Last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Dreesen for the DC Comedy Writers Group. We discussed a number of things about comedy, but one thing that truly stuck in my head was his comment about becoming a student of comedy. With one simple quote, he reminded me why comedians should develop their style at their own pace:
“The only competition is your former self. Don’t panic – this is a lifetime marathon. There is no end to the race in comedy. We never stop learning!”
It felt great to hear that from someone who has performed comedy for over 44 years. When I started my comedy career, I discovered two journeys:
- Learning how to write and perform comedy
- The ‘Business’ side of comedy (aka “Show Business”)
There are tons of books on how to write jokes, but very few will cover the business aspects. For the new members of our comedy writers group who want to learn joke structure and building a routine, we suggest Greg Dean’s book ‘ Step By Step To Stand-UP Comedy’. The book is designed to help new comics learn about creating jokes and make them funnier as they gain more experience on stage. Rob Durham’s book “Don’t Wear Shorts On Stage” is one of the few books that actually lays out the groundwork for building a comedy career. As a stand up comedian, Rob discusses how to move past the open mic shows, working through the ranks to becoming a headliner, and what are some things to expect while performing on the road.
Every industry has a history, and comedy is no exception. There is no magic formula for success, but there are proven and documented methods for avoiding immediate failure. Taking time to read interviews from established comedians can only enhance your knowledge. Larry Wilde’s “Great Comedians Talk About Comedy” interviewed comedians from the 1950’s and 1960’s. The advice and quotes from Dick Gregory, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Phyllis Diller and others are timeless!
These days, we also have the luxury of selecting how we continue to learn as comedians. There’s a plethora of DVDs, podcasts, websites, Facebook groups, and more. I found it helpful to divide this information into subtopics:
Comedian performances – Everyone probably has a favorite comedian/comedienne they admire. No need to explain anything here!
Everybody and his brother’s dog has a podcast these days. My preference for podcasts feature interviews and topics ‘by comedians for comedians’. Call it my ‘Comedy FUBU Network’ (‘For Us, By Us’….if you’re not into fashion – that joke just died):
- ComedyA-Go-Go: Hosted by Dave Nelson
- The Stand Up Chronicles: Hosted by Adam Harris
- Green Room Radio: Hosted by Vilmos
- Connected Comedy: Hosted by Josh Spector, Chelcie Rice, and Josh Homer
BTW – the hosts for these shows (and sometimes their guests) are available for additional questions after the podcast, and they welcome feedback on iTunes, Twitter and Facebook. Let them know you appreciate and enjoy what they’re doing.
Online comedy groups:
Be selective when deciding to join groups, be some of them can become real time suckers if you allow them. I see nothing wrong with that sometimes, because we need less television in our lives. Before posting in a particular group, I suggest observing the comments made by members to determine if the group is meaningful to you. There is nothing more boring (to me) than reading the posts of bitter comedians who didn’t make it; so they prefer to bitch out the world with their posts. The groups I follow assist comics with career questions and helpful responses. Some of my favorite groups include:
- Connected Comedy
- Fellow Stand Ups
- DC Comedy Writers
- Kaleidoscope Comedy
- Laugh Factory
- Stand-Up Comedians
- Loretta LaRoche Productions Speakers and Entertainers
- Humorous Speakers Bureau – Marketing Comedians & Keynote Speakers
In closing: Don’t limit yourself to one particular artist, style, or era when building your comedy career. Learning and networking from others will enhance your experiences, and remind yourself why we are ‘Comedy Junkies!’ Keep writing and performing!
© 2012 Wayne Manigo
Wayne Manigo is a comedian and co-founder of DC Comedy Writers Group. He is the creator of “Addicted to Comedy,” and the ‘brainchild’ behind the annual comedy conference, Starting Stand Up: A Comic Beginning. He also produces the show, Bellylaughs in Bethesda at Caddies at Cordell.