Say Something Funny on Demand

Hi Dave – I want to ask you if you had any advice for when you tell someone you’re a comedian and the first thing they say is “tell me a joke” or “say something funny.” I think it’s a little rude of them. Also, since my sense of humor is about storytelling, they seem disappointed that I just don’t tell them a joke. Is there anything polite I can say when people say things like that to me? Thanks – K

The joke’s on you!

Hey K – First of all, thanks for driving this week’s FAQ into Audience Participation Land. I’ll have something to say about this (as usual) below, but the best answers will come from working or aspiring comics who’ve had to deal with this.

So…? This is where I’m throwing it out to everyone reading this. Have YOU been asked, “Tell me a joke” or “Say something funny” after someone found out you’re a comedian?

* You can use the contact link above or my email is at the end of this article. Let’s hear what you’ll say when someone demands you, “Tell me a joke.”

As anyone who has been around the entertainment industry will tell you, this is not a new question or dilemma. It’s been a potential headache for performers whenever word gets out about what they do for a living. An example of dealing with this from a Hollywood point of view is a classic scene in the film Lovin’ You with Elvis Presley (humor me, I’m a classic rocker). A local greaser bullies him to sing a song. When he finishes, Elvis (“Sideburns”) asks what this guy does for a living – and tells him to return the favor, “Cuz I usually get paid for singing.”

You can see how it turns out at this YouTube LINK. Fast forward to about 4:55 into the clip – then duck & cover.

What do you do?

“Tell me a joke” has also been the topic of more than a few comedy rants for probably longer than any of us has been around. I can’t remember who was on stage the first time I realized comedians dealt with this on a regular basis, but I’m pretty sure it was at the NYC Improv. And as a cheesy lounge singer in a cheesy lounge might introduce the bit:

“It went a little something like this…”

Comedian: This guy says, “If you’re a comedian, then tell me a joke.” So, I tell him a joke. Then I ask what he does. He says he’s a chef. So, I say, “Okay, now you show me what you do. Make me dinner.”

In an Elvis movie, that would lead to a fight. In a fantasy movie, it could lead to the guy fixing the comic’s dinner. In real life – the guy asking the question would probably think the comic was trying to be funny and laugh it off (with a bit of deserved embarrassment, I hope).

You can also say you get paid for your work. Making audiences laugh is your job and you don’t work for free. If they want to cough up the bucks, you’ll tell them a joke.


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My way of thinking – and this is probably from hanging around too many comedians for too many years – would lean toward the insult comic response. I can crack up just thinking of how Dave Chappelle, Jeffrey Ross, Chris Rock… or even some classics like Joan Rivers or Don Rickles would answer such a question.

I’d take a seat and enjoy the free show.

But you mentioned being polite about it. That’s also clear when you said that you tell stories and your style of comedy – storytelling, rather than jokes – may disappoint them. So, in your case… uh… well, I guess you should be polite.

I wouldn’t exactly want a seat to enjoy that type of free show, but since you’ve asked…

Thank them for their interest in your career and change the direction of the conversation. Most people like to talk about themselves, so go ahead and put the focus on them. Find out what they’re interested in and what line of work they’re in. And… uh… well, then (sorry for this, but I can’t help myself) …

Ask them to do it for you – FOR FREE!

“You’re a chef? Then make me dinner.”

Have a better comeback? You can let me know…

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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How tacky is your sales pitch?

Hey Dave – One of the guys I work with was telling me how he does these after-hours networking events where people from all different businesses hand out business cards to each other and get to know each other and see if they can make a bridge to possibly do business in the future. He told me they have entertainers networking at these events.

I want to go to these things when I get my website up and running and try to get bookings for business events and parties. Any advice on what someone would be looking for to get booked at a company event? Would it be tacky to carry around my promo stuff like my bio and resume with me? Or should I offer to send that to them at a later date? – DB

Foot in the door edge!

Hey DB – Why am I having a hard time thinking of anyone in this crazy business who isn’t tacky at least occasionally? You can put on a suit and be a complete professional to represent yourself, but sometimes you need to have a little “edge” to make your presence known if you want to get ahead.

I’m not talking pushy, but hopefully you get the idea. If not, here’s what I mean…

Good promoting can lead to good sales. There are a lot of salespeople that get business by being total professionals with a good “sales pitch” and promotional material. Then again, there are times when a door is starting to close in their face and they just can’t help it… call it instinct, training, experience or determination… but they just can’t stop themselves from sticking their foot in the door and making one last sales pitch.

Tacky?

Yeah, that term has a way of coming up when talking about certain sales techniques. But if you want the business and have a product (in our case we’re talking about your comedy act or speaker presentation) that deserves to be considered, you have to find ways to let the buyer know. If you don’t, you can bet someone else will.

