Today, I’m really excited to be interviewing Judy Carter, Goddess of Comedy — or how she prefers to be called, just “Goddess.” Judy Carter is an acclaimed standup comic, wrote The Comedy Bible and has appeared in over a hundred television shows. Judy also runs Comedy Workshops which trains aspiring comics in the how-to’s of comedy. Judy has appeared on “Good Morning America”, Oprah, CNN and ABC World News Tonight.
How are you using social media to promote your career?
I use Facebook and twitter, but not to directly promote my career. I rarely write “there’s a class starting” or “I’m performing at ha-ha’s.” I use it to establish who I am and what I offer. I’ll give an insight, write something funny, or offer some kind of advice. Something that is helpful to people who read it rather than tweet about a pimple I got after I ate a donut.
The biggest mistake comics make is being too self-centered. Whether you’re on twitter, Facebook or standing on a stand up stage you have to think of your audience. What do they need? What do they want to hear? I use those mediums to connect to my audience. People who are just obsessed with promoting, rather than sharing are boring. Thank God for the FB “hide” button.
Take Wendy Liebman, she’s a wonderful comedian and she has six or seven Facebook entries everyday that are incredibly funny. I don’t know how she does it. Reading her entries gives you a sense of what it’s like to be a comedian. Then in passing she’ll go “I’m performing tonight at The Cleveland Improv”.
That’s really my biggest secret to success: to think about the audience. Then again, there’s a guy like Larry David. I watched Larry before he was the richest comedian in the world. I’d watch him intentionally perform material that the audience wouldn’t like. He’d play to the comics in the back of the room and developed his own unique brand of comedy that way. He really followed his own authentic voice and you can certainly see that on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” But people like that are rare, very rare. Most of us get the check at the end of the day because the audience liked us. If you’re a comic and you’re creative don’t turn off that creativity when you put out your press release, or promote your event. Give it some thought: How will this interest people? What kind of title can I give it? Not just another showcase that says “come see me, me, me!”
In addition to Facebook and twitter, I noticed you have three different websites. Can you spread yourself too thin by being on too many social networks and having too many different sites?
Yes, you can spread yourself way too thin, as I’ve done right now. If I’m doing my twitter update, my Facebook update, my blog update, when will I have time to write new material? The answer is, I don’t. Comics can get caught up in the minutiae of social networking and forget that what they’re supposed to do is write new material and make observations about life. The problem is – most comics don’t have a life.
I read George Carlin’s autobiography and reminded myself that he did 13 HBO specials. That’s a 13 hours of material, not an hour of comedy club material but 13 hours of double-A-rated-top-material. There are a lot of people doing an hour in a club, but if they were doing an HBO special and had to take out their “padding” their material would condense to twenty minutes. Carlin had 13 hours of HBO plus his all his albums plus all the other things he did. He had time to put it all together because he wasn’t so busy answering emails and twittering. We have to be careful not to be so seduced by technology that it gets in the way of creativity.
How do you find the balance between making time for the creativity with responding to people and building a fan base? You can’t just ignore everyone’s email, right?
There are other ways to build a fan base. I’ve always believed building a fan base is really important when you do a show. Gather people’s emails and when someone tells you they like your act, rather than giving your card to them, which is a good idea, it’s an even better idea to take their card. When I do a show sometimes I’ll speak to 2,000 people and I’ll make sure they get something for free by giving me their email that I’ll send to them. I try to make it compelling for them to want to be on my mailing list.
Ever since I was 8 years old doing magic shows, I’ve had a database. Although then it was on 3 x 5 index cards at the time. At our office we use SugarCRM which is a web based database system. There’s a free version. We had it customized for our business, which was expensive. It’s very easy to setup a business, maintain a database and send out mailings.
I believe in being direct. I won’t mask the fact I have a class on Facebook, instead I’ll send an email to my list. Even when I’m promoting a class or product, I still give away free information. I’ll tell them, “we scoured the internet for job opportunities for comics and we’re listing them for you for free. And here’s some advice on how to talk to an agent on the phone.” We always send out a newsletter where there’s one product that we’re selling and everything else is free. The truth? I actually do care about others and it makes me incredibly happy to see my standup students on TV.
This doesn’t relate directly to technology, but do you still do comedy clubs?
No. I did that for 17 years. When you’ve stayed in the roach infested comedy condos, there comes a point where you want to move on to something else. But I certainly learned so much from working the clubs. I know how to work when there’s three people in the audience and they make you go on. I know how to work when they’re totally smashed, heckling, and throwing things. Well, there I’ve learned to duck. A lot of comics complain about those gigs, but it gives you your chops.
Now I’m a motivational speaker. I show companies how people can use their sense of humor to get out of stress, problem solve and promote creativity. I made my switch to speaking when I realized that making drunks laugh was what I did at the dinner table growing up and I decided I didn’t want to work that way anymore. I’m a teacher and a comic and motivational speaking let’s me combine both of my talents. Speaking is awesome, I wish I discovered it earlier.
How has the internet changed how you find students and clients?
We don’t have take post cards and lick stamps anymore. That’s nice.
We have a website ComedyWorkshops.com that has a lot of content: it lists clubs, agents and job opportunities for comics. And we want to have more content on it. We try to make it so people can use it, before they’re famous.
