Take Charge of The Stage!

The stage is a comedian’s workplace, and territory.  When you are on stage, it should be clear that it is time for a show and you are going to give one to the crowd. Here are some ways you can better take charge on stage.

Look at them! Unless your act requires it, you should be up there looking at the audience.  When I first started, I could not stand to look at them judge me.  What I started doing instead was looking just above eye level.  That way the audience thinks you are looking at them, but you aren’t.  Just staring ahead at the first couple of rows isn’t enough.  You have to look at all of the audience!  Try to connect with everyone in the crowd.  It let’s them know you are not only going to tell them jokes, but connect with them while they laugh.

Look comfortable.  You have to look as though you are in front of a group of friends.  If you are nervous, don’t alert the crowd to that fact (unless it is a part of your act of course).  If your hands shake really bad when you are nervous, place one in your pocket or keep the mic in the mic stand in front of you.  Starting out, I would get so nervous I would get sick.  So, I started out telling a couple of smaller, warm up jokes that would get the crowd laughing and in turn, would calm my nerves.  If your knees get a little wobbly, try pacing a little on stage.  This will get you moving so the audience can’t see how nervous you are and that may help you calm down sooner.

Memorize your material. You don’t look like you are so sure of your stuff if you are constantly looking at the stool.  During an open mic or something, looking at notes is cool because that is what an open mic is for.  Looking at your notes at a paid show looks like you didn’t bother to prepare, and keeps you from physically moving away from your notes.  There are comedians that can bring notes on stage and not make it known that they do.  If you must take notes with you, then you may have to get inventive.  Trying taping it to the side of your water bottle or glass.  Then when you take a drink, you can sneak a peek.  You can also try writing it on the inside of your arm.  Don’t write on your palms because it is much more noticeable to the audience.

Ignore distractions! Part of being an effective comedian is knowing when you should and should not interact with things off stage.  Some things can not be helped.  If someone is getting thrown out of the bar, you have to address it so as to get the attention back on you.  A lot of comedians with not a lot of stage time will want to point out every thing that is happening in the room.  This can throw the show off course and make it seem as though you are easily distracted.  If a glass drops, the audience knows that.  Unless you have a really good joke, just let it be and keep on with your act. Sometimes the audience is the distraction.  Hecklers should be shut down, but you have to analyze the situation and see if it is needed.  Sometimes the best way to deal with a heckler is to ignore them.  If an audience member is responding to you material, sometimes not saying anything back is the best way to keep it from messing with your ongoing show.  If it can not be helped make sure let them know that you heard them.  If this does nothing then your standard heckler response may be needed.  I always advise comedians not to go to hard on a heckler at first because you don’t want the audience to think you are the asshole.  Most audience members want the person talking to shut up, so all you have to do is make it clear that it will not be tolerated.  This will show that you are in charge, and this is your show.  Do not let the inmates run the asylum!

I hope this helps those that have been having trouble getting that edge on stage.  I think these tips will help you get that crowd listening to your dick jokes.

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Don’t Get Comfortable!

In twelve years of stand-up comedy, I have seen comedians on every level just peter out and get complacent.  It is actually really sad to see someone who may have the potential to grow into something more, just stall out.  This will not be for those of you who consider comedy a hobby.  If comedy is something you do because you want to work out some issues or because you thought it would be fun and then you did it a couple of times there is nothing wrong with that.  This is strictly for those that aim for bigger things, but just stopped growing along the way.  Ok.  Here we go.

Why some people get stuck in one spot in their career and never seem to go anywhere else?  Many reasons.  The biggest I have seen is they don’t write!  I don’t know how many comedians I see while performing that are still doing jokes that you know they wrote about 20 years ago.  Bill Clinton impression?  Monica Lewinsky?  Really?  They get work still in bars and lower level rooms because those people just want comedy, not anything to move the needle.  They don’t get work at bigger rooms because they haven’t changed their act since the Clinton administration.  I don’t feel bad for these people at all!  You have one job, make people laugh!  If you can’t update your material to make the most amount of people in the room laugh then you can’t be helped.

