Monthly Archives: September 2013

Stand up comedy – getting bookings

Whatever your profession, there will be one significant challenge that all colleagues agree is a pain.  In the world of stand up comedy, most comedians would probably agree that one of their biggest gripes is that of having to deal with bookers.  Even to the more experienced and well known comedians they are practiced at making themselves unavailable and this is even more of a problem for novice comedians trying to get their break.

Though you may well appreciate why this is, the fact they are facing a daily barrage of communications from artists seeking a slot on a limited listing, nevertheless it’s extremely frustrating and time consuming for the artist.

Well before you even begin to waste your time or theirs, be sure you have the basics covered.  Don’t pursue bookings unless you are sure you can fulfil the commitment, both in terms of time and material.  It sounds obvious, but some novices assume they can prepare once they have the booking, you cannot!  Make sure you are confident you have tried and tested material and can perform a routine for the length of the time of the booking.  In most cases, this will be 15 minutes, though in some cases the club owner might give a 5 to 10 minute slot to review your routine.  You will not be appreciated and therefore not get any re-bookings if you perform for less or more time than your slot.  Don’t assume that if you bomb you will not be rebooked.  Though you may have burned a bridge, some club owners are very forgiving and might have seen the potential in the performance of a novice.

If you have contacts on the comedy scene, try to get a recommendation from a proven headliner.  This really does improve your chances over a cold call to the club owner.  However, this is not as easy as it sounds, as sometimes established artists are reluctant to endorse your act in case it later reflects badly on them, so be prepared for rejection.

You should also consider developing a bio kit or media kit.  This basically consists of a biography, a DVD (or electronic file if you are e-mailing) of one of your sets and your comedy resume.  Again, be prepared for rejection.  Given the number of submissions they receive, some club owners may not even bother to view yours, but there is a chance that of the many you send, one or few will result in a booking.

A newer option for comics is the availability of online booking sites.  Usually you pay a subscription fee to get listed on the site and then will be alerted to the availability of new bookings which you then bid for.

 

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The origins of stand up

We all love stand up.  We want the relief laughter gives us from the strife we encounter in our daily life.  They help us leave all our troubles behind with joy and laughter of comedy and it’s true it’s one of the best medicines we can have.

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If you’ve read the biographies of many stand up comedians, one thing you’ll recognise almost immediately is how hard being a stand up comedian can be, particularly in their early days.  They master their art and make it look unforced, but this belies the hard work they have put in to get to that stage and how natural and comfortable they appear.

So, is stand up comedy a modern remedy for our daily life ills?  Not at all.  The origins of modern stand up comedy can probably be traced back centuries, way before the days of TV and comedy clubs.  Even in medieval times, people used comedy and laughter as an escape and jugglers, mimics and puppeteers were employed to entertain and to make people laugh.

Probably the hardest job, which might make the challenges of today’s stand up seem insignificant, was the job of court jester.  If a current day stand up bombs, the personal consequences usually amount to nothing more than a dip in confidence and a slight embarrassment.  A court jester on the other hand would be slightly more worried about being unable to make royalty laugh.  If there was a failure to amuse the court, sometimes the penalty might be as severe as a whipping or even imprisonment!  Difficult to perform and be relaxed under these circumstances I would have thought…

Even back in those days though, the material might be somewhat controversial.  As long as they were funny and had the court laughing, it was not uncommon for jesters to include material that would poke fun at guests at court or even at the royal party themselves.  Often the material would be accompanied by physical humor, much like some of today’s performers.

As comedy evolved, the jester became less common and comedians then began to ply their trade in comedy plays.  Though sometimes in the theatres that began to emerge, more usually these plays were performed on the street trying to attract donations for food and lodgings much like buskers and street performers do today.

Since the modern age of TV and internet, we are now able to watch our favourite comedians in the comfort of our own homes at our own convenience.  Though in reality, the concept of standing up and making people laugh has changed little over the centuries.

Writing comedy material

Whilst most well known comedians are known as much for their delivery style as the type of material they perform, nevertheless the content can be as specific and unique to the performer as their delivery and on stage persona.

Having decided to embark on the road to being a stand up,  you will need to write your own material.   When starting to write comedy material, there are some basic rules that the writer should bear in mind and that will help avoid some potential pitfalls.

