Advice is like HPV, anyone who’s lived a little, has some to give you! In the world of comedy and podcasting there are a lot of do’s and don’ts. The business is built on relationships and a simple faux pas can set you back years. Plus, in the new digital media world, mistakes on stage and podcasts can live on the internet forever. In the past twelve years of performing stand up comedy I’ve received some great advice and I’ve made a lot of successful and talented friends. I decided to reach out to some of them and ask them to share some of the best advice they’ve received about comedy or podcasting. I’ll start off with two pieces of advice that I received when I was very early in my career that stuck with me.
- “No matter how bad it may seem, keep showing up.” – Joey Gay
I’ve played this advice back in my head any time I have thought about quitting comedy. No matter what mood I’m in. No matter how much it feels like the business doesn’t give a crap, I just keep showing up. Weirdly, I haven’t seen Joey in years.
- “Don’t waste your time opening for people. Just headline. It does more for you to headline a “C” room than it does for you to open for someone in an “A” room.” – Jamie Kilstein
This advice was given to me when I was mere months in comedy. While I didn’t stick to this as a rigid rule, it has guided a lot of the decisions I’ve made so far in my career. What I really took from this was that we are in control of our careers. When I started out there seemed to be a set of guidelines to follow. Build your five minutes into fifteen minutes so you could work the clubs in the city. Then start emceeing on the road wherever you could and try to build the fifteen minutes into twenty-five so you could “feature”! Then after a few years of featuring, with some luck, you can make your way to headlining! Bleck! It reminds of of the scene in Coming To America where Louie Anderson’s character Maurice is talking about making his way up the ranks at the fast food restaurant “McDowell’s”.
“Hey, I started out mopping the floor just like you guys. But now… now I’m washing lettuce. Soon I’ll be on fries; then the grill. In a year or two, I’ll make assistant manager, and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in.”
The truth is there are no rules. We spend so much time romanticizing and respecting “the art of stand up comedy” that Vine stars and Youtubers zip right past us. There’s no five or ten year plan and there’s no teams. People that start years after you can lap you in the industry. I made a decision early on in my career that I would always sell myself as the show. No one is going to sell you better than you sell yourself. We’ve all heard that you’ve got to be your own manager, agent, and PR firm but most importantly you have to be your own biggest fan. (Jamie Kilstein has since blocked me on all social media platforms.)
And now some great second hand advice from some great first class comics!
Two best pieces of advice I’ve gotten were:
- “Stop worrying so much about being funny. Relax. You’re a funny guy. It’ll be funny because it’s you. If you sit there and sift over what’s funny and what isn’t, before you know it, the set is over.” – My Therapist
- I nervously ran a bit by Louis CK and he said, “it’s a funny idea but who cares? Every bit is funnier if it’s personal. Make it more about you.”
- “No advice. Just fucking do it. Just get on stage and find who you are. And how can someone else tell you that.” – Joe Rogan
- “Do your podcast by yourself. That way when one guy is always late or not into doing it anymore
you’re not fucked and have to start over or find someone else.” – Bill Burr
A lot of what I’ve learned is from watching people. In terms of actual advice, Tom Papa, who gave me my first writing job, taught me not to take it personally if a joke gets cut.
“It’s like you’re in a staring contest with the crowd, you just can’t look away.” – Bill Burr on how to get laughs while doing dark material.
A Canadian comic named Gavin Stevens… I said “this crowd is gonna suck.” He said “never prejudge any audience. It takes you out of the moment.”
Also Luis J. Gomez told me, “don’t pull out”.
“Just have as much fun as possible. It’s never that serious.” – Keith Robinson
My wrestling coach in college Mark Gumble told the team… “If you’re not thinking of quitting, you’re not working hard enough.” I apply it to comedy all the time.
Best advice was I should quit. I wish I had listened.
I’m clearly depressed in my hotel room at Mohegan Sun.
This is going to sound really trite. It was probably my uncle Mark who was an actor at the time. Very early in my career he told me: “Every day I ask myself, what have I done for my career today?”
That’s what forced me to do sets every night, what forced me to write. It prevented me from having a day where I didn’t do anything. If I heard that advice today I would probably consider it too basic but in the beginning it was exactly what I needed to hear.
“Get FUNNIER!” – Dave Attell
The two things that are still great advice that sound kind of simple but I always forget are:
- Let the audience come to you a little bit. Don’t throw yourself out at them too much.
- Don’t make tonight’s crowd the crowd from last night. Be in the moment with them.
Bobby Collins told me those when I opened up for him at Mohegan Sun years ago. Very nice guy and solid advice.
I interviewed Tracy Morgan when I was in college. I actually lied and said I worked for the school newspaper. I just wanted to pitch him this idea I had. So I go meet him and I said “I have this idea…”, and before I could say another word he said “Then make it. Whatever idea you have don’t let anyone tell you if it’s good or bad. Don’t ask my opinion.”
“The jokes are all that matter as bench marks. TV is cool but you can’t control it. You can only control your jokes so just work on them.” – Greg Warren
When I was in Philly… Joe DeRosa, who had been in NYC for 8 months living with Big Jay Oakerson, gave me some advice. I was on the fence about moving. He came back to Philly and said, “What are you doing? You’ve gone as far as you can go here. Can’t you see that? Just move. Stop overthinking it. You can do anything in NYC that you can do in Philly and in NYC, at least you give yourself the chance to be more successful. Comics have shows on television up here. You will become a better comic. There are killers up here. It will force you to raise your game. You will figure it out one day at a time when you get up here.”
I moved two months later.
“Only ask questions you want to know the answer to.” I think it comes from Patrice O’neal but Big Jay Oakerson might have told me that Patrice told him.
That applies to comedy, podcasts, or life in general.
“Be yourself but be different.”
Don Rickles told me that. Don FUCKING Rickles!
On podcasting: Sound is everything. If people can’t hear your podcast clearly, they won’t listen. Spend the money so your sound quality is good. That doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands of dollars, but you need to find inexpensive ways to make the sound quality of your podcast easy to listen to.
Years ago, David Sayh, who did Carson 14 times, told me don’t use props. I tell young comics to scram.
“Keep kicking them in the nuts.” George Carlin
One time Mike Vecchione told me that Marines like being Marines because they find a way to embrace how much it sucks. Like, sitting around writing jokes for hours at a time is an unpleasant experience but you have to do it. So don’t expect it to be fun and find a way to embrace the shittiness of it.
Gary Gulman told me to just keep my head down and work as hard as possible at getting as funny as I can be and not to worry about the industry or what anyone else is getting or doing.
Tim Dillon advised me to suck his dick.
The best advice I’ve gotten was from a good friend of mine. He said, “Do the things you think are funny and not the things you think everyone else will think is funny”.
When I started in Arizona, a comic named Ben Creed told me, “Work hard, be funny, and don’t be a dick to the waitstaff.” Best advice I’ve ever gotten.
“Whether you’re the first guy starting or the last guy on the bench I will give everyone a chance to play for at least one minute of every game. It’s your job to be so undeniable in that minute that I’d be crazy to take you out.” – My basketball coach in High School, Coach McMahon
I think this applies to comedy as well.
Dan St. Germain told me early on to only hang out with funny people. That you’re allowed one unfunny friend. That sounded ruthless when I was new but he was 100% correct. You just get funnier and quicker when you have funny, quick friends. Now I just have to ask myself if I’m anyone’s token unfunny friend.