stand up comedy

How A Comic Got Booked On CONAN

This is a guest post from Connected Comedian Andy Sandford, who recently made his first appearance on CONAN. If you’d like to write a guest post for Connected Comedy, please email me.

I recently got to live out a longtime dream of telling my dumb jokes on CONAN.

Any comedian who has achieved some sort of goal or milestone in comedy (big or small) has had another comedian ask them, “How’d you get that?”

The question itself can have a rude connotation. It can be taken as, “How’d YOU get that and not me?” It could also imply that you “got” it, as opposed to having earned it. That being said, I prefer to assume the best intentions behind “How’d you get that?” because I am very aware that comedy is a pursuit which can leave you aimlessly flummoxed, and there is no real guide book (sorry, Judy Carter).

So when Connected Comedy asked if I’d be interested in writing a guest article about the experience, I figured I’d write what I’d want to read about if I was reading this instead of writing it. So I’ll do my best to appease the me that would be reading this.

I have to state, right off the bat, that I am a firm believer in setting realistic career goals that are momentarily just out of reach, then working as hard as possible to get within reach.

I started planning my album months before a label ever talked to me about doing one. In much the same way, I was dead set on doing a late night spot (specifically CONAN) before I knew the circumstances which would lead to that actually happening.

I’m not talking about “The Secret” here, or a magic ability to will dreams into fruition. I’m just talking about stating and then focusing on the thing you want, knowing why you want it, then being prepared for the opportunity when it comes.

Some folks don’t like to hear this, but the one sure-fire way to help yourself reach your comedy goals is to get funnier and hone your craft.

I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but I include it here to point out that it is far and away THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ALWAYS.

I haven’t met a successful/respected comedian yet who wasn’t mostly consumed by the quality of their material. I think that when you first start getting better at comedy, it is easy to get hung up on this notion of a payout timeline. Success in comedy, however you define it, is almost never linear. You can’t expect a consistent return on the time and effort you’ve invested.

All you can do is focus on your act and put yourself in the best position for the things you want.

With that ranting caveat out of the way, I’ll go into specifics…

Not that this is a how-to, but if you’re aspiring to do a late night set you’re going to need to get a good tape at a good show with good audience reaction. The best material can sound like dog shit if there’s no one laughing at it. Even if the booker is great at their job and can tell if someone’s funny regardless, you are making a first impression here.

Different late night bookers prefer different length sets for the initial tape. If you don’t know exactly who’s going to be watching it, six minutes is a pretty safe bet.

As far as the material goes, regardless of your comedic style, the set should reflect who you are and the kind of comedy you do. Also, make sure your opener is bulletproof.

Once you have a tape, the next logical step would be getting it seen by a late night booker. This is obviously where it can get real tricky.

A lot of comedians let the vagueness of all this create a ceiling where they think, “This is the stuff I have to have a manager for.”

Speaking as a comedian who has never signed with any management, you’ll be happy (or depressed) to know that you don’t need a manager to do a late night spot (or a lot of other things). There’s that old showbiz idiom: “Managers get 10% because they do 10% of the work.”

Percentages may change, but that concept is still very true. You are the only one you can count on to care the most about you. So if you don’t have a manager, you’re just going to have to work that much harder and put yourself in the best position you can.

My way of doing that was moving to New York a few years ago. I didn’t even move here because this is one of two industry hubs, but more so because it is the center of the standup universe, with a ton of shows and really good comedians. I found it to be the best option for my personal progression.There’s a million possible paths, and New York was just what felt right for me.

From being in New York, I ended up doing shows with, and eventually opening for, several great comics who I respect very much. In my pursuit of a late night spot, I asked a multiple late night veteran (who is also an insightful person) for advice on getting late night.

Much to my surprise, mid-conversation, they offered to send a tape to the CONAN booker along with a vouch for me.

This is not something you should ask from anyone directly, and if you are in this situation, realize the weight of a respected comic’s word. Don’t be a fucking idiot and phone it in with someone else’s name on the line. It is a very serious thing and it should be taken very seriously. I had to send two tapes to the comic vouching for me before he would send the tape on to the CONAN booker.

After a few weeks, I got a response from the CONAN booker and the notes process began.

The notes process is just what it sounds like. The booker gives you notes on your set and tells you what they like and don’t like. Mostly what they don’t like, but don’t worry, that means they like you (confusing, I know).

This is why I said earlier that having a six-minute tape was a safe bet, even though just about every late night set is five minutes. The bookers are going to do their job, and your set will be vetted pretty thoroughly.

Luckily, the CONAN booker liked most of my jokes from the initial tape, but I still had to make several changes, replace/cut jokes, and send four more tapes over the course of about four months (which meant filming at least a dozen sets, since making a tape in New York is a nightmare).

I’ve never heard of someone sending one tape and then getting handed their late night debut. My point is: Put as much thought into the set as you can, but then be ready to change it.

It may sound tedious (and will lead to ridiculous emails like, “I agree with your note that the shitting thing after the fart story is a bit much”), but the notes process will most likely force you to produce a much tighter and better five minutes than what you initially had in mind.

After the back-and-forth of getting notes and making new tapes, the final set was agreed upon, and I had to make one more tape to show that it was under five minutes. That’s right: UNDER five.

The last tape of my set that I sent clocked in at about 4:50ish. All of this time and material micromanagement is so that there are no doubts about you going waaay over or under when you tape the set for television. The people at CONAN are not as strict on time when it comes to the actual taping because they know they don’t need to be.

As far as the taping itself: yes, it was a little nerve racking – especially the two-minute wait behind a curtain in anticipation for something you’ve dreamt about a million times. At the same time, I knew I was ready and that I was the good kind of nervous.

Comedy is something where you learn not to get too excited about opportunities, because the bottom can drop out at any time (I’ve almost gotten a ton of stuff).

