Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I'm telling you, it's no joke

Comedy is not funny. Comedy is a job just like anything else out there. Compared to any form of entertainment, it takes practiced. It takes dedication and hard work. You can't just “do” comedy, music, acting, drawing... hell you can't just read, write, run, drive, swim... None of this is possible without practice. Practice is simply repetitive action of its proper execution. You practice something wrong for years, you will be doing it wrong. You must work hard at doing it correctly. Be conscious of what you're doing while you're doing it.

There are so many aspects of being a comedian, musician or even an actor. An entertainer is not just someone who expresses themselves in an art form. They are aware of many variables. You have many layers to its development. Then you have levels to your skill. Before we get into variables, let us explore skill level.

Novice: You have just entered a particular world of a chosen craft. You know basic information on the subject. Enjoy to have enticed your interest in joining an elite group of people who want to train for their lives to become Masters. This is a level where someone who was a hobbyist decided to dedicate more time into learning their craft. If you are someone starting out, and you don't work your everyday, you are still a hobbyist and haven't even joined ranks with the lowest class of a career orientated professional.

Skilled: Time has passed when you are well versed in your craft to entertain those who watch/follow you. You can control your direction, yet you are still learning from both example of your peers, and your own continues failings. At this level you can start instructing those below you on how to get started. You're aware of what it takes and probably have molded your lifestyle to incorporate what is needed to become successful.

Expert: You are so experienced in your craft that you now can teach those looking for direction. You are no longer practicing but growing, evolving from what you have learned. Your practice time is not about what needs to be learned, but perfecting what it is that you have learned. Since everything around you that involves your craft is now absorbed without thinking about it. Where when you started you sought out avenues to figure out what to do next. Now you memorized your path and utilize your time wisely. Hesitation, fear, and stage-fright is almost nonexistent.

Master: Though there is always something to learn, since information is ever changing, you are continue to enjoy what you have learned. Creating from your years of hard work, dedication and time poured into your craft. You are most likely respected for your skill within your community of fellow entertainers. You finally understand the value of all your knowledge. Realizing it will continue until you are enlighten by the very value of each perfect step.

Now, variables.

You have your art, and you have your business. Anyone can sit down and perfect their “art”, their “skill” but you have to be aware of how business works. If you want to be a professional you need to understand there is more than just art. Learn the business of your selected career road. Don't get confused with perfecting your “skill” when all you are doing is taking 5 years to figure out how to write a song, make a person laugh, or control an emotion reaction. Where as you finally feel “Skilled” enough to work yourself in that field, taking another 5 years to just get known... then another 5 years to start getting work. That is 15 years of your life, where you could have done all that in 5 years if you had worked a little on everything.

If you stand still working on your craft you are not exposing yourself or networking. You don't have to perform to get exposure, or start networking. Let your name get out there. Besides, even in your beginning stages it doesn't hurt to be seen. Because if anything they see your growth and may or may not be impressed, but something is always better than nothing. Don't waste the time you have here. You only get one life with this chance and you need to keep making things happen. Don't stand around thinking “if only” or I will get to it once I am better. I don't want to make a fool of myself. You will find a great many things in your first year of learning, only if you really get out there.

Peace and hope, until again...
~ Thomas J Bellezza

PS remember one thing. If you feel you worked five days during the week then you realize all you did was a show (Without promotion/exposure, networking) and you wrote material all week. You did not work. You practiced on your craft. Practicing has nothing to do with furthering your career. You can always practice when and while you are making things happen in your career.

Also... HELP EACH OTHER IN ENTERTAINMENT!!! You wish someone would help you, or give you a chance...? Well, give someone else that same respect.

Lesson over...

Altayon -- Music, Theater, Experience!!!

