My Seven Principles of Comedy

“All These Principles are Meant to be Broken”

Fall is here which means I am once again teaching comedy!  In my opening class I wanted to provide an overview of my belief’s about comedy.  The principles upon why I construct the course. So frequently we think of comedy as a concept that we just do. Its moment to moment. In reality, I believe that we all have some for of method based on our personal belief’s about humor and how it is constructed.

So here are my Seven Principles of Comedy

  1. Comedy is Innate: It is something that we all have. Every person has a sense of humor. Every person can find humor in life has a personal perspective on what is funny. There are some people who are more extroverted and that sense of humor is quite apparent. They are the life of the party,, they are open to sharing their ideas. There are also people who are introverted and their humor is more inward.  Give that person a stage and a microphone and watch as they share their perspective with the world.  As comedy is Innate, it is also highly personal. We don’t all find the same types of comedians or same types of comedy funny. We have differing opinions of what is funny based on our personal experiences.
  2. Comedy is “In the Moment”: I’ve read many books and been to several workshops. All instructors say the same thing “you cant teach comedy or learn it from a book”.  It always seemed ironic to me that same instructor had written a book and taken my $157.98 for an eight week sketch writing seminar based on concepts written in her book.  In my experience doing comedy and instructing, Comedy is something that you “do”.  It is learned “in the moment”.  I have read multiple books on how to do stand up but none of them have taught me as much as standing on a stage and performing in front of a live audience.  That stated, you can learn “methods” that will bring out your innate comedic style.

Three Reason’s Stand Up Comedians Continue Standing Up

“Stand Up Comedy is Exciting! It provides an Opportunity for Instant Feedback!”

Stand Up Comedy is a brutal business.  You need to travel great distances to perform in front of audiences who either don’t show up or don’t appreciate you.  The hours are horrible and the pay and benefits are non existent (well, I did get a free pizza last night which made me feel kind of special).

I took a little break from performing this summer and had some time to reflect on Stand Up asking  why do I continue to do this? Something go wrong in my childhood? Is life not disappointing enough that I need to leave the comfort of my home and find a group of strangers to tell jokes to who may or may not appreciate it? I felt that it was a deeper reason that comedians continue with the art of Stand Up

Here is my list of Three Reason’s why Stand Up Comedians continue Standing Up:

  1. Its Exciting: Anyone remember that first time they got up and spoke in front of a crowd? The anxiety that you felt approaching that stage then the silent moment when you took the microphone and told that first joke to laughter?  My first time doing stand up comedy was at a small coffee shop in Burlington Vermont.  I had spent a month writing a set list and drove 90 minutes from my home.  It was in front of an appreciative audience and I was hooked the minute I did it.  The driving, the time writing, all of the preshow anxiety was completely worth it.
  2. It Provides an Opportunity for Feedback on your Writing: I am going to admit that writing is my favorite part of comedy now. I really enjoy the process of constructing jokes out of material gathered from my life and the world around me.  Doing Stand Up Comedy provides me with the opportunity to see how my writing works with a real audience.  Are my jokes effective? Can I change them to make them stronger? After a Stand Up gig I always go back and rewrite my material to make it stronger.  It also forces you to finish your writing.  If you have a gig you need to complete your jokes so your ready.  It gives you a deadline for your writing.
  3. Its something that we need to do: I feel that some people just think like comedians.  We look at life with all its details.  The mundane, the depressing, the uplifting, the stupid, the scary and we rewrite the meaning of it into humor.  What good is a ten minute set list if it does nothing but sit in a composition notebook unfinished and unspoken?  The Stand Up Stage is one of the last places where free speech exists in its true form.  Not everyone is going to like everything that we have to say but its the risk that we take.

That’s my mini list of reasons to continue Stand Up Comedy!

Please feel free to comment and leave your own reasons!

Starting a Storytelling Show

We are “hardwired” for stories. People simply love being entertained by someone’s first person account that mirrors their own experience in life. Two years ago, I did my first evening of storytelling and shortly after started booking my own shows. I have been amazed how people will show up and listen to others in their community tell personal tales spanning the human experience.

