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Andy’s Tuesday Tips: What to Write About

Posted on by andy

The beauty of stand-up comedy is that you can write about almost anything, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

Charlie the Tuna was right

Al Franken proved that you have total freedom choosing your topics when he did a set with bits on incest, the Holocaust, and AIDs–and made each one very funny. He was able to pull it off because he mastered a very important skill for comics: He understood what good taste is. Comics who don’t understand good taste look amateurish and only manage to offend people.

Some comics will argue that you can’t, or shouldn’t, attempt to define good taste. If someone likes it, then it’s fine, they say. I disagree. I would define good taste as what the majority agrees with.

Use your passions

You should always write about what you’re passionate about. Use what makes you angry or emotional. Otherwise, why do stand-up? Comics who are passionate are more committed, more focused, and much funnier. It’s a waste to perform bits that you feel ambivalent or indifferent about.

Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor, and Lewis Black are good examples of comics who are unquestionably passionate about their sets, and show it on stage in their own distinct ways.

Refer to your hack list

Print out all the hack lists–the white and black versions–and post them on your refrigerator as a daily reminder of both topics and actual jokes that have been done to death. The list should be ingrained in your mind so that you immediately know to avoid those topics unless you have a unique and different take on them. If you address hack topics, you’re going to be judged on a higher curve than if you stick to original subjects, which should be those that are personal to you.

Write for your audience when necessary

Know your crowd, room, job, and exact situation. If you’re performing at an open mic, ignoring the audience’s reaction is fine. If you’re being paid a good fee, however, tailor your set to please that specific audience. You should not be pushing the envelope at a corporate event that is paying you a large fee. Sometimes you need to sacrifice your art for the rent money.

Build discipline into your process

Write alone for a set period of time each day. This exercise will strengthen your writing muscles by forcing you to produce a minimum number of jokes each day. After you’ve finished your solo writing stint, brainstorm with a partner and bounce ideas off each other. Don’t begin with the brainstorming, though, because you won’t work as hard as when you write under your own steam. Working with a partner makes it easy to get lazy and start depending on the other person to come up with all the good ideas.

Develop material that people can’t steal

Translation: You are writing such truly original and unique bits that if someone did attempt to steal any of them, everybody would know.

Keep your set-ups short and go slow

A lot of beginner comics are notorious for long set-ups. Write yours so you get to the punch as fast as you can.

Takeaway

For a memorable, funny set, write about whatever makes you  passionate and whatever is unique to you.

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Andy’s Tuesday Tips: Blueprint to Being a Working Comedian

Posted on by andy

To make it as a comic, you need to create an overall game plan that includes specific goals, milestones, and schedules. The more organized and focused you are, the easier it will be to get better and achieve your goals. Here are some tips and guidelines you can use:

1. Write for a set amount of time at the same time every day. Writing is a muscle, and you need to work it constantly to develop it. It’s crucial to constantly be writing new material, and not allow your routine to get stale. The best comics are always writing and adding to their sets. Comics get reputations for acts who are constantly writing new stuff and acts who don’t write. Don’t get stale–write regularly.

2. Generate a large amount of new material quickly. Invite ten (or a group) of friends who are not comics, but are supportive, good laughers, and tell them you’ll buy them pizza. Tell them you want their time for a half-hour. You will be creating a “writers workshop.” At this workshop, you will have your notepad with 25 concepts, ideas, jokes, stories, possible rants, etc. that you want to develop into concrete, specific bits. You will actively read your lines and ask the group for their feedback and ideas, trying out specific bits and workshopping them as well.

3. Stage time. It’s important to set up an open mic schedule that you commit too. It’s too easy to blow off open mics, and say you’re too tired. You need to be getting up as often as possible. You also need to be trying material that is edgy and untested; risking it at the open mic is the perfect place for you to fail safely. You must have a room where you can fail on a regular basis. In addition, stay after open mics and network. These are potential gigs–contacts who can potentially introduce you to people down the line.