I’ve gotten used to not getting too hyped about things. However, I have to say, when it comes to doing a late night set: it is impossible to build it up too much in your head. It was way more fun than I could have imagined and only reaffirmed the love for what I do, as well as validate my decision to drop out of high school (jk’ing about that. Stay in school kids).

Finally, what has doing late night done for me?

Well, I don’t really know yet fully since I just recently did it. However, I already know not to expect the moon because I was on TV for five minutes. We should all know that’s not how it works.

Comedy is a lot like chess in that you don’t know where your next steps will leave you, but you have to be ready for multiple outcomes, and then outcomes to those outcomes. At the very least, you have to know how the thing you want can be parlayed into furthering your career.

In my case, I book all of my own roadwork, whether in clubs or independent venues. I knew if I could have a good set on a reputable show, it would help immensely with establishing credibility when booking gigs, and especially with independent venues (the very concept of comedy is a hard sell for them sometimes).

Bitter people will say that doing a late night set doesn’t do a fraction of what it used to. That may be true, but I’m not interested in how things used to be, and am already aware that this is a tough business. The returns, or lack of returns, can’t diminish the experience for me.

I always try to create my own returns anyway.

You can watch Andy’s CONAN set below and connect with him on Twitter.

21 Handwritten Tips For Comedians From Comedians

Andrew Rivers is a comedian and Connected Comedy reader who reached out to me recently to tell me about a great project he’s been working on.

For the past few years he’s asked comedians he comes across at his various performances to write down a bit of advice for him about the art and business of comedy in his notebooks. Besides being a great learning resource for himself, he’s shared many of the 190+ bits of advice he’s received on Tumblr and Facebook.

Here’s 21 of my favorites…














































New to Connected Comedy? Check out my Connected Comedy Members Program to see how else I can help you!

5 Things You Can Learn From Kyle Kinane

Comedian Kyle Kinane is one of the smartest and most respected comedians working today – he also happens to be one of my personal favorites and a guy I’ve worked with in the past who deserves every bit of success he’s had in the past few years.

On a recent episode of The Comedian’s Comedian podcast, he was interviewed by Stuart Goldsmith in what was one of the best discussions about the art of comedy that I’ve heard on any podcast anywhere. I recommend listening to the full episode here, but you can also read some of the highlights of what Kinane had to say below.

1. Comedy Isn’t Easy And Your Comedy Shouldn’t Be For Everybody

At around the 5-minute mark, Kinane shares his take on the current comedy boom and points out that open mics are filled with people trying all kinds of bizarre stuff, wrongly assuming that somehow standup is easy to do.

“There’s more people now than ever in comedy,” he says. “I think people falsely think it’s an easy outlet.”

He goes on to explain why even from when he initially started at open mics, he’s always liked the idea of hearing some groans from people watching his act.

“It shouldn’t be for everybody,” he says. “If it’s for everybody, it can’t really be that great. If everybody likes it, I don’t think they love it.”

2. You Can Wait Until The World Asks You For Something

At around the 14-minute mark, Kinane explains how he’s approached advancing his career and it’s a strategy that flies in the face of what most comedians practice (and what most of the content on this site is, to be perfectly honest).

Basically, he’s chosen not to do anything until people come to him and ask him to do so.

“I never had the self-confidence to be like, ‘Yeah, I got this,'” he says. “I feel like if the world wants you to put it out there, they’ll ask you for it. I never released an album until a label asked me to do it. It’s a much longer way, but at least if I get down that path this way – I know I was asked to be here. I did it the way I wanted to and was asked to go to the next level.”

Kinane admits that his approach is certainly not the only way to succeed and breaks down what he sees as the different ways that comics get ahead in the business.

“There’s people with talent, there’s people with hustle, and there’s people with a mix of both,” he says. “The shorter way [to succeed] is with hustle…but if you don’t have the material to back it up when you get there, you fucked yourself.”

He adds that when he was getting started he didn’t worry about hassling bookers to put him on “good” shows and was content to perform on other shows until the people with the good shows saw him and invited him to do theirs.

“If you’re asking me to do your show, you’re approving of what I’m doing already,” he says.

3. Your Comedy Should Evolve With Your Life

At around the 31-minute mark, Kinane talks about how his comedy has changed as he’s become increasingly successful. He says his biggest goal at the moment is to write “positive comedy,” because it’s more a reflection of his satisfaction with how his career and life have evolved in recent years – and it also helps him stand out from the crowd.

“I realize I’ve got  to separate myself from this pack of sad, bearded white dude comedy,” he says. “I’m trying to make it something that’s more. Something that’s not just jokes. I’m a happy person and it’s disingenuous to go up there [and pretend I’m not].”

Whether positive or not, he stresses the importance of comedians evolving in their act. “I get upset when comedians don’t grow from one thing to the next,” he says.

4. Do More Than Just Make Audiences Laugh

At around the 40-minute mark, Kinane explains how he ultimately found his voice (read more on how to find your voice here) after a string of bad shows at a festival several years ago. Feeling he had blown his big opportunity, he returned to Los Angeles and wound up discovering a new approach to his material.

“I realized…I could do some real weird shit that I think is funny to me, but sounds sad to other people,” he says. “I realized how much more powerful it was for people to understand something as opposed to just laughing at the wording. Laughing at it because you relate is so much different.”

5. Love It Enough To Do It For Free – Forever

At around the 49-minute mark, Kinane talks about how he’s proud of everything he does as a comedian and adds that setting that standard is also a way of “guarding my own happiness.”

He admits to reading comments about himself from critics and other Internet commenters, but manages to not let them affect him too much.

“I read the criticism, but if I don’t think they’re right than I don’t worry about it,” he says.

And finally, he shares some words of wisdom for other comics that are just starting out and hoping to build a successful comedy career.

“Love it enough that you’ll do it for free forever,” he says. “You’re not going to make a living.”