Okay, first things first. 

What would I be looking for if it was my job to book someone (a comedian or speaker) for a company event? I’ve said this numerous times in past FAQs And Answers, but will use the opportunity for a quick reminder…

When I was booking corporate (business) shows we always looked for G-rated material. 

That’s a BIG resume!

Okay, PG at the max – and that only depended on the type of company and what the boss or event planner requested. But honestly, those were few and far between. Everyone else was too worried about someone – anyone, including the boss and employees – being offended during a company event.

The comedians I used the most knew how to entertain these audiences with their regular topics (the material they were also doing in the comedy clubs) but could keep it squeaky clean for corporate events. In other words, the laughs didn’t depend on dropping an F-Bomb, graphic sex jokes, or bathroom humor. The guy at work who stands around the coffee machine telling jokes and the company prude could both be entertained at the same time.

Can you do that? 

If you want to be a player in the corporate comedy or speaking biz, it’s a requirement. That’s the first concern and there’s no getting around it.

Now that we’ve made this perfectly clear, I’ll stick my foot in the door and continue the conversation…

The after-hours business card meetings sound very promising. Your goal is to connect with any event planners and people from the Human Resource Departments. From experience, other than the boss, these are the people that are usually in charge of the company events, or at least have some say in how it will all work. Of course, anyone can put in a recommendation if they have an event or party coming up, so don’t be tacky and avoid anyone who might not appear to be important enough to give you a job. They might just be the break room jokester or office prude the CEO is concerned with keeping entertained and not offended.

Is it tacky to carry your promo material with you in this type of situation?

Yes, I think so.

But here’s the deal, all your promotional material should be online anyway. Do you have a dedicated website? If not – you should.

That’s one way to make it clear you’re a professional. Sending a business client to your Facebook page to find your promotional video between photos of that day’s lunch and your cat is not going to result in too many paid gigs– if any at all.

I recommend you always be prepared to make a sales pitch if the opportunity arises. That’s why every professional still carries business cards that will direct a potential client to your website. You never know when or where you’ll make your next valuable connection.

But again, being professional is the key. And it’s different in the business world than in the entertainment business world – and I’ll give you an example.

When I was at The Improv in New York and Hollywood, there were always a lot of showcases (auditions) for television shows. And not just for shows that used standup comedians. Quite often there was casting for sitcoms or movies and with these types of showcases, if the casting person was looking for a certain “type,” all the auditioning performers would be scheduled because they fit that “type.”

For example, you might have ten comedians auditioning for a specific role. If they were looking for a male – there would be ten men auditioning. Female – ten women. The showcase would be booked around the casting call for a specific type.

But not every comic that fit the desired type could be on the showcase.

There would be only X number of spots to be seen over X amount of time. So usually there were lots of comedians that didn’t get the opportunity to audition. But quite often the professional comedians in NYC and LA had their promotional material with them – or close enough (in their car) so they could have it within a matter of minutes if there would be a chance to network. And a lot of times if they weren’t on a showcase but thought they should’ve been given the opportunity, they’d hang around the club until the casting person was leaving and ask if they would accept it as a submission.

What’s the worst that can happen? Being told NO? You’ve already been told that when you weren’t asked to be part of the showcase.

So, is it as tacky as a salesman sticking his foot in a closing door? Yeah, but like a final sales pitch for a good product, sometimes it works.

The idea is not to waste an opportunity.

But remember, the business you’re talking about networking for – bookings in the corporate market – is different than the entertainment business I was just talking about. It would definitely be tacky to carry around full promotional packages at one of these business card-trading events.

Most promotion today is done online.

So, the bottom line to giving yourself the “edge” without coming off as “tacky” is to always be prepared to network and promote. Today that means keeping your dedicated website updated and don’t forget your business cards.

That’s the simplest business tool for networking and promoting – and makes the effort a lot easier than carrying around “old fashioned” promotional packages that no one else will want to carry around after you hand it to them.

And the best part about networking with only business cards? There’s nothing tacky about it. In fact, in this business it’s expected.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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Networking for stage time

Hey Dave – Love your posts. I have a question that you may be able to share and help me with. I am at an Emcee status. I have worked a few shows with some other good comics and they (believe it or not) are helping me out. My question is I live not far from NYC and Philadelphia. How can I get hooked up with someone that can get me some MC gigs? I look online but it seems like you really have to jump through hoops. The bringer shows are a waste of time because they love you until you can’t bring people in.

I produced a show in my area, and it went GREAT! I had 2 comedians from NYC. Any advice… I know I threw a lot at you but maybe you could give me some feedback. Thanks – PD

Who do you know?

