Monthly Archives: March 2012

Relationships with comics…

Comedy is not a normal job and most comics aren’t normal people (although I think our irregularity is overrated).  I gave a few comedians the chance to weigh in on the matter and while I don’t want to get too deep into this, here are some points I thought should be covered.

I’m often asked if I do jokes about my wife on stage and the answer is yes.  I’ve always had a joke or two about whatever relationship I’ve been in and with the permanence of my wife they keep building.  I try to stay as respectful as possible and her saying is, “If it makes money…”  If you’re dating a comic, expect to be mentioned and to hear about ex’s mentioned as well.  Comics, be respectful and tasteful.  The “My wife sucks because…” rants have all been covered anyway.

Steve Poggi, who is not married, but is in a young relationship said, “She likes the attention. As long as it’s not like, “Well then the stupid bitch did….”, most of my jokes are just about me being crazy about her. She understands the joke aspect, so things never get tense about  it.”

Obviously comics spend a lot of time away from home while working the road so the trust has to be there.  I know of a lot of comics who cheat on their wives and I’ve heard a lot of comics tell me that their wives (or ex’s) cheated on them.  I don’t think being away leads to cheating, I think it just makes the relationship more challenging.  Cheaters are cheaters though, we just hear about it more because comics share their pain on stage.

The last two brief points I want to cover are about traveling as well.  The first part is for someone who wants to date a comic.  You must understand up front the amount of time away that it involves.  It’s pretty much a long distance relationship.  I think a lot of people misunderstand and think that comic is going to change his or her (let’s be frank, it’s usually his) career.  I’ll admit, part of the reason I don’t work the road as much is because I don’t like being away, but I consider myself a lucky husband.  So the big advice for the comic or the person dating a comic, you have to know up front about the time apart issue and realize that it’s not going to changeThis means have a talk about it!

On a lighter note, I advise against taking your significant other on the road with you 99% of the time.  I discuss a near tragedy in my book when I once let a girlfriend drive me to a gig only an hour away and I only made it to the show with two minutes to spare.  The road is an uncomfortable lifestyle that not many comics want to endure let alone someone who’s just along for the ride.  The hotels are often nasty, you can’t afford to eat well, and watching the same show gets repetitive.  As Poggi also pointed out, “It’s not a vacation.”  I occasionally take my wife if it’s somewhere near and really fun (free food open bar), but at this point she’s over tagging along (I don’t blame her).  I say let your partner come out just once or twice to see how rough it is to gain some empathy and to eliminate the fallacy that it’s hundreds of groupies trying to sleep with you as soon as you get off stage.

For more on the topic check out the podcast Tackling Tough Issues in a recent episode with Tommy Johnagin.  The issue is discussed a little further and Tommy makes a huge announcement.

I feel like I’ve barely touched on this topic and others might have things to add so feel free to comment on your experiences with this issues.  This could be a two-parter.


Anger on and off stage

Anger and comedy often go hand in hand.  I’ve never been one to be all that angry on stage, but my anger off stage has certainly made me less than proud of the way I talk about people.  The big reason some of us comics are so angry?  Pure jealousy.  If comedy was like baseball it would be easy to measure everyone’s statistics and find out who’s funnier.  With so many variables like location, venue, appearance, the crowd type, who else is in the show, and pure luck, all you can hope for is a fair shot.  Showbiz isn’t fair, so as a result there is a lot of frustration over who gets the attention and success.  Throw in how nutty some comics are to begin with, and it’s no wonder there are so many Internet fights (most of us are pansies so we choose this method, often taking it a step further and using a false name).

Anger on stage is also a common thing.  Dennis Leary, Lewis Black, and others have made their living from it.  It’s no wonder so many young comics full of angst try this when they start out (but usually fail).

Comedian, actor, and author Ward Anderson summed it up best when I asked him why anger doesn’t work for so many younger comics. . .

When I started, I would rant onstage and wonder why the audiences just looked at me.  Well, it was because I was a 20-something kid who thought he knew what anger was.  I had nothing to be pissed about, yet I was up there being pissed.  All of my idols were pissed, so why not me?!  Well, now that I’m almost 40, I realize that the problem is that the only person who relates to pissed-off 20-somethings are other pissed-off 20-somethings.  There’s something to be said about that if you want to work colleges.  But don’t be surprised if club audiences don’t necessarily follow it.  Exceptions to every rule, of course.  But just like a man doesn’t want to sit and hear a female comic talk about how worthless men are (especially after PAYING to hear it), not a lot of middle-aged audience members can relate to a 22-year-old kid spouting off what’s wrong with the world today.

Thanks Ward!

I talk more about anger as well as other styles comics try to take on stage in my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage…The Stand-up Guide to Comedy.  And if you’re one of the comics mad at my book?  Hey–you’re normal!  (But stop reading right here because this next part’s going to piss you off even more.)

I’d like to thank everyone for a record setting week for my book.  I sold over twenty at my show Friday night as well as quite a few online sales.  I only have a few copies in stock until my next shipment on the 27th, so try the high-tech method.

If you’re into ebooks (whether it be downloading a PDF for your PC or using the web on your Kindle) go to my online publisher at:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/133839 and enter CC74Y to save 25% (making it only $7.49).  Offer valid for a limited time!

To read this and other entries simply visit www.dontwearshortsonstage.com to scroll through past advice for those looking to make money doing comedy.  New entry every Monday!


