On a recent episode of comedian Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank podcast, Comedy Central’s Senior Vice President of Talent and Specials Jonas Larsen stopped by to discuss his perspective on the business. While the majority of the two-hour podcast was filled with valuable information, here’s a few of the most relevant pieces of information for Connected Comedy readers.
You might never make it on to Comedy Central, but Larsen’s advice can still help you become a better/more successful comedian in general. You can listen to the full episode here.
1. Be Ready To Deliver New Material – And Don’t Make It Controversial
At about the 45-minute mark, Larsen explains that advertising sales are ultimately what runs a TV network and that “controversy is not a good thing to sell advertising.” This means if you want to get on TV, being unnecessarily blue or racy will hurt your chances.
He also discusses the importance of continuing to create new things even after you get a break or some exposure. He hates having an opportunity spring up for a person, only to have them not prepared to go with new material from the last time they got their shot.
He also added that standup in particular is truly the life blood of Comedy Central, and that they feel it properly grooms a lot of the talent they currently have on the network for them to develop – citing Daniel Tosh, Jon Stewart, Amy Schumer, and Anthony Jeselnik as examples of standup comics who have evolved into having their own non-standup shows on the network.
2. Take Social Media Seriously
At around the 66-minute mark, Larsen talks about the importance of social media to comedians and their sometimes conflicted relationship with it. He feels that a lot of young comics don’t want to feel like they’re sell-outs, or selling themselves too hard, but suggests instead that you do a better job of using social media to let people know how they can engage with you, either by shows or by where you’re most socially active.
Larsen says there’s a lot of clutter in comedy, noting that you have to stand out and give people a reason to watch you instead of the other thousands of comics getting on stage. Even once you get to the point to where you get an hour special, the hard work is only beginning. Now that people have a clue of who you are, what are you going to do to keep their attention and keep them as fans?
He also stresses the importance of YouTube – pointing out that a lot of people get noticed on there, but it’s up to the comedian to figure out how to use it to their benefit.
Larsen also shares a story about Paul F. Tompkins, who was in a rut and then posted on Facebook, “Hey, if you can get 300 ppl to buy tickets, i’ll come to your town wherever you are.” It worked greatly and he used that momentum to help propel him to where he’s at.
3. You Can Write More Than You Realize
At around the 73-minute mark, Shaffir talks about how he tries to write a new hour every year. He says that while it was scary at first and didn’t think he could do it, it breaks down to about a new 5 minutes a month, and that by the second year it wasn’t as hard to write the new hour.
He said Louis CK told him that if he was all of a sudden not allowed to do any of his old jokes, that he wouldn’t stop being a comedian – he’d just write new stuff. He used that mindset as motivation to keep his nose to the grindstone and keep working on new material until he came up with 15 minute chunks he was proud of.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Fail
At around the 78-minute mark, Larsen says sometimes the biggest mistake is being afraid to fail. He is not a believer in “because something didn’t work, it’ll never work.” Sometimes your biggest mistakes can become your greatest asset.
He also talks about how young comics shouldn’t limit themselves. Don’t be afraid to try different forms of comedy to see where you feel most comfortable – doing things you’re unfamiliar with can also make you a more well-rounded performer.
5. How To Get Past “No”
At around the 127-minute mark Shaffir talks about hearing “no” so often that it made him work harder, and made him work without standards because he knew he was writing for himself, not TV. Realizing his material would never get him on TV, he focused on becoming a “write a new hour a hour a year and tour, that’s how you’ll get known” guy, he was happier and more effective by writing for himself and not people who were never going to like what he did.
Larsen added that, “We’re wrong sometimes,” and cautioned comics not to let rejection keep you from working to get where you want to be. He said Comedy Central is always looking for fresh talent, and you need to know “your voice” if you are going to be in a position to show you belong.
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