At ComedyWorkshops.com we have online groups where comics help each other write material. I find that’s really valuable. People to post material, then I’ll come in and start punching up jokes. Then everyone else comes in and starts punching up jokes. If you want to get good at comedy, write jokes for someone else. It’ll give you confidence. It’s so much easier to write jokes for someone else than for yourself. When I write material I pretend I’m writing it for someone else. It gives you more distance and doesn’t have your ego in it and all your insecurities; it makes it a lot easier.
I also have JudyCarter.com which is my personal speaker website where it shows what I’m doing as a speaker. Right now I use that exclusively for corporate speaking bookings. It’s working really well. Clients now will be directed to that site, watch a couple of videos then they actually book me right from that site. Sweet, as no need to send out DVDs. Mostly what I send out are Electronic Press Kits (EPK). You can create an EPK for free at www.ComedyDemo.com.
EPKs are better than directing a booker to your website. Nobody has time to go to someone’s website and look for the right video. An EPK allows you to send your press kit to a booker and it looks like an email but has a graphic interface and your videos, bio and credit are all right there in the email. It’s a one page sales promotion.
Here’s a big secret: If I get a call from a Healthcare Hospital looking for a wellness keynote, my EPK will have quotes from similar gigs I’ve done for healthcare, recommendations from other hospitals, in the bio it says I’m a “healthcare humorist”, it gives topics just on healthcare and the video is just healthcare jokes. So when someone is looking for a healthcare speaker and they get to my EPK they go “this is exactly who I’m looking for” and I get booked. And if it’s a financial company the EPK will be similar but say I’m a “financial humorist”. These EPKs can be created on the fly and are the most valuable tools to send to the booker because boom, your materials are right there.
I do a lot of research on the company who is booking the show and I have 25 EPKs I send out and I tweak each one to make sure they look like exactly what the client is looking for.
I’ve gotten so many enquiries from comics looking to break into the motivational speaking market, so I’m going to be releasing a three DVD program called “Speaking Career in a Box” It will be available in March at ComedyWorkshops.com and it will contain everything anyone wants to know about how to make money as a motivational speaker. Motivational speakers certainly get paid a lot more than stand up comics. It’s a challenge to be really funny and edgy and yet clean. I still try to push the envelope.
When you’re working a comedy club, you can refine a joke night after night. You don’t have that luxury when you’re doing a one time speaking gig. How do you go about getting it right on the first time at corporate gigs?
When I started out doing corporate gigs, I sucked, but after 10 years at it, I got better. I also have a great support team. I’ll be ready to go on and calling for a comedy lifeline to a friend and say “they just had the SWAT team perform before I go on, I need to write a quick joke about it.”
What do you think of posting videos of your sets online? A lot of comics are paranoid and don’t want to even post their good sets online because of material getting stolen.
I’ve had people steal my material, and now that time has passed I’ve seen where they’ve gone with it: nowhere. If you’re stealing material you’re not going to get far. I care if someone steals my material but mostly, I just feel sorry for that person.
If you’re not posting your jokes online because of a fear of theft, you’re an idiot. What are you doing? Hoarding it to show to your grandma on Passover? You gotta put your stuff out there if you want to be seen. I put all my stuff out there because it’s my calling card — it’s how I get gigs.
But I don’t put anything bad out there. I would never put a bad gig on the internet. That’s how people see you and decide if they’re going to represent you and book you. Be careful with what you put on the internet. Everything I put on tape I’m careful too. Everything I put on the internet I ask myself, “Is that okay for a corporate client to see?”
How have digital tools changed comedy? What’s the future?
It’s changing so quickly, as soon as I tell you how it changes, it’ll change again. There seems to be more places to work but at the same time less places to work. The problem is now, because of union busting with SAG, we’re not being paid as much. We’re not getting money for residuals. I don’t know about the contracts for downloadable material, if you’re in the union you get paid something, but not enough.
People will always need comedy content. Sprint was paying people $25 per minute of material that they were using as content. Some of our bits take five years to come up with, and to sell it to Sprint for $25 for forever so someone can hear it on their phone, that’s pretty cheap.
On the other hand, I’ve found certain technologies invaluable. I‘m a big user of Jott.com. Every time I have an idea, I say it into my iPhone which connects to Jott.com. Jott transcribes the voice memo and emails it back to me. It’s already in written form so I can add on to it. I find that really valuable. You can see all your Jotts on the website so you never lose them. I find that to be really great.
There’s also program The Journal Software by David Michael. It’s really cheap. It’s a way to keep a journal. I have stuff all over the place, all over my house, I write on open mail envelopes. This program lets you publish blogs from it, but it’s not on the internet. I like my very private material to be on my hard drive and not anyone else’s.
What’s your weirdest online experience involving your career, that you’re willing to share.
Nothing – that I’m willing to share.
How much information do you share on Facebook and twitter, what’s your level of detail?
I don’t think anyone is interested in what I ate for breakfast. I don’t understand why someone posts something like that. Unless it’s something funny I had for breakfast. Coco puffs – funny. A lot of times I’ll share stepping stones of life: trips, where I’m at, insights. Sex? I put that on my journal on my hard drive.
Any other thoughts on comedy and technology?
It’s really important as a comic to stay healthy. A lot of us don’t. I have an office treadmill computer, so when I’m on the phone or something, I’ll do my email on it, etc. It’s easy to put a monitor and keyboard on it. I love the iPhone app “Couch to 5k”. They guide you into running a 5k. It tells you “walk” then “run!” We also have a whole room in our house devoted to the Wii because the Wii Fitness is the most fantastic thing ever.