Who are you trying to please with your jokes?

In my book I stress how important it is to be respected by other comics, club managers, and of course the audiences you perform in front of.  In the first few years of my career, a good portion of my jokes would cover only one or two out of three depending on the joke.

I had jokes that did well at open mic night in front of other comics but never really worked in front of crowds when I emceed at comedy clubs.  They were usually darker or mean and only a few of the younger audience members laughed (right now Bill Arrundale is scratching his head wondering when I was ever dark).  In front of crowds at comedy clubs, these jokes were moaned at which killed any chance of momentum in the set…Drugs are like a big girl’s pants…easy to get into, hard to get off.  This kind of thing happens at a lot of open mics.  A lot of times the biggest (or only) laughs come from the side where the comics are sitting.

There are other jokes that make the crowd laugh but the club owners hate.  If it’s early in a show while people are still ordering food, the last thing a club manager wants to hear is a joke that gives a herpes visual.  It may be a somewhat funny joke that gets laughs to override the moans, but it’s not going to help food sales.

I had a “thing” that I did that was popular with crowds for the most part, but other comics hated.  I used to have the ability to wrap my arms around my head and flail around like a jackass (with material!) as my closing bit.  It made me stand out in some way and I was easy to remember, but it earned about as much respect from other comics as a puppet doing a magic trick while singing a guitar parody.  It was honestly a one-minute freak show.  Sure, it helped me early on, but as I matured as a comic I needed to drop it (despite Dan Swartwout’s semi-sarcastic pleas to keep it going).  No one wants to follow a freak show.

But why should a comic care what other comics think?  Aren’t they all just jealous of success?  Not really.  You need them to respect you because no one in this business gains success without the help of others.  If they don’t respect you (you are your act), they aren’t going to help you improve or get stage time.

So figure out who your jokes are going to please and who they will turn off.  Hopefully at the beginning level, the audience and club managers are a higher priority than other open mic comics.  You can always ask a more advanced comic for a blunt answer on how much respect your set earns.  To gain respect from all three sides, be original, be clean, and still funny.  It’s hard to please everyone all of the time, but the best comics out there do it.

There’s much more on this topic in my book which is due to come out in December.  I appreciate anyone who can spread the word as I get the links ready in the next few weeks.  Also, please feel free to ask questions or leave comments here.  It was pointed out to me that every rule has exceptions which is true.  I’m just basing my “rules” and suggestions on the fact that every comic wants to eventually earn money.

Don’t do this on Facebook

While I was busy working on last week’s entry, I had several people suggest that I write about the same pet peeve that a lot of us have.  It’s people who use the term “Comedian” in their profile name on Facebook, etc.  I can understand (not really) that these people think it’s going to funnel all Google searches to their profile, but it doesn’t.  Perhaps these people (along with my 68-year-old father) should meet at the free Computer 101 classes offered at every public library.  Nothing says, “I’m not a real comedian,” like putting “Comedian” before your name.

Jeremy Essig texted to me (Might I add he texted while driving because he hates people who are guilty of this so much that it couldn’t wait) the following, “It makes you look like a douche.  No one would put Waiter (in front of their name).  It also echoes some weird Orwellian dystopia where the Polit Bureau requires identification by job.”

As with all Essigian statements, I’ll give the younger readers who haven’t graduated college yet a few minutes to use wikipedia and then appreciate the reference.

Someone else said, “It’s like a fat girl taking a profile picture of herself by holding the camera from above to try and show that she’s not fat.”  Gees, who would say that?  I think the point is you can’t trick people in your profile.  Just show who you are, we like you that way.

Last week you learned why not to use a stage name.  This week’s advice takes it a step further and says use only your name.  You could say there’s a small theme of “just being yourself” developing here.  It’s just like being on a date only comedy is harder, less profitable, and more time consuming even when you do it right.

Continuing on with the correct ways to promote yourself early in your career….Keep things very simple for now and don’t take yourself too seriously.  A Facebook post about where your next show is will be really all you need to do at this point.  And please, only invite people within a 25 mile radius.  Got that comics who moved to New York?  We’re not hopping on a jet to Newark, taking the airport monorail to the stop which has a train to Penn Station, then getting on the subway, and then walking four blocks to see you do five new minutes (probably about abortion and domestic violence, yeah, we’re shocked).  Instead, go through your friends list and click on those people who are always saying, “Oh, you’ll have to tell me next time you’re doing one of your little comedy skits!”  (They still won’t make it.)

Mandatory book plug time.  I should mention that none of these blogs are taken directly from my book, they’re additional pieces of advice that accompany it.  Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage…A Stand-up Guide to Comedy not only addresses these types of early career issues, but also answers a lot of questions that comics further into their career might have.  In next week’s entry I’ll discuss a more advanced issue about who your comedy aims to please.  I’ve also decided to point out something stupid that I used to do so that I don’t come off like the all-knowing “Comedian” Rob Durham.