  • Write about what you know.  The key to being funny is to be believable and an audience will consider you phony if they sense your comedy is not coming from the heart.  Look for topics that interest you, or situations that you are familiar with.  If you cannot find humor in your everyday life and situations you probably should not be considering a future in stand up comedy.
  • As you are writing, bear in mind your usual style of delivery.  On paper it might come across as hilarious but unless it is supported by good delivery and you can perform it confidently and comfortably, the joke will fall flat.
  • You MUST be original.  There is no bigger sin in comedy than stealing another performers material.  That’s not to say you cannot cover issues and situations that other comedians cover, but do not recycle and package other comedians material in your own performance.
  • Write, write and write some more.  This cannot be exaggerated enough.  Just as you will be practicing your performance over and over, you should also be getting more and more experience at writing.  Admit when an idea doesn’t come off.  Sometimes you will work on material then admit it’s not working and it isn’t funny.  Bin it.  This is not failure, but a key skill in writing good material.  As you write more and more, your skills will develop, the better your sense of humor will become and you will find it easier to sift through your material to unearth the gems that you will later include in your performance.

 

Many comedians rely on the content and delivery of the written word to convey humour to the audience, but there are many examples of comedians who use physical comedy in their act as way of making you laugh.  In the more extreme, this can be with little or no words, with the humour derived from the exaggeration of physical comic elements of the stereotype or character being portrayed.  More subtly and perhaps more commonly, certain physical aspects will be included by the comedian to enhance a humorous element when setting the scene in their routine or to better engage with their audience.

Dane Cook

Dane has earned himself a reputation as one of today’s most prolific stand up comedians.  He has undertaken a wide variety of projects in recent years, not only in comedy but also as an actor.  He has delighted audiences with his combination of clever wordplay, witty observations of human behaviour, delivered in his charismatic style and energetic physical comedy.  His guy next door attitude has left him a favourite with audiences of all ages.

Dane’s big break came in 1998 when he appeared on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend.  Since then he has toured including two record breaking appearances at Boston Garden, had numerous TV appearances, released a number of albums/DVD’s and spends several hours a day answering fans e-mails.  His boundless energy no doubt equipped him well when in 2007, Cook brook the Laugh Factory’s endurance record by performing for 3 hours and 50 minutes.  When this was broken only 5 days later by Dave Chapelle, Cook later broke the record again on January 1, 2008 by performing for a mammoth 7 hours.

Johnny Sanchez

Though raised in the San Joaquin Valley, California, Johnny is a third generation Mexican American and is considered one of America’s premier comedians.  His frenetic energy and characterisations matched with his unrivalled storytelling abilities have left him a club favourite across America.  Having started his career in the melting pot of Los Angeles, he long since discovered the art of captivating an audience of all ages and cultures and is considered not only a great comedian but a true performer.

As well as his regular club shows, Johnny has toured with Louie Anderson and Paul Rodriquez and has many TV appearances to his credit.  He also worked alongside Robin Williams and Elijah Wood when he undertook a voice part in the animated movie Happy Feet.

Stan Up Comedians Who Are Physical in Their Performances

Many comedians rely on the content and delivery of the written word to convey humour to the audience, but there are many examples of comedians who use physical comedy in their act as way of making you laugh.  In the more extreme, this can be with little or no words, with the humour derived from the exaggeration of physical comic elements of the stereotype or character being portrayed.  More subtly and perhaps more commonly, certain physical aspects will be included by the comedian to enhance a humorous element when setting the scene in their routine or to better engage with their audience.

Dane Cook

Dane has earned himself a reputation as one of today’s most prolific stand up comedians.  He has undertaken a wide variety of projects in recent years, not only in comedy but also as an actor.  He has delighted audiences with his combination of clever wordplay, witty observations of human behaviour, delivered in his charismatic style and energetic physical comedy.  His guy next door attitude has left him a favourite with audiences of all ages.

Dane’s big break came in 1998 when he appeared on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend.  Since then he has toured including two record breaking appearances at Boston Garden, had numerous TV appearances, released a number of albums/DVD’s and spends several hours a day answering fans e-mails.  His boundless energy no doubt equipped him well when in 2007, Cook brook the Laugh Factory’s endurance record by performing for 3 hours and 50 minutes.  When this was broken only 5 days later by Dave Chapelle, Cook later broke the record again on January 1, 2008 by performing for a mammoth 7 hours.

