BREAKING INTO SHOWBIZ
A Serious Look At Comedy
Dr. Sandi C. Shore is the sister of famous actor/comedian Pauly Shore. Born into comedy, Sandi grew up in a world of jokes and was cradled by everyone from Elvis Presley to Milton Berle. Today, Sandi (who is also an ordained minister with a Ph.D. in Metaphysics) is the owner of The Sandbox, a stand-up comedy workshop and home-study course. Sandi developed the business to help aspiring comics (from housewives to corporate executives) learn the language of comedy for their daily life.
Stand-up comedy is by far the most difficult aspect of show business. Just ask anyone who?s tried it! Actors are playing a part, but comedians have to be themselves. It?s a very difficult transition going from actor to comedian, simply because actors are trained to ?play? a comedian and not ?be? one.
A lot of times actors create material, whereas a true comic ?is? their material. I train my students to become the character they already are and not to tell jokes. Stand-up comedy is not about telling jokes. It?s about characterizing your everyday life into the language of comedy ? a skill that has to be practiced and studied. Once you master this skill, the doors will begin to fly open for you! And I?m not just talking about your career. It?s about self-confidence and self-esteem. There won?t be one interview or speech you give that will make you shake in your booties. Why? Because you will master being in the moment. You?ll learn to think on your feet.
When a casting director reads ?comedy? on your resume, they see range, they light up, and they will remember you! And the best way to be seen by agents, managers, and casting directors is to invite them to your ?showcase.? Make sure you?re ready though, because you?re judged with the first impression. In other words, keep working at your skill performing in small coffee houses or emceeing local functions in your town. When you?re good enough, you will be discovered. One by one, those invitations to emcee or do stand up at a friend?s party will come in. Go for it! This is a little opposite from the ?go out and pound the doors down? scenario. But it works. It?s a tried and true way to break in.
And who are some the most influential personalities in show biz today? Robin Williams, David Letterman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Carey, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, and Roseanne Barr, just to name a few! And what is the string that binds them together? Stand-up comedy, of course. Their roots, along with hundreds of others, are in stand-up comedy.
Growing up in the comedy business, I?ve watched them bomb on stage. I?ve seen lots of standing ovations and been around for their big break. If they were not persistent in their dreams, they would not be in the light today! I?ve told many discouraged comics over the years to keep going ? as I tell you, the reader, to follow your dream. It?s not supposed to be easy. It should be a fun game you learn to play. Be fair and happy along the way, not comparing yourself to others. You are unique! As a career, stand-up comedy is only for a select few, but the skills gained through learning the craft is for everyone.
Here are the 12 secrets to putting together a winning comedy routine (taken right out of my book Sandi C. Shore?s Stand Up Comedy Workshop Workbook).
Secret 1 Comedy is based on truth. Are you stupid? Go with it! Are you a liar? So what! Are you fat? Good. Are you perfect? Oh, please.
Secret 2 We are perfect as we are. The idea is not to change a thing about yourself, faults and all. The reason you should accept yourself is that you can?t fool your audience. They can see right through you.
Secret 3 Everything in comedy is emotionally based. Isn?t that true about life in general? If you?re not emotionally attached to your material, neither will your audience.
Secret 4 A specific attitude (or point of view) is the best way to make sure your audience remembers you. This is what turns you into a character. You must be consistent in your set from beginning to end. A good example of consistency in attitude and appearance is the character of Archie Bunker in All In The Family. He remains constant in his views on life, in his prejudices, in his tunnel vision.
I have determined that there are 7 basic personality types of the comedian. There?s a little of each in all of us, but look for the one that dominates your personality the most: Sarcastic, Ego-Driven/Egocentric, Underdog/Poor-Me-Syndrome, Victim, Shy/Reserved, Opinionated, and Observationalist. Which one are you?
