How to start writing more like a professional comic…

I was giving some feedback to someone who had asked about a set he did at an open mic.  His jokes were funny, setups were brief enough, but there was still something “open mic” or green about his material.  I thought back to my jokes at that stage in my career and some of the subject matter was the same.  We always hear “write about yourself” when starting out.  That’s a good way to make your set unique.  The thing is, just because you’re telling your jokes in first-person (I did this… I did that…), doesn’t mean they’re necessarily about you.

Most jokes aren’t true stories.  Good writers can start with a true story or anecdote, and then add the lies that make it absurd and funny.  What comics eventually learn to do as they progress in their joke-writing abilities is learn to find that area where the lie is realistic, but more absurd than something that could never happen.  Here’s an example (and forgive me if anyone uses this bit, it’s just a common open mic topic many have been guilty of), comics will say they like older women, and then go into some punchline about sleeping with a one of the cast members of Golden Girls (until Betty White dies this will keep happening).  No twenty-something male actually wants to sleep with someone that old.  The lie is absurd, but not realistic.  Cute, but not all that funny.

To find the real funny in your biographical topics, free-write about the subject as much as you can.  To keep with our example, write three pages about why you like older women.  Get specific.  There’s probably some little secret thing about them that you like that you think no one else notices.  Reveal that on stage and you’ll find almost everyone notices and that’s what makes your bit funny.  You’ve shared a secret with the audience and laughter connects them.  Don’t always aim to point out why you’re different, instead make connections with the audience that let’s them realize you’re the same.  They’ll give you a much better response when they can relate to you.  This is why relationship humor works so well.  Most of the people at the show are with someone.

What if you’re not in a relationship?  That’s fine, but an audience can only take so much of the lovable loser type.  That angle gets just as tiring as if an overweight comic kept doing fat jokes or a minority comic kept going on about race.  Find something else to write about that you have in common with others.  Work on reminding them of your similarities, not just your differences.

For more tips on progressing to making money in comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

How early should you be for a gig?

When I first started MCing on the road, I would get to clubs before most of the wait staff.  I had nothing else going on in my life and I wanted to be extra sure I was there on time (I didn’t have a cellphone because it was 2001).  Getting to a show too soon often leads to fatigue, drinking too much beforehand, or even witnessing the manager have a shouting match with the head server.  No matter how eager you are, you don’t need to get there more than an hour ahead of time.  It’s the same courtesy as not showing up to a party before it’s officially ready to begin.

A half-hour is standard but it depends where you’re driving, if you’ve been there before, parking situations, potential traffic, weather conditions, and if the show is actually going to start when the say it is.  Often, a 9:00 one-nighter won’t start until almost 9:30 as people finally start to file in.  While these venues are only making it worse by training their regulars to not show up on time, it happens. 

For a drive of three to five hours, it’s best to plan to get to the area at least ninety minutes before showtime, earlier if there’s a hotel room waiting for you.  If there isn’t one, try to find somewhere to eat and get a feel for the town you’re in.  You can write your first two minutes of local jokes over a cup of coffee. 

One nice thing about where I live, eight minutes from the St. Louis Funnybone, is that I take a few side roads with three stoplights, no traffic and can show up ten minutes before showtime.  There’s no green room there so it’s hard not to get in the way while the crowd is coming in.  For a ton of other pre-show etiquette check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  MCs have a bad habit of annoying the staff without even knowing it.  I spent over three years as a doorman at a club and know what pisses managers off the most. 

Getting to a one-nighter earlier than necessary can have disadvantages such as the person in charge trying to introduce you to half the crowd before you take the stage.  A lot of times they’re tipsy and annoying and the last people you want to deal with after a long drive.  You want to remain invisible to the crowd before the show (it just helps for some reason).  If you’re in a buffet line with them thirty minutes before you take the stage, it cancels out the whole illusion of being a professional comic from a far away land. 

Even when a booker sends you the show itinerary, it’s still a good idea to call the club/bar, talk to the person who’ll be in charge that night, introduce yourself, and ask him what time the show starts.  Then you can just tell him when you’ll get there.  And even though thirty minutes seems excessive sometimes, it’s a nice favor for the manager not to have to fret over whether you’ll show or not.  If nothing else, give them a call to let them know you’re in town.  The smoother you make their night, the more nice things they’ll say about you to the booker which leads to more work.

2012 in review and thank you’s

Just some numbers I’m proud of…thank you for all of your visits and I hope to keep it going strong for another year…

I especially want to thank Eric Yoder, Steve Sabo, Rob Little, Dave Nelson, Dana Sitar, and others for sharing links on Facebook and other through other means.  I know there were more of you but it doesn’t tell me who.

