How To Choose A Standup Comedy Class

How To Choose A Standup Comedy Class
October 03 20:26 2016 Print This Article

Expert Author Will D KoenBy Will D Koen

Have you considered taking a stand-up comedy class? Stand-up comedy is more popular than ever and so are stand-up comedy classes. I’ve learned quite a bit from spending over $1000 on stand-up comedy classes. I have read many books on the subject, performed for over a year myself, and have had the privilege of talking at length with a few comedy-writing legends. I am not here to cut down people who provide comedy classes, nor tell you all are equal in their value. I’m here to give you a broad overview of stand-up comedy classes and what you can expect, without spending money on something you don’t want. Instead, I want you to be happy learning this great art form. I believe all comedy greats were funny to begin with, but needed direction to become the best. The right class can help you with this. Comedians aren’t born, they are made.

Can’t I Just Learn It From a Book?

On other subjects I would understand where you are coming from, but not in standup comedy, a performance art, and you need hands on instruction. Writing a joke can be taught from a book, it’s true, pick up a copy of Comedy Writing Step-by-Step by Gene Perret or Jerry Corley’s Breaking Comedy’s DNA if you don’t believe me. Comedy writing is necessary for any real comedian, unless you pay a writer, but it is not the main reason you are taking a standup comedy class. Choosing to take a standup comedy class means you want to participate in a performance art, you want instant gratification from the crowd’s laughter, and you want to be the star. The things you can learn from a (good) standup comedy class: structure, stage etiquette, and networking with other comics. Standup comedy is teachable, but you have to do the work.

It’s All a Theory

Some forms of comedy like sitcom writing and screenplay writing are done in almost the same structure every time, stand-up comedy is not. Stand-up comedy is experimental, it’s fun, and above all, it is new (unless it’s a comedian repeating jokes for several decades).

Before Steve Martin became a superstar, no one did comedy quite like him. Comedy was a series of one-liners, and most comedians seemed alike because nothing set them apart. Steve Martin was one of the first comedians to make anti-comedy, building anticipation for a punch line so much it forces the audience to laugh. There are many other examples of comedians bucking the trend. To name a few there are Andrew Dice Clay, George Carlin, Stephen Wright, Richard Pryor, and Zach Galifinakis. You know and I both know these comedians rise to the top because they are consistent and original. Not everything a comedy teacher tells you is a law. The teachers that have had little or no success will always tell you to follow their formula to produce material. Remember #1, It’s all a theory even if it makes people laugh most of the time.

I love Steve Martin; he is one of my favorites of all time, and I cannot wait to meet him one day. Be a Steve Martin, try new things, even if you fail, you will learn what works and what doesn’t.

Learn Proven Methods

Even if you want to be one of these original comedians I listed above, you need to know what everybody is using to come up with material right now. #2 learning what currently works can still work for you, or at least you know where to start. Many successful comedians are really just a combination of learned skills, mixed in a unique way. Successful comedians took classes, some even became stars, but they all knew what people were producing at the time they started. Learn everything you can, read comedy-writing books, and start writing NOW. I don’t care if it sucks, writing is a process, it makes you better the more you write. Listen to any comedian talk about his early days, they all have one thing in common, their jokes sucked. Your jokes will to.

Credentials

#3 Comedy classes can be taught by anyone at all, so be cautious. Many people, who have no idea what success in comedy even is, are teaching classes on comedy. I don’t know everything about comedy, but then again you are not paying me. When a teacher expects you to pay him $350 for a class, he should at least be an authority on the subject. Here are a few investigational things you should do to determine the credentials of a stand-up comedy class teacher:

· Look at the teacher’s website.

· Does he/she list credits to his/her name?

· Does he/she have professional videos of their own standup? Are they even remotely funny? This is important. How can they teach you to be funny in your own way, if they aren’t funny.

· No video on-line is not a good sign. Stay away from these teachers.

· Do they teach at a reputable comedy club, like the Improv or The Gotham? This is a sign they are at least moderately reputable. That is Good.

· Search the internet for reviews about the teacher. Chances are if he is horrible, somebody got mad enough about losing $350 that they wrote something nasty and informative for you to read.

· Ask several local comedians if they took the class. If they liked it, chances are good you will to. It is important to ask several comics, friends of the teacher will always say he/she is good.

I found out about a good comedy teacher in Dallas, TX named Dean Lewis through word of mouth. This is a very powerful and still effective form of customer review. I always trust word of mouth instead of an on-line review, because word of mouth is usually genuine.

If you are in Dallas, Dean Lewis is at deanlewiscomedy.com. He is an excellent choice to begin your comedy career and he has credits. Dean is funny, a great teacher, and he is a very sincere person, which counts for more in my book. Take his stand-up comedy class today!

