When you are writing with stand up in mind, really the only things that someone can teach you is to write toward your voice.  Your voice is something they use in comedy to describe what makes you unique. Your voice is usually carried through the material that you write.  You can see it in comedy specials.  The comic will have a specific style they are going with and a different way of going about a joke.  This can change as well.  When you first start out you may write a bunch of jokes about vaginas, but after a couple of years you may find that you are writing and performing a lot more political stuff.

People get inspiration differently so telling people how to write may strangle the ways that someone can creatively express themselves.  For instance, when I first started, I used to go to this coffee shop with a buddy and we would “write” jokes.  He would write jokes. I would just stared at the baristas.  I can not just sit down and force myself to write funny stuff.  Most of the jokes I write down are just sparks of inspiration.  I have a note pad on my phone that I can write the jokes down and I will either edit it at a later time or I will go on stage and work it out more naturally.  I think that is another reason I am not that good at writing material anymore.  Some people don’t write the way they talk.  I’m from the south so I throw slang and stuff in my stage material that is sometimes not in the written material and when I am working on a new bit, it may not sound as good when I am reading it.

Now, I am not saying those books and classes that teach you how to write a joke is not a benefit to people.  If you want to know how a joke works on a building block level then read up to that part and then don’t read anymore about joke writing.  What you want to do is write how you tell jokes to your friends and family.  That is what made you think you could do comedy in the first place!  If what you say to people make them laugh then try to get it on paper.  The most important things to remember about writing a joke is that if you are going to tell an amusing story that unnecessary information needs to be cut out of it. This is hard for a lot of first tim comics because you want to flesh out the story.  Don’t worry about telling them about the cross streets unless something funny happened at the cross streets.  Don’t worry about the lube brand unless it is part of the funny.

Now, I can get into premises and punchlines, but I never really worry about that when I am writing.  I just write what I think is funny (key word is think) and I do it.  Trust yourself and your writing and you will have success without even having to ask a hobo where the nearest library is.

A Comedy Career For The Depressed

This blog was going to be about excuses.  I wrote three paragraphs before I realized something.  The more I wrote about my excuses and trying to analyze why I make them to the detriment of my comedy career, I noticed that depression will make you come up with any excuse to tell people when what is really going on is that you are so down on yourself that you haven’t really been doing the things needed to advance your career.  So I scratched all that and decided to write closer to the issue, about what it is like to have depression and then push your comedy career.

I was diagnosed with major depression when I came back from Iraq in 2004.  I never knew anything was wrong with me, I just thought that everyone just felt worthless sometimes.  For those that don’t have depression, it may seem silly.  Everyone gets a little down on themselves, but the difference here is that when you are down (that is what I call going through a depressed period) and you suffer from depression, you are REALLY down.  You are not only really sad, but you also have very little energy and the thing that drives you to do the things you love or even have to do, just isn’t there.  For a normal person this may last a really short time, a couple of hours to a day or two.  For the person with depression, it can last weeks.  I remember when I was still in the military going to work and feeling so bad that I just wanted to run into a light pole.  This went on for about two weeks before something in me just came to and I was much better.

As you can probably guess, having these issues can do a number on your life if your career involves you being confident and driven at all times.  Now, I am no psychologist, so self-esteem may be totally separate from depression, but in me it seems to go hand in hand.  When I am depressed, the last thing I want to do is email people and tell them how awesome I am.  I just lay in bed and wonder if it is all worth it.  Then after a week or three, I am up and ready and realize that I missed big chunks of time in which I could be getting head shots done and promo stuff redone and emails sent out and booking shows, and then that can send you into another depressed state!

It can also affect your shows.  My material doesn’t have the same pop it does when I am depressed and trying to do a show.  When I am in that state, I usually blame it on me not being a good comedian, or that the material is not good, or any number of things that are going through my head.  The only real positive out of this situation is that I write a lot of material because I am always worried that it is not good enough.

I usually keep this part of me secret because I am ashamed.  I honestly don’t want anyone to think I am weird, or that I am some head case.  I think part of that has to do with the fact that a lot of people don’t know how to treat people with depression.  They think you are always gonna be a downer or a bore and I would just rather not deal with that.  I just take my medicine and go to the VA to see a counselor and keep it to myself.

Making excuses for why I am not out and about more in comedy, I think, is a way to lie to people.  If people think that I don’t send out my stuff more because I am hanging out with my daughter or trying to keep my relationship afloat, then that is in some way more noble then saying, “I have depression and that can cause major setbacks throughout the year for me comedy wise.”

In a way, I kind of feel like depression is my excuse as well.  It seems like a never ending cycle of why can’t I push on.

When I am not in a down episode I feel invincible on stage!  I feel more confident and just more powerful.  Like that is the real me.  The guy that can say the cool stuff at the right time to get everyone to laugh.  When I am feeling terrible, I can get up and still tell the jokes, but I feel like they lack something.  Something that can pull the audience in and really get them hooked on you.  I have had some great material come out of these phases.  Always dark and gritty, but not bad.  The truth is probably in the middle because this is me.  I suffer from depression and this is a part of my life so it is me.  I am both pained and at the same time just pretty good guy to hang around.  It is hard to wrap your head around of course because no one wants to be the Debbie downer at any time.  You want to be the THAT guy all the time.

 

I have recorded and published 3 episodes of my video blog on YouTube and I really like doing it.  I can feel it building with each week as I continue to work out the kinks and deliver better material.  These are the things that I would always make excuses for why I wasn’t doing them.  Now that I am doing it though, I am having fun and I am getting my stuff out to potentially a crap ton of people.  It may not be getting millions of views, but I feel good about having something up that when people see me perform they can then go home and check out more of my stuff and see me in a lot of different lights.