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Being Yourself On Purpose!

 article about Being Yourself On Purpose!

This article belongs to In Search of Laughs! column.


(Stand-up Tips for Newbies & reminders For Newbies at heart!)

I know of nothing in the entire world (vocation-wise) that is any more difficult than being a nuclear physicist, or a stand-up comic. If you are compelled to take on either, you are out of your freaking mind. Welcome to the club!

For every 2000 hopefuls who begin comedy in America, only 2 or 3 ever go on to a paying career. Those 2 or 3 usually made it that far because they knew someone, or they worked harder than their competition. I don't think you can plan on knowing anybody that can make you famous. Never expect to get lucky! So, plan on working harder than everybody else. You will never know how far you can go, until you give it your all. Give your act everything you got, mostly because you will only get out of stand-up, what you put in. So, put in all the effort you have, and you just might get somewhere.

Don't ever be shy, don't ever be demure. Try to be funny, and demure isn't funny. Stand-ups make people laugh, it's our job. For your first 50 shows: STAY center stage and leave the mic IN THE STAND! (This stops you from wasting crowd focus and allows you to learn to use your hands to help your jokes! If you do TV, there are no mics !)

Comics have a metric: LPMs, (laughs per minutes) If you're at the Comedy Store and you're only getting two laughs per minute, we've got to get you OFF our stage. The next act is going to do 3 per minute, and the guy after that may do 5. We're here to produce the laughs. You are on our stage to produce laughs. That's how we keep score.
 article about Being Yourself On Purpose!
Photo by Al Bahmani

In 2001, I had broken my back and couldn't move around for 6 months. It made me learn to be funny by typing my thoughts. I began writing a column on comedy for TheCheers.org by Siim Einfeldt, their editor in Estonia. My column is "Searching for Laughs!" and I've published 64 articles so far. Check me out. I realized in my 40 years of stand-up, I've had done an endless number of fabulously crazy things! And I had set most of them aside, because I had just been too busy doing more insane things. Seeing my unremembered list of credits actually surprised me. So, that's when I decide to write my book.

Researching my book gave me a chance to look back at my career and life. If you've read my e-book: "Standup Decoded: Be as funny as you think you are!" Thank you! and I'm honored. So many people helped me move up the comedy ladder, I feel an obligation to give something back. The best thing all of us can do is pay it forward! Help someone else. I examined the unforeseen corners I turned and the spilt second decisions I made. Working on it, whether it was just my timing, fate, circumstances, or somebody I knew, I realized, at some point, I'm just not supposed to be here. I should've been dead 10 years ago. So, I just tell my truths and let my enquiring readers make their own conclusions.

 article about Being Yourself On Purpose!
Here's a little about myself: I started in 1975. My 2nd day in L.A. I was hired by The Comedy Store as a doorman. For 8 years, I watched what showbiz really was, and incredibly, I got a front row seat to learn what I didn't know. It was like a scholarship to Comedy College at The funniest place on Earth! Now, I'm honored that my name is on their Wall of Fame. I've always been the luckiest stand-up I've ever met.

I rarely see many new comics, I see mostly impressions of comics of the last 15 years, with no classic styling. I hope to impart some short cuts and some tips which classic styling provide. This is a reminder for myself and others.

As this talk is for clean comedy, I'm not saying don't work dirty, but I won't talk about it being positive. But, at some point, if you're in the middle of Lincoln, Nebraska at Bobby's biker bar/pit-bull fighting ring, well...you better say f*+k a few times.

I need you to program yourself to walk into every show you do and decide whether to go clean or edgy. If there are four edgy acts in front of me, then I go clean. If there are four Clean acts in front of me, then I go edgy. You can be clean, you can be dirty, just be yourself. The funniest version of yourself on stage, that is.

What you do sell every night is: who you are, your charm, your bravery, your looks, your sense of humor and your timing and writing. Stand-up is fueled by jokes. Write lots!
Be it a sight gag, a fall, a take, or a look, they are all jokes. No matter what the time spot, whether it's 3 or 15 minutes, know how many jokes you're going to do. Have a plan, have a set-list. Have some goals for every show. Work!