4. Don’t waste time. Due to the very nature of stand-up comedy itself, it is very easy to waste time and not use every minute on stage. You are at an open mic, the crowd is small and not attentive, so you blow off the set and you don’t work on new bits. Don’t do that. Every single second you are on stage, no matter how small the crowd or how disinterested, is an opportunity to try something new. Whether it’s a whole new bit, or just a tweaking of an old one, every moment on stage is valuable. If you’re serious, you don’t want to ever waste your stage time.

5. Listen very carefully to each set and take notes. If you want the big money, you need to do your homework and take copious notes every single time you’re on stage. If you are in the zone and doing an improv rant, you are guaranteed not to remember what you said. In these situations, your tape is invaluable. It’s the only way to get better. You might have some amazing new lines, but you won’t know them unless you listen to your set on a regular basis. After you’ve taken notes, implement and incorporate them into your set.

6. Immerse yourself in comedy. Read the best autobiographies on comedians such as Steve Martin and George Carlin. Watch the comics who inspire you. You will learn from  them, and it will help you through the tough times. Also, watch the best free comedy shows: Whiplash UCB, Knitting Factory (Sunday night), The Creek and The Cave (lots of free shows). Stay current with what’s happening by frequenting internet sites such as Splitsider.com, Laughspin.com, and HuffPo Comedy.

Takeaway

Set up a comedy schedule for yourself and commit to it to make sure that you’re making progress each day.

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Andy’s Tuesday Tips: How to Deal with Hecklers

Posted on by andy

Many beginners ask me how to deal with hecklers. That’s one of their biggest fears.

My best advice is to relax. Beginners generally don’t face hecklers, certainly not at a well-produced show or a good open mic. Dealing with hecklers shouldn’t be your main concern. Rather, you should be aware that they exist, but not obsessed with them. Approach hecklers as part of the job. You’ll learn how to master the problem and get better at it over time.

The strongest defense to hecklers is to be funny. Getting laughs from the majority of the room puts you in a strong position. When you’re doing well and someone tries to attack you, it makes the heckler look like an idiot.

But if you’re mean-spirited, really low-brow, offensive, racist, and are doing bits that gets groans, you are instigating hecklers. Note that I would distinguish between a smart political bit that gets groans, and a racist, low-brow bit that gets groans. Groans are not good in the latter respect; delete the bit and change your act.

There are many different types of interruptions by hecklers you’ll have to deal with, ranging from the innocuous and non-threatening to the vicious, nasty ones. The mild, good-spirited hecklers should be dealt with very differently than the nasty ones. Also, if you’re dealing with a heckler at a non-paid event, the pressure is much less severe. If you’re getting paid, though, you’d better finish off the person and win it.

Keep these points in mind:

Lesson 1

Ascertain right away if the person is drunk. If so, you want to end the situation fast yourself, or get security involved. You don’t want to invite a long interaction with a drunk person, although some pros can do that with certain hecklers and manage to get laughs.

Lesson 2

You don’t have to respond to the first heckle. Sometimes the person will only make one small remark, and you can just keep going–no harm, no foul.  If the heckler continues, however, you should hit back hard and fast. A second heckle shows bad intentions, so the fact that you waited after the first one and gave the person a chance means you are on very solid ground.

Lesson 3

An organic response is often the best. Answer the heckler with whatever comes off the top of your head. If it will make you feel more secure, though, you can write your own stock heckler retorts and keep them in your back pocket.

Lesson 4

Stay cool. Never forget that it’s your show. You have the mic and the power. If you’re struggling with someone, just call for security (if there is any).  You always have a get-out-of-jail-free card–it’s the security, host and producer. You are going to win every encounter no matter what.

Lesson 5

How do you become adept at handling hecklers?

Study other comedians dealing effectively with hecklers

Eight Types of Hecklers

10 Cases of Hecklers Getting Destroyed

Takeaway

Finally, remember that most audiences are on your side, and want you to shut down the heckler.

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Andy’s Tuesday Tips: How to Start Hosting Shows

Posted on by andy

This week, the celebrated MCS blog launches a new feature for readers: Every Tuesday, Andy Engel, MCS Founder/Owner and Gotham Comedy Club’s Director of New Talent, will offer invaluable advice and guidance on how to become a successful comedian. He’ll cover all the insider aspects of the business, provide tips for making your set work, and inform you on how to be funnier longer and more consistently. Be sure to check in every Tuesday to learn something new from this veteran producer and industry expert.

