What I Learned From A Comedy Class

The local comedy club had a comedy class and it was revealed later that it was mandatory if you wanted to work at the club.  I was going regardless, but a lot of people wondered what a class like this would entail.  Would it try to sway the way we write jokes?  Would it try to brainwash us?  Would the lunch be satisfactory?  These were just a few of the inquiries that were floating around before the date of the class. I just wanted to go over some things that I got out of a class of this nature.

The class was ran by comedian Cory Michaelis.  I’ve known him for several years, and he is a former teacher turned comedian.  That background helped him build a class to teach those looking to give comedy a shot. The class he was teaching us was a bit more advanced. What I thought was really cool was how, at the very start of the class, he told us that he was not assuming to be an expert, just someone that through experience as a teacher and comedian, could deliver it in a fruitful way.  That is how I run this blog.  I am not a big time comedian, just a guy that has seen a lot of stuff and wanted to share that information.  I think a lot of people were wondering what gave him the right to teach a class when he doesn’t have whatever credit needed to be seen as a “real” comedian.  He was headlining the club this past weekend, but I got the feeling that a lot of people wanted appearances on late night and stuff like that.

He started off with the simple stuff.  Premises, punchlines, tags.  The stuff that people claim to know about, but when you ask them about it they don’t have a firm grasp of these concepts.  We saw videos of people using techniques that were taught, giving you thorough understanding of each thing taught.  He then went into hosting, and asked for any questions.  I thought it was a great class and I took away quite a lot of information.

I am always trying to write more material.  I got a couple of tips on how to make that happen more than just those eureka moments.  I learned more about hosting (one of my many weak areas), and what is required of a good host.  I was able to see techniques applied to actual jokes, and I learned a lot more about why my emails probably were not getting answered.  All in all I think it was worth my money.

Sadly, I also learned some not good things from this comedy class and it has nothing to do with the club, or the teacher.  Spokane, like I have said before, is pretty much an island when it comes to performers.  We are here with no other large cities around for hundreds of miles.  That means that a lot of people have a warped sense of where they are in the grand scheme of the comedy landscape. Before the new club came to town, if you just kept doing alright for a couple of months, you could get paid to perform.  That means that we have a lot of people who have only been doing this for a couple years that have gotten paid and now they think they can take on the world.  When the club came to town a lot of those same people wondered why they were not getting the same work, and instead of turning the critique inward, looked out and tried to find the reason for these failings elsewhere.  When the class was announced a lot of people chimed in that it was fishy because it was aimed at comedians.  Not thinking that maybe it was the club’s way of saying that we were not up to the standards that they are looking for, and that the class could help.  When it became known that the class was needed in order to work a the club, you got a lot of defiance.  This perplexed me.  As some one who has had to sit through orientations and training meetings, it is not unheard of to ask your employees to sit down and see what is required of you.

I was asked why I, a comedian of 12 years, would attend a class on comedy and I think the answer should have been obvious.  I am not an expert at comedy.  I don’t know every single thing there is to know about comedy, so I want to know as much as possible in order to become better. To see fellow comedians look at it not as a chance to get better, but as an attempt to get $25 dollars from them (the discounted price to attend, from $125), seemed short sighted and pretty egotistical.  To assume that you need no direction because you have been paid, or have been doing it for some time is just a weird thing to me.  How do we get better as artists if we don’t sharpen our skills?  How do we move from just getting paid every so often, to having comedy pay our bills, if we are not trying every thing possible to make it happen.  I also think that getting upset over the date (the weekend before the 4th) or the cost, or the fact that it was mandatory, was just a cover for something larger. Comedians are some of the most sensitive people I have ever met, and any affront to their ability to make people laugh is an affront to them and their very being.  So to some, to have someone come in (mind you someone that has a successful club that is one of the best in the nation), and tell them they need to work on their comedy is a slap in the face, and that saddens me.  It saddens me because I am a champion of a lot of the comedians in this city, and to see that they don’t want every little edge possible to be the best they can be is disheartening.  It’s not the fact that the class cost money, someone had to spend their off time to teach it so it should cost something.  It’s not the fact that it is a class.  We take classes for all sorts of other things and pay way more money for it.  It’s not that it was mandatory. We have all worked places were we had to sit there and listen to someone tell us not to talk about our co worker’s tits, and to not steal the bandages (this was orientation for a job I had at the VA).  It’s about comedians who do not want to admit that they can work on being better then they currently are.  So, one of the biggest lessons I learned is that you can not drag people to their potential. The only career I can control is my own, so I will continue to write, perform, and get better.

Oh, and the pizza we got for lunch was pretty good.

