Press Relase: End of April Beginning of May

Paul Ash Comedy

For General Release:
These next few weeks many great opportunities are available to see Paul Ash in a variety of differently styled shows.

Monday April 22nd

There’s Something Funny Going on at Blue Dog

There's Something Funny Going On At Blue Dog

There’s Something Funny Going On At Blue Dog

This weeks show is taken over by red heads! Save for a few non -reds you can expect an almost all red head show!
Hosted by Mike Costello with Amber Harper-Young, Paul Ash, Kate Conner, Tobin Thompson, Emma Wilkie, Leonard Yelle and Headliner Jess Salomon!
9pm, Blue Dog, 3958 Boulevard St-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec.  PWYC.  Beer special: 2 Sleemans for 8$
Stick around afterwards for great tunes from the 70’s-90’s! (but mostly 80’s)

Tuesday April 23rd

Funny Side Funny Side of Parenting

8(ish)pm

Liquid Lounge, 5028 Sherbrooke West, Montreal, QC.  PWYC.

A standup comedy show for parents, or anyone who would like to be a parent someday, or anyone who has ever had a parent.  Featuring Kate Conner, Mike Costello, Paul Ash & Leah Zylbering.

Thursday, April 25th

Punchlines

8:30pm at CFC
6388 rue St. Hubert, Montreal, Quebec.  $5So for those of you who don’t know the drill, we’ve got some hip hop acts, we’ve got some comedy acts, and a shit load of fun!

Punchlines

Punchlines

Hosted by Paul Baluyot
Featuring live painter Sharon Ep1c

COMEDY LINE UP:
Emma Wilkie
Paul Ash
Matt Shury
HEADLINER
Mo Arora

HIP HOP LINE UP:
Defective Collective
The Art Cons
Clarity
SHOW CLOSER
Cannonhead

Friday, April 26th

The Show of Champions

Chez GeekChez Geek: The Show of Champions (First Annual COMEDY SHOW)

PRIVATE SHOW (which means you can bring your own BEER or DRINKS!)

host:  MATT SHURY (Toronto)

  • SCOTT CARTER (Vancouver)
  • JASON HATRICK (Young Guns of Comedy, Montreal)
  • PAUL ASH (Halifax, Creator of BattleCOM / GladiaCOM)
  • TIM RIEL (Ottawa)
  • KRISTIAN RHYMER (Toronto)

Chez Geeks: 1663 St-Denis, Montreal, Quebec.  Only 10$ for a night of laughs you’ll never forget.

RSVP NOW- Limited Seating for this Private Event!
If you are doing FNM and PRE-RELEASE of Dragon’s maze, you get 5$ off! (it’s a perfect filler until the Midnight Release)

Friday, May 3rd

BattleCOM

BattleCOM

BattleCOM

10:30pm, Comedy Nest, Pepsi Forum ( corner of St-Catherine / Atwater, at Atwater Metro)

The latest installment of this epic geek showdown of comedy.

6 performers face off against each other to see who can gain the audience’s love and support.  It’s not needy at all.

Two of the battlefields are:
1) What’s the creepiest thing about MMO games?
2) What is the meaning of life?

Saturday, May 4

Special May the Fourth birthday extravaganza for the amazing artist Sharon Ep1c.  Private Party, dirty BattleCOM, super entertainment.

Ep1c

(Sorry, by invite only)

Tuesday May 7th

Kick_Ash_light.pngKick Ash Comedy Show (the rebirth)

Back by popular demand, in a much better location, it’s the seminal Montreal comedy open mic.

Launching this now bi-weekly comedy show is
host: DAN DERKSON

  • Mo ARORA
  • Scott CARTER
  • John ST-GODARD
  • Molly BRISEBOIS
  • Emma WILKIE
  • Darren HENWOOD

and closing PAUL ASH

Still free, now at Liquid Lounge, 5028 Sherbrooke West, Montreal, QC

 Wednesday- Friday May 8th & 10th

GAVIN Stephens & Friends NERDY & DIRTY COMEDY TOUR

N&D3 smallFeaturing Gavin Stephens
with: Dan Derkson
Paul Ash
Adam McFawn
Tim Riel
David Acer
mini-BattleCOM

Wednesday, 8pm
Comedy Nest Montreal, Pepsi Forum
$12 / $8 for students (or those in costume)

Friday, 9pm
Mavericks, 221 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Ontario
$15

May 9th to 12th

OTTAWA COMICCON

For the weekend encompassing Thursday May 9th to Sunday May 12th Paul Ash and Dan Derkson will be moderating panels at the Ottawa ComicCon!  In addition to that, we’ll be demonstrating BattleCOM with two minibattles (with special guests Ian “Futurama” Boothby and Sean “Wordburglar” Jordan and maybe more!)