Should I give myself a stage name?

Should I give myself a stage name?

No. Here’s why…Giving yourself a stage name is the quickest way to lose the respect of your comedy peers and the club managers.  Matt Behrens, manager of the St. Louis Funnybone states, “Any time you spend working on your stage name rather than working on your material before ever telling a joke…that’s a problem.  Learn how to play the instrument before you write a song.”

Art Veiluf, a retired comedy club manager, says just at the mention of comics with stage names, “I see no point in it.  A stage name is unwarranted in a young career.  If you give yourself a stage name, be prepared to change it a bunch of times because you haven’t found your voice yet.”

But what about the comics who have stage names? The two that we hear most about in today’s comedy scene are Carlos Mencia (Ned Arnel Mencia) and Larry the Cable Guy (Dan Whitney). Personal opinions aside, those are easily two of the least respected comics out there today for accusations of stealing jokes and dumbing the art form down to the lowest common denominator.   But they make money don’t they?  They do.  You won’t.  You’ll never get the chance to even host a show at your home club because the club owner won’t take you seriously.  Bottom line, don’t be like them.

Stage names in comedy are becoming outdated. Leave them behind with your rainbow suspenders and jokes about airline food. At this level in your career, a stage name is not going to give you any extra positive notoriety. If you’re remembered, it will be in a negative light. It’s not too late to drop your stage name if you already have one. Former Last Comic Standing winner John Reep started out as the “Hickory Dance Machine” and wisely got rid of that title years before his career took off.  Fifteen years later some comics still rip on him about it.

There are a few exceptions to the rule. If your name is so long and complicated that no one can pronounce it (Greeks?), it might be worth shortening up, although Costaki Economopoulos seems to have overcome it very nicely.  Perhaps if you share a name with a celebrity it would be a good idea to tweak it to something different.  It’s important that you don’t choose something that sounds like a stage name.  Think how ridiculous a lot of morning DJ’s sound when they introduce themselves as Swift Windy and Ted Storm.

Follow the lead of the successful comics out there today and stick with your real name.  Once you finally start earning money it makes check cashing a lot easier.

This tip has to do with that balance you must maintain of gaining respect from the club managers, the other comics, and the audience.  I stress the importance of and how to keep this balance in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage (Available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, and iTunes).

Why is the guy who runs open mic night such a jerk?

Enduring the process of figuring out how to sign up for open mic can be more painful than a first-timer’s experience on stage.  Why is the guy in charge already mad?  The show hasn’t even started.  His job is a tough one because he’s trying to put together a professional show with a room full of amateurs.  There are new people every week and most of them are clueless.

Beginner comics can be very delusional.  Imagine new people walking into not only a new job, but a new career and trying to establish themselves in the first few minutes.  Toss in the fact that most of them are guys in their early twenties who have more DUI’s than college credits.  Sometimes they show up in crazy outfits with wacky props and crack what they consider a joke five seconds after shaking hands.  They brought two dozen people to the show who they guarantee “will drink’a couple of buckets!” and they want to know why they only get four minutes of stage time.  Meanwhile, the guy in charge is trying to find a way to shuffle the other two or three dozen loyal, though sometimes thinly-talented regulars onto a list that will hold a show together.  There’s a lot going on, so don’t blame him if he’s a little too busy to chat about your hopes and dreams.

Often a professional comic is the one left with the duty of organizing this mess.  He’s not doing it because his career has taken off.  Successful headliners don’t fight over this honor because they’re either making money at a gig or able to take a night off.  The guy running open mic doesn’t have this luxury so instead of going to the game with his friends, he’s stuck explaining what the light means to a clown who thinks he’s going to be Andy Kaufman and a large black woman with three stage names.

If you’re just starting out, don’t try to be funny during the pre-show meeting.  In fact, don’t even talk.  If you have any questions, just ask one of the other comics who looks like they belong.  The guy running open mic should only hear you from the stage and if you have any potential at all, you’ll eventually get his attention.

This first dose of showbiz is only the beginning to the rudeness you’ll encounter along the way up the comedy food chain.  If you start taking things personally this early on, you’ll be in therapy long before you’re successful enough to afford it.  Brush off whatever rudeness that might be targeted at you and after a few months you’ll start to be annoyed by these new guys who strut in thinking they’re God’s gift to comedy, too.  In the meantime, go give a big fat tip to the bartender who has to hear the show every week.

For tips on how to evolve from an open mic comic into one who earns money and eventually a living, try reading my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.