Book Review: Fans, Friends and Followers

Fans, Friends and Followers by Scott Kirsner is a three part book about building and monetizing an online fan base.

fansIn the first part, Scott lays out the “new rules” of building an audience such as “Be remarkable and make remarkable stuff”, “Understand the power of the link” and “Help people learn to do what you do”. While artists new to social media may find this section insightful, this section is just a reminder of what the rest of us should already know. After reading Seth Godin and other online thought leaders for the past few years I found myself alternating between a state of “oh yeah, I forgot about that” and nodding along impatiently waiting to get to some new secret formula. 

But a secret formula to get a large following quickly isn’t the point of the book, and thankfully so. The real value of this book is in part two, where Scott interviews 30 creators from diverse fields such as singing, film production and comedy who have succeeded in building an online following (and in most cases, a monetary living) for their work. I found myself getting more ideas from creators that had nothing to do with comedy than I did from the comedians, and I feel this sort of “cross-pollination of ideas” will hold true no matter your medium. 

While the interviews were very insightful, I would have liked to read interviews from the following creators who have built a huge online following: Tucker Max, Hugh McLeod, Aaron Karo and Dane Cook. (Whether you love or hate Dane, he has always been way ahead of every other comic on technology and interacting with his fans.) 

In the third and final part, Scott provides a quick reference guide for getting started on using social media and the internet to one’s advantage. While you won’t really read this section, it will be a handy reference five months down the line when you decide you’re not going to post your new joke until you raise $50 and you want to find out which site can help you implement that technology. 

Overall, I highly recommend this book to any creator or blogger who is looking to establish or increase their online presence. Whether new to the internet or an experienced veteran, the people and ideas in this book will get you thinking about your audience from a new perspective. Be warned, there is no trick or quick way to build a following, it takes time, but Scott’s book will help you develop a more coherent strategy for the road ahead.

(Full Disclosure: As a comedy blogger, I was received a free preview copy of this book. I don’t think that influenced my opinion as it’s always easier to write a negative review than a positive review, but I thought you should know.)

“How To Be a Working Comic” Quotes

I read How To Be A Working Comic by Dave Schwensen and did not find it that useful. Here’s the quotes I found most interesting. If you like the book, buy it here.

“Nothing is better for business than to be good. Your only business decision when starting out is to do your act as often as you can. Take as many punches as you can onstage for free. It’ll all pay off later. But for now, just get on to get on.” (4)

“The whole key to becoming a working comic: be professional and be prepared.” (62)

“Most comedians spend many years practicing and polishing their acts before they actually make a living in this business. Be prepared for disappointments, but be aware of any gradual improvements you make, too. If you can honestly say you’re getting better, then continue to work hard. If not, then don’t be afraid to reevaluate your career choice.” (112)

“You have to write ten clean, non-topical jokes a day. They have to be jokes that can last a couple of years.” -Drew Carrey (116)

“I think being famous and getting all this money frees you to be whatever you’ve been holding back, to be what you naturally are. So, if you’re naturally a jerk, you can stop being nice to people you don’t want to be nice to anymore. You can start speaking your mind like you always wished you could have. If you feel like being a total bitch, a whiner and a complainer, unappreciative of everything that God’s given you, then you can! You can start demanding stuff, like, ‘Where’s my limo?’ because you’re naturally a jerk.
If you’re naturally a nice person, it still frees your ego to do whatever it wants. Well, I’m always nice to everybody, I think. It’s more important to me to be decent to people, because I’ve got to sleep at night. I don’t want people writing articles about me saying, “That Drew was a real jerk today.” I don’t want to name any names, but I’ve heard horrible stories about people who get famous. One was on a sitcom, and all people could talk about was how awul this guy was. He was mean to everybody, nasty and demanding.” –Drew Carrey (117)

“There’s no right or wrong in comedy. I feel if you’re getting laughs, then that’s working.” –Rhonda Shear (161)

“Don’t let anyone discourage you, because everyone will try to, especially in comedy. There is more negativity there than in any other business. Just do your own thing. Get that stage time no matter how laborious, no matter how far the drive may be. It will be worth it. If you really love it, you’ll stick with it. Once the comedy bug bites, it’s hard to get away from it.” –Rhonda Shear (162)

    “The Comedy Bible” Quotes (3/3)

    This is part 3 of 3 of quotes from The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter. Here is part 1 and part 2.