While doing comedy, I am also a musician who plays in a band called "Altayon"
Please take a moment and hear what it is all about.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Another mic night open to everyone; Helping out

A hookah lounge, the Extraordinair Hookah Lounge to be exact. That was where I had found myself in Clearwater Florida for another exciting Open Mic Night of comedy. Every Thursday, or as many as I can get freed to go, I am there. Like clockwork one may say. I come here to enjoy new found friends that occupy my night's curiosity into a world of social comedic entertainment. I hear stories from that weeks “occurrences” of successful misadventures. Laughter with fellow minded equals filled my inward jollies. There is never a moment I think that Thursday couldn't go by faster. I await Thursdays, and I embrace them. This is one of the better Open Mics I have been to for comedy.

Though, like all good things, I have some weird observations of a society collected in skill training environments. I found myself laughing at a lot of comedians; not just because they were funny. Yet it almost seemed rude of me to explode into hysteria when I heard a joke for the umpteenth time. As if I couldn't find that joke funny again, or maybe it took this one time for me to finally get that joke. I mean that is highly unlikely, but I should always keep my optional paths open at all times. That's where I get confused when I go to these things. Most comedians, which accumulate a majority of your Open Mic crowds, take their time not to laugh. Why? Well, my theory, being more correct than wrong, is that they are analyzing your joke, your motion on stage and gauging your comedic worth valued against their own.

I talked to a gentlemen, who is basically starting out, last night and he had said something to me that made sense. From his perspective, not mine. He said that he hates when he performs at an Open Mic and no one laughs. He needs to figure his joke's worth through interactive laughter. Fine, this is true. On a side note, I feel you are up there just to speak your lines and get comfortable with what you have to say on stage. How to hold the mic, so on and so forth... But, he needs that laughter. SO, why do the comics not laugh? So much so, that when I, a comedian, laughed it seemed awkward. There is no reaction, and when you get a laugh it is a small giggle or moan, or someone judging you so deeply that they can't handle your hackish material. Which I agree with, don't do hack jokes. Puns are fun, but hack is just ridiculous. I've done my share and work hard to sway away.

So this is what I've come up with... It may sound “crazy”. Just hear me out. For like, maybe the length of this articles remaining breath.

Helping one another out. I know, it is way out there for people in the entertainment business. Mostly from those still at a novice level with their skill. Imagine you went up at an open mic and your joke, which is only in the beginning stages anyway, gets a reaction. Not silence. Okay, I hear you, what if the joke is so bad it doesn't make sense and therefore gets no laugh at all. Makes sense, why react at all. How about everyone gets together at the end of the show and talks about their sets with one another. Or at the least, those who would like to. Or while someone is on stage and you just “Happen” to find the joke funny but just don't laugh... why don't you laugh? Don't keep it in, and don't devalue these people working enough nerve to even get up there in the first place. Give these people what you wanted at one point or another. If you are feeling down, they are too.

For those who “are the greatest thing since slice bread” going up there, or sitting in the audience. Give it up. If you are sitting in a room with these same people, even if you have “real” shows once in a while, you are in the same boat as them. The moment you wake up to go to your day job you will understand what I am saying to you. When you make a living as a career comedian, that's when you'll be “above” the cause. Which in turn gives you an opportunity/chance to turn around to help those below you now. Because you'd want that too.

It is hard enough for people who are starting out, but to knock them down while they are trying to perform... that's just low. Also, while you are performing yourself, don't put yourself down on stage. NO DEVALUING YOURSELF!!! If a joke isn't working, just keep going. You have to make it work somehow. Talking it out on stage is why you are there. Be true to your form, don't wavier. Because when you are at a “real” show you will only thank yourself for taking that time to get use to it on a smaller stage.

Over all... BE SUPPORTIVE!!!

Peace and hope, until again...
~ Thomas J Bellezza

PS If you're starting out in comedy, please don't do these things.

1) Think you are so funny that you are awesome even before you hit the stage. Confidence and cockiness is not the same thing. Yeah a joke may be funny at home, but that doesn't mean your audience is going to give you a standing-ovation. Go up there humble. These stages have been touched by comedians/entertainers that put their whole life on the line to make a person reacted emotionally to their hard, very hard work at their particular craft. Don't dishonor this tradition of skill formed through dedication because you “think you're awesome”. On average, you're not awesome for at least 10 years.