 

Hosting is a great skill for any young comic to master for several reasons, but a key point I want to stress is this: Don’t try to host until you have at least 10 minutes of really strong jokes and bits that you can pull out of your back pocket when you need to.

Nothing says “amateur” more than a rookie host who ends up having a dead conversation with no laughs–and isn’t able to pull out a strong joke to save him/herself. It’s worse than just doing a bad set where you’re the only one who suffers. If you’re not ready to host yet, your lack of experience affects the whole show in a negative way. When you try hosting too early, every time you go up, it’s a constant reminder that you’re not ready and struggling.

When you are ready to start hosting, there are several benefits.

When you continually return to the stage in an evening, you very quickly lose any nerves or butterflies you once had. It measurably raises your confidence level. When you’re a host getting a lot more time on stage, you start to develop a comfort level that just doing spots won’t give you as quickly. You gain a certain fluidity and ability to converse with audience members, and develop the very useful skill of improvising and thinking off the top of your head. Many young comics stick to their set lists without any deviation, which makes their sets more rigid and stiff.

Hosting adds a whole new dimension to your set by giving you the freedom to go off script comfortably, and then come back if you want to. Consequently, it dramatically increases a comic’s confidence, stage presence, and command of the room–all vital for any young comic.

Hosting is not the same as doing a set. It requires a very different mindset. You don’t have the proverbial comedy gun to your head, meaning you don’t have to get a laugh with every crowd interaction. You can have a conversation and learn something about an audience member without having to push for a laugh. As a comic just doing a set, your goal is usually to kill it, to get consistent laughs.  Your goal as a host is very different: to create a positive vibe and energy in the room, bring everyone together, and literally be the host of the party. And just as if you were hosting a party in your house (but with several obvious differences, of course), if someone is a little loud, you gently ask them to quiet down.

You’ll make an effective host if you:

The takeaway:  Hosting is a great way for young comics to get a lot of stage time and get booked on shows.

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Jerry Seinfeld Talks to the People

Posted on by Emily Rosenberg

Jerry Seinfeld talked about more than airplane peanuts and the weirdness of dating when he did a recent AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit.com. More than 14,000 posters eagerly crowded into the thread to ask questions and banter back and forth with the friendly and engaging comedian, who appeared live from the popular site’s offices to discuss his 40 years as a stand-up comic, actor, writer, and producer for TV, movies and his new web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Noting that Louis C.K., another popular AMA host, had recommended his own reddit experience, Jerry was on hand for quite some time to talk with everyone. He responded to a wide variety of  questions about his stand-up work, Seinfeld, The Bee Movie, CCC, his vast car collection, and everything from his opinion on the use of social media, to his Superman comic collection, to whether he’s ever tried a recipe from his wife’s cookbooks (yes, the pepper steak once). He also offered a preview of next week’s episode of CCC.

A few of the many intriguing, comedy-related exchanges:

Q: Were there ever story ideas that you had to scrap for Seinfeld because you felt they pushed the limits too far?

JS: Yes. There was one episode where Jerry bought a handgun. And we started making it and stopped in the middle and said “this doesn’t work.” We did the read-through and then cancelled it. A lot of other stuff happened, but trying to make that funny ended up being no fun.

Q: Where did the idea of, in Seinfeld, your character being a comedian for a profession, but be the straight man for your friends, come from?

JS: The reason I would play straight was it was funnier for the scene. And very few people have ever remarked on this, because it was a conscious choice of mine, only because I knew it would make the show better, and I didn’t care who was funny as long as somebody was funny and that the show was funny. So you have hit upon one of the great secret weapons of the Seinfeld series, was that I had no issue with that.

Q: Any stories that you can tell about your most memorable heckle? Or how did you handle your first when doing stand-up?