YOUR plan has taken all your collective thoughts, wisdom, choices, and decisions, then finalizes it to what you judge is good. Your set list is always better than just winging it.

Most comedy clubs have a 3 act format. Their MC/opener enters and does about 15 minutes. It may be 5 minutes of crowd work and 10 minutes of material. (or visa-versa) Regardless of the time on stage, the first performer is our leader of the show. Mitzi Shore, the owner of the Comedy Store, always said that she put her stronger performers up on stage first. That's our host. He keeps the show on pace, & on time.

I'm from Georgia. My first year in LA, I set 2 records by saying "y'all!" 147 times. Mitzi put me on and told me 36 times that I wasn't funny. But, she gave me 36 MC spots. She liked my personality, she didn't care much for my joke choices or style. But she liked who I was, and I got on stage ten to twenty times more than everybody at my level & then I hosted a show every week. It was worth it.

Use the TRUTH as your springboard, not an anchor! I have a memory device I call my idea BELL. I go through my day doing whatever. I may be sober, I may be not. When I get an idea or thought or joke that cracks me up and makes me laugh, a bell goes off in my head: "Ding!" I grab the closest pad and pen write it down. You can record it on a device. Even if I can't write the whole thing down, I get as much as I can at the time. There's actual science that backs up physically writing it down. If you like to take a moment to read it before or after.
(read here)

I own responsibility for my communications. If anyone doesn't laugh at any of my jokes, it's my fault. I can fix me, and do another joke. So, when any joke doesn't work, it's your fault! So, fix the joke or replace it.

So get a writing pad, or make time to organize that humongous napkin collection you've been keeping. Go back and rewrite them, see your jokes develop. If you're not taking time to edit and organize your notes, that's just hoarding. The more you write, the better your jokes get. The more times you perform, the better you get at presenting your finely honed jokes. Write a joke, then perform it and record it. Play it back, see how it changed.
 article about Being Yourself On Purpose!
Photo by Al Bahmani

Comic Robert Klein, a key influence on Jerry Seinfeld, once told me "The only true tool a comic has, is his audio recorder. Your friends will lie to you, and your memory of your last show will change every 20 minutes after that, but your tape plays the same way every time." You learn how far you've come, by looking back and comparing then and now. Record every show you do. See how you write jokes versus what you wrote last year. Take out what didn't work, and keep what did. That's how you build time. If it doesn't work for the 2nd or 3rd attempt, toss it on the shelf.

Make your strongest joke your last joke! Open with your 2nd strongest. The 3rd strongest joke will be next to last, and the 4th strongest joke is scheduled 2nd. And so on. Reel them in with something good, & leave them with a better impression, wanting more at the end.

For the last 25 years, I've heard bookers and circuit runners make the same complaint over and over. They're tired of acts arriving, expecting to be paid as a stand up, but they look like (and/or smell like) a hobo or bum. Ick!

Who knew one's physical presentation matters so much, in a nutty business that requires lights to present you to a dark & relatively anonymous audience?? Who knew? Please dress nice! Or as Red Fox said: "You Gotta Wash Your *ss!". It's show-biz, your look counts. You create an image, not a smell. Commit this peril at your own risk!

And then there are things you don't want to develop, which can prevent you from being booked regularly. Like:

"12 people? I've had more women in my bed!"

"This place sucks! ..."

"You're a crummy audience! ..."
By the way, when you criticize the crowd or the room, you've attacked them! This opens up your audience to criticize you. Not good! Don't do it! If the shoes were on the other foot, you'd probably do the same. These people could have been watching movies on their phones, or bingeing other comics' stand-up special! Your crowd wants to like you, it's your job to make them glad they did.

Get ready, you're going to come across hecklers. You're a comic, prepare a couple of lines. And while you're at it, prepare jokes for, and have reactive jokes for bar situations.