2) Don't pause for laughter, pause because of laughter. It is okay to wait while your crowd laughs in spots you didn't write to be funny. It is annoying to watch a comedian tell a joke through laughter then pause at “their” punchline while the crowd sits in silence. Just because you think it's funny, doesn't mean it is. You have to follow your crowd and go with their flow. Slow up, speed up, tell a dirty joke, quick joke, clean joke, or even a long joke. Let your audience guide you, but control the room's vibe.

3) If you're hosting, don't do your set. A host works the audience into life. Get them going by making them interested in a show that is about to start. I talked about this in my last blog, but I still never see it. So, I'm telling those who are starting out. I've been here, involved in business entertainment, for 15 years dealing with professionals... A Host works a crowd, warms them up and tells their jokes within the context of your organized ramblings. A Feature act takes that vibe (by studying what the crowd likes based on how your host did) established through your host's efforts. Because your Headliner/Closer kills the audience by doing what they do best, entertain.

Lesson over...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Working an open mic night

New open mic night, and working an open mic night

I was involved in, what we call in the comedy business, an Open Mic Night. These are set up for a few reasons. To bring patrons in for support of that particular establishment, and give a place for comedians to work their new material.

For those who have never been to a place like this before here is a run down. You come in at a certain time, sign your name on a sheet of paper and wait out your night until they call your name. As you find yourself in this period of waiting you'll get a chance to watch “favorites” bypass that list all together. Oddly, it makes sense, those recurring favorites put their time in therefore they deserve that respect. Are they good comedians? That's not the point, them going every week is reason enough. Sitting there you study comedians, hopefully you're watching your craft be performed. Then in your head you rehearse your lines to hopefully not make a fool of yourself on stage. After all is said and done, you're given your 5 minutes of time (common) then lite to get off the stage. GET OFF THE STAGE WHEN THEY LIGHT YOU!!! If you don't you do two things... Comics get mad at you, and the club will not let you up again. RESPECT THE LIGHT!

So there you have it, but let me tell you of my night in this new environment.

I showed up to this place only to find myself sitting in my car for a little while. Not out of fear. I was put off that there appeared to be no one there. It so happened that was the case. It was suppose to start around 9 pm, but I didn't see anyone walk in until around 9:30 pm. At this time, they were just getting there to set up that dreaded list. My first impression on my entrance. I loved how clean it was. I really appreciated that. I thought it had a wonderful vibe too. If you had seen this place, its layout was weird but not deterring. There was no stage just an area where a mic accompanied by speakers were placed. You could see a bar filled with about 10 people ending with some douche from Kentucky. I was pleased that this place had a list that followed its number placement. The lottery set up is a little discouraging. I believe in first come first served, or even hand raising. “You want to go up? Great, now coming to the stage...”

So I signed up for 2nd place. I believe there were about 7 comics there that night. I would also say this show ran smoothly, wasn't drawn out, and really was a breath of fresh air. So I see their host go up and do his thing. Not the “host” thing, since that is about working with a crowd, getting them pumped up and really showing that crowd “Hey, there's a show starting.” Instead he basically did his set. Which is fine, it is after all, an open mic night. The audience was completely not interested in both that host and their first comedian. I heard a lot of, this crowd sucks, they are not getting it, my set sucked. I went up firing quick jokes out, talked to them, and really got down to work some of my more advanced versions of material that night. I did well. At minimum; got a laugh at everything I said. I also got laugh breaks where I had to stop talking. I even had opportunities to riff with my jokes, and play with a heckler who got mad at something I said. Though this crowd laughed at what I said, this gentleman didn't approve and made it known. I joked with him and got him to shut up. All in all, this was a good worked set. I had a nice performance.

I got off... stage... floor? And walked back to my seat. Finished my cold water and relaxed. Now, I would say that was the night. I have some commentary about that night. This blog is a demonstration of how I improve through my growth, but also an example of what should be done for those trying to get in the business.