READ THIS NEXT: 5 Things You Can Learn From Jim Norton

The 20 Most Popular Connected Comedy Articles Of 2014

2014 is officially history, but it’s never too late to look back and learn from the articles I posted over the course of the year. Thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, contributing, and being a part of the incredible Connected Comedy community that has developed over the past few years – I appreciate it more than you know.

Below is a breakdown of the 20 most-read posts on the site last year with some brief excerpts of each.

And if that’s not enough to keep you busy, go ahead and check out what were my most popular posts in 2012 and 2011.

20. Case Study: How I Got Facebook Fans And Website Traffic For A Comedian

In determining who to target, you always want to go as specific as possible – the more specific you get, the better the ad will perform. Also, you want to think about what the content is about as opposed to what you (or your website) are about.

19. 5 Things You Can Learn From B.J. Novak’s Appearance On The Nerdist Podcast

“That’s what makes the difference,” he said. “One guy after another kills on stage, but with most of them you don’t feel like you need to know who they are.”

18. 5 Things You Can Learn From Canada’s Biggest Comedy Club Owner

“Don’t hang out with other comics,” he says. “Go to the theater, art galleries, music. [An original voice] doesn’t come from watching comics and imitating them.”

17. 5 Things You Can Learn From Jim Norton

“George Carlin had anger, but look how silly a lot of his delivery was. He let his words talk for him and let the audience come with him…or not. He led them with logic instead of doing the emotional work for them.”

16. 7 Simple Ways To Get More Out Of Twitter

It’s a good idea to post important tweets multiple times during the day/week to ensure that more people see it. Stats have proven you’ll get just as many clicks/interactions the second or third time as you do the first and sometimes more.

15. How To Use A “One-Action” Strategy To Activate Your Audience

What you’ve likely lost sight of in the midst of your hustle is that multitasking is a myth. In reality, people don’t take multiple actions at once, they take one single action at a time.

14. 7 Things You Should Know About The Houston Comedy Scene

The crowds range from extremely diverse to extremely homogenous depending on what side of town you’re on. Houston’s strongest comics tailor their material, with minor tweaks, to work in front of whatever audience they’re performing for that night.

13. 7 Things You Can Learn From Dave Foley Of Kids In The Hall

“The audience has to understand the logic of the joke and if you can’t convey that logic in a concise way, it’s not going to work. You must understand that the people hearing the joke are not in your head – they don’t know your back story to your joke. Their entire universe exists from what you write down and if you don’t have the information in the joke, no one is going to get it.”

12. 5 Things You Can Learn About Comedy Promotion From Steve Hofstetter

“If you do something you wouldn’t have done, because of the money, you’re a sellout. If you take money for doing what you love already, you’re just selling. You’re not selling out,” he says.

11. 5 Things You Can Learn From The Colbert Report’s Head Writer

He explains that a comedy career isn’t like becoming a doctor where you study pre-med, go to medical school and follow a clear path. Because there is no clear path to it, he suggests that you have to be willing to work hard and try everything you can to put yourself into a position where you can get opportunities.

10. The Best Audience For An Unknown Comedian To Connect With

It’s one thing to be funny, it’s another to be interesting. Funny is the minimum, but the way to really connect with people on a more long-term level is for them to become interested in you. There’s no one way to do that, but if you think about it, most comedians that build large, passionate, fanbases have done so with more than just their ability to make people laugh.

9. 5 Things You Can Learn From Adam Carolla On The Solopreneur Hour Podcast

Carolla explains that early on in his career he realized he was not going to be the kind of person who was going to just nail an audition and land a gig. He realized nobody trusted him or thought he was anything special. Taking that into account, he decided early on that if he was going to succeed, he was going to have to create his own vehicle.

8. 7 Things You Can Learn From Manager/Producer Barry Katz

“There’s no way you can’t make money in this business if you get up every morning at six and work till two on your craft and do everything in your power to,” he says. “The only way you can’t make it is if you’re self destructive, doing drugs; if you’re lazy, if you have a sense of entitlement, or if you’re mean or disingenuous.”

7. How 5 Successful Comedians Used Their Websites Before They Got Famous

With a little help from the Internet Archive, I thought I’d go back in time and show you some of the things that today’s biggest comics were doing years ago – when both their fanbases and the Internet audience as a whole was a fraction of what it is today. It’s a good reminder that success online doesn’t happen overnight and that most comics who have made it were putting in work years before you may have realized it.

6. 7 Things You Should Know About The New York Comedy Scene

New York is a very safe place to fail. You can do all manner of crazy stuff here. If it works, everyone thinks you’re wonderful. If it doesn’t, no one cares and it’ll be forgotten about next week. So swing for the fences.

5. 10 Lessons From A Comedian’s First 500 Days In Los Angeles

Sure, open mics are great, especially when you’re starting out, but I think it’s important to make sure you’re getting what you want out of these nightly segments. Think about what you can do with that four-hour stretch rather than just conforming to this idea that “more open mics = better comedian.”

4. 5 Things You Can Learn From Gabriel Iglesias

Early on he also made a conscious decision to maintain a consistent look – in his case it involved shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He explains that it’s tough enough for people to remember specific comics in general, but comics who constantly change their look only make it harder on themselves.

3. 10 Things You Should Know About The San Francisco Comedy Scene

The audition process starts with the Sunday Showcase at the Punch Line. You purchase a punch card, show up for a year, and then get your chance to do five minutes. If that goes well, you get back up in three to six months, eventually graduating to off-night Cobb’s showcases and an audition if all goes according to plan. If you pass your audition, you’re added to the rotation of openers, which currently numbers around 70.

2. 5 Things You Can Learn From Comedy Central’s Head Of Talent

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.