An Ambulance or cop car is heard outside! Write a joke.

The wait staff is going to drop drinks & trays! Write jokes.

Check drop @ 42 min. on ALL tables!! Write loud jokes.

Sure, people will get up from the audience & draw away all focus from the crowd going to the bathroom! Write jokes.

Somewhere along your path, you will need to find a single image that you fit, whatever that single image you choose turns out to be. It's called branding. A brand is something that makes you memorable. (But, it's your manners that make you more hirable!) Have a brand, develop a hook. These are all truths you are going to learn to grow into.

Incidentally, the first jobs you're going to get in stand-up is as the host. Most night clubs will play you on with music, some places may have a band or a musician. Some places just turn on the light. You're going up first, that's a cold opening. Your job is to warm them up for a good time (which could be the next performer) or to distract their attention while the club preparing for something else to go on, that isn't ready yet.

Habitual Laughs Stepping


When the audience starts laughing, give it a moment, let the laughs die down, then start on the next joke. If you start while they're laughing, they're still laughing and may not hear the set up to your next joke. Give the crowd a beat or more, then bring them into your next laugh. That's how one gets "on a roll!" They'll thank you, with even more laughs.

Breaking Bad Habits


Instead of asking, "How are you doing tonight?" try simply stating, "I hope you're doing well tonight." Set them up instead of asking them a question.

The oldest rule in law: " Don't ask questions to which you do not know the answer!" If you ask the audience how they're doing" the crowd's going to start kicking up in their mind for an answer. The audience wants leadership, not questions. Lead them, don't ask a question. For instance, when I set up a relationship chunk of material, I ask "Who's single here? I know I am."

Use a timer, and just your allotted time


I had a running gig Carnival Cruise Lines. I walk on and do a perfectly clean 20 minutes. My wristwatch has a timer, so I set it to go off 4 minutes before my time was up. When it beeped, I'd go to my 4 minute closer. Controlling your time on stage makes a huge difference in getting you jobs. The Cruise directors specifically requested me because I did not steal stage time like the comics they had been booking. Ultimately, bookers hire who they can trust. Stick to your time, it's the most vital thing you can do for the venue.

You can not ever get a decent level of advancement by just hanging out at comedy clubs. Interface with all the comics you meet. I'm not saying you have to like everyone. Just remember: As a new act, 75% of all the work you get is from the comics you meet. If you can shape your act to not to interfere with a headliner's act, you've become valuable to them. The national act that hired me to open for him on tour was gruff and dirty. He hired me because I was clean & our acts didn't collide. Later on, when I wrote dirty night club jokes, I offered to sell them to him, & he bought them.

The only advice I have about social media is: Please try not to criticize a booker or a comedy club or other acts on any social media. I'm contribute to many Facebook comedy groups and I see something like "Bob paid me in two dollar bills, and I'll never work that place ever again." Don't worry, you won't. Job givers read social media for tips on prospective hires. If you want to not work, then feel free to make this mistake. If you do want to work, don't.

At some point, you're going to want to turn pro, when you do, don't. As long as you're an amateur, most pros will have some sympathy for you. You think I'm going to teach you how to take my job? Who do you think you are? Oh, wait, that's what I'm doing in this article. Go Figure? If you can figure our art out, try to help others who haven't!

I also recommend reading Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" it's simply management techniques to help making them laugh and getting the jobs. It's in 1930's language, but it's the message, for the most part: "Be nice!"

Check me out on You Tube @ "Stand-up Decoded!" or "Why I did it this way!" or "A Star for Mitzi!" or TheCheers.org or just Goggle my silly ass!

What makes this weird habit we call stand-up work is: #1: Your heart, #2: Your smile, #3: Your image, #4: the perceived, funny things you have to say. Work at it!

Lue Deck
The Comic in Red Shoes
Semper funny, y'all!
 article about Being Yourself On Purpose!

(Excerpts: Lue's stand-up seminar for The Clean Comedy Challenge at The Ice House in Pasadena, CA July25, 2019)


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