Superstars Don’t Teach Classes

Let’s face it Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, and Louis C.K. will not be teaching comedy classes anytime soon. #4 Comedy teachers don’t tend to have enjoyed a massive success in standup comedy. Don’t let this bother you, you can learn something from anyone that has enjoyed at least some success in comedy. I’m not saying this to cut down comedy teachers, I am just stating a fact. A good comedy teacher should have enjoyed some degree of success, but if they were making a large sum of money off comedy, they wouldn’t need to teach it. They may have won a few contests, made some guest appearances on a sitcom, or opened for a national comedian. Somewhere in between open-mic comedian and Louis C.K. is where a good teacher is. Success in anything requires many factors working in conjunction to make a massive success, not just the quality of one’s material. Many things can factor into their success. Many funny people did not become mega comedians, nor should you expect them to be, but expect some success to prove they know what they are talking doing. If someone has enjoyed success in any area of comedy, there is something to learn from him or her.

What You Can Expect to Learn

Terminology

There are a few basic things you will learn in a comedy class that I don’t mind divulging here, one of which is terminology. Comedians describe basic aspects of the performance process through a special language shown here.

Killing=When more than 80% of the crowd is laughing more than 80% of the time.

Dying= When none of the audience is laughing 100% of the time.

Segway= A logical transition between two comedy pieces.

Set= Your time on stage.

Act Out= An impression, or imitation of yourself or another person.

Heckler= Someone stupid enough to interrupt a comedian with a microphone.

A “Bit”- A part of a comedy routine, it is generally about a specific subject and in story form. In between two bits is the Segway.

Class

There are usually two schools of thought when it comes to the formation of the comedy material; we currently refer to as a “bit”. The one-liner based and Act-out based writing. I’ll clarify what I mean here by saying “one-liner based.” I’m not referring to one-liners in its traditional sense, or a monologue of one-liners. I’m referring to creating one-liners and designing a conversational story with one-liners intentionally placed in spots to amplify the laughter. Act-out based performances require acting, and they do not usually have a ton of “jokes”.

I will give an example here from the comedians you know. Robin Williams, Kevin Hart, and Joe Rogan depend mostly on act outs instead of “joke writing”. On the other hand, Jerry Seinfeld, Daniel Tosh, and Dave Atell have “jokes.” Neither one of these forms are bad, but you have to choose between them. Generally, stand-up comedy classes teach one way or the other, not both. Remember one thing, when you become one or the other, it doesn’t mean you won’t be doing some of the other style. If you write jokes, occasionally it will be to your advantage to do some act outs. If you do predominantly act outs, it will be to your advantage to do some jokes now and then. I do not know of any comedian who doesn’t do some of the other style.

What you need to do is contact the stand-up comedy course teacher before you take the class. Ask him or her if they teach an act-out based comedy course or focus on the formation of jokes. Make your decision based on this.

They Are Not Always Right

If a teacher tells you not to use something that you think is funny, try it for yourself to see if it works. Teachers can be wrong; in comedy especially. A fellow national comedian once told Larry the Cable Guy that he shouldn’t have taken on that character, that it was a bad idea. He was like $50 million dollars per year wrong. Make sure that you listen and learn, but it is never set in stone. A gut feeling is usually right; don’t be afraid to act on it.

Not You’re Last Class

Before you take your first class on comedy, know that it should not be your last. If you decide you are going to become a comedian and you want to become good, you must continuously learn. This is reading, taking classes, and learning if your material works in front of an audience. If it doesn’t work, change, but keep producing.

Start Writing Now

Pick the best class you can, listen and learn. You can do something before this class starts though. You need to start writing now, do not wait to become a so-called professional to start writing. Your brain will be trained to come up with material consistently, so you can do it better when you become a student in a class. You should also treat it like a class, seriously. When you start writing, be sure to set a quota, otherwise, you will start slipping off. A quota can be in the form of time, or quantity of words or lines. Do not start with too high of a quota, it’s very discouraging. You can also use the method Jerry Seinfeld uses, “Don’t break the chain”. Take a calendar and put an X on it every day you write, consistently do it so it creates a chain. Now don’t ever break it.

Get On Stage Now

Search Google for open mics in your city. You may have to do some driving, but get on stage. You must overcome the fear to do stand-up comedy, so start now. It is not that scary once you’ve done it a few times. No matter what happens that first time, keep going. The first time is usually not going to go well, so get that out of the way. Start with one night a week, and then expand to as many times a week you can go.

Will Koen created the website [http://www.willkoen.com] to share the knowledge on how self-improvement applies to improving a comedy career. He has interviews on his website with comedy writers and performers, including Gene Perret, writer for Bob Hope and The Carol Burnett Show. He also provides reviews of the most popular comedy writing and performance books, as well as self-improvement books. For entertainment purposes, he also has funny articles and cartoons on his site. Will Koen’s comedy portfolio can also be found on willkoen.com.

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