Ottawa ComicCon

Watch @egoslut and @paulashcomedy on Twitter for updates.

How To BattleCOM

May June 2013

May June 2013

Now that BattleCOM is a monthly English occurrence at The Comedy Nest, GladiaCOM is soon to launch for French and the Ottawa ComicCon will feature some BattleCOM, I guess it’s time to let people know what to expect when / if they participate in one.

Battle/Gladia-COM is a new form of comedy show.  Basically you have two performers onstage trying to out do each other for the audiences approval (and the ability to move up).  This article will serve as a primer for those who are participating their first time, or acts looking to critically examine the material they’re creating for a BattleCOM.  We’ll cover common misconceptions, writing strategy, tactics and presentation.

The Geek Battle of Comedy Shows

The Geek Battle of Comedy Shows

MISCONCEPTIONS

FACTS ARE JOKES
First misconception is that BattleCOM is a debate show – it’s not.  The primary purpose is not to defeat your opponents’ choices but to be more entertaining while arguing yours.  To that end, facts are irrelevant.

Where facts are important is knowing your audience.  The majority of people who come out to a BattleCOM (be it a Nerd Show, a Sports Show or a Dirty Show version) are there because they’re familiar with the subject matter.  Being blatantly wrong or misinformed on some major fact could potentially alienate you to the audience, or cause a significant enough disconnect for them to not catch the funny.  Given the brevity of your time to impress the audience, a misstep could be your final step.

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
“Sure the show is fast paced, but I can pop out a couple of SSP (setup setup punchline) jokes when I have the mic.”  Wrong.  The goal is to get the audience laugh as quickly and as often as you can – in under 90 seconds (approximately).

“I have to explain my point of view.”  No.  Have faith in your audience.  Your choice is presented when you’re introduced, assume knowledge from the crowd.  In other words, don’t bore them / waste time explaining what is obvious.

Enter the arena with confidence, and speed.  Don’t wait for your full name, and your full choice to be declared before heading to the stage.  Grab the stage, and the audience’s attention by being dynamic in your entrance.

BattleCOM

BattleCOM

“I need to establish myself / my character each time I have the mic.”  Don’t underestimate your audience – establish yourself during the reverse curtain call and thumbnail everything if you feel the need to establish yourself.

So the primary misconceptions deal with the Battlers approach and how much time can be wasted onstage.  (That answer is “none”.)

WRITING STRATEGY

CHOICE OF VIEW 
Before you can even start writing, you need to choose your point of view for the various Battle Fields.  Once the topic is revealed, there is a race to get your choices to the Battle Marshal (moderator) – you don’t want to write too much then find out someone else has taken the point of view (pov) you planned on.  These should factor into your choice:

  1. Unexpected.  It’s good to keep the other Battlers on their toes with your choice, but you don’t want to go too obscure so the audience wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.
  2. Passion.  Find something that you can be passionate about, because if they don’t identify with your pov, they can at least identify with your emotive context.
  3. Be specific.  If you’re muddled in your choice, then the audience will be confused by it too.
La Guerre De Geeks

La Guerre De Geeks

BREVITY

Layering jokes with tags and double meanings help get you more and faster hits with the audience.  To that end, here are some other tactics to keep in mind:

  1. Thumbnail.  Analogies, similes and metaphors help paint mental pictures (and can be a punchline) if used correctly.
  2. Edit.  If you need to explain, edit your writing to make it as brief as possible.  The faster to the funny, the faster to a win.

TACTICS

The old military adage “No battle plan ever survived first contact with the enemy” holds true even in the battles of BattleCOM.