Some people get comfortable because they can’t physically get any further because they get in their own way.  The comic that drinks or abuses drugs and can’t get much work because they are a liability. This is sad as hell.  I have seen some great comedians get destroyed by alcohol and drugs.  They write, and can perform great…when they are not wasted.  I can’t speak much on this because I do not drink or use any drugs.  I have just observed comedians that were on top of their game be reduced to hosting bar shows forever because it gets them enough money to buy a burger and a free tab.

If you don’t fall into those above categories then there may still be hope!  One of the best ways to combat just falling into a rut is to write and perform. Writing isn’t enough because that is only one step in the process of stand-up comedy.  I see comedians that I have worked with for years that have sworn off open mics for whatever reason, and yet they are still doing the same material from years ago. We should always strive to write the best material we can, and there is no end to that!  You may think that the material you have now is perfect, but I guarantee you that if you keep writing you will come up with even better material.   I try to never stop writing because I feel that I have not broken the code on the joke that will never not work.  I am always looking for that joke, and then once I find it, I want to see if I can get enough of them to have a perfect performance. So, that means getting up and perfecting the jokes that come out of my mouth.  Only getting up can do that for me, hence why I am at open mics.

You should not think of your act as a painting.  You should think of it like a less murdery Frankenstein monster. You should always look to add and do more to create the biggest baddest abomination you can.

 

 

 

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Stand-up Comedy May Not Be For You…And That’s Alright

I love stand-up comedy.  I love watching it and I love performing it.  I love pouring over my jokes trying to come up with a set that will appease a group of people that paid a nominal fee to see it.  There are hundreds of people out there just like me.  That may not be you, and that’s alright.

Stand-up comedy, I would argue, is probably one of the hardest ways to entertain people.  Most of the time, you are the writer and the actor.  You do not have a cast of people to blame for any mishaps, if you messed up YOU messed up.  No best boy or gaffer to point at and accuse of trying to ruin your career.  If the jokes don’t work then it means, most of the time, that you are not writing good jokes. There is more to stand-up than just writing jokes and then getting paid.  You have to sit at open mics and develop your material three to four minutes at a time.  You are sitting somewhere a lot looking over your jokes like they are a Rubik’s cube, but instead of colors, there all the other things you could be doing instead of trying to make a room full of people that don’t know you laugh. Let’s not forget that if you are trying to make a living at it all the obstacles in your way!

You may ask yourself, “why would anyone that doesn’t want to do stand-up go through all of that?”.  There are many answers to that.  One is that it is simply the lowest entry point into entertainment.  If you want to act, you have to find a theater and try out.  If you want to perform comedy, all you have to do is find a place that is already letting people do that.  There are no auditions, or test, or pokes and prods.  So, this allows people who want to entertain, but don’t yet know what they are good at try something out.  More rare are those that assume that stand-up is the easiest way for truly talented people to get noticed, so they go into it thinking that their immense talent will over shadow all the talent-less grubs fighting for $25, and they will soon be whisked away to Hollywood, or Vancouver, or wherever they film things now.

Then reality sets in.  They realize that because stand-up has a lower bar, it means it takes longer to prove you are capable of consistently making people laugh.  They talk to the grizzled vets, that have, “stand-up is hell!” tattooed on their foreheads, and find out that most of these performers have been doing it for years!  Still searching for that one joke that will catapult them into the next rung of the stand-up hierarchy, where they will have to fight tooth and nail to maintain what they worked so hard to obtain.  This can shock many an aspiring entertainer who thought they would stand out in a sea of plebs.

It hits a lot of people that looked at this as maybe an easier way to their end goal, or as a way to achieve fame hard.  Going out multiple times a week for a little sliver of stage time can wear on you. Not to mention dealing with the many different personalities that you meet while performing (great article topic by the way), and a lot of people can see it as just not worth it.  So, they stop coming out as much, and anyone who goes to the gym a lot and stopped for whatever reason, can tell you:  It is so much easier to not do stuff than to do stuff.  Next thing you know, you haven’t been out to comedy for six weeks and you feel like a failure.