Secret 5 Use words that create a picture. Next time you laugh, examine why. Someone said something. You saw the picture in your mind, and it made you laugh. For example, if you spend a lot of time in your car, you might say, ?my car is a giant purse.? The more pictures you create, the funnier you are.
Secret 6 Your whole routine becomes a visual experience?physically (acting it out), verbally, and mentally. This is for the more advanced. It?s the part where you add in body gestures and become more physically involved.
Secret 7 The secret to comedy writing is?writing. Thoughts are fleeting, so it?s a good idea to carry a little notebook around. How many times did you think, I?ll remember that. And when you try to retrieve the thought, it?s gone.
Secret 8 Always leave your audience wanting more of you. For example, a comedian wouldn?t sing a whole song ? just a few bars would do.
Secret 9 Acting out your lines turns you into a comedian. Acting out your lines means ?becoming? your lines. It brings your set into the present moment, is engaging to watch, and is a key element to emotionally bonding with your audience.
Secret 10 Your goal is to make your set into one long story. It gives the feeling of a continuous story as you smoothly tie each topic into the next. Next time you watch your favorite comic, note the transitions and expansions of the topics as they pull you into their stories.
Secret 11 Get your audience in the first 10 seconds. This is almost your opening before your opening. It may be the way you dress or the way you walk up to the microphone. It?s the first place where you establish your attitude.
Secret 12 Bombing is a positive experience. View yourself as a living piece of art ? constantly reshaping and reinventing yourself until you?re satisfied with the sculpture. After a lifetime of watching comics, I?ve learned that bombing is a part of the growth process. There?s no such thing as a failure. I like to find the positive in every situation, even if others perceive it as negative.
Answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions:
How do I market myself? Before you think of beginning, be sure you?re confident and satisfied with your abilities and uniqueness. You?ll need a minimum of 10-15 minutes of material for the ?opening? act, 20-30 minutes for the ?middle? act, and 30-60 minutes for the ?headliner.? If you?re just starting out, you?ll only need 3-5 minutes. My advice comes from watching and assisting an endless stream of newcomers trying to ?break into the biz.? While it seems simple enough to do while reading about it, implementing it is another story. This is where your persistence comes in. At this point, it?s 90% drive and 10% talent. Many times it?s all in who you know. So get out there and start networking!
Let?s go through the steps: Your foundation needs to be strong. Have at least 30 performances under your belt. You must feel satisfied with your set. You need a professional reel of your performance, so find a good editor. I would suggest two versions: a short one (5-10 minutes) and a longer version, in case someone wants to see more of you.
Next, send out copies of your tape to different clubs. But before doing that, call and make sure the club knows it?s coming; then do a follow-up call. Be ready for possible rejection. Just keep trying! If you live in a town that already has a comedy club, just show up and find out when you can get stage time. They?ll usually have at least one night a week for newcomers to perform.
Then start networking. Very often fellow comics will take you with them on their gigs and get you a spot. Then one day you can do the same for another comic who is just starting out.
Do I need an agent or manager? I always tell my students, ?Let them come to you!? When you?re good enough, one day someone from the audience will come up to you and ask if you have representation. Or a fellow comic may recommend you to an agent or manager who will then come and see your show. This is called a ?showcase.? Do you need an agent or manager? Eventually.
Will I be able to make a living doing stand up? Consider stand up a full-time hobby; keep your day job! The most important thing you must do is get stage time ? wherever and whenever you can. This means you?ll be working for free. Eventually you can make enough for gas money, maybe $15 to $25 per spot. Then it goes up from there. An average comic will probably receive $100 for a spot. If you decide to ?go on the road,? that?s a different story. Sometimes you have to pay your own way and even your hotel bill. Of course, the better comics make a living at this. It takes years to get the top dollar. So give it some patience, because it is possible to make a living at stand up. Think of it like college. How many years does it take to graduate? Plus, comedy and laughter help to bring about good health, joy, and a well-balanced life. Enjoy the journey!
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF SANDI C. SHORE
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