CHOICE
Again choice is important.  Do you:

  1. Choose quickly, to lock in a populist idea upon which you can build jokes to make people laugh?
  2. Choose something obscure that you are confident that you can quickly explain and exploit or make jokes about it’s obscurity?
  3. Wait to choose, the attempt to guess the most popular choices, hoping to be denied and possibly get insight on what the other Battlers have selected?

All of those methods of locking in your POV are valid, though waiting is most dangerous, as you may be left with a obvious choice and that no one had selected but that you have difficulty writing for.

RESEARCH
Know your Battle Field.  Research the subject matter (cult films, graphic novels, horror, sports video games), so you have some idea about what choices your fellow combatants may have made – and how to argue against them.

Know who you face, and research them, know their style.  Sometimes you may be at a loss to have a negative comment about someone’s choice – but you could just say something funny about them…

CURVEBALL
How can you keep your opponent of balance, but still keep the audience entertained?

Assume a character.  Take the Battlefield as the choice you represent.  This has the added benefit of thumbnailing some (or all) of your joke set-ups.  Plus your opponent isn’t facing “you”, they’re facing a character.
In the negative rounds, agree with them.  Use sarcasm and backhanded compliments to undermine the positive round of your enemy combatant.

PRESENTATION

With any form of comedy, I always say dress for the performance.  In stand-up, I say dress like yourself – but just yourself on a first date.  With BattleCOM dress in the way you wish to express yourself to the audience.

END ON A HIGH NOTE
Sometimes you get a big laugh, but still have more written material that logically follows.  Doesn’t matter – end your turn.  Brevity is the key.  Maybe, just maybe that next line could get an even bigger laugh, but just as possibly, it could fall flat.  Count on the audience to surprise you.

COSTUMES AND PROPS
A picture is worth a thousand words and dressing in costume, or hauling out an appropriate prop can seriously shortcut your set up time for a joke.  Plus the immediate impact of a costume (or prop) can be a source of entertainment on it’s own.

DIRECTION
Are you performing to the audience, or to your opponent?  It’s best to have that decided before you speak.  This will help you seem direct and cohesive in thought.

Can you use the limited stage available?  Know the limitations, and know that the Battle Marshal and your opponent will be giving you focus.  Wander if it will help, but remember strength comes from stillness.

Lead.  All the performers should be out there to entertain, that is rule one.  So feel free to (subtly) direct the action of your opponent and the Battle Marshal – this can possibly give you a big boost (or potentially give the big laugh to your opponent).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czuJLCauft4&w=420&h=315]

SUMMARY
So we learned preparation, not just for the your topic, but for the stage is key.  Writing helps, but editing makes it better.  Using thumbnail explanations, with or without the use of props and costumes, give you an edge in explaining your points to the audience.  Researching the Battlefield can give you knowledge that will allow you to topple your opponent’s arguments.  Most importantly we learned that this show format is meant to be fun, for the audience and the performers.

Yours,
Ash

Ask Ash: Understanding the Joke Thief

brick wall thiefThis is not in response to a direct question, but there’s been another spat of internet chat on the subject of joke thieves, particularly involving people I respect.  This was brought to the fore again by a recent streamed discussion on Extralegal Norms at Harvard University.

“It’s a “cancer in the industry”: comedians stealing each other’s jokes.@JimMendrinos#copyrightX” – @MiTLibScholarly on Twitter

“there’s a lot of people in the industry who should drown in their own saliva” – Jim Mendrinos

Joke thieves are a (rightfully) vilified fact of life in the comedy community.  They cause stress and sow fear in the lives of creators as well as rob opportunities from those who are deserving.  Who could be so vile, so destructive to the world around them and would want the hate and loathing of their peers?  “No one” is the correct answer.  This is something that we must keep in mind if we want to lessen the effect this behaviour has on our industry.  Brow beating, finger pointing and McCarthy-esque outings are only going to polarize our community and not get to the roots of the problem.

“No one is a villain in their own mind.” – Harry Crews

Let us try to identify the types of joke thieves, work out their motivations and figure out what we can do together to curb their behaviour.

Casual Performer

Who:  The casual performer is someone out for a good time.  They don’t see a career in comedy, they’re the office cut-up, funniest one of their friends.  They probably forward videos, post pictures from various sites on their Facebook, and as a lark they decide to get onstage to tell a few jokes.  Some seek out comedy clubs, some just go to a local open mic or even a karaoke club – some place that’ll give them a stage and a mic.  They just want to have fun, and they’ll bring their supportive friends with them.  They’ll do versions of jokes they’ve read online, even bits from their favourite comics (sometimes even giving credit to the original performer).