1. Louis CK and Doug Stanhope Discuss Being A Healthy Comedian On A 2005 Message Board

I don’t mean looks, I don’t
 mean weight.  I maintain a pretty good belly.   I just mean getting
 yourself ready, steeling yourself, improving your abilities and 
strengths as a person. Given the odds of making it as a comedian, I am amazed at how little 
effort so many comedians make, while complaining bitterly about their 
lack of breaks.  I mean, you should be thinking like an olympic athlete 
but you think like dorito-eating high school brats, doing nothing and
 expecting everything.

Thanks again for making this a great year for Connected Comedy – can’t wait to see what comes in 2015!

How To Use A “One Action” Strategy To Activate Your Audience

Are you asking fans and potential fans to multitask? Probably.

Is that hampering your ability to grow and leverage a fanbase? Definitely.

If you’re trying to build an audience for something these days the chances are that you’re making a lot of requests (or “offers” to use a gentler term) to your existing or potential fans. You ask them to watch your videos, share your social media posts, join your email list, buy tickets to your show, listen to your podcast, and god knows how many other things that will help further your career.

But what you’ve likely lost sight of in the midst of your hustle is that multitasking is a myth. In reality, people don’t take multiple actions at once, they take one single action at a time.

And that’s why I think you’ll find a lot more success – short term and long term – if you focus on a single action that you want people to take in every situation where they encounter you and your work.

What Is A “One Action” Strategy?

My definition of a One Action Strategy is that in any scenario in which people encounter your content, there is a single, specific action that you want them to take.

You may make multiple actions available for them to take (though it’s possible you’ll see better results if you limit their options), but you hone in on the single action you most want them to take and devise a strategy to increase the likelihood that they’ll do so.

You can can have different actions for different scenarios – for example, the “one action” you might want people to take after watching your videos is to subscribe to your YouTube channel, but the action you might want people to take when they see you perform live might be to join your email lists – but focusing on a single “ask” for each situation and developing a strategy designed specifically to match the single action you want people to take will drastically increase your success rate.

That’s because it simplifies the process for people, focuses your own promotional efforts, and matches the way people act – they can only do one thing at a time so why ask them to do more?

Why It Works

The biggest reason why the One Action Strategy works is because it simplifies things for both the audience and yourself.

Your audience won’t get lost in a multitude of asks and you’ll essentially make it easier for them to support you. Also, they won’t feel assaulted with asks (Share my video! Retweet it! Subscribe! Watch another!), which will make them more likely to actually do the one thing you ask them to do.

Also, the mere process of forcing yourself to choose only a single action to ask people to take will lead you to really think through what actions will be most valuable to you. This essentially forces you to act more strategically and protects you from yourself – you’re no longer just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. It’s a way to force yourself into setting a clear goal and messaging that goal.

That leads to the other reason why this strategy works – it gives you a clear and simple way to measure success. Once you focus on a single action that you want people to take it becomes very easy to measure the success of both your content and your calls to action.

And as I’ve said before, you can’t improve anything you can’t measure.

How To Choose The Right Action For The Right Situation

Ready to give this One Action Strategy a chance? There’s three things you’ll need to think through in order to figure out what actions you want to ask people to take.

First, you have to know your goals. There’s lots of different actions people can take after seeing your content and all of them provide different kinds of value. So the first thing you want to take is think through your personal goals and then let those guide the actions you want people to take.

For example, if you posted a video of yourself performing standup on YouTube there’s a few different ways you might want to go. If your goal was to get more people to come to your shows, then the action you might want people who watch the video to take could be to email you and get on your guest list. But if your goal is to build a bigger following for your YouTube channel because you plan to post a lot more videos, then the action you might want to encourage could be subscribing to your channel or sharing the video.

There’s no right or wrong action to focus on, it all depends on your goals. You just want to make sure that the action you choose to emphasize will actually benefit the goals you’re pursuing.

The second step to figure out what One Action to emphasize is to understand the value of the action you want people to take.

Not all actions provide the same level of value. For example, somebody buying tickets to your show might be more valuable than them following you on Twitter. But them following you on Twitter might be more valuable than them watching a single video.

The specific values depend on your goals, but you need to recognize that not all actions have equal value and (generally speaking) the more valuable the action is, the tougher it is to get people to take it. So part of what you’ll want to think through when determining what actions you’re going to try to drive is to weigh the relative value of each.

Would you rather sell 10 albums or get 100 people to sign up to your email list? Would you rather somebody subscribe to your podcast or your YouTube channel? Would you rather they tell their friends they saw you perform on Twitter or would you rather they come to your next show?

These relative values will be different based on your individual situation, but it’s worth thinking about them as you decide what actions to emphasize.

The third thing to consider when planning your One Action Strategy is to keep in mind how the medium works where your content lives and to recognize what assets are available to you.

Different mediums (both online and offline) have their own unique strengths and weaknesses that you’ll want to take into account when figuring out what actions you’re going to ask for from your audience.

For example, it might be easier to get people to join your email list after reading something on your blog than it is after they read something on your Facebook page because you can put the signup form right at the bottom of the post. On the flip side, it might be easier for people engaging with your posts on Facebook to tag their friends in the comments than it is for them to share a blog post on your website with them.

YouTube’s annotations make it very easy to get people to subscribe to your channel or drive them to another video you’ve created so that might make you decide to focus your action around those things as opposed to trying to drive Twitter followers from your YouTube videos.

This is not to say that you can only do things that occur naturally in the medium you’re using, but rather that you should be aware of what is “easier” to do on various platforms when plotting your strategy.

And Now, The One Action I Want You To Take…

Since this is a post all about asking your audience to take a single action I figured I should follow my own advice and ask you to do a single thing if you found it helpful. So here’s the action I want you to take – give the One Action Strategy a try with at least one thing that you do regularly (social media posts, videos, live performances, whatever) over the course of the next month and email me to let me know how it works for you.

If you don’t see improved results, I’ll be happy to give you some more tips geared toward your specific goals.