Initially my shows were affairs where people would just show up and if they had a story to tell they would step up to the microphone and tell a story.  As time went on, the events began to grow in size and we had to create a structure to the evening or risk a three hour storytelling extravaganza with audience members falling asleep in their seats.

With the popularity of shows like “The Moth” and “This American Life” it is apparent that Storytelling is big business.  Once an event takes hold in a community it begins to build in popularity.  Like my blog posts on booking an improvisational comedy show which can be found here, and my post on booking a stand up comedy showcase which can be found here I wanted to offer a little practical advice on how to start an evening of storytelling in your own community.

Attend a Storytelling Event

You can get a great idea of what these events are like by listening to podcasts but it is essential to attend a Storytelling Event before you venture into establishing one of your own.  I suggest going to one that has been running for a while and has a good attendance. Take note of how the show is run.  How does the host organize the evening? How many storytellers are there, how to the “keep the show moving” and keep the audience engaged.  Do they have a theme that the stories must relate to? Is this a competition where judges or the audience votes on the three best stories of the evening?  After the show, take some time to speak with the producer if possible or get their contact information.  They will love to talk about their event and can be instrumental in helping you establish a similar event.

The Rules

Do a little research and get an understanding of the basic “Rules” of Storytelling.  Typically the rules to an evening of storytelling are that the stories must be 1. True/First Person.  Its the storytellers tale not folklore or someone else’s story.  2. No Notes. Stories must be told not read.  People need to come to the event with their story crafted and it must be told in an extemporaneous fashion.  3. No Stand Up Comedy.  I love stand up comedy but this is not the right setting.  The stories might be funny (and frequently are) but they are stories with a beginning, middle and end.  Not a collection of antidotes and one liners.

Find a Venue

Once you have done some research its time to locate a venue.  Businesses are fairly receptive to Storytelling Events once they are explained.  Not every setting is correct for Storytelling.  These events need a quiet setting so the storyteller can be heard.  You want to avoid busy restaurants or bars with wide screen televisions.  These settings might work for comedy but storytelling requires a certain amount of concentration from the audience.  Settings like Coffee Shops,  Theaters, Churches, Bookstores, Art Galleries, etc. tend to work well for storytelling.  Allow the owner of the business to understand the concept of Storytelling.  Ask if you can set up their establishment to maximize the performance (setting up a performance space with chairs in theater style).  Let them know that everything will be returned to normal when you leave.

Technical Details

You will absolutely need access to a microphone, PA System and Mic Stand.  It is essential to have amplification in a storytelling setting as you do not want to shout your story to the audience and the microphone will reflect the subtle moments in your story.  These stories reflect a range of emotions which will reflect a range of tone in your voice.  The second thing that the microphone does is secure the storyteller in one place.  This is not a one person show or dramatic telling where the teller is acting out each moment of the story.  It is a personal narrative intended to be spoken.  I suggest buying a PA System before your first show.

 

Autism Radio Interview

Michael Ray Kingsbury takes us a Journey how his Comedy has changed since having a child with autism and how he balances the work life relationship being on the road as a comedian

Attached is a link to my interview on Autism Radio.

http://www.autismradio.org/hope-saves-the-day/2016/12/5/show339-interview-with-comedian-michael-ray-kingsbury-rasing-a-son-with-autism

“About our Guest Michael Ray Kingsbury. I am a Comedic Storyteller/proud father of a child with Autism. I have been featured at The Vermont Comedy Club, The Albany Comedy Works and I was a finalist in the 2016 word X word competition.He takes us a Journey how his Comedy has changed since having a child with autism and how he balances the work life relationship being on the road as a comedian. He had a wonderful article on The Mighty called To the ‘Cool Guy’ on the Plane Who Realized My Son Has Autism.”  Paul Cimins Autism Radio

Booking a Stand Up Comedy Showcase

“At the end of the night, thank the comedians, the venue, the audience, then…grab a broom and get cleaning”

I am a huge fan of Stand Up Comedy!  When I returned to Vermont from Cleveland Ohio I said “I am going to get involved in Stand Up”.  Then I waited, for almost eight years while nothing happened.  At that time, there was little comedy happening in the Green Mountain State.  I am proud to say that we have an active Comedy Scene now but it was developed over time by people like myself who got tired of waiting to perform and started booking their own shows.  The most difficult part about booking a comedy show was getting started.  Just how does someone do this especially in a rural state?  Will anyone come out to see this show?  What do I do? An open Mic or Showcase? I want to offer just a few pieces of advice that I have learned to help others book that first comedy show. 

