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!

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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.


What You Learn Producing Your Own Shows

I am a pretty low key guy, so I like to leave the producing of shows to other people, but when I do, I have learned some things about it.

Venues Have Ridiculous Expectations: 

When a local comedian ask me what I would tell a venue that I want to do a show with I tell them do not make insane promises. Why would you do that when they already have insane ideas on what to expect. A lot of places want to see a certain return on their investment. That makes sense. The problem is comedy doesn’t sell like alcohol and pool tables. You have to do a little leg work. That means putting up flyers and posting to your social media pages (if they have one) to let people that frequent your establishment know that something different is going on. I have walked into places an hour before the show starts and they are pissed that no one is there. You look on their Facebook page and look around and not a sign around to suggest that anything was going to happen that night.

You Have to Babysit Comedians

One of the things I hate the most about putting on a show is having to hold the hands of grown ass adults. There are just a good amount of comedians out there that you just have to keep an eye on more than others. Now, I am not talking about the creepy stuff, I am talking about normal comedian stuff like sending you their promo kit, or promoting the show, or showing up to the show. I have had multiple comedians during my time just not show up. When I asked one dude he said, “I didn’t know I was on the show.” The show that for three months we promoted with a flyer with his big ass head on it.

It’s a Constant Fight

If you are producing a regular show, you know that it is a constant fight. You have to convince people that the thing you are putting on is better than the alternative activities they would do on that night. You have to keep interesting acts coming in, which can be hard when you have an out of the way show, and comedians can’t work other things to make it more profitable. You are constantly promoting shows which can have a numbing effect on your audience. It is a constant struggle to get asses in seats so you can stay running one more show, and all it take is one silly ass thing to fall through and you can have a ruined show or worse, a messed up reputation.

Producing your own shows isn’t for everyone. That is why that isn’t the angle I have taken in my comedy career. You have to be willing to walk into rooms with business people and explain to them why they should waste their resources on you and your show. You have to be willing to promote over and over because just telling people one time that a spot has comedy isn’t enough. There are people that do it successfully though and to those I salute you.

Worst Pieces of Comedy Advice I Ever Received

As an entertainer, you will be given advice from damn near everyone. Other comedians, singers, DJs, your mom, your uncle, the local methhead, they all think they have the advice to get you going. The problem is, not all advice is good. It may seem good, until you think about it for more than a minute. Here is some of the advice I have received and why I think it is terrible.

Always have a street joke ready to tell (in case you lose the audience etc.)

No. I don’t (intentionally) tell street jokes. Why? Because any comedian can memorize a street joke. The audience is there for my take on familiar topics, not to hear a joke that their dad can tell during a barbecue. I think this sprung up from the early days of comedy when there was just a bucket of jokes out there, and comedians would just pull from that bucket and tell those jokes. Nowadays, no one wants that. Even if the crowd is about to decapitate me, I would rather get them back by telling jokes I wrote then by a worn out joke that most comedy fans have heard.

You should get on “Name of TV competition”.

That sounds like a great idea! How did I never think of that? I mean I was telling jokes in this bar with hopes that a drunk TV exec would see me and give me a million dollars and my own TV show. EVERY comedian has thought about getting on ‘Last Comic Standing’ or ‘America’s Got Talent’ to jump start their careers. That’s the problem though, EVERY comedian is trying to get on those shows, so it is not just a case of walking up to the set and getting a moneycheck. TV producers know this so they have lots of measures to make sure only the people that make good TV get seen. So, you either have to be unique in say background (first female lesbian brown bear) or have an agent that can arrange to get you on these shows. If you are just a white guy that tells funny jokes about the internet, it will be really hard to get on these types of shows because white guys are everywhere. If you are other than white, it is still difficult because you are now competing for a limited number of spots. I did a showcase this month for Just For Laughs. There are only so many spots for no names like me and they auditioned a couple thousand comedians. This isn’t even advice, it’s just a statement. It’s like saying, “you should fly like superman” or “You should buy a castle.”

Don’t tell the audience sad stuff

There is a limit to the amount of sad shit you want to hear from a comedian, but there is something to telling an audience something so personal about yourself and being able to make light of it. When I was in the military, I had to take all these test to see if I had some kind of cancer. It turned out to be lupus, but the result of that was about five minutes of material about the experience. I did it one night at a show and it received a lukewarm response. Later a veteran comedian came up to me and told me this piece of advice. It wasn’t that audiences didn’t want to hear my misfortune. The best jokes ever told on stage are about mishaps. I just wasn’t skilled enough to make it palatable for a bunch of strangers on a Sunday night. Audiences will more than likely ride with you on almost anything if the payoff is worth it. 60% of my last album was me talking about my heart attack and the struggles afterward. It can be done if you know how to approach it.

I think that is enough of me banging at this keyboard, I may do another one of these if this one gets the clicks. Hit me up on my website harryjriley.com or on all the social media stuff. I can be found under KingPeppersnake damn near everywhere.

Having to Prove Your Worth

Comedians are always out trying to get work and that means proving to the promoter/client why you are worth what you are worth.  I have written articles on why its important to get what you think you are worth in every instance in which you can.  This article is a little different (and a little late, blame World of Warcraft).  I will tell you how you can look someone in the eyes and tell them why you are asking for that amount.

Think of it as a full time job:  I never understand why comedians are never thinking of comedy as a job.  Almost everyone I talk to would like to do nothing, but comedy but how can you when you don’t think of it as something that can replace the money you make during your day job.