The Best Audience For An Unknown Comedian To Connect With

I’ve been doing a series of Q&A posts over in the Connected Comedians Facebook group recently where I offer advice to anybody that’s got questions about the marketing or business side of comedy. There’s lots of great stuff in those conversations, but I wanted to share one in particular that I think many of you will find relevant.

Atlanta comedian Jamie Ward asked an interesting question about how to figure out what type of audience had the most potential for him to connect with as a relatively unknown comic.

Here was his specific question followed by my thoughts:

“I’m going to break comedy audiences down in to 3 primary groups:

Comedy nerds: Who know current comedians follow favorites and such.

General comedy audiences: Who somewhat regularly attend clubs but really only remember big names or those from TV or movies.

Casual entertainment audience: Who might attend a club once because there is a deal or they one tickets, they’re open to have a good time, but didn’t necessarily seek out comedy.

So given these three (and if there are things I haven’t thought of I’d be interested) which type of audience is the most potential for an unknown club comic to connect with? I’m not famous, not particularly unique but I do well.

And is there any advice how best to go about maximizing my connection with audiences based on their level of interest in comedy?”

It’s a good question, but I’d probably look at differently.

An audience member’s interest/connection to comedy isn’t as important as their interest/connection to the ideas/topics you discuss in your act. For example, a huge comedy fan who doesn’t have kids is less likely to connect with a comedian whose act revolves around parenting than a casual comedy fan who does have kids.

A person’s connection to comedy is a broad concept, whereas the real opportunities lie in the niches and more narrow topics. You want to figure out ways to identify who in the crowd relates to to subject matter of your comedy and/or find ways to get yourself in front of crowds that have a lot of those people in them.

Another thing I’d say is that if you approach it as how do you get people to be interested in YOU as opposed to just interested in your comedy, that can also help you build a stronger connection to people.

It’s one thing to be funny, it’s another to be interesting.

Funny is the minimum, but the way to really connect with people on a more long-term level is for them to become interested in you. There’s no one way to do that, but if you think about it, most comedians that build large, passionate, fanbases have done so with more than just their ability to make people laugh.

There was a lot of interesting stuff about George Carlin beyond just his jokes – people wanted to hear his take and opinion on things. He made them curious to what he had to say – even if it wasn’t always funny.

Chris Rock is like that as well. He’s funny, and he has a great act, but if he’s being interviewed somewhere, people probably are interested to hear what he has to say because they’re interested in him and his view of the world, not just his comedy.

I’ve said this before, but I think it always helps to think about things from the flipside of your perspective as a comedy creator – take a moment to think about what you respond to as a consumer of comedy.

You see a ton of comedians perform I’m sure – what is it about the ones that resonate with you, the ones that make you want to have a connection with them beyond the first time you see them perform? What is it about the ones that make you want to tell other people about them? What do they do that makes them stand out?

I’m sure you see tons of funny comics that you don’t really feel a need to follow or engage with beyond the moment you see them. But the ones that intrigue you – think about what they have that the others don’t and think about how you can incorporate your version of that into what you do.

One more note about your comment “I’m not particularly unique.” I barely know you and I completely disagree.

First of all, everybody is unique – it’s just that most people don’t understand what’s unique about them or they’re afraid to show it. Most people are wired to try to fit in, which is essentially another way of saying that human nature is designed to hide what’s unique about you.

The trick for a comedian is to do the opposite and share/focus on what’s different about you, not what makes you fit in. I guarantee that every show you do, there’s nobody else on that stage that has similar life experiences to you. You’re completely unique, but if you don’t perceive yourself in that way, how can you expect an audience to?

It’s got to start with you…

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5 Things You Can Learn From Jim Norton

Jim Norton recently appeared on an episode of The James Altucher Show podcast where he discussed his early days in comedy, how he deals with crowds (and nerves), and what he’s working on to improve his act.

You can listen to the full episode here, or read up on some of the highlights below.

1. Sometimes It Helps To Have No Other Options

At around the 7-minute mark, Norton reflects back on how he got his start in comedy and points out that he had essentially abandoned his education and put himself in a position where he had no choice but to succeed at comedy.

“I purposely left myself no safety net,” he says. “It’s got to be standup or it’s going to be nothing.”

He admits that like all comics, he struggled initially and he wonders whether he would have abandoned comedy if he had any other realistic career options at the time.

“I can’t believe I made myself continue to perform, because you bomb a lot (in the beginning),” he says. “If I had a good education, maybe I wouldn’t have stuck with it.”

He goes on to point out that there wasn’t necessarily anything special about him in the early days – noting that, “there’s a million funny people out there,” but that the only difference with him was that he put in the time and effort to learn how to do comedy the right way.

“I worked at it,” he says.

2. Be Honest, Except About How Nervous You Are

At around the 12-minute mark he talks about how he believes comedians should deal with crowds and how you should present yourself on stage.

“The audience likes to think you’re confident, and they don’t know if you’re not unless you show them,” he says. “Act as if.”

But while Norton believes it’s important to convey a certain confidence on stage (even if you’re not), he also explains that honest helps when it comes to other situations on stage.

“I’ll acknowledge if something doesn’t work,” he says. Ultimately, he suggests that you, “Be honest about your surroundings and project confidence.”

3. Don’t Do The Emotional Work For The Audience

At around the 26-minute mark, Norton is asked what part of his act he’s trying to improve at the moment and he explains that he’s trying to do less of the “emotional work” for his audience. He says he admires Colin Quinn because, “What makes Colin great is that he doesn’t do the audience’s emotional work for them.”

What he means by that is that you can do a joke about being angry, without actually being angry in your delivery of that joke on stage.

“You don’t want anger to block your creativity,” he explains.

He also says he’s trying to display a more complete side of himself and make sure he never loses sight of his mission.

“I want to make a point, but that’s not my job – anybody can make a point,” he says. “My job is to be funny.”