Open Mic or Format?

thAT0B3KRYFirst a word on show format.  There are many different varieties but two of the most common are the Open Mic and The Showcase.

Open Mic:  In this type of show comedians arrive at the venue, sign up for a five minute slot.  A host will move the show along keeping track of each performers and introducing the next performer.

Showcase:   In this type of show comedians are “pre-selected” by a producer (who is often the host).  The Showcase features a Host, Opener, Middle Comedians and a Headliner or someone who closes the show.  Each performer gets about ten minutes and there is not a sign up (comedians are do not sign up at the door for an open space).

In my experience, the Open Mic format works well in a small city or urban setting where a large amount of comedians might reside.  College towns tend to be great settings for Open Mic’s.  I have typically booked Showcases where I invite local comedians and guest comedians from neighboring cities or states.  Either format works well.  I suggest looking at the demographics of the town you reside in,  assess what other forms of entertainment already exist prior to deciding on a format.

Pick a Venue

Now that you know what type of show you want to start, its time to pick a place to have that show.  The beauty of Stand Up Comedy as opposed to is that it can be performed in any setting unlike Improvisational Comedy that requires a Stage (see here for booking Improvisational Comedy).  There are multiple types of establishments that might work well.  Bar’s with a small stage space, Restaurants, Coffee Shops.  I am particular fond of having a Showcase in a Coffee Shop Setting.  They tend to have a polite clientele who are not typically drinking, and they tend not to have wide screen televisions playing sports during your set.

When speaking with the business owner it is important to let them know what type of show you are promoting, what to expect,  content (some venues will shy away from profane material where others want the dirty stuff, its important to ask, the show needs to compliment the venue’s image or you wont be asked back), and provide them an outline of what they will be getting out of hosting an evening of comedy (paying customers, business on an off night, publicity, laughter etc.)

Lastly, pick a date with the venue owner.  Get your I-Phone out, set the date.  Create a Facebook Event Page and Tag everyone you know.   For a first show I suggest giving yourself two months for booking.  Check back with the owner once or twice to let them know what progress you are making.

Invite Comedians…But not too many Comedians

Ok you picked a type of show you want to produce, you have the venue and a future date set.  Now its time to get those Comedians.  I have found that comedians are flattered when you ask them to be part of a Showcase.  If you have a network of comedians in your state, reach out to them on Facebook.  If you are new to the Comedy World and unsure who is available for booking contact the nearest Comedy Club.  They should have a listing of local comedians who participate in Showcases and would be willing to travel to your city.  The more you book comedy shows the broader your network will become.  My first few shows were Comedians that I had worked with over the years.  They gave me referrals and I increased my network quickly.

One caution:  Do not book too many Comedians!  This is a mistake that I made early on.  I wanted to have a great show, I wanted everyone to be able to come to my town to perform, I booked my first few shows with eight comedians.  The show was great at first but dragged on for over two hours.  The comedians at the close of the show had to perform in front of a audience who was asleep sitting in their chairs and the employees at the venue were standing with their brooms ready to clean up quickly and get home.  Six Comedians doing about Ten Minutes of Comedy each should be sufficient.

Speak with the Local Newspaper

You need to let your community know that you are having a show.  You can do this through posters but getting an article in your local paper is a fantastic way to get the word out to quickly.  Newspapers are always looking for articles to fill their local section highlighting community events.  Contact your local newspaper and find out who covers events like yours

Invite them to interview yourself, the venue owners (they will love this, anything that puts their businesses name in the newspaper in a positive way is always welcome),  ask a few of the Comedians to do phone interviews.  Invite the reporter to the event.  Create a good contact.  Also, go on the local radio station.  They love to have Comedians on their talk shows.  They make great guests, add levity to a program and they are skilled at highlighting you and your event.  Obtain contact information from your media contacts.  They will be your friends for feature stories on follow up shows.