JS: Very early on in my career, I hit upon this idea of being the Heckle Therapist. So that when people would say something nasty, I would immediately become very sympathetic to them and try to help them with their problem and try to work out what was upsetting them, and try to be very understanding with their anger. It opened up this whole fun avenue for me as a comedian, and no one had ever seen that before. Some of my comedian friends used to call me — what did they say? — that I would counsel the heckler instead of fighting them. Instead of fighting them, I would say “You seem so upset, and I know that’s not what you wanted to have happen tonight. Let’s talk about your problem” and the audience would find it funny and it would really discombobulate the heckler too, because I wouldn’t go against them, I would take their side.

Q:  I just watched the episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Louis C.K. . . . You said that the whole drug side effects [topic] was a bad comedy premise. As a guy who wants to do what you do because of you, and just someone interested in stuff, why do you think that’s a bad premise? 

JS: It’s too obviously dumb to make fun of. And it’s been made fun of by countless comedians, so that’s your first signal of a subject to avoid. If you’ve seen eight comedians talk about something, you want to not talk about that, unless you can talk about it in a completely new way.

 

Get yourself a big bottle of Snapple and some Drake’s Coffee Cakes, and settle in to check the whole thing out. It’s entertaining, informative, and full of fascinating, fun trivia. You’ll even be moved by a touching account of how Jerry feels about Richie Rich now that he himself has attained a similar level of affluence.

 

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The Ultimate Christmas Cheer: Comedy Class Gift Certificates!

Posted on by Emily Rosenberg

Give the funny person in your life the gift of becoming even funnier this holiday season.

Manhattan Comedy School is offering gift certificates for any Level 1 class, valid for up to six months from the date of purchase. Just e-mail the full name, e-mail address, and phone number of the lucky person you’re treating.

A unique gift that truly keeps on giving, MCS’s fun and informative stand-up comedy classes are perfect for friends, family members, co-workers, even yourself.

But wait, there’s more: Buy a gift certificate before Wednesday, December, 25th, and you’ll receive $50 off the purchase price, plus a pair of comp Gotham Comedy Club tickets–worth another $50! You’ll save $100 to put toward your terrifying holiday booze bills.

Grateful giftees can register for an eight-week Level 1 Stand-up Comedy class that begins as soon as January 6th, 2014. That one’s taught by industry vet Cory Kahaney, and the next one, led by Karen Bergreen, starts January 28th. Plenty of holiday cheer to go around!

Increase the ho-ho-ho’s of the season by giving the gift of comedy. Buy your gift certificates today.

 

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RIP Robert Wachs, Co-Founder of The Comic Strip

Posted on by Emily Rosenberg

Robert Wachs, co-founder of the legendary New York City comedy club The Comic Strip, died last week of pancreatic cancer at the age of 73. His career as a force in the entertainment industry endured half a century.

A manager for Eddie Murphy for more than a decade, as well as producer of several of the comedian’s starring vehicles, Wachs opened the Upper West Side comedy club in 1975, along with partners Richard Tienken and John McGowan. Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Billy Crystal, and Sam Kinison were among the comics who performed there in the early stages of their careers.

Eddie Murphy, an as-yet unknown teenager, attempted to sneak onstage to audition his act in 1979. Wachs kicked him out–but saw potential and allowed Murphy to perform the following week. Less than two years later, he was a featured cast member on Saturday Night Live. Wachs went on to produce two of Murphy’s stand-up TV specials and a number of successful films starring the comic, including Eddie Murphy Raw, Coming to America, and The Golden Child. 

A native New Yorker and longtime entertainment lawyer, Wachs had been working on a musical featuring the songs of Paul Jabara.

 

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Investing in a Good Punchline

Posted on by Emily Rosenberg

There’s a reason why “funny” rhymes with “money.”

At Manhattan Comedy School, where some of the the industry’s most popular comedians have honed their craft, more and more people in corporate jobs are signing up to learn how to write a joke, deliver it, and get onto the stand-up stage in New York City. Lately, an increasing number of those corporate professionals are coming up to the mic from the finance field.

This interesting trend may be one response to an economy where “unsatisfied workers on Wall Street and elsewhere seek a comedic outlet,” reports a recent FOX Business feature, possibly because everyone needs cheering up over decreasing job opportunities and dwindling bank account balances.