There is nothing wrong with finding out this isn’t the route you want to take to get to your end goal.  If your end goal isn’t: Stand-up comedian, then doing stand-up is not a great way to venture into other things.  Some people find out that stand-up isn’t for them after the first couple of times getting up there.  They notice that they get a little too nervous when they are on stage, or they have to drink a lot of calm their nerves, and that bothers them.  Nothing wrong with finding a different way of getting your creative soul out there.  Maybe you just want to write, or you want to perform sketch comedy.  There are many ways to be funny without getting up on stage by yourself.  If you thought that stand-up was the best way to advance because you believe in yourself so much, maybe just try auditioning at your local theater, or try improv.  Those things may be more of what you are looking for.  However you go about it, just try to get that creativity out because those who don’t end up being the Unabomber.

How to Take Advice/Constructive Criticism

Comedians get and give advice all the time.  It is constantly a learning process, and not one person knows everything about comedy.  How you take advice and/or criticism is important if you want to grow.

Advice can come in many forms, but no matter how you get it make sure you understand the source.  I am not saying that only famous people can give advice because a lot of the time it was just blind luck that got them famous!  You have to weight what advice from a certain sources means to you.  I am nowhere near famous, and I have dispensed advice on this blog for three years now.  You reading this are the only ones that will know if what I say applies to you and your career.  If you are headlining clubs every weekend you have no business here.  I will add hardly anything to your overall understanding of the comedy industry.  If you’re an open mic comedian, that is trying to move up the ladder, then maybe you can get something from all of these scribbles.  There is also nothing saying you can’t take bits and pieces of advice and make it something that can help you grow.  If someone tells you, “You need to get on stage more and face the crowd.”, but the persona you are building on stage is one that is stand offish to the audience, then maybe just take “You need to get on stage more.” and leave the rest to the winds.

Criticism is hard for any entertainer.  Who wants to know that you are not making 100% of people laugh? I have been doing this for twelve years, and I still get down whenever I hear someone tell me that.  I will tell you the same thing I told you in the paragraph above:  understand the source! Criticism coming from a drunk person may not be the same as it is coming from your buddy.  Is this person just trying to hurt your feelings?  That is something else to take into account.  I am not saying that anyone that has a criticism about you is a hater, but listen to the criticism.  Is it constructive?  Does it give you a starting point in which you can improve, or is it just tearing you down just for the sake of it? Constructive criticism is almost always trying to negate negativity by instilling a positive aspect. Here is an example:  Someone comes to you after a performance, and says, “I think you should shed some details in your stories.  The end is funny, but it takes to long to get there.” They are telling you that the stories you are telling on stage are too long, but they are giving you a way to change it.  If they approached you and just said, “Your stories suck.” you just have the negative and no way of changing anything for the better.  You also have to understand that there is no way 100% of people are going to find what you do funny.  You are not looking for 100% anyway.  You are looking for enough people that will fill up a room.  I am not saying don’t try to make the person that doesn’t like you laugh, but don’t kill yourself trying to do it.

It is important to note that not all advice and not all criticism is good.  I once had someone after a show tell me, “What you need to do is get on Comedy Central!”  That is advice, but I can not do anything with that!  I had someone just a couple of hours ago say they have never liked my material (the inspiration for this post), until recently.  That’s all they said.  That is criticism, but since they gave me nothing else to go off of, there is nothing I can do to see if it is something I can fix.  There is nothing wrong with going head first with our vision of what you want to do on stage.  The thing is, we are trying to entertain others, and if we are not trying to do the best we can to do that, then we are just amusing our need to be the center of attention when we are on stage.

How to Survive a Comedy Competition

Comedy competitions are weird beasts.  You are asking people to evaluate you as a comedian on criteria that is totally subjective.  What one person thinks is a funny joke, another person may see as a stinker.  Competitions can be stressful and pit you against people you thought you liked.  It can also bring out the best…or worst in people.  I will help you survive this upcoming competition season.