I want to start saying I am not a fan of Open Mic Nights though I have nothing against Open Mic Nights as a place for practice. I am known for working new jokes at “real shows” while staying away from open mic nights. I can be found at them though I am not a fan of them. I will explain why below.

If you are going to use an Open Mic Night for its purpose, this should be your direction. You don't have to do it this way, but it helps. First rule, who cares what other people think at these things. You are there to help yourself speak your words. To feel comfortable on stage, holding not holding the mic, moving around the stage or even just breathing correctly. If you are there and feel uncomfortable then what is the point. I, personally, have never felt uncomfortable at a “real show” but have felt deterred from some few Open Mic Nights because some places just show so much hate. Hate is not comedy, embracing, laughter, and teasing, joking or even making friends are all forms of a real comedic world. Hate doesn't sound funny, it isn't funny.

That's first off, second, listen to what everyone is saying on stage, how they are saying, why they are saying it, see how they move, why they move, study them. NOT TO STEAL, but to learn your craft. This is an important part of growing.

Third, record your set however you can. Why? Good question. So you can later go back and review your set. To hear how you said the joke, did you add anything, did you get a laugh, no laugh. (Though at an open mic night a no laugh doesn't really matter... more below) To get better you have to be able to see where you came from. You may have the greatest memory in the world, but there is nothing wrong with being safe. This after all is your “career” wanted life, right?

Fourth, though most important. DON'T DEVALUE YOURSELF!!! or the crowd. There is no reason to react to that particular crowd not laughing at your joke. They are just there, you're suppose to be up their working your jokes, not paying attention to an open mic audience. If they laugh or not, this is not the place to judge your jokes. Ripping yourself apart after each joke will only make that audience care less for you, and it will sway your drive in a negative way. “That joke sucked.” “That was a thinking joke people.” “Moving right along because that didn't go well.” “Scratch that one off.” Etc. And please, please don't say you are new or starting out when you get the mic in your hand. That just kills your audience right there and then.

Five has to be, stop blaming the crowd. I've seen comedians bomb one right after the other. Finally there is that one comedian that makes “that” crowd cry laughing. Sometimes it just isn't your night. It is not your jokes at an Open Mic Night, it is just YOU. You were not on that night. Something was different, you just were not aware. You could play the greatest song in the world, or tell your best “A” joke and if your off that night, no one will care.

Finally... Comedians at these Open Mic Nights don't care about you. If you get a comedian to laugh, great, but that doesn't mean they are laughing at you. It could, but it might not be the case. It is nice to get laughs, don't get me wrong, but that is not why you're there. They're more interested in getting up to do their set. Oh yeah and of course judge you... Sometimes they don't, but most of the time, if you are thinking it, they are thinking it.

Open mic nights are really a place to go and work on your jokes. This is not a “real show” where you have an audience there to laugh at jokes. Besides, comedians at Open Mic Nights are not going to laugh because they are analyzing what just happened. Don't let anything that night throw you off. Take that “awkward” feeling and build your strength against it. So when you are really performing you won't be thrown off. Also, enjoy the night, enjoy what you have going... YOU ARE ON STAGE DOING WHAT YOU LOVE. What is the problem?

In closing, remember to have fun, remember to talk to everyone there, and remember it is not about killing other comedians but uniting with them to make this world of laughter less cutthroat. Over all, I gave Brew Garden Open Mic Night first experience for me a 7 out of 10.

Be of peace, until again...
~ Thomas J Bellezza

PS If you're starting out in comedy, please don't do these following jokes. They have been done too many times. Very “hack”...

“So I'm new up here. I get nervous so people told me to just picture the crowd naked... (Insert Punchline)”

(Any masturbation joke...) *unless witty*

“That joke don't work, let me try something else”

Oh yeah, and just because you have something wrong with you doesn't mean that has to be your whole set. You are fat, we get it. You are retarded looking, okay we get. You are Jewish... OKAY, we get it.

Lesson over...