What niches do you fill:  You have to be able to know what demographic you attract.  Do you bring in the younger crowd?  Do you bring in the wine drinkers? Maybe the type of comedy you do attracts a certain person.  My friend Michael Glatzmaier, plays the guitar and improvs songs.  That is an incredible niche that can fit in a variety of situations.  Comedy is not just bars and clubs anymore.  There are retirement communities out there that are looking for entertainment, and if you work clean (at least PG-13), you can book those shows during the weekday and still have the weekend available.  If you know what niche you fill, you can express that to whoever is looking to hire you.

Sicker than the average:  I had someone email me from a place and wanted to know what I charge.  Once I told them, they asked me why I would charge that much when they could get someone for half that.  This happens a lot during the holiday booking season (this was one of those shows).  This is when you have to hype yourself up a little.  I am not that good at doing this, but in order to justify why I charge what I charge, I will state some information for them.

The first thing I let them know is how long I have been doing it.  This should express to them that I have been in enough situations to perform a show that the majority of people in the room will enjoy.  Then I let them know that for what they are looking for, (which makes it important to know the talent pool in the area) there are not that many that can do it.  This is why it is so important to be able to perform clean (when need be).

Hopefully this can help those of you out there that have been having trouble justifiying what you want to charge.  It is hard to stick to these tips when you know there are people out there that will take less for the same show.  I try to look at it like this:  I am asking for an amount equal to the annoyance of performing when the suns out (or in a living room or dance floor etc.). So don’t fold and you will see the benefits!

Why Spokane May Not be the Best Place to Start Your Comedy Career

Last week, I wrote a post about how Spokane (or similarly sized city) would make a great place to start your comedy career.  As I said from that post, I would write a post about why it would not be a great place to begin your comedy career.  Lets do it!

Limited Audience: A city like Spokane has about 250,000 people living in it (almost twice as much if you count the metropolitan populace).  Out of that amount you have to start counting out certain groups, like people who don’t like stand-up or people to young to attend shows.  That leaves you with an even smaller group of people in which to apply your trade.  On a Saturday night, for example, only about 300-400 people are attending a comedy show in the area.  Cities like New York or Chicago are seeing multiple times that many people.

Talent Pool: Spokane bleeds talent every year.  Comedians get to a point where they feel as though they are stalling in their career and make the move to a larger city.  This is one of the downsides to living in a town of this size.  Just when the amount of talent in the city reaches a level where attention is drawn to it, enough people leave that it starts to effect shows.  When your best comedians leave for greener pastures, the only comedians left may not be ready to get paid, but you have no choice sometimes but to put them up.

Small chance to make it BIG:  Let’s face it.  Spokane is not a destination for any of the late shows.  No talent agent is going to Chan’s to look for a comedian to give a Netflix special to.  That is why people go to NYC and LA and Chicago.  You have a higher chance of being spotted or connecting with the right people and changing your life from just comedian on the side to full time comedian.  No matter how cheap the rent is in Spokane, the possibility of making it trumps that every time.

Trapped in local material:  There is a saying (one which I will be writing an article about soon) that goes: Local jokes get local work.  Because Spokane and the surrounding area can be a comedy island, people tend to cater a little to much to the townsfolk and before you know it, you have a set that is basically all about Spokane and towns around it.  That may work here, but once you go somewhere else, no one cares about how methed out Ritzville looks.

So, there you have it, some reasons why Spokane may not be the best place to start your career.  I always like to give both sides to an argument, and I hope you will see both the good and the bad to being a comedian in Spokane.  Remember, if you have the persistence and the talent, you can be a great comedian anywhere.

Why Credits Don’t Suck

So if you go here ,  you will get to see why I think credits suck.  To balance it all out and not be too doom and gloom, I have decided to write another article explaining why credits don’t suck.  So without further ado…

Helps with recognition: If you have credits, it can help audience members place your face with other things you have been in.  If they liked that show you were on (however briefly) that increases their chances of coming to your show.

It can build trust in the audience:  When an audience member looks at your photo and sees a FOX logo or an NBC logo by your name, it can let the audience know that you are not just some snake oil salesman going from town to town telling silly dick jokes.  They trust shows from those networks so they may also trust you.

One of the few ways to determine if a comedian is funny: To go a little bit with the above, people looking at your credits will assume that since you have been on TV and won competitions, that you are actually funny.  They just don’t let anyone of TV… It also lets people know that this comedian has jumped through hoops to prove that he is funny.  Easier than just having someone just say “trust me they’re funny!” over and over.

Credits can lighten the advertising load:  If people know you from that thing, it can be easy for a promoter or club to promote.  Clubs have a hard time when the comedian is really good, but no one knows who they are because you don’t get to fill the room with people that know this comedian and then the average person that is just looking for something to do.  They don’t have to plow it into people’s minds that they need to see next weeks comedian, people will know who that is already.

Credits impress: I have hosted for people and as soon as I say their credits, you can see the faces in the audience change.  If they recognize that thing you are talking about, it impresses the audience and can give you a boost.  Humans like to be part of a collective and if you tell them that a lot of people found this person funny enough to put them in all these things then they have a tendency to also enjoy it (for the most part, I have seen it work the other way, but this article is about why credits don’t suck).  Credits also impress people you are trying to work for.  Just like a resume, if they see you have been on some stuff, they are more likely to hire you.

There you have it.  These are some reasons why credits don’t suck. If you need to read why they do suck just click here.  Credits are not the end all be all of getting booked, networking is still really important, but this is just a more simple way of showing your accomplishments.