The new influx of students hold positions at investment banks and other major financial industry companies like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, says MCS founder and owner Andy Engel. While some sign on with the goal of  enhancing their careers, others are ready to take the plunge into becoming stand-up comedians on a full-time basis.

Now available for more than a decade, MCS’s eight-week course has always attracted not just would-be entertainers, but professionals including doctors, attorneys, and sales representatives who want to polish their public speaking skills and improve their client presentations. The skills and aptitudes they learn under the tutelage of  seasoned comedy industry vets–like Corey Kahaney, Wali Collins, and Karen Bergreen–are invaluable to anyone who wants to be more effective when they appear in front of an audience, whether it’s a single patient or a roomful of conference attendees. In fact, most of the students, whose graduation ceremony is in the form of a live stand-up show at the storied Gotham Comedy Club, have a day job they intend to keep–while being much more entertaining at it.

If dealing with the the stock market is getting you down, register today for the next Level 1 MCS course, starting Tuesday, November 19th. Hurry, before a bunch of those Wall Street vipers grab all the spaces.

 

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Free Comedy Seminar for the Funny in You

Posted on by Emily Rosenberg

What are you doing on Saturday, November 9th? If you are, ever have been, or want to know if you’re funny, you should be going to Manhattan Comedy School‘s FREE Comedy Seminar, “You Can Do Stand-Up Comedy.” This afternoon event is packed with valuable information you can use whether you want to improve your public speaking skills, ramp  up your sales presentations, or get started in stand-up comedy. Thanks to the four industry pros who run the session, it’s also wildly entertaining.

The topics they’ll cover include:

Learn all this stuff from seminar leaders Wali Collins (Letterman, Comedy Central half-hour special, The View, host of events for President and Michele Obama); Cory Kahaney (HBO, Comedy Central, Letterman); Harrison Greenbaum (Spike TV, WE, SIRIUS Satellite Radio); Karen Bergreen (MCS instructor, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, New Joke City, author of “Following Polly,” with rave reviews from the New York Times and Oprah); and Jimmy Faila (ESPN, Today Show, and his own radio show “Off the Meter” on Westwood One), plus Andrew Engel, Founder of the Manhattan Comedy School and comedy producer.

There’s also a Q&A session. Representatives from the Manhattan Comedy School will be on hand to provide information on the 8-week course taught at New York’s top comedy school. The graduation show for this class is a live performance at Gotham Comedy Club, where students receive a FREE broadcast-quality DVD.

Register TODAY!

Manhattan Comedy School’s FREE Comedy Seminar

“You Can Do Stand-Up Comedy”

Saturday, November 9, 2013
Check in at 11:30 AM

Gotham Comedy Club
208 West 23rd St., Manhattan
between 7th and 8th avenues

For more information, call 212-462-3200

Speakers subject to change.
 The producers of this event reserve the right to exclude anyone.
 
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A Few Minutes on the Stage is Worth Hours on the Couch

Posted on by Emily Rosenberg

You knew doing stand-up was a good way to express your feelings, but who figured it could save your marriage? British comedian John Bishop discovered that working his break-up with his wife into his set was fundamental in helping repair his relationship.

A hard-driving corporate professional in 2000, John’s long hours away from his family wreaked havoc on his seven-year marriage. He and wife Melanie had separated when he seized an unplanned open-mic opportunity, and used his time in front of the mic to assess his heartbreak. The combination of therapeutic release of complicated emotions and positive audience response launched his stand-up career.

But it was when his wife unexpectedly caught his act that John enjoyed the most gratifying audience reaction yet. On a visit to a club where he was performing, Melanie was astonished to find her estranged husband on the stage riffing on the hardship of being separated from her. Witnessing this new side of John, where he spoke openly about his feelings, marked “the moment she began to fall back in love with him.”

They reinforced their reconciliation with more traditional, if less entertaining, clinical therapy, and are now reunited and living with their three sons.

You may even be able to heal thyself: A psychology professor has identified parallels between stand-up comedians and psychotherapists. He suggests that stress reduction works in similar fashion to an effective joke, by setting us up to expect one outcome, and then presenting a different one that is incompatible with our expectations. Most comedians already know this, however, as their experience confirms that a joke that fails induces unbearable stress.

 

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