What A Major Club Will Do For Your Local Scene

The Spokane Comedy Club (SCC) has been operating in town for almost a year, and in that year, it has transformed comedy in the area.

One of the biggest ways that SCC changed the area was just in the visibility of comedy.  Before SCC, a very small number knew about the clubs that came before it.  For years I would have people ask me where I perform, and when I told them that there was a comedy club in town, they would have a shocked look on their face, as if I told them that I am actually a little person standing on another little person’s shoulders.  It was frustrating because all of your attempts to get comedy in the area to be recognized seemed to be for naught.  The clubs before SCC just didn’t do a good job at advertising.  Just putting a sign up in front of a bar saying comedy doesn’t work as well as it did before.

Having a big club in town means you will have more people trying to become comedians.  People see the club, and then think this is their way to stardom. This is always a good thing because usually those are the more vocal people that will get word out that comedy is going on.  This leads to more packed open mic line ups, but it means they will get their family and friends and co workers to come see them.  This works out like a grass roots advertising campaign.

A weird thing happened to the scene about 9 months after the club came to town, a lot of the more seasoned comedians stopped coming around.  It was weird because, here we are with a club that is being packed, and the people that stuck it out in shady open mic dens are no longer to be found.  I hypothesized that it was because the talent level of what the new club wanted discouraged these comedians to a point that they no longer come out.  That is quite sad because this is what all those empty shows were all about!  You are about to be rewarded now, and you stop coming around.  It is heartbreaking.

If there is one negative to having a major club hit our scene, it has to be with independent shows.  Before the club came to be, there were a lot of independent shows around the town.  Eight months after the club?  80% of those shows disappeared.  I think what happened was all of these comedians that were putting on these shows thought that they would be working the club, when that didn’t happen for a lot of them, it left a hole in independent shows.  Don’t get me wrong, there are guys that were still producing shows when the bottom fell out, but not at the level that is was before the club came to town.

The club has given me, personally, a lot more exposure.  I get to perform a lot more private shows for a lot more money because people have seen me at the club.  I also get chances to perform with some really big names in comedy because of them and that increases my chances of working with them in the future. Having a club of this nature in the area did good things for me as a comedian, and I think for the whole of the Spokane area.  This area has so many people, and the fact that no one was serving them top notch comedy was almost a crime.  Now that the club is approaching one year, I think it will do better things for our scene.

Following Your Dreams Is Not Enough

You hear it all the time:  “Follow your dreams!”  “Do what you love!”.  It is such an empty statement.  Following your dreams isn’t enough, and if that is all you are doing then you will most likely never achieve them.

We will look at this saying from a comedy stand point of course, this is a blog about comedy (and photos sometimes).  I see it all the time where someone wants to be a comedian, but then there are a lot of stipulations to when they want to be a comedian.  They come out to an open mic once and now they plaster their social media accounts with the label: comedian.  That isn’t enough if you REALLY want to be a comedian.  What people learn quickly is that there are a lot of funny people at the bottom and a lot of not as funny people at the top.  Comedy is not an empirical discipline where the funniest get the great stuff and the not funny remain at the bottom.  That means that if you want to be a comedian, it takes more than just the thought of being a comedian, and it frustrates me when I see comedians that are “following” their dreams when instead they should be fighting for them.

Every successful comedian’s story is full of times they had to fight to keep doing what they love.  They didn’t sit at home because it was cold outside. They jumped on a greyhound to get to a show.  They sat around all night to get that three minutes at an open mic.  They kept getting on stage and proving to management that they were good enough for more than just last minute replacement comic.  They sat their asses down and wrote and wrote and wrote.  Then they got lucky enough to be seen by the right person, but that also meant sleeping on couches and in their car.   The thing is, when I say successful, I am not talking about just the ones you see on TV.  This is the story of all the guys you see come through your town to perform on a given weekend.  That is what it takes to do this.

It frustrates me when I am talking to local comedians and they will give me so many excuses to why they can’t come out.  They have class.  They have a job.  They have a child.  These are all things that I personally have had to deal with, and you have to make some sacrifices.  When I was in college, I would get my class work done and then I would get my ass to the local open mic.  It was harder to get work, so what I did was only take stuff where I could get back home the same day. I had a job after class as well.  It usually meant being tired some nights, but I kept doing it because it was something that I truly enjoyed.  When I started my kid was three, so that meant that if I could not find someone to take her I could not go, but I did sacrifice a lot of time with her to pursue comedy because I felt I could make a living at it and she would benefit. Before college, I spent a lot of time driving for hours for shit pay so I could one day be able to do the shows I want for the money I want. Not everyone has my exact situation.  I’m just giving an example of some of the things you have to do.  After all of this, no one knows who I am.  I am not a nationally touring headliner.  I don’t have TV credits.  This is what I had to do to get this far.  And this isn’t all of it.  There was homelessness and overdue bills and all that, but it is what I loved so I fought to keep doing it.  Look, if you just want to come out every once and a while and dabble in comedy, then go ahead and do that.  Nothing wrong with stand up as a hobby, but I am talking about those whose dream is to do this for a living.  If you are not fighting for those dreams, then you can not be shocked when they do not come true.