    • “I fell into the trap of equating fame with success. For so many years I felt like a failure. It didn’t matter if I got a standing ovation, had a great writing day, or even pulled in some big bucks doing comedy – I wasn’t a household name. It took me a long time to realize that success is a state of mind. My critical voice that nagged, “But you don’t have a sitcom,” quieted down as I started focusing on small triumphs – like finding a great premise, writing new material, having a great set. Today I enjoy my career. Only about 1 percent of comics are famous, yet there are a lot of us out there making a fine living from the road, corporate gigs, TV appearances, writing for other comics, speaking, and of course, writing books. Enjoy where you are – today.” (276) 
       
    • “Whether you want to write comedy or perform it, getting good is a daily challenge, and you have to work at it all the time. It’s not something you do when you feel creative. It’s something you do not matter what, even when you’re too busy, too tired, or too burnt out from your day job. You even do it when you’re recovering from plastic surgery. Why? Because that’s what it takes to get good.” (282) 
       
    • “You have to work on new material and new scripts every day.” (283) 
       
    • “Be willing to throw out material – even if it kills. If you get a chunk that kills and you do it every show, soon you will depend on that piece. You may even become frightened to perform without it. Take a courageous step and toss it out for a few months, to make room for another piece to add to your stockpile of killer material.” (283) 
       
    • “Comics with smart material but amateurish stage presence are called writers. If you want to be successful as a comic, get on stage, on any stage, as much as you can.” (284)
       
    • “No matter how talented and funny you are, if you don’t spend your waking hours asking, “How can I improve my craft?” chances are you will spend the rest of your life asking, “Would like to hear our specials today?” (288) 
       
    • “Whether you are a comedy writer or a stand-up, in order to stand out it is essential that you distinguish yourself by magnifying your brand of comedy – your identity, your image, your persona. It’s not a cerebral decision you make about yourself. It’s who you are—exaggerated times ten.” (293) 
       
    • “In order to stand out from the pack, evaluate yourself.
      1. What are your signature jokes? (Usually the jokes that get the biggest response.)
      2. What type of audience do you feel most comfortable in front of (corporate types, college students, women, gays, Italians)/
      3. What article of clothing suits you best? Rodney Dangerfield wears a rumpled coat and tie, giving him that “I don’t get no respect” look.
      4. Create an ad for your act that sums up what you do and targets your audience. What name would you give your show? Sandra Bernhard’s stand-up show was called Without You I’m Nothing. This summed up the tone of her show. Six of my students got together and came up with Six-Pack of Comedy and had a clever flyer with their pictures on a six-pack of beer. What kind of pictures would you have in the ad? Can you come up with a one-sentence phrase that sums you up?” (296) 
       
    • “Not everyone will love what you do, but you need to find the people who will.” (299) 
       
    • “You are ready when you have developed some depth and character, and you can work any crowd. You have to bomb to succeed. Some comics spend all their time honing a ten minute set that only works in New York. Then they go to Nashville, where their chunk on subways doesn’t work because Nashville doesn’t have subways. You have to know how to work all the states. The road is like college and you need it like an education.” – Rocky LaPorte (313)

    Have you read the book and think I missed something important? Do you want me to try to explain any of the quotes above in more detail? Let me know via the comments. I read all of them and respond to 99%.

    “The Comedy Bible” Quotes (2/3)

    This is a continuation from yesterday’s quotes from The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter. 

    • “There are no funny ideas. It’s what you do with an idea that makes it funny. Steven Wright: “As an exercise I pick unfunny topics and see how I can make them funny.”” (172) 
       
    • “If you want to have a career as a comedy writer or performer, being funny isn’t enough. You have to have a unique point of view.” (179) 
       
    • “Mind Mapping topics: Write your topic in the middle of a page and draw a circle around it. Then quickly draw other balloons containing elements of this topic until your entire page is covered with words having to do with your topic. Then focus on each balloon and write offshoots containing the specifics of that topic. Don’t judge, just draw as quickly as you can.” (183) 
       
    • “If you try to make your act fit into a predetermined box you’ll end up limiting yourself. Instead, create the best material you can and let your persona evolve from that.” (189) 
       