Make Sure you have PA Equipment or Buy Some

Once that show is booked and you have started the advertising you need to make sure that you have an adequate sound system.  Does the venue have one?  If they do ask if you can take a quick look at it.   Fortunately Stand UP Comedy does not require an intricate PA System but you need to know that there is a quality microphone, speaker, amplifier and how to use it.

If they do not have a PA System you might want to consider renting one or purchasing one of your own.  My suggestion is to purchase one.  After your first show you will be hooked and having a PA System will allow you to set up a show in a variety of settings.  Look on Amazon.  I have a very simple self amplified system and a Sure Microphone.  It has served me well for over three years costing me a little less than $250.00.

“Do I need a PA System?  I have done a lot of acting and I can project”.  Yes, a PA System is vital to Stand Up Comedy.  You should not be shouting at the audience.  The microphone can pick up subtle moments which would not he heard if you were not amplified.  There will be laughter which is loud and will drown out all other sound.   Stand Up Comedy and Microphone go together like Mac and Cheese.  You can have them separate but that leaves you feeling disappointed and a little sick to your stomach (I have no idea if that metaphor works but it is the best that I could think of in the moment, buy a PA System that is the message I want to impart here).

Start on time Finish Early

Let the comedians know what to expect.  The lineup.  Who is first, second, headlining.  How many minutes each performer gets.  When to arrive.  The comedians should arrive about 1/2 hour before the show.  You as the host and primary contact for the venue?  You should be there at least one hour before the show.  Hopefully with a comedy buddy (ie: performer who knows more about the PA System than you do).  Set up the PA System, do a sound check, let the venue know that you will be rearranging chairs and tables so the audience can see the performance and that the tables, chairs and everything will be put back in its place before you leave.  Do not just leave and let the employees clean up.  You will find that this will be your first and last showcase.

If the Showtime is at 8:00pm, start it right then.  It is ok to call five minutes and let people get their seats but start it on time.  Know that some people arrive late and that is ok.   Do not do an intermission, just run the show straight through all six performers.  It should be around 90 minutes of comedy if you run a tight show.

Thank the Comedians, Thank the Venue, Thank the Audience and say Good Night.

Grab and broom and start cleaning.  Even if the venue says “no, its ok, we can do that, you have done enough” keep helping.  If you are a good guest you will be asked to come back again and again.

Evaluate and Set up a Follow Up Show

Take a little time to bask in the glory of your first showcase!  You earned it.  Meet with a Comedian friend who was in the show.  Discuss what went well, what might be a good change for the next show.  Meet with the venue and ask how they thought it went.   Be open to feedback.  Make adjustments as suggested.  Set a second date and start booking those comedians.

I hope this helps anyone looking to book their first Stand Up Comedy Show!

 

United we Stand Up!

Comedy and an interview with Chris Louris on Refugee Resettlement

IMG_0291I was honored to be a part of United We Stand Up!   We opened the show with Stand Up Comedy at Speakeasy Cafe in Rutland Vermont then interviewed former Mayor Christopher Loraus on the Refugee Resettlement Program.

I always felt that Comedy and Politics should not mix until last night   We absolutely need Comedy in Politics!  Eight Comedians, one former Politican one great Evening  of provocative Comedy and Political Analysis!

Thank you to everyone who came out and thank you Mayor Louras!

 

 

Booking Improvisational Comedy

The YesAnds of Booking an Improvisational Comedy Show

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If you are like me, you love improvisational comedy.  You are a student of this brand of theater art.  You have studied the greats.  You have read every book by Del Close and Keith Johnstone.  You have an appreciation for both the short form and long form versions.  You have your own improvisational comedy troupe and you are ready to perform for an audience and of course they are going to appreciate you!

Then, you go to sell your product to venues and you are met with questions like “what is improvisational comedy?  Are you doing stand up?  Or, oh yeah! We can do that! We have a bachelor party coming up and need a comedian to tell some jokes.  My first experience booking improvisational comedy was a disaster.  I got my troupe a paid gig at a bachelor party.

