You’re waiting your turn to go up on a show and suddenly you hear a bit that sounds real familiar. You’ve never seen this comic before but you know the next three punch lines. Hell you don’t just know ‘em, you wrote ‘em. “Hey, I’ve been doing that joke for weeks. What the hell?”
Many comic fear having their material stolen. I think it’s more rational to fear the microphone exploding in your eyes and blinding you than it is to be afraid that your precious jokes will be stolen. Sure this happens occasionally, but it is not as often as some comics like to think. Two of the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard over the past year are: “I don’t do open mics because they steal my jokes” and “LA open mic comics go on youtube, watch NYC open mic comics and take their material.” Both statements are excuses. The first is to excuse a comic’s laziness or lack of motivation to get on stage as much as possible. (Although I do think open mics become less valuable after you’ve been on stage a few hundred times.) The second quote is an excuse usually said by someone who doesn’t have a good video to post. It’s much easier to say “I’d post a video but I don’t want my material being stolen” instead of saying “I don’t have a video where the audience is laughing for five straight minutes, I need to get funnier.” Which of course begs the question, why are you worried about your unfunny material being stolen? If you’re afraid of getting your jokes stolen, you should put ALL of your videos online. What could make for more convincing evidence that you did a bit first?
If your jokes are being “stolen” something else might actually be happening: You’re writing hacky material or are being too topical. There’s only so many ways to do a marijuana joke and every comedian and their mother has written a Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton joke. Your punch line about “eighteen holes” or “a hole in one” wasn’t stolen, it was just so obvious that five other comics thought of a very similar joke. I remember reading Lisa Lampenelli’s book and she mentions how at the Comedy Central Roasts she’d have a pen with her to cross out the jokes on her set list that the other comedians had already done about the guest of honor. Did all those professionals steal each other’s jokes? No! There’s just only so many Pamela Andersen fake tits and Tommy Lee has big cock punch lines one can think up.
So how do you solve this joke overlap? Make your material more personal. Very few comedians can steal my Russian family material because it would be inauthentic and make no sense to their stage persona. So focus on your life and find the funny in it. Hint: It usually involves pain. A comic, I forget who once told me, “comedy = pain + time” and “until you’re at George Carlin’s level, nobody gives a shit about your political opinion.” I agree: focus on your unique life situation and figuring it out how to get the audience to connect with it. Should you still write Tiger Woods jokes? Yes, because that’s still working on writing a joke, and if you get picked up by a TV show, you’ll need to be able to generate topical jokes daily. Just don’t be surprised when you hear three very similar jokes from comics you’ve never met. (And yes, I know I need to make my material more personal too, it’s a work in progress.)
Ok, let’s say your jokes are personal and they’re actually being stolen. In a fucked up way, it’s an honor to get your jokes stolen, that means you’re getting funny! And you should only be afraid of getting jokes stolen if you’re not planning on developing as a writer and performer. Fear of jokes being stolen means your jokes are coming from a place of scarcity, not of abundance. It shows you believe there to be a limited amount of jokes you’ll be able to write and that one of the 10 or 12 jokes you were able to come up with has been taken away. This usually means you’re not writing enough.
Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Conan and all those guys deliver ten to fifteen minutes of new jokes every show (sure they have a whole writing staff, but that’s not the point). If you’re trying to be around the comedy business for a long time you’re going to need write hours and hours of good material. Having one bit stolen here or there won’t make a huge difference. If you’re so funny that all your material is being stolen, start lifting weights, then say something. A comedian may have had your joke go into his subconscious and come out months later as a similar joke. Talk to them first and figure out who’s been doing it first. Comics don’t want to be known as joke thieves because once they have that reputation, everyone avoids them and 95% of your gigs are through other comics.
I just want to wish everyone a happy thanksgiving.
If you’re a comedian, I hope you’re with your family today just so you can get some new material! I have a feeling I’ll have a lot of new material from seeing my family for the first time since I dropped out of Caltech to do comedy.
Not that anyone asked, but here’s a partial list of what I’m thankful for:
– You reading this (although I’ll be even more thankful if you post more comments)
– That I finally realized and embraced that I love doing comedy, and that I’ve made decisions that will allow me to do it as much as possible
– For my family, even if they don’t fully support me…
– For the shows in NYC where I’ll be getting my stand up spots back
– For my health, cause it’s looking like I won’t have insurance soon!