    • “Honing Your Act:
      1.      On each card, circle one topic.
      2.      Make sure the topic is relatable.
      3.      Write an attitude word on each card.
      4.      Is that attitude expressed by any of the following words: stupid, weird, hard, bugs me, scary?
      5.      Does each topic have a premise that is written out?
      6.      Does that premise answer the attitude-topic question? (“Do you know what’s weird?)
      7.      Do most topics lead to an act out?
      8.      Does the act-out have the same cast of characters as the setup?
      9.      Does the act-out exaggerate the attitude?
      10.  After some act-outs, do you have a mix?
      11.  Do you follow the mix with another act-out?
      12.  Do you have a lot of hits on most topics (topic run)?
      13.  If you have a list of three items, is the third one a turn?” (191) 
       
    • “To get the spontaneity back into your material, picture what you are talking about and feel the attitude as if the event just happened and this is the first time you’re mentioning it.” (192) 
       
    • “There should never be even one moment when you are onstage and attitude-free. It’s the kiss of death because audiences respond to emotions, not words.” (195) 
       
    • “When a mishap occurs, such as the mike stand breaks, the lights go out, or there is a puff of smoke from the grassy knoll, acknowledge it. When you call the situation, it puts the audience at ease.” (198) 
       
    • “If it’s a small crowd, less than fifty people, talk to them because they’ll tend to laugh more in their heads than out loud. That’s especially true if they are spread out in a room. Involving the audience in a conversation reminds them that they aren’t watching TV – you can hear them, and it’s appropriate to laugh out loud.” (198) 
       
    • “Audience members can feel very uncomfortable when the comic talks to them. Most people in an audience do not want to be the center of attention. Therefore, try not to talk to one person immediately. Talk to the audience as a group, then maybe address a row, and then a table, and finally one person. This way you have slowly gained their trust as you worked your way down to one person.” (198) 
       
    • “I sit down and write crap for forty minutes. Everybody thinks that they have to write funny, every line. All you have to do is pick a subject and write about that and then pick another subject and write about that. I guarantee you that at the end of forty minutes, you will crank out a funny line because it takes forty minutes for your brain to click over from the dealing-with-life side to the creative side. Then go back to what you wrote and fix it. And the more writing sessions you have, the quicker your creativity will click in.” – Chris Titus (204) 
       
    • “Technique can carry you only so far. Passion and soul have to take you the rest of the way.” (211) 
       
    • “Don’t write in the past tense, such as, “I was standing on the street corner and I saw this woman.” It should be, “I’m standing on this street corner and I see this woman.” When you write in the present  tense, your whole emotional system shifts to the inside of the story. If you work in the past tense, not only do you distance yourself from the material, but you distance the audience from it as well.” (219) 
       
    • “What often keeps a script from becoming great is that the writer is married to things that are just OK. Just as in writing stand-up, you must be willing to dump not only the things that don’t work but also the things that are just adequate. Adequate won’t get you a job. Only brilliance will.” (261?)
       
    • “Not every line can be a joke, but you can punch up even the straightest of lines doing what the pros call adding color. That means saying something in a clever way rather than a straightforward one. So, instead of, “Where were you? Getting a manicure?” your character would say,” Where were you? Getting those claws filed?” Adding color is an offbeat way of saying the same thing.” (261) 
       
    • “Carter’s 3-step comedy business strategy.
      Step 1: Get good.
      Step 2: Get noticed.
      Step 3: Get paid.” (275) 
       
    • “Putting yourself out in the marketplace before you’re ready not only can hurt your career, it can even prevent you from ever having one.” (275) 
       
    • “Many people don’t know who veteran stand-up Paula Poundstone is, but almost everyone recognizes the name of penis slicer Lorena Bobbitt. Cutting off someone’s penis is quick and easy. Spending years perfecting an act, writing scripts, and waiting three hours to do three minutes at an open mike is long and hard. So, if fame and fortune are your only goals, start a pyramid scheme, live with O.J., rob a bank.” (276)

    The last batch of quotes are coming tomorrow. If you want me to try to explain any of the quotes above in more detail, please let me know via the comments.

    “The Comedy Bible” Quotes (1/3)

    I just finished typing out quotes I underlined from The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter. I read this about 3 months into comedy but didn’t get a chance to type up what I previously underlined until now. Judy is way way way way way more experienced than me, so hopefully you’ll find some use in the messages I found important.