Hey PD – First of all talent, good (funny) material and stage experience are requirements. Since you’re getting on stage, I’m guessing you already know that.

And just about everyone reading this knows what you mean about bringer shows. If not, it means you have to bring x-amount of paying customers to the club if you want to perform. If they require ten people and you only show up with five – chances are you not going on stage that night. But since you made that more of a statement than a question…

When you’re ready to move into new territory – in your case New York City – it’s a lot easier when you know someone already working there. In other words:

Connections.

And it always helps when your connections also have connections and you can all help each other get stage time.

SO, what we’re really talking about here is networking.

This is not the first time (there have been plenty!) we’ve hit on this topic, but that wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t important. Networking is also covered in a lot business (other than the comedy or speaking biz) training seminars. That’s how a lot of companies stay in business. They network to gain new customers.

Comedians and speakers should also network to get bookings.

For example, I did a training seminar at a big conference. They must have liked what I did because they asked me to recommend a speaker for their next event. I gave them the name of a good friend I knew would be great for the gig, and then called her and said to get in touch with the event planner.

She got the booking AND for more money than they had paid me! Fast forward in the networking process…

A few months ago, she recommended me to one of her past clients. They called – we booked it – and they paid me more money than what they had paid her. It’s called pay back.

It’s also called networking and it works.

Let’s get back to your goal of getting on stage in NYC. You have the first step in place…

You’ve already produced a “GREAT” show and brought in two comics from NYC. I’m assuming you paid them (always a great incentive to get comics to leave NYC), which means you have two connections.

  • Did you do much talking (networking) before, during and after the gig?
  • Did they (be honest) like your set?
  • Did you mention you’re interested in performing in NYC?
  • Did they offer any help?
  • Did you offer to bring them back for another (paid) gig?
  • After that – did they offer any help?
  • Did you ask for any help in getting on stage in NYC?

In other words, did they have any connections for you? In the quest for stage time, helping someone else can (if deserved) result in a pay back.

Here’s another example…

I got into the comedy biz because I wanted to be a stand-up. I guess that’s how most of us fall into this. And like some of my friends, I wound up behind the scenes. But that’s a different story….


 

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I knew the importance of stage time. I was living in NYC, but it was tough to find. Yeah, there were lots of open-mics and some of them were bringer shows, but there were also lots of other comedians working hard for those performing slots. You had to arrive early to sign up and then usually wait hours to get five minutes on stage.

Usually other comedians ran these open-mics and if their friends showed up, they would get favored treatment. Unfair? Yeah, that’s what the rest of us that didn’t get “favored treatment” would insinuate behind their backs. It could be very wearing on the nerves watching certain “favorites” go on stage while sometimes I wouldn’t get on until almost 4 am. Other times not at all.

To get around this problem, I started my own open-mic club.

And to be honest, it was very successful. We always had a full audience, no bringer policy, and it became a popular weekend stage for the open-mic comics and some working comics at that time. Included in this group were a lot of the comedians who were also running open-mics around Manhattan.

Are you following me so far?

SO, I started networking with these connections.

If a comedian who ran another open-mic wanted stage time I’d give it to him or her – no problem. AND in turn, if I wanted to go up at their open-mic – no problem. They would return the favor.

* I didn’t invent this. I just saw through experience how it worked and played the connections game.

SO, back to you PD…

If you’re producing a successful show with NYC comics, then you need to start networking and ask for their help in getting you on stage in NYC. Obtaining a name, phone number, email, or in-person introduction to a person booking the shows should be your goal and the least they can do.

If not – book two different NYC comedians next time.

Believe me, there are plenty who would appreciate the opportunity. A personal connection beats the heck out of cold calling, blind emails, countless postings on Facebook or LinkedIn, or arriving early to sign up and hope they find time before the end of the show for your five minutes.

But first of all, you need talent, funny material and experience.

If you can’t deliver the goods – NEVER ask someone to put their reputation on the line for you just because you gave them a gig. That’s one way to short-circuit your potential reputation and have possible connections avoid you at all costs. If you don’t believe me, scroll down to my article from a few weeks ago about being a “pain” when it comes to getting referrals.

Be serious and honest with yourself. If you can back up your act or presentation with those requirements, then start to pay it forward. Help someone else find stage time and hopefully they’ll return the favor.

And for anyone who thinks this is just a topic for a business-training seminar, you’re correct. It is. In fact, successful business people call it good business sense.

Now I’ll sign off before I use the word business again. It sounds too cold and calculated and you really shouldn’t be that way – correct? Well, not unless you want to get your comedy or speaking business going with more stage time.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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