Gift Ideas For The Comedian In Your Life 2016

I thought I would update this article to give those out there more ideas on what to get that special someone in their life that also happens to deal in the funny arts.  They will be in three categories: Stocking Stuffers, Mid range (sorry I couldn’t come up with s cooler category), and then Loaded.  I hope this guide will help you find a great gift for the comedian in your life.

 

STOCKING STUFFERS

These are great for the comedian that is hard to shop for

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Pens: Comedians need a writing utensil when an idea hits their head meat, so you might as well keep them well stocked in pens.  I like gel pens.  I don’t know why, but I tend to gravitate to them.  Get them a box of pens and whenever they are thinking of the perfect butthole joke, they will think of you.

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Gift Card:  A lot of people think gift cards are lazy gifts.  I don’t!  I love them.  Instead of someone getting me something I will never use, I get to go out and pick what I will leave in my closet forever.  This is a great idea for the comedian that is so hard to shop for that you are losing sleep because of it.

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Netflix:  If they are a road comic, they will love you for getting them a subscription to a service like Netflix. While they are in a hotel room or on the side of the road trying to get some much needed rest, they can watch their favorite comedy special.

 

MID-RANGE

This is for the comedians that you want to spend a little bit more on.

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Moleskine Smart Writing Set:  Comedians love to write, but they are also afraid of losing their notebook or once the notebook is full, and they have to write in a new one, all of their previously written jokes are not with them.  No longer!  With this bad boy, they can still write like they are Ernest Hemingway, yet keep all of their writings with them through the smart writing app.  They also have notebooks for evernote and livescribe, so if they use one of those services it will save right there!

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Squarespace:  Every serious comedian (and even the not so serious ones) have a website.  You need something to send folks to other than you Facebook page (that is so 2012).  With a squarespace subscription, they will have a great place to set up a site that looks really good.  I am not a website builder, but harryjriley.com looks pretty good.  The price is low, but the quality is high.

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GoPro: Watching yourself on stage is a good way to see what you need to change.  Pictured is the gopro 5, but they have a cheaper gopro session 5 that is good as well.  You can mount these bad boys anywhere and with the included app, they can see their shot without having to keep readjusting it if it is in a hard to reach spot (like over an audience member’s head).  They also have editing software that will help them clean the video up and have it ready for potential bookers.

 

LOADED!

This category is for those with deep pockets or you really, really love that comedian.

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Camcorder: Getting good video of your sets is really important when you are trying to get into competitions and get booked.  Hook your comedian up with a baller camcorder like this Sony FDR-AX33. It records in 4k, so when that comedy festival organizer sees every crease in their slacks they are a shoe in to be picked!

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A New Phone: Phones.  Where would we be without them?  Probably not in the bathroom playing candy crush.  Smartphones are like swiss army knives of tech.  A comedian can record their shows, and then edit them and then send them to YouTube for the world to see within minutes.  Pictured is the iphone 7 plus, but it doesn’t have to be Apple (make sure you know what operating system they like before getting them a new phone) Android has several great phones like the Google Pixel and then there is the OnePlus 3.

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Surface Pro 4: Nothing says you love someone like a new laptop, tablet thingy.  The surface pro 4 is everything a world traveling comedian could want in a device.  It has the power of a laptop, but the portability of a tablet.  They can sketch out their poster ideas right there on the touch screen and when they want to edit their script they can with type cover that can be had later.

I hope this gives you some ideas on what to get that special comedian in your life.

Special thanks to Michael Glatzmeir, Ryan McComb, and Missy Narrance, for the help with this article!

 

 

 

 

 

Comedic Styles: The Absurdist

I have written about the current event comedian, and the one-liner comedian.  Today, I will write about the Absurdist.  Now, this may be seen as a hybrid of different styles, but one thing is a given:  It will end up being ridiculous.  That is the cool part of the absurdist comedian.  Now, it may seem like I am talking about the anti-comic, but that is a different article for later.  What you have to understand about the absurdist comedian is that they are basically an acid trip live on stage.  They will put elements of fantasy into a joke that you thought was going to be a straight forward, based on reality bit.  Some of the popular absurdist comedians would be Emo Philips (which was mentioned in my one-liner article) and Steve Martin (see what I meant by hybrid).