4. You Probably Can’t Do What Louis CK Can Do

At around the 33-minute mark, Norton discusses his various experiences working in television and shares his observations about the success and impact of Louis CK’s FX series. While he admires Louis and thinks the control he’s managed to get over his show is great for comedians, he points out that most people don’t realize that the major reason Louis can have that control is because of his diverse skill set as a filmmaker and editor in addition to being a talented comedian, actor and writer.

“There are things Louis does in that show that nobody else can do because of all his skills,” says Norton. “His skills enable him to do that.” He then points out that most comedians are never going to be able to do what Louis does.

5. Lead With Logic…Just Like Carlin Did

At around the 42-minute mark, Norton circles back to further explain his thoughts about not doing the emotional work for the audience. This time he uses George Carlin’s work as an example and points out that, “People respond better if they’re not being preached to.”

He adds, “George Carlin had anger, but look how silly a lot of his delivery was. He let his words talk for him and let the audience come with him…or not. He led them with logic instead of doing the emotional work for them.”

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7 Things You Should Know About The New York Comedy Scene

This is a guest post from Connected Comedian Tom Cowell, who has lived in New York City for the past 8 years and performed stand-up comedy there for the past five.

If you’d like to write a guest post with an overview of your local comedy scene for Connected Comedy, please email me.

1. You Can Drink In A Lot Of Open Mics…But Also Drown In Them

There are over 160 open mics in New York City, and that’s just counting the ones listed on Bad Slava. There are dozens more that aren’t advertized – you just learn about them if you live here. Getting up multiple times every night is easy if you’re willing to pay $3-$5 for five minutes of stage time (common in Manhattan). And you can get up multiple times a night for free with just a little planning.

When you first move to (or start doing comedy in) New York, you won’t get booked much. So by all means: go nuts with mics. It’s a point of pride for most New York comics that they went through that “three or four mics a night” phase for a while. You should do it too. In a month or two, you’ll be like part of the furniture. Perceptions of time are skewed here. People will think you’ve lived in New York for longer than you have.

But doing three or four mics a night for years and years? I think that’s a mistake, simply because of all the OTHER opportunities available in NYC that you cannot seize if you’re mic-ing that much. Three open mics translates to 15 minutes of stage time, and about three hours of waiting around/traveling to and from venues.

What else could you have done with those three hours? That’s what the rest of this list is all about.

2. You Can ALWAYS Make $50 For A Blog Post

New York is the media capital of the world. Alongside the giant brands (the Viacoms, Hearsts, and News Corps of the world), there are literally HUNDREDS of media outlets – many purely web-based – that constantly crave content and are willing to pay for it. Here’s how to do it…

Take any website you read regularly. Have an idea for a story/article/post? Study the tone and typical format of posts on the site, write it, and submit it. Say they can use it for free. If you can write decently and in the style of the outlet you’re pitching, eight times out of ten they’ll run it (or at least an edited version of it).

Congratulations! You’re now in their stable of contributors. You have demonstrated your value, and they will WANT you to pitch them ideas for stories all the time. And if you’re funny, you have a huge advantage over other freelance writers.

I’ve personally done this twice: pitching an advice column to women’s website The Frisky, and a weekly comedy events run-down to The Village Voice’s “Sound of the City” blog.

The going rate for content in this town is about $50 per post. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. It’s not much, but you’ll be amazed what writing regularly online will do, in terms of boosting your Twitter followers, and getting your name out there as a person of ideas who can create cool stuff. Plus, you’re getting paid to write. Isn’t that better than waiting tables?

3. Breaking Into The Comedy Clubs Is Hard

There are just a handful of “A” room comedy clubs (clubs that work hard to curate high quality shows AND regularly pay for spots) in New York City itself. There are so many comics here, and relatively few opportunities to make spot pay doing mainstream club comedy (urban and Latino rooms are an exception, but they are not worlds I know).

So you’re probably not going to get passed at a New York club for many, many years. In fact, it’s probably easier to get on TV than to get passed as a regular at a New York comedy club. Don’t take it personally – it’s just how it is. You have to make your own opportunities to get them to notice you.

4. You Can Get A Show Business Day Job

If you live in New York, you’re fortunate to reside in one of the two American cities where they actually make professional entertainment. TV, film, radio, theater, publishing…every tentacle of the entertainment “squid” has a huge presence here.

We all want the industry to pay attention to us anyway, so why not work for it? You can learn a lot about how the business actually works just by sorting mail for a production company. You probably won’t be paid much less than you would for just a regular entry-level day job. Even interning for one day a week could be invaluable. With all the opportunities flowing through a city like New York, working within the industry puts you in the best position to know about them first, and to seize them in the savviest way.

5. You Can Build An Acting Tool Kit For Your Big Break

If you’re a comedian, you want to be on TV. But chances are, the first few times you appear on camera, it won’t be doing stand up. It’s much more likely you’ll wind up getting small parts in sketches, web series, sitcoms, or commercials. Considering that, comic improvisation and dramatic acting are invaluable skills. They could be the difference in turning a small opportunity into a potentially much bigger break.

This is another great thing about the New York scene – it’s home to the best improv and acting teachers in the world. Use them. You should try to study at UCB purely for the cache, but if all their classes are full, learn with the PIT, Magnet, or the Annoyance.

They’re each subtly different, but all teach broadly the same thing. You can also study acting with JoAnna Beckson, who specializes in training comics (her former students include Colin Quinn, Bill Burr, Dave Attell, and countless others).

After you get that pilot deal, you’ll be very glad you can actually act and improvise collaboratively when the lights turn on.

6. New York Loves Weird Stuff – And The Weirder The Better

New York is a very safe place to fail. You can do all manner of crazy stuff here. If it works, everyone thinks you’re wonderful. If it doesn’t, no one cares and it’ll be forgotten about next week. So swing for the fences.