Thank you to Wayne Manigo for spreading word about my book in the Washington D.C. scene.  Thank you to Michael Alfano, Matt I. and Matt B. for all of the work this year.  Also, thank you to Dan Chopin and Al Canal for many a gig as well.

Thank you to the comics I got advice from including Jeremy Essig, Greg Warren, Andy Smith, Josh Arnold, Heath Hyche, Matt Conty, Steve Sabo, and many others.

Thank you to Jimmy Pardo and the Never Not Funny Crew for plugging my book so many times on their podcast.  Thank you to the many other podcasts that allowed me to spread the word about Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

Thank you to Kris Wernowsky for being a good sport and inspiring so many topics to blog about.  Thank you to the Kansas City Scene, the Wasington D.C. scene, the Chattanooga Scene, and the Columbus, Ohio scene for letting me be a part of your Facebook groups as an outsider.

I know I’ve forgotten some so check back as I add more in the future, or just shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to plug you on here as well.  I need to wrap this up and head home…

And now, the little graphics and numbers that WordPress will have me share…

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 15,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

What I miss…

Sometimes I find myself scrolling through my phone contacts for one reason or another thinking, “If I quit comedy, I could delete about 75% of these numbers.”  Honestly, I could delete close to that and it wouldn’t even matter.  I’ll never call them again.  A good chunk of them are comics who I worked with before 2008 when I was out on the road a lot more.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m married and not lonely/bored or because of Facebook, but I don’t stay in touch with those out of the blue phone calls anymore.  I rarely even get a comic’s phone number these days.  Either I’ve worked with them enough to know I’ll see them within a year, or I don’t feel like talking to them anymore, we just don’t exchange numbers like we used to.  I’m not sure if it’s just me…or maybe it was just me doing it in the first place (that can’t be true), or maybe we’ve all gotten lazy because of social networking…I’ve let it get to the point that if I called some of these comics it would be weird.  It’s unfortunate because that’s one of my favorite things about the job.  I like making new friends (which is hard to do after 25), and it was a perfect excuse to add a buddy.  Some of it might be that I work with headliners who are older now.  I don’t know, but I let a lot of good connections slip away and unless they work one of the four clubs (okay, three) I work on a regular basis, I probably won’t see them for years if ever again at all.  So…call me.  It’s okay.

Here’s something I don’t miss…fellow comics lying to me.  The first week I MCed on the road the feature act felt the need to tell me about all his crazy escapades including his 4-way with three other women (one was in Playboy).  The lies went on from there and I learned to catch on to these types of storytellers.  How lonely is the road that you need to impress the MC?  Was my conversation that bad? (to be fair, it may have been at that age.)

So this week’s tips:  Stay in touch via phone and don’t lie.  For other not so common yet helpful tips order my book here.

And Missouri residents, I’ve got some shows in St. Louis and Columbia you can check out here for this month (January).  I know what you’re thinking…Does it include one at an Elk’s Lodge?  Of course.

When it’s okay to feel good about the next guy eating it…

(I worry this title might somehow end up in the wrong message board.)

Thanks for your patience on the entries.  I had PRK surgery a few days ago (like LASIK only more  painful) so I can’t see the screen all that well just yet.  I haven’t been on stage in over two weeks which I haven’t done in years, but at the last show I was in, fellow St. Louis comic, Josh Arnold and I were talking about some of the tough rooms we had both worked.  Turns out he doesn’t do well with hipsters either.  It made me feel better because anyone (other than that room of hipsters) who’s seen Josh knows he’s hilarious.  (Seriously, I’m not doing an open mic BS intro, he’s very funny.)  We got to talking about how some nights as a feature you don’t have the greatest set, but then the headliner goes up and has a challenging time too.  Disregard what Seinfeld says about “it’s never the crowd,” …sometimes it’s the crowd.  And it’s not that we root against the headliner 99% of the time, it’s just a bit of comfort to know that someone who’s probably funnier and more experienced can’t win them over either.  “It’s not me, it’s them!”

The point is this…Before you beat yourself up over a bad set or praise yourself for a good one, decide how the other comics on the bill did and if they’re similar enough to compare your set with.  Some comics might have no idea what I’m getting at here and that’s fine.  But I’ve had this conversation with enough people in the business to know it’s worth sharing.  And now if you’ll excuse me and probably a couple of typos, I have some eye drops to put in.