One of the biggest challenges for younger comics

You’re supposed to write about yourself, your life, and your expreiences, right?  The problem is your life isn’t all that much different than the other twenty-some guys on the list at open mic.  You’re from the midwest, you’re single, your ex-girlfriend was a bitch, you’re poor, you smoke weed, you drink, you’ve been to a strip club, you’re out of shape, your job sucks if you even have one, you have to live with your parents, and your sex life consists of your right hand and a website.  What can you say that hasn’t already been joked about?  Even worse is that club managers aren’t interested in this kind of material opening up their 7:30 Saturday show to a crowd with grown men possible wearing a blazer who have wives ordering $7 drinks with no problem.

So what else is there to write about?  In my book I mention several techniques that pros gave me early on.  For example, Michael Loftus said he used to go through the USA Today section that had a one-sentence news story about every state and try to write a joke for each one.  In a recent chat with Andi Smith she advised just writing about the everyday occurrences even if it’s just going to the store.  She also mentioned the news as a great source for bits.  Keith Alberstadt (check him out on Pandora now) says “just traveling is a treasure trove of gold.”  Stop at tourist stops, talk to people with various personalities, etc.

Bits about what’s happening in the news are obviously common and this isn’t breakthrough insight on my part, but I do offer certain pros and cons along with other tips when your material covers current events in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  In order for your material to be funnier, it has to be more unique.  Right now your life might not be that interesting, but see if you can write a short three or four minute set without using the typical subjects I mentioned in the first paragraph.  You need to think like a writer at all times, not just when you sit down with a notebook (which you should also do every day).

I’ve also seen a few comics sharing some really personal quirks about themselves and their families on stage.  This is a good start but you cannot just state these oddball facts.  You must turn them into a punchline to make them funny instead of just implying how strange they are in a statement or story.  You’re on the right track, just take it up a notch.

The main point of this entry wasn’t as much to give you writing ideas, but instead to become aware of overdone topics male comics in their 20s use.  I apologize that this entry was aimed only at the male open mic comics so here’s my tip for the female open mic comics.  You don’t all have to do an abortion joke.

 

If you want more advice on how to make money in comedy be sure to check out my book at www.robdurhamcomedy.com or get the ebook for a fraction of the price instantly RIGHT HERE.  (Yes, you can do that from your Kindle as well using the same link.)


Neglecting to improve

As I’ve tried to share what I’ve learned from so many veteran comics to the newer comedians in the business over the last few months, it’s come to my attention that not everyone believes in advice.  Yes, nothing is better than stage time, but there are 168 hours in a week and you’re on stage for maybe a total of 30 minutes if you frequent open mics.  With comedy being one of the arts and very subjective, there is some gray area on what’s right and wrong.  Everyone is different in some way so not every rule applies to everyone (Gabriel Iglesias wears shorts on his Comedy Central special).  So can you give advice to someone who is an artist?  I say…yes.  Do great artists still go to art school?  Do great singers still take vocal lessons?  Yep.  When you stop learning as an artist, you put a ceiling on your abilities.  Great writers still read others, musicians listen outside of their own studios and so on.  I guess I understand not everyone believes in reading a book to learn something (isolate that statement and see if it sounds intelligent), but you have to have some other sources whether it be other comics, podcasts, blogs, etc.  No one becomes successful in comedy on their own.  Even if you don’t trust my advice enough to order my book, learn from others.  (For those who ask what gives me the authority to write a book on comedy, I would simply remind that I’ve been listening and learning from others better than me for over twelve years now.  I didn’t invent anything, I’m sharing what I learned.)  No one is trying to teach you funny, but if you happen to have the chance like the St. Louis scene did to hear Greg Warren talk about the lifestyle of a comic last month or the Ryan Stout/Jeremy Essig MC clinic you might overcome what’s holding you back from getting hired at a club.  It could be one or two little things.

I think the main reason comics don’t want to hear advice is that it makes them aware of what they’re doing wrong.  It’s kind of like going back and reading your first draft of a story or essay.  No one enjoys seeing all of the mistakes they’re making and having them pointed out.  The other reason a lot of us don’t like to correct ourselves?  We’re just lazy (me included).  I’ve listened to less than 10% of the sets I’ve recorded.  Some of them are only a couple of minutes yet “I have no time” for some reason.  This week I did listen and I noticed that I completely screwed up/replaced a key word in one of my punchlines.  (It was the stand-up equivalent of a bog typo.)  It was accidental but I had no idea that’s what I said.  I also noticed that after twelve years I still talk too fast which I’ve always known, but can’t seem to overcome.  See, it’s painful listening to yourself.  Watching a video is even worse.

The final reason I believe comics aren’t challenging themselves to improve more is that there’s no deadline.  No one says, “You’ve done this two years and haven’t earned a cent, you’re done.”  It’s like weight-loss or making money, you can set goals but without a deadline it doesn’t feel like failure when you never get there.  So week after week some comics plop down at open mic doing most of the same five minutes to random levels of applause based solely on how many are in the crowd, taking pride in an obscene joke they’d never get away with as a paid opener and saying, “This is what I’m going to do for a living!”

When?

This may sound like tough love (I love you, but I’m not in love with you) but if your set isn’t getting you work, you have to write a new one.  Let only your strongest jokes survive if you have any.  (Listen to your recordings)  Trying the same thing over and over will lead to you waking up six or seven years into your career and wondering why you’re only getting open mic gigs.  If you want to make this your job, you have to work.

For more information about Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage…The Stand-up Guide to Comedy click here.