Pros:

Their show will keep the audience on their toes.  The audience can never logically jump ahead of a joke because they never know where the comedian will take them.

Strong writers will benefit a lot from this style because of the nature of the jokes being used.  An understanding of how a joke is written will help you subvert those rules to trick the audience or do unconventional things with your jokes.

Cons:

It can be dangerous depending on the audience.  A less than open minded audience may not perceive the material as an audience that is ready for anything.

Writing is key to a style like this because just making a joke silly will not make the joke funny.  The “funny” that resides in a style like this is how the joke just became outrageous all of a sudden.

That’s it!  That is the absurdist.  A style that can be used sparingly to great effect, or can be your preferred method of telling jokes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series so far!

It All Seems So Simple…

Comedy seems like a simple endeavor.  You write material and you get stage time and eventually, you get paid lots of money to do it in front of lots of people.  The steps seem simple as well. You sit down, write all the stuff that you joke about with your friends, and you should be making a living in comedy by the end of the year.  It seems so simple.

You start by finding an open mic near you and this, this is where you start your career as a comedian. You have your material set up.  You get there, and you realize that you are not just one of a few, but one of many other comedians that are thinking the same thing.  Wanting that shot at fame and fortune. Because there are so many comedians, you have to curtail your material to the three minutes that you have.  You go up and what you thought were three minutes were four and you get the light before you could finish.  You didn’t even get to the big finish!

After a couple of months of stringing together material, you have a great 30 minutes.  Now you are ready to start touring the country, getting paid to make people laugh.  You start asking the seasoned comedians in the scene who you can get work from.  They look at you like you are silly, but they give you the email addresses of people and you try to get booked.  They ask for head shots and bios and videos, and now you have to scramble to get these things because you are this close to being a comedian. You have your friend take your photo and record one of your sets at a bar.  You send that all in and…nothing. Hours turn to days and days to to weeks.  You send another email and again nothing.

You have been doing it for six months now and you finally get to feature for someone!  You have your material memorized and ready to go.  You get to the bar and you realize that the eight people there did not know a show was going on so they keep talking while you go through your material. What you thought was 30 minutes of great material was actually 18 minutes of okay stuff.  No one laughs and you walk off the “stage” dejected.  The headliner goes up and gets the crowd into it and by the end of his time, everyone is having a blast.  This did not go as planned.

You finally get a show out of town!  You are excited.  You get to the casino and you get your free meal coupon and you finally feel like you are in the big time.  You get to your room and try to watch some Netflix, but the internet is so shaky that you go to the casino floor instead.  After losing 20 bucks, you go get a meal before the show.  Tonight you will be performing in front of 20 bitter gamblers and they do not enjoy your jokes about gophers.  You get your check for 100 bucks…in a week or two.

Comedy seems simple.  You can see the steps to success right there.  That isn’t how life works though. For every comedian that gets a Comedy Central special after performing for two years, there are hundreds of comedians in bars and casinos all over the country just trying to get by on whatever they can.  Comedy’s wash out rate is second only to the Navy Seals (an exaggeration of course), mainly because the steps seem simple, but when actually acted upon, it is soon discovered that the road to fame is tough. That is why so often you don’t often see full time comedians.  If you relied on just comedy to make it you would be homeless by the time you gain traction.

Comedy is hard.  I know it because I have done it for eleven years.  Terrible casino shows and late payments are the norm.  Driving all over just in the hopes that you can get more work from this booker later.  Hoping that the hotel smells less like butt and more like lavender.  The thing is, I never thought I would get this far.  I am thankful everyday that I get to do this.  I get to step on stage and try my best to get a room full of strangers to laugh.  That should be your first duty.  Funny.  After that, get better at the networking and the promotion, but get funny.  Because no one can turn away funny.  It is not simple, but not much is.

When Submitting To Bookers

At some point in your comedy career, you will send an email or Facebook message to a show booker. That is how a lot of comedy gets booked.  I will try to help you as best as I can.

Now, I have separate articles about head shots and videos and writing up a bio, but I haven’t done an article on how to submit your info to bookers.  The first thing, and this is a no-brainer for some: Show some professionalism.  They may be someone you met at the strip club, but when sending them your package, make sure you are as professional as possible.  The old saying: “Fake it til you make it” applies here.  Make it seem like this isn’t the first time you have contacted someone about work.

