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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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.

Comedy and Your Significant Other

Comedy is a tough beast.  It’s even tougher when you are in a relationship.  I know comedians that have been with their spouse for decades and I know comedians that are on spouse three or four. This article will discuss ways to at least attempt to have a successful relationship.  I am not a marriage counselor so if you and your love are having issues, please seek one out.  I am just a guy that has seen and been through stuff.

I think it is important to sit your significant other down and have a discussion.  Let them know what to expect.  If you are a person that isn’t pursuing comedy that hard, then just let them know that it is a hobby of yours and you will be out on certain days.  If this is your dream and you are chasing it hard, you have to set them up for a lot of stuff.  It’s important to let them know what comedy entails. We as comedians, just assume that everyone knows what we do.  They don’t.  A lot of the time, laymen assume we walk on stage and just produce these organic dick jokes.  This is why you have to approach your mate, and tell them the truth, those dick jokes take a lot of writing and performing.  That means late nights at comedy clubs and bars.  It seems like a no brainier, but I can tell you of many instances where comedians were surprised that their lover didn’t know what dating a comedian meant.  If you are actually performing and making money, you have to let them know that the pay is low and the travel is aplenty (at least over on the west side of the country).  What this does is prime them.  They can then make the decision to continue a relationship with you if it means that you may not be around a lot.

Another big thing, I feel, is letting them know comedy show etiquette.  I have seen comedians come in with their spouse and they will raid the green room of all the consumables.  You have to be the one to tell them how to act (not everyone was raised right).  You should tell them that just because you are on stage or on the show, that they should not be causing a disruption to the show.  That free booze for you, the comedian, does not usually extend to free booze for your significant other as well.  I haven’t had an issue with this.  I have had an issue where my girlfriend at the time thought it was weird that I was in the green room before the show instead of chilling out in the audience with her.  What I did, was I sat her down, and told her that it may seem like I am making things up as I go, but I have actually plotted the course for the show (sometimes, I never said I was a great comedian), and I need the time to gather these thoughts.  See to your love one, it may be a night out, but to you it is your job.  Letting them know how you work before a show also keeps them from thinking that you get weird whenever you are about to perform.  Some comedians can just hang out right until they have to get up on stage.  Some need to be in a pit and raised by a series of ropes and pulleys unto the stage. Whatever it is let them know.

I travel a lot as a comedian, and I think a lot of people can not handle this aspect of comedy life.  You have to know if your mate is fine with being alone a lot of weekends out of the year.  Social media also gets in the way a lot as well.  If they can not handle you having your photo taken with a bunch of random people then you may need to go your separate ways.  I was dating one young lady that assumed I was just a party animal.  I am not, but if people pay to see you sling dick jokes, you better at least appreciate them.  So, when she saw a photo of me and some lady smiling, she assumed it was something nefarious when all it was was someone who gave me 10 bucks for a CD that they were probably never going to play.

Comedians are weird creatures.  We have a weird sense of humor and we tend to analyze a lot.  That is our make up.  If your significant other can’t handle these things, then it may be best for you two to call it.  I have told every lady I have been in a relationship with since starting comedy, that this is my first love.  I love writing and performing and since I do it to pay the bills, they have to understand that I will not cancel a show because it is on a Saturday and we were going to go to the beach, or because it’s your grandparent’s anniversary.  If you are going to treat it like a job then that means you may not be there for everything.  Being open and clear is the best way to have a happy, healthy relationship…I should have just written that instead of all this.

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.

Why Merchandise Is Important

If you read last week’s article, then you know that it is already very hard to make a living as a stand up comedian.  One way to balance the low pay is to sell stuff.  I have been doing this for awhile now and I will tell you want I have learned doing this.

When I first started going out on the road, I had nothing but jokes.  I was in Montana working with a comedian, and he told me simply:  You need to sell stuff!  As time went on, I went from CDs I would burn hours before the show to having them professionally produced.  Now, I let other comedians (especially feature acts) know how important it is to have something to sell.  Not only does it add to your base income, but it allows you to engage audiences and form a following.

At first I never had anything to sell, just like any other comedian out there, I was just happy getting paid.  It then became clear that the money I was getting from the performance itself, was not going to pay the bills.  So, I produced a DVD of a performance I recorded in a dimly lit room.  I drew the artwork myself and begun to sell it.  The thing was I would be standing there with other comedians, trying to sell my stuff and they had shrink wrapped, professional looking CDs and I had a walking etsy store.  That is the first thing you need to know about selling merch:  Make it look nice.  Just because you are in the basement of a Holiday Inn, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the presentation.  I learned that spending a couple of bucks to make things look professional and nice paid off because it showed that I was really a comedian and not a guy just trying to take your money and move on to the next town.