Johnny Sanchez

Though raised in the San Joaquin Valley, California, Johnny is a third generation Mexican American and is considered one of America’s premier comedians.  His frenetic energy and characterisations matched with his unrivalled storytelling abilities have left him a club favourite across America.  Having started his career in the melting pot of Los Angeles, he long since discovered the art of captivating an audience of all ages and cultures and is considered not only a great comedian but a true performer.

As well as his regular club shows, Johnny has toured with Louie Anderson and Paul Rodriquez and has many TV appearances to his credit.  He also worked alongside Robin Williams and Elijah Wood when he undertook a voice part in the animated movie Happy Feet.

Being controversial in your stand up

Of the various comedy styles, arguably the most famous stand-ups are masters of the art of observational comedy more than any other.  In this more liberal age, more and more are being successful at pulling off routines that manage to offend but in a humorous way.

Firstly, let’s be clear, this kind of comedy is not as easy as it looks.  If you are a happy go lucky, smiley kind of performer, it may not be for you.  Comedians who pull of this kind of humor tend to be dead pan, pessimistic and sarcastic in their on stage persona’s, so think firstly if your persona lends itself to this kind of humor.

I would at this point, just issue this warning.  The world of stand up comedy is extremely challenging and even more so if you adopt a style of sarcastic or controversial humor.  You will need a very thick skin to overcome the inevitable abuse and negative feedback from those members of the audience or critics who think you have crossed a line or simply don’t find this kind of humor funny.

In all our blogs about comedy, we’ve impressed upon the need to master your art by practicing and by watching others performers as much as possible.  However, particularly in the case of controversial stand up, to stand out you need to be original.  Be sure you are not basing your act in just copying the style and material of another stand up.  You may find mixing a number of attitudes and looks from other performers give you a base for your own stage persona.  Very few use a character totally different from their own persona, so if you’re a baseball cap and t-shirt kinda guy, probably a suit and tie won’t work for you.  If needs be, try a few out during your practices and rehearsals and see which lends itself best to you being comfortable and confident.

In terms of your material, as well as general observations of daily life, you will be able to source new material by being up to date with current events.  If you have a talent for controversial humor, there’s unlikely to be any event, however contentious or tragic, that cannot be used.

When you begin to market yourself or trying to attract bookings, you need to be clear in the type of performance an audience can expect and hopefully this will lead to you attracting audiences who enjoy your style and material.  No matter how funny you or your routine is, if you have a room full of grannies expecting good clean jokes, you will bomb!

 

Controversial topics for a stand up

Perhaps the major skill of a good stand up comedian is the ability to draw out and emphasise humorous elements of everyday mundane occurrences and circumstances that most of us don’t even notice.

Whilst performing and entertaining is sometimes about pushing the boundaries, just how far can you go as a stand up comedian?  Is there anything that should be off topic for a joke?

Well being funny is always difficult and that’s even more so when you start considering controversial or complex issues.  However, there are a great many examples of comedy writers and performers managing to make their audiences laugh when they have covered what could be regarded as controversial issues, so how do they do it and what do you need to think about if you’re going to try it?

I’m covering in this article some things you may wish to consider if you are going to include controversial topics in your routine:

Can you use less controversial elements of a controversial topic?  Whilst the primary subject matter might be controversial, in some cases an audience might be more receptive to the humor if you cover a less sensitive area of a much wider subject.   Most highly controversial subjects will have some areas that are less sensitive and therefore less likely to offend.

Are you being fair?  Try and represent both sides of an issue and avoid simply making fun or mocking.  If you do start to mock, avoid making it personal by appearing to mock a number of views/groups.

Have you used the right tone?  Think about the wording and how you deliver the subject.  Sometimes just a one word change or an emphasis on a particular element of the joke can make it funny instead of sounding like you are being mean.

Have you remained respectful?  Remember, you are trying to be funny and you are not using your routine to say that anyone who doesn’t agree with your standpoint is stupid or evil.  Make sure you remain respectful to all views both in your material and of your audience.

As a seasoned stand-up, you will probably no doubt have already developed a thick skin and you will likely need it once you’ve gone down the road of covering controversial issues in your comedy.  Be prepared for some audiences not to enjoy it and for any criticism that might come your way.  Not everyone will like it or agree with you, but if done correctly, you will have made a lot of people laugh and perhaps even made some people start to think about the topic in a different way.

Good Luck!