There was no stage, we were performing in a bar in-between a wide screen television and a Donkey Kong Machine.  There was an open kitchen and you could hear short order cooks yelling “order up” over our attempts to get “suggestions” from the audiences.   One of the performers accidentally bumped into a waitress causing a tray full of drinks to crash on the “stage” I felt bad for the groom, was this the best way to spend his last night of bachelorhood?  Our show was cut off early when the DJ began blaring dubstep tunes and the audience got up and started dancing on our beer stained stage.

I have done multiple shows like this one and frankly they have taught me what not to do.  I learn a lot through failure (and fortunately I get a lot of comedic material through failure so all is not lost).

If you have an improvisational comedy troupe I want to offer just a little advice that might help in your efforts to get your first official show booked, successful and potentially keep your shoes from smelling like Guinness Stout.th6ENWAO40

  1. Improvisational Comedy belongs on a Stage:  “Just because the venue says yes does not mean you need to yes/and them and book the show.”  Improv requires attention from the audience.  The players create a story line with a beginning middle and an end.  The audience is part of the act.  They need to interact with intelligent suggestions that can be used to create theater.  Its difficult to do that when Guns and Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine is blaring over the sound system.   I am not criticizing bars or restaurants as venue’s for entertainment.  In my experience, the clientele typically have short attention span’s.  A setting that can be a disaster for improvisational comedy can be fantastic for Stand Up which relies on short punchy jokes.  Three months after the bachelor party disaster this same venue started booking stand up comedy and it ran successfully for over a year.   When booking Improv visit the venue first.  See if they have a stage.  If they don’t that’s ok.  Explain the concept to the owner.  See if they will allow you to set up a theater style stage in their venue for just one night with chairs set up in front of the stage area.  Ask the audience to turn off their cell phones (it’s amazing how they will do this when you ask politely and how attentive they will be) And ask the venue to turn off the televisions during the show.  I repeat!  Ask the venue to turn the televisions off during the show!  You don’t want to be competing for laughs with images of Lebron James dunking on a big screen.
  2. Partner with a local Community Theater Group: “But I have tried to find a stage, there is a small theater but they want to charge me”.  I hear you on this one!  I live in a small New England Town and we have three theaters.  Each offers the use of their theater at a cost prohibitive to a comedy troupe who’s operating budget includes a six pack of beer and a half eaten bag of Lay’s Potato Chips.  Community Theater Groups exist to allow local residents to participate in theater (through acting, behind the scenes etc).  They are frequently looking for innovative concepts to add to their season.  Research the community theater groups in your area.  Reach out to their board of directors.  Set a time to meet or ask if you can attend one of their meetings to pitch your idea for a show.  Or, become involved with the community theater itself.  Most of these groups have a dedicated following with access to media and advertising.   Its best to inquire before a community theater starts their new season as these groups will tend to plan a year ahead.
  3. Organize an Improvisational Comedy Fundraiser: “Ok, I reached out to the local community theater.  They have a production of Guy’s and Dolls running and we need to wait.  I don’t want to wait! I want my troupe to perform now!”.  Ok!  I understand! You have been practicing, you are funny, you want to get in front of an audience today and your dog is sick of watching the six of you perform in your living room.  So, why not organize a fundraiser?  Any community has a variety of local non-profit and charitable organizations who would gladly host an evening of comedy with proceeds going to help them achieve their mission.  Research your community.  What are the needs?  Who are the people at the organizations you should speak with?  I have coordinated comedy shows for organizations that assist people with heating cost, housing, food, one of our best shows was at a local school where we raised nearly $2000.00 in one evening for their Autism Program.   When you do a fundraiser you will find that the organization and the community will come out as people like to give for causes that help impact their community in a positive way.  Venues will be more likely to host a show if they know that the money is going to a good cause.

Hopefully this advice is helpful!  Finally, when you get that first show booked, the audience is seated waiting for you to start.  Take a moment to let them know that they are going to see.  People always confuse improvisational comedy with stand up.   They need to know that you will be doing scenes and asking for suggestions.  And most importantly, thank them for coming to see you!

Good Luck!