Why did I pick a DVD at first?  It was the thing I had.  I later took just the audio and sold that because I figured that I was not important enough for someone to sit in front of their TV for 50 minutes, but they may listen to me while on a road trip.  The sound quality sucked so I had to get a real recording of my act.  I had a friend (shout out to Will Gilman) produce and edit my first real recording.  It sounded great and I had better cover art, so I did not feel weird selling the stuff.  It sold really well but I learned a couple of things from having a real product to sell.  First, I had to get over selling things to people.  Not everyone will enjoy your material enough to want to take it home, but they will not buy it if you are not telling them about it.  I had to ensure I was setting stuff up and at least presenting my product.  Second, A lot of people just wanted to talk after the show and if I was posted somewhere they could come by say hello, and most of the time they would buy something!  It was odd to see people who didn’t have money out all of a sudden laughing with me and now they are buying multiple CDs!

Now, just because you have a product to sell, doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden start making all this extra money.  I have been selling merch for awhile now, and I have no idea from show to show who is going to buy something and who isn’t.  I’ve had shows where I thought they really liked me and not sell anything, and then shows where I thought I was not my best and leave selling stuff.  The only way to be increase your odds of selling stuff is to have more stuff for sale.  That is why I made a t-shirt (not the whole shirt just the stuff on the front).  CDs are a hard sell nowadays.  I have a CD player in my car, but I haven’t used it!  That is why I also have download cards that they can get instead of just the CD. T-shirts sell well because it is something you have to wear anyway, so might as well have something funny on it!  I have seen comedians make thousands in a weekend from just their t-shirt sales.

Maybe you don’t want to sell a t-shirt or a CD (maybe you don’t have an hour of material).  Well, you can go with just about anything!  The idea is to sell things that are easy to carry around, and that will make people think of you.  I have seen everything from buttons to baby onsies!  What is important is having something that when someone looks at it they say, “Damn, I want that!”.  Now, instead of paying for things like gas and meals with the money I am getting for the show, the merchandise I sold can pay for it.  I am not saying just slap your name on a shirt and then you can lease a cigar boat, but when it comes to road comedy, every little bit helps!

How To Stand Out In Your Comedy Scene

A lot of comedians think that the best way to stand out is to just be funny.  All you have to do is write material, work it out week after week, and someday…you will be able to host!  Here is the thing that a lot of comedians just can’t understand: That is not the way to stand out in your scene.  I will tell you what does and why?

You may be saying, “Well, Harry, handsome mofo you, why isn’t being funny the best way to stand out?  That is my job, right?” Your job is to be funny, but being funny is just a part of being a comedian.  You have to think about all the stuff that a comedian does before and after they get on a stage and be funny.  You have to get to the show, on time.  You have to perform your time, not going over or under.  If you are gonna be on stage, you should probably not be up there so high that you forget your material, or go after people in the audience.  When you are off stage, it is probably not a good idea to touch the wait staff (unless they consent of course).

If you want to stand out, you have to do what the others around you are not willing to do.  For example, in Spokane, we have a major comedy club and some independent shows.  If you show up to the open mics and show yourself not be a douchebag, it is not that hard to rise to the top of the scene and start working at the club, where you can be sharing the stage with some huge names.  Because in almost every scene I have witness, there are the same groups of people.  You have the entitled people that think that they should get work because they have stuck it out. You have the comedy fans that are more into the idea of comedy then actually creating and performing their own stuff.  Then you have just lazy comedians that will not show up to open mics, and when they do they are still performing the same jokes.  It is not that hard to rise above these guys.  While they are sitting around wondering why no one is booking them, you are making face time with all the other comedians that are trying their best to, just like you, stand out and be noticed by the people that are booking shows.

People always look at me and assume I get work because I make people laugh.  That is so far from the truth.  At first it was because I was available, and that I could go to places at a moments notice.  Later, bookers turned to me because I was dependable. I got to the venue on time and was nice to the staff.  When the manager of the room sees that, they will book you again.  Now, if you suck, you will get some work, but after awhile it will be harder, but the idea here is to get your foot in the door with a lot of these bookers and promoters by being dependable.  Bookers need people to fill time.  Yeah they want a great show, but if the funniest person on the planet only shows up 50% of the time, then there is no show.

Look comedy is still hard, if you have read any of this blog you know that, the thing is to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success, and that means getting out and being seen and not being a horrible garbage person.