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.

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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: 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!

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.

The Pros and Cons of Set Lists

I have always been of two minds about set lists. If you don’t know, a set list is what (in this case at least) a comedian brings on stage with a list of the jokes they want to tell. I used them early on, but decided to abandoned them so I could work a bit more organically. Lets look at the good and bad and have you decide what you should do before you step on stage.

Pros:

  • Keeps new jokes, that you haven’t memorized yet, at the ready
  • Ensure you keep certain jokes together that would ruin a flow if they were separated
  • For those that have trouble remember most of their jokes, this can kick start your memory

Cons:

  • Makes it harder to work organically within the show
  • Can become a crutch and keep people from memorizing their material
  • Can look unsightly when a comedian looks down and stares at the stool

The way I see it, if you are at an open mic, or working with a lot of newer jokes, then you may want to use a set list so you can keep the jokes you want to do at the ready. There is nothing weirder then a comedian that gets on stage at an open mic and can’t remember the jokes they wanted to tell.

I think it is important to have some etiquette when it comes to a set list. Don’t write your set on a big piece of paper and bring that up with you (talking about shows, take whatever up at an open mic). It looks like you are not prepared. Don’t write the entire joke on the paper. Just the title (if it has one) and a couple of words to jump start your memory. The set list shouldn’t be there for you to read and recite your jokes, it is there as a handy reminder.

Another thing worth trying is hiding your set. I have seen comedians put it on their beer or water bottle. That way when you take a drink you can look at it. When I am using a set list, I will right the title on a comment card or something and leave it on the stool. While I am prancing around on stage I can take a quick peek at it and see where I am supposed to be going next.

There is nothing wrong with a set list as long as you remember that it is supposed to help you remember material, not replace your memory all together. The audience doesn’t want to see a comedian spending most of their time reading a note card when they are supposed to be performing. Just think about what you would think of if you saw a comedian doing that.

How I Make Money in Comedy

I get asked a lot about how much money I make doing comedy. Mainly because I pursue comedy full time and I don’t have a full time job. Well, with this article, I will try to tell you how I make the money I do and about how much I make. Now, before we go on, I will state that all of my income does not come from just comedy. That would be a rough way to live for the level I am at. I am a disabled veteran so I get VA compensation. That is a check every month due to injuries I acquired while in the military. This gives me more leeway then other comedians at my level because I don’t have to fill in my income with normal work. Now lets get into it!

I am at the level in comedy where I can feature a weekend in a large, what comedians would call an A room club, or headline smaller clubs and bar shows. This means in any given month I can go from A room to corporate event, to a sleazy bar. It does put things in perspective when you are playing for a room of 200 people that are laughing their asses off and then go to a bar where they won’t turn the TV off because they can’t find the remote.

I am not in a position to ask the clubs to pay me what I am looking for. Clubs usually have a set rate for MCs, features, and headliners that are not so well known, so make sure you know what that is before you take a date. I usually try to make a little more money off of selling merchandise like t-shirts and copies of my comedy albums. This can be a big part of your income as a comedian at my level. I have had times where the merchandise I sold was two or even three times as much as the pay I was getting from the club! There are some industry “standard” pay when you are dealing with bars and the like. Usually I can get between $150-$300 for those kinds of performances. Corporate shows are a little different. I try to get a sense for who is asking me to perform. Is it a fortune 500 business or a local mom and pop? How long do they want me to perform? Will there be children? Basically the more I feel like it is going to suck the more I feel I should be paid.

Now, comedy isn’t like a normal job where you show up and then you are working. You either have to know people or know how to get in touch with people. About 80% of my work is from people I know. They will either hire me themselves or they will tell the person looking for entertainment about me. That is the biggest struggle at this level, trying to get noticed by the right people. If you have read this blog, then you know one thing I harp on a lot is getting to know people and networking. This opens so many doors for you that will eventually lead to more work. I get to work with John Caparulo because someone I knew thought I would be a great fit.

I send a lot of emails to a lot of clubs around the country and right now my percentage rate for responses is about 1%. Out of that 1%, about 75% of the responses is a no. This can wear on you, but you have to understand that these clubs have hundreds of comedians and only a certain amount of them can actually put asses in seats. I know I am not a household name, so I can understand that they will be hesitant to have me at their club. Besides, most of the time they are looking at me as a feature, and for a lot of clubs they see the feature as an expendable piece of the comedy show puzzle. They would rather cultivate their own local batch of features that will be cheaper to hire and more loyal, so I am also fighting with that.

So, you read this entire thing and am now wondering how much I actually make. Well, feature work is not what it used to be, what with the cost of living rising, but the pay for features (and headliners and MCs as well) has remained more or less the same. I have been doing comedy full time since about 2013. I have been a comedian for 14 years, but I spent a lot of that time in college and the military. I was actually able to start paying bills with comedy in about 2016 when I started getting more than a show a month. 2017 was my best year (also the year I got to feature for John) when I mad in the five figure range. 2018 was a down year mainly because I didn’t get to play in a lot of the bigger rooms with John Caparulo (going in with a comedian at his level meant I got paid more). I didn’t break the five figure barrier for another reason and that was because I had less corporate shows during the holidays. I make a lot of money during the fall when there are all kinds of parties going on. I may have priced myself out of the Spokane market by charging more, but that will be something I will write about in a future article.

2019 is looking up, but the summer is approaching and it is always pretty slow for me. I have more stuff on the calendar this year then I have had in awhile. It could be from the Comedy Competition, or it could be that I am gaining some traction in the industry. My income is not just purely comedy though. I get paid to take photographs and I appear in TV shows, commercials and movies. If not for the VA though, I would be working if I wanted to keep the life style that I have. It may seem bleak, but the way I see it I am living pretty well. No, I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank, but I get to do the things that I want and not stress to much. I hope this gave you a clue as to what a low level comedian like myself is making and I also hope it helped you decide not to leave your day job until you are making enough that you can afford to get a cavity fixed. Until next time!

HAPPY 300th blog post!!