Problem:  The obvious problem most people see is that the Casual Performer (CP) is taking stage time away from people who need it to develop, who want it more.  That’s the wrong way to think of it.  The problem with the CP is that they are a comedy fan.  They love it, they just don’t know how to create it so they mimic what they like.  The most damaging problem is that CP’s bring out people.  They are the funny one of their friends, they’re constantly told they should get onstage – and bars that are more concerned with drinks sold and butts in seats overlook the poor quality of their act.  Correcting their behavior has to be done delicately.

 “Obviously this person has to be publicly humiliated as an unimaginative hack.”  No.  As a performer, this type of person IS your audience.  Polarizing them, publicly humiliating them, does nothing but turn them against you (or your room / club).  Their friends will take their side, because that’s what friends do.  Then you have a group of people who are upset with your room / club AND they may even insist to the CP that you were wrong and that they must continue.  An axiom of the hospitality industry is if one person leaves unhappy, you lose 16 potential customers.

Solution:  Take the CP aside privately, and encourage their… something.  Mic control, presence, timing – maybe there was something original in their act.  As someone they’ve seen onstage, who praises them, your encouragement will mean alot and they’ll be more willing to listen to what else you have to say.  Kindly suggest if they intend to continue that they should make sure their act is original and not a ‘tribute’ to someone else or include jokes they’ve read on the internet (depending on their crimes).  Take time to work with them if that’s what it takes.  An exposure to the craft should help show them what is truly involved, hopefully garnering them a greater respect for the stage time and the work of comedians.  This method keeps the CP in your community, as well as their friend network, growing your audience.  It’s best to remember they are a comedy fan, they just don’t know how it works.

Danger:  The CP may not change his ways, you’ll need to keep an eye on them if they perform at other rooms.  It is only after they’ve obviously disregarded any advice and continue stealing material / doing street jokes, that you may wish to approach people who run other rooms and warn them about the CP.  A community working together can help stop this behaviour.  A booker that  that’s more concerned with butts in seats then quality could find a CP an attractive act.  In that case, it’s up to the community to say no.  Refuse to perform on a show that includes the joke thief.  Some people will cave for the stage time, even if you explain to them why BUT with enough good acts staying away, the booker’s show quality will fall, with that the attendance and the money.  That will get the booker (or his boss)’s attention.

mouse thief

Subconcious Stealer

Who:  Usually the Subconscious Stealer (SS) is a member of the community who may unintentionally lift themes, voices or unusual word choices from the other acts they see in the community.  Their social life may revolve around shows, they go to them often, even when not on.  They pay attention to all the acts and laugh even at jokes they’ve seen many times before.  They love the scene.  They tend to be strong performers (similar to, but not as strong as the Performing Sponge, below), if not gifted at writing, the know how to sell a joke.

Many mid-sized cities develop a comedy ‘flavour’.  The acts that do well, get booked more often, and become the acts to emulate.  Audiences become educated that the style of the often booked act is how comedy should be, and reward other acts of that style with laughter and applause.  Comedians checking their setlist for jokes that hit will then trim the jokes of the style that didn’t… reinforcing that city’s flavour.

Problem:  Some writers like to use unusual words, a different phrasing, cadence or persona to set themselves apart.  If other acts start using that phrasing, cadence, persona or vocabulary – it’s no longer special, no longer unique – and it muddies the water about who the audience may think did it first.  Truthfully, most audience members don’t care who did a joke first as long as they laugh.

Solution:  Again, quietly approach the performer and have a polite conversation.  Ask them if they think they’ve any similarities between your phrasing / character / cadence and the one they use in a certain joke.  It’s best to have back up (either recorded proof or a single normally neutral person as you don’t want to appear to be ganging up on the SS) as a witness to say “yeah, that is a lot like…”  Try to let them see that stylistically they’ve drifted towards you and encourage them to be more themselves.  Most, if it presented to them as a non-attack, may realize your point.  Worst case, they may accuse you of drifting stylistically towards them.

Danger:  It’s possible the SS does perform your material better.