Here are three of the most popular comedy shows in New York right now:

See You In Hell! – Comedians Doug Smith and Matt Wayne dress up in devil outfits and make comics perform their regular material while enduring a “hellish” challenge: like being blindfolded and tied to chair, or wearing a bear suit and downing whiskey shots. They have showcased the show for Comedy Central executives, and as we speak are shopping the idea around Los Angeles.

First Comes Love – Comedian Kyle Ayers asks Craigslist users to submit homemade porn scripts. They do, and he produces live staged readings of them with comedians learning the parts. It’s a huge hit, and now he asks Craigslist for themed material: Mad Men, There Will Be Blood, Game of Thrones, etc.

Jesus the Barbarian – Alt-comics Nick Naney and Gonzalo Cordova wrote this comic play, cast their weirdo friends in all the parts, and bought a few gallons of stage blood to really make a spectacle. It was a giant hit at alt-comedy mecca The Creek and the Cave. They’re now making a follow-up production, and off-Broadway producers are sniffing around them.

7. There Are So Many “Scenes” And Nothing To Stop You From Trying Them All

In a city the size of New York, there are subcultures within subcultures. There is the alternative stand-up scene, unofficially headquartered at Queens venue The Creek and the Cave. There’s the UCB scene, arguably the most important hub for improv and sketch writing/production in town.

There’s the Village stand up scene, centered on hustling for spots at the B-rooms (basically everywhere BUT the Comedy Cellar – the famous club in the opening credits of Louie) in and around MacDougal Street. There’s the scene at The Stand, an impressive newer club in the Gramercy area.

Then there is the storytelling scene centered on The Moth, which is a huge gateway to prestige media outlets and the worlds of public radio and publishing.  And those are just the communities I know about. You are free to dip your toe into all of them. There is no downside to doing so. You’ll quickly find out what you’re best at, where your sensibilities lie, and the kind of people you like to collaborate with.

That’s my list. What did I miss? What do you think are the most important things to know about the New York comedy scene? Please let me know in the comments, by email, or on Twitter. I love meeting Connected Comedians from around the country, and introducing my city to new performers. If you’re ever in New York, don’t be a stranger. Get in touch.

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5 Things You Can Learn From Canada’s Biggest Comedy Club Owner

Mark Breslin is the CEO and Founder of Yuk Yuk’s, a chain of 15 comedy clubs across Canada, and a comedy entrepreneur who has spent decades building an empire. On a recent episode of the Industry Standard with Barry Katz podcast, Breslin discussed a wide variety of topics ranging from how he got into comedy in the first place, what he’s learned, and what advice he has for up and coming comics today.

It’s a great conversation and you can listen to the full episode here or read up on some of the highlights below.

1. It Helps To Start Outside Of New York Or LA

At around the 19-minute mark, Breslin shares some interesting thoughts on the role of the town in which a comic first starts their comedy career.

“It’s very advantageous to be outside the center of action to develop,” he says, referencing the upside of honing your craft some place other than comedy business hubs like New York or Los Angeles. “Most comedians in New York and LA got great somewhere else first.”

But Breslin also acknowledges that it’s become much more difficult to develop outside the spotlight because of the Internet. “It’s harder now…there’s no such thing as an outsider artist any more,” he says. “Everybody has 7 fans.”

2. A Good Comedy Venue Is About What’s NOT There

Even though it’s unlikely many of you will be buying or building comedy clubs, Breslin’s thoughts about what he tries to do in his clubs are still relevant to anybody trying to produce a good show – or analyze potential venues for shows. At around the 43-minute mark, he says that when you buy a comedy club, “You’re buying what’s NOT there, not what’s there.”

He goes on to explain that you want a venue that has no distractions and as much focus as possible on the stage. He said his early clubs were similar to simple small theaters with all black walls and nothing to distract people from the stage – he even tried to minimize the noise from people making drinks.

3. Most Headliners Sell As Many Tickets As A Dead Person

At around the 60-minute mark, Breslin shares an interesting perspective on the Canadian comedy scene and the inability of most comedy club “headliners” there to actually draw a crowd. He says there is no “star system” in Canada due to the lack of local TV exposure available to comedians and that as a result only 4 or 5 comics can sell out clubs on their own.

He goes on to explain that’s why his clubs rarely give Canadian comedians percentage door deals (they typically receive just a flat fee regardless of ticket sales) and it’s also why most Canadian comedians wind up leaving the country to seek bigger exposure.

While that scenario may be unique to Canada, his thoughts on the struggles of “headliners” to actually draw their own crowd are more universal. “Nobody really draws,” he says. “The club draws. The concept draws.”

He then explains that he previously ran experiments where he would run his comedy club ads with the names of random dead people (non-comedians) as if they were performing at his club to see if it had any impact on the ticket sales for that weekend’s show. He found that it had no impact on ticket sales and that essentially most headliners were selling as many tickets as a dead non-comedian would.

4. You Have To Take People Some Place New

Early on in the podcast Breslin says that he believes a comedian’s role is to tell the truth, but at around the 89-minute mark he elaborates on what he believes young comics should focus on. “Originality, finding and having your own voice,” he says.

He explains that there’s no shortage of funny comics out there, but when he’s analyzing acts he comes back to the same question: “Who has 10 minutes that takes me to a place I’ve never been before? Do you have anything to say?”

5. Don’t Just Hang Out With Other Comics In Comedy Clubs

I’ve written before about why it’s a good idea to hang out in comedy clubs, but Breslin warns that you shouldn’t spend all your time there. At around the 91-minute mark, he stresses the importance of exposing yourself to other forms of art and a set of influences that have nothing to do with comedy.

“Don’t hang out with other comics,” he says. “Go to the theater, art galleries, music. [An original voice] doesn’t come from watching comics and imitating them.”

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7 Things You Can Learn From Dave Foley Of Kids In The Hall

This is a guest post from Connected Comedian David Gavri, a Chicago comic and comedy writer who also publishes interviews with comedians on his Gonzo Fame website. If you’d like to contribute a guest post to Connected Comedy, please email me.