Now stop reading this and go watch some football or talk to your family about how you’re a disappointment, or multitask and do both at once like me!
I’ve spent the past 3 years working for a Fortune 500 Consulting firm. During this time I’ve observed not only my company’s corporate culture, but also that of three other fortune 500 corporations and one US Government agency each of which I consulted for. I was rated in the top 30% at my level the first year, and the top 5% my second year. (I left before third year ratings were announced due to grad school.)
These are the lessons I’ve learned along the way, and while you can probably apply this to other aspects of your life, it’s especially true in Corporate America.
1. Get your shit done (but avoid busy work)
The rest of these tips are useless if you don’t accomplish what’s asked of you.
2. They’ll take as much as you’re willing to give them. Know when to say “no”. (Especially if it’s busy work)
If you always say yes to every request (work late every night, weekends, etc.) your boss will appreciate it, but they won’t respect you. Think about that girl/guy you dated who you could walk all over. You lost respect for them eventually and dumped em, same logic applies here.
At least 60% of your daily tasks should add value. Running an occasional photocopy is one thing, becoming someone’s personal photocopier is another. If it’ something stupid that you have to consistently do, figure out how to automate it or get out of doing it.
3. Under promise, over deliver
The more complex something is, the easier it is to overestimate it and then impress everyone. If you say something should take you 20 hours and you finish in 12, that’ll be more impressive then if you say something should take you 11 hours and you finish in 12. Make sure you’re not just slow. Don’t make it less then 50% of your estimate, or else you lose credibility.
4. Manage Expectations
Example: If you start answering emails within 5 minutes, you’ll never be able to take a lunch hour. If you answer within 30 or 45 minutes (which is usually reasonable), you’ll have more leeway
5. Don’t confuse responding to emails with getting work done
There will always be a fire, but don’t confuse the fires for the long term goals.
6. Take your hour lunch
It doesn’t matter how much work you do if nobody knows about it. And chances are, even if you’re done with everything, at most places you can’t leave until a set hour. You might as well take a break, enjoy lunch and build relationships with people who may be able to help you in a pinch.
7. Know when your personality is an asset, and when it’s a liability
When you’re working with people, talk about things other than work some of the time.Just don’t do it at the wrong time.
8. Don’t be so busy doing work you forget to socialize
But don’t try to be super friendly with everyone, that’s fake and everyone will resent you for it. A realistic breakdown of work friends to acquaintances to people you should avoid is somewhere around 20% : 60% : 20%. If you haven’t figured out who to avoid, chances are it’s you.
9. Go out for drinks with your boss once a month
You don’t wanna be too buddy-buddy (there may be some exceptions) but you want your boss to know you’re an actual person and not some automaton that sits in front of a computer all day
10. Have an “in” with people at other departments, so you can learn things before they’re announced to the masses
You’re in a knowledge worker job, information is key, make sure you have unofficial sources to get a heads up when you need it
3 Bonus Strategies:
1. Use power laws to your advantage
The 80/20 rule really applies to the workplace. 80% of your success comes from 20% of your effort. Identify that 20% and focus there.
2. Promote yourself without being obnoxious about it
This takes some time to figure out but you don’t wanna be “that guy” who always talks about how much work you have and how hard you work. At the same time, you want to make sure people notice your work. If you’re aware of this tendency, you’ll already be on the right track.
3. Be able to present like a normal human being and not a robot reading powerpoint slides
This only applies to certain jobs, but if you have to present to people, don’t read the slides. We’ll all hate you and will finish reading the slide before you’ve gotten to the second sentence
I’m pretty good at snowboarding. In fact, at this current moment, I’m much better at snowboarding than I am at stand up comedy. Last year, when I was frustrated with my day job, I thought about becoming a snowboarding instructor. I even looked into the certification process.
The snowboarding instructor idea is now dead. For my Christmas vacation, I spent 6 days snowboarding. The last 3 days of the trip, I didn’t want to get out of bed or get on the slopes. Especially the last day, when I got upset that the weather got better and we were going to go to the lifts. I learned that my maximum tolerance of snowboarding is 3 days.
Which brings us to Big Ben’s Big Law #62: Don’t consider turning a hobby into a career if you can’t do it for 10 straight days.
I’ve done comedy for 10 straight days and not been tired of it (tired of the lack of response at the open mics, yes, but not tired of comedy) so there’s hope…