I think it is important to know, going into a competition, that losing doesn’t mean you are not funny, or a comedian, it just means through the process of elimination, you were not good enough to defeat people who were also being judged subjectively. Another thing that you MUST NOT do, is walk into a competition already counting the money.  This is putting the cart before the horse!  You still have the actually competition to go through, and you have already put yourself in such a corner.  Don’t think about the money or the prizes just yet.  Think about your performance.

A lot of people think there are prime spots in the line up that can increase your chances of winning.  I am here to tell you that is false.  Going first is not a death sentence and going up last doesn’t mean you are perceived to be the headliner.  It all depends on the comedian.  In competitions I have participated in, I have gone first many times and I have won, and lost.  It has nothing to do with your order and how the audience or judges perceive your order in the show.  It has more to do with how the audience and judges are feeling.  Did the show start on time?  Did the host do a decent set? Is it hot or cold in the building?  These have more to do with how a judge will perceive you then the order in which you are.  If anything, going first would be a great advantage.  You are the first comedian so you set the tone.  If you come out and light a fire under the audiences’ ass, then that can play with the rest of the comedians’ heads.   Going up last can have the opposite!  What if all the other comedians have done really well and now you go last?  There is no way to tell, so don’t worry yourself about the order.

Competitions are graded in different areas.  Some just leave it up to who’s friends can yell the loudest.  Some just pick random audience members and then others like to use a panel to do the judging.  I have personally competed in all of these types and I will tell you that the one that is the least scientific (for lack of a better word) is the audience response.  It is hard to judge who got more noise slung after their name was read.  I have seen people so butt hurt over this and I can see being competitive, but it isn’t worth it.  Just bring more friends next time.  Random audience members come next and they are better than just yelling, but not by much.  You don’t know if the person that was given the task of judging has ever been to a comedy show before.  This type of judging can be most influenced by biases.  The best type of judging in my opinion is the panel.  These people have usually been briefed on how to judge and because they are there to do that, they have a tendency to take it seriously.  When you just leave it to any old audience member, they may have gone out to smoke, or they have a tiny bladder meaning they miss parts of the show.  There are variants of all of these. Like some competitions have all the audience members judge.  This is better because the odds are better that a comedian hasn’t filled the ENTIRE room with just their friends or family.

Comedy competitions should be fun!  There is money or work at stake, but you should be walking into it thinking of what it can teach you about yourself as a comedian.  Do you go over time a lot? Well, competitions will cure that right up! Do you have jokes with way too many words in them?  That will disappear soon!  Do you spend the first 30 seconds asking the audience how they are doing? You will see how redundant that is at a competition.  Some comedians are not built for competitions.  Do you tell big epic stories?  It is tougher for you because you’re stuck on one thing for the entire allotted time. Do you have a dryer sense of humor?  That is tough because it may take awhile to get them accustomed to your way of joke slinging. If you are a nervous Nancy (sorry Nancy) and it takes awhile to shed that when you are up there, then competitions will only magnify this.  These are just my opinions from what I have witness.  There are exceptions to everything.

I can not end an article (or blog post if you must) about comedy competitions and not talk about some things.  If you are thinking that the best way to advance your career is to do competitions, then you will soon see that it is not.  They can be expensive and time consuming, and there is only a payout to a select few.  I performed in both the Seattle and San Francisco comedy competitions, placing 6th and 7th respectively.  All told, I spent about three grand and received about two grand in prize money.  I was able to afford it, not everyone can. Don’t go broke thinking that winning a comedy competition will put you in a spot to make more money.  That is all up to you as a person.  Some of the best comedians in the world apply to these competitions, and you have to be aware that you may end up on the losing end more times than not.  That’s even if you get accepted.  Competitions are looking for the best, but they are also looking to create a great show for people to see.  If you have been doing it four years, understand that it is harder to get in than someone that has been doing it ten and has done other competitions, and has a lot of credits to their name.

Have fun and be nice to all the competitors.  These guys are you competition today, but may be a booker tomorrow.