A founding member of the comedy troupe Kids In The Hall, Dave Foley has had a long and successful career as a standup comedian, actor, and writer. He recently appeared at a Q&A held at Second City in Chicago where he was interviewed by Katie Rich and shared the following advice for comedians about the challenges of writing and creating comedy.

1. Sometimes The Best Ideas Come When You’re NOT Writing

When it came to writing sketches with Kids In The Hall, Foley explained that typically the group’s most successful ideas came when they weren’t actually trying to write at all, but rather when they were just hanging out together.

“The best ideas come when you’re NOT writing,” he said. “We spent an awful lot of time watching MTV videos and saying stupid things at the TV. And that would end up giving us a great idea for an episode.”

Unfortunately, that process can be hard to quantify as work. “You’re sitting around a computer or you’re sitting around your writing meetings, yet NOTHING comes out of it,” he said. “And all of a sudden at 2 am you fart on a guy’s face and you’re like, ‘That’s hilarious!'”

2. You Have To Develop Instincts To Understand When Something’s Good

Regardless of whether you’re writing standup or sketches, Foley stressed the importance of putting in time and effort in order to get to a point where you develop instincts to understand whether something you’ve created is good or not.

“I know when something’s good…but I’ve honed the craft of it over the years to where I’m more consistent in how I develop things,” Foley said. “Just doing it so many years, it’s like there’s an audience in your head that’s an amalgam of every audience you’ve ever played in front of – and you can just feel it.”

That’s why Foley believes improv and performing is such an important tool for writers.

“Writers who have NEVER performed are missing that tool. And they’re missing that ear, that ability to hear an audience react to things in their head. And a lot of times with sitcoms, you’re dealing with writers who have never been performers so they’ll write a line that on the page seems wonderfully funny, but when you say it out loud you realize that it not only isn’t funny, but it doesn’t even make sense.”

3. Focus On “Tight Writing”

Despite the comedy world’s current love affair with improv, Foley says Kids In The Hall never improvised anything and instead focused writing as tightly as possible.

“We would get together and basically shout out ideas to each other very quickly,” he said. “We would write and hone the sketch from a writing standpoint – we never had an idea and just improvised it. Writing for a TV show, we focused on tight writing.”

This was also motivated by the demands of  the medium.

“If you wrote something that was 3 minutes or under, it was MUCH easier to get in the show. If it was 5 minutes, you had to fight,” he said. “If it was over 5 minutes, you would almost never get it in. So the focus was always to be tight.”

4. Be Willing To Throw Jokes Away

One of the toughest things for all creators is to be willing to “kill your babies,” the process of throwing away material that you may like but may not be quite working for whatever reason. Here’s how Foley handles that:

“I’m not at all precious about anything,” he said. “You pitch a joke and if no one likes it, who cares? It’s something where I go, ‘Alright, I’ve written 1,000 jokes and I will write 1,000 more jokes.’ If you’re funny, it doesn’t matter.”

He continues, “Everything is disposable. And in a scene, you can have a joke that you absolutely LOVE, but if it’s hurting the flow of the scene you have to cut it. You just have to cut great jokes. You have to throw great jokes away if they don’t make the scene better. So you have to just…not love anything.”

5. Overcome Writer’s Block By Distracting Yourself

Despite his success, Foley admits that the act of writing can be more than a little frustrating for him.

“Writing is just the shittiest thing on Earth to spend your time doing, it’s just horrible,” he said. “I don’t understand people who ENJOY writing. I think you have to be some sort of egomaniac to enjoy writing…to just sit back and find your own thoughts interesting.”

But to combat the writing struggle, Foley suggests you find ways to distract yourself.

“Distraction is a great tool,” he said. ” Brain studies have shown that you get moments of insight when you are distracted from the problem you are trying to solve. And it’s good to give yourself that opportunity. For Kids In The Hall, when we had ideas that were going nowhere, we would often just leave and go go-karting for a few hours.

“And usually, while we were just hanging out go-karting, we would come with two or three ideas that were actually usable. It’s just that once you take your mind off it, it actually gives your subconscious a chance to come up with some decent ideas.”

6. Every Idea Is New (And Old)

When asked if he thought everything’s already been done before, Foley shared his perspective on the creation of comedy and the connection between what’s new and what’s been done before.

“The infinite variations in any art form is amazing,” he said. “You have the 12-tone scale which is the basis of all music, yet every day somebody writes a new melody with this limited tool of these same 12 tones.”

He went on to explain that everything can be varied, comparing creations to DNA.

“Nothing is entirely original and new, just as every life form has evolved from something earlier,” he said. “Every idea has evolved from something earlier and everything is seeded by things you’ve seen in the past.”

With that in mind, Foley recommends studying what you love to the point that you totally understand it, then throwing it away.

“For me, it was understanding EVERYTHING about what Monty Python does and with Kids In The Hall we just threw it out,” he said. “We literally went as far as we could structurally from Python, because we loved it so much. So just study the people you love and then just throw them away.”

7. Clarity Is Key To Comedy

As somebody who’s had success in standup, TV, and movies, Foley has a unique perspective on what makes comedy work and for him, it all comes down to a clarity of the material.

“It’s all about understanding HOW to deliver a joke,” he said. “A lot of people think that comedy doesn’t have to be sensible, but I think comedy has to be watchable. Comedy has to make sense. People have to understand the thought process behind the joke for it to be funny and they have to know where it goes off the rails and becomes a joke.

“The audience has to understand the logic of the joke and if you can’t convey that logic in a concise way, it’s not going to work. You must understand that the people hearing the joke are not in your head – they don’t know your back story to your joke. Their entire universe exists from what you write down and if you don’t have the information in the joke, no one is going to get it.”

In the end, he explains that comics have to tackle the same challenge no matter what they do. “You have to find a way to get the information out in a way that doesn’t interfere with the joke.”

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