There are many ways to start your email.  What I do is just let them know who the email is from.  Yes, they may see it when they open it, but that doesn’t matter, you have never met this person before (and if you have still act as though you haven’t).  I leave out where I am from, why?  Because I don’t want to be judged before they have seen my material.  If they don’t like it, then that’s fine, but I don’t want to not get work based on a bias that someone has about a city or part of the country. I tend to keep it simple, and I think that is the best way to go.  The body of the email is usually 4-5 sentences.  Just letting them know who I am and what positions I can fill.  I headline in bars and smaller clubs, but telling them you can do anything can get you in the door easier.  Once you have that going for you, you can headline if that is a possibility.

If you have been referred to them by another comic, then make sure you tell them that.  You may get work before they even see your video!  Bookers will trust a good comics’ word more than almost anything else.  If you know someone that has worked that club, see if you can add their name to your email.  I try not to add people as references if I have not talked to them before hand, or I have a good working relationship with them. Some comedians might not like to be emailed by a booker asking about a comic they didn’t even know they were vouching for.  I have been messaged liked this and I don’t care, but at the same time, I don’t have much leeway with any bookers I work with to the point that they are hinging working with a comedian on my word.

Now that the email is all typed up, you can now start adding the stuff that will sell you to the booker. Make sure you have a bio, a head shot and a video.  The bio should not be too long, just long enough for them to add to your photo for promotional purposes.  You can add who you have worked with, but make sure you don’t make stuff up!  Will they go out and fact check?  Probably not, but do you want to start lying to someone you JUST started working with.  If you don’t have much then that is fine, it is better than making stuff up.

You need a head shot.  A good one.  A great one.  So many comics forgo this because it usually means they will have to spend money.  Your headshot is more important than your video because this is the photo that people coming to a show you are booked on will see.  If it is all grainy because you took it with your iphone, or it looks like your friend took it with his mom’s DSLR, then you will not be taken seriously.  If you are in a large city like a Seattle or Portland, then there is no excuse to not having a professional looking headshot.  You don’t have to spend a grand to get them done!  There are people that are offering good prices (ahem…) so try them out.  What you need to remember is that you should have the photo at 300 dpi.  That will make it look nice and sharp when it is printed out or enlarged.

People fret about the video and for good reason. Your video is going to sell you to the booker, and it is important to get some things right.  You need good looking video!  Yes, your phone can record video, and most new phones now can do 4k, but if you are all blown out or the video is really dark no one is watching it.  Make sure the resolution is good enough to be watched on a computer screen.  1080p is great and can be enlarged in a browser window without it looking like old porn.  You need to have good audio.  This is important!  No one is gonna sit through your video if they can’t hear it.  I have an article all about getting microphones for your phone, but I will state it here because I am too lazy to go looking through all those articles.  Rode makes the video micro that will attach to your phone and is way better than the crappy mic that is on your phone.  Try to get an app like FiLMiC Pro or ProCam (iOS, I don’t know about android) so that you can adjust things like exposure so you can battle with the lights in most clubs.  You can make the video however long you want because they will only watch as much as they need to make their decision.  I have a five and ten minute video, and I usually send out the five minute video because that is about all they will watch and if they want to watch more, I have that ready to go.

Make sure the video is just you.  Not the host talking for 30 seconds.  Just you.  Make sure the video is tightly cropped on your upper half.  Whenever I am filming someone I try to get right at the sternum area, unless I know they will roll around on the stage or something then I go a little wider.  The reason you want to have it tight is so there are no distractions going on off the stage to get the bookers attention, and they can see your face better.  Try to dress like you will if you are going to work one of their shows.  Don’t be in a tux in your video, when you usually work in a shirt and jeans.  Refrain from having alcohol on stage with you.  A lot of bookers see it as not being professional.  Now, that you have your video, put it up on a place like YouTube.  Don’t send people a big ole file that they have to download and try to play on their computer.  If they have to do that they will just delete your email.

You have everything you need to send out to bookers and club runners.  How long do you wait for a response?  I usually give it a week or two.  You have to remember that these people are getting emails from hundreds, maybe thousands of people, so you have to be persistent if you want to get a response. I wouldn’t send them more than one email a week though because you don’t want to be known as the person that is sending too many emails.  You also have to know the reality of trying to get work this way.  A lot of bookers already are up to there neck in comedians that can fill spots for them.  That is why the contents of your email have to look so professional.  For every slacker that is sending them crappy photos and even crappier video, there are people out there that are serious and want to succeed and are doing everything they can to make it look as though they are worth the booker’s time.  You are competing with all the people that are working for them now, as well as other people trying to get in with them.  I hope this helps you get the work you want.  Have a great week.

 

** The photo is of wrestler Booker T.  Get it?  You didn’t get it did you?