    I highly recommend reading this book multiple times and following the exercises if you’re serious about becoming a comic and want to understand the basics (and some of the not so basics). Also keep in mind, that a lot of Judy’s tips are basic and formulaic, and this is just a starting point. But you have to know and understand the rules before you break them.

    • “What it takes to make it as a comic or as a comedy writer is a combination of talent and craft.” (21)
    • “Comedy performers and writers can no longer afford the fantasy of waiting to be discovered. Instead they need to discover themselves and become masters of their craft, so that when opportunity knocks they are ready and able to deliver the goods.” (22)
    • “Normal people express their sense of humor by memorizing jokes; comics transform their life experiences into punch lines and write their own jokes.” (34)
    • “The more pages you have, the more likely you are to hit on some truly inventive stuff… it’s a numbers game. The more darts you throw, the more likely you are to hit on something.” (38)
    • “Brave people are not unafraid. What distinguishes them is that they act despite the fear.” (46)
      This should have been mentioned as part of my post about stage fright.
    • “After ten years of teaching, I’ve learned that it’s not always the person with the most talent who succeeds – it’s the one with the most endurance.” (51)
    • “No one is a natural – you have to work at being a natural.” -Greg Proops (71)
    • “You might have a funny idea for a joke, a great topic, a funny character, but without attitude it will remain just that – a funny idea.” (72)
    • “Each sitcom can be reduced to a single-line premise.” (76)
    • “Get specific because funny is in the details.” (76)
    • “Thinking in terms of what is weird, stupid, scary, or hard, rather than thinking about what is funny, will free your creative process.” (78)
    • “Chances are if you are using the words I, me, or my in the premise, it’s too self-absorbed and won’t interest the audience. Start general and then get to something specific about yourself.” (78)
    • “Comedy writing is an intense investigation into what it means to be a human being – not what it means to be you.” (79)
    • “A premise is not a description of what happened. It’s a cut-to-the-chase, get-to-the-point, original observation.” (79)
    • “Comedy isn’t meant to be read. It’s meant to be performed. The laughs are in the execution of the act-outs.” (99)
    • “There was such a difference from the A rooms to the B rooms. I think a lot of the young comics picked up bad habits watching B room comics.” (101)
    • “Creativity is not about picking funny topics, it’s about making ordinary topics funny.”
    • “To connect with an audience, comics and comedy writers need to find those topics that they are truly and deeply passionate about and that other people can relate to. These become their authentic topics. For stand-up comics, these topics form the core of their act and shape their persona. For writers, these topics form a point of view and shape their voice.” (103)
    • “No matter how relatable your topic is, if it doesn’t resonate with you, it probably won’t resonate with your audience either. Passion about a topic can’t be faked. The audience can sense if your topic is authentic for you or if it isn’t.” (104)
    • “It’s a kind of trade-off: bad for your life equates to good for your act.” (108)
    • “Premises are a combination of being truthful and relatable.” (122)
    • “Do ten or fifteen minutes up front of likeable material and then go to your vile self.” – Greg Proops (140)
    • “A comedy disconnect happens when the comic tries to be funny rather than communicate ideas. Reality is sacrificed in a desperate attempt to get laughs at all costs.” (146)
    • “Rehearsal tips:
      – Never rehearse your act without emotion
      – Always picture what you are talking about. Visualizing who and what you are talking about makes material more dynamic and immediate
      – Don’t practice in front of a mirror or video camera. You won’t be looking at yourself when you perform, so don’t do it while you rehearse.” (154)
    • “Professional comics want to know why a joke didn’t work and how to fix it. They’re willing to expend the time and energy necessary to perfect their craft and solve the problem. Comic wanna-bes, on the other hand, generally go, “I hate myself, let’s get drunk,” when a joke doesn’t work. Pros don’t take bad jokes all that personally – it’s about the material. Amateurs take it all too seriously and make it about themselves or about the audience – “They really sucked.” (166)
    • “Creating comedy is sometimes a matter of inspiration, but mostly it’s a matter of perspiration – in the form of constantly creating new material.” (171)

    More quotes coming tomorrow. If you want me to try to explain any of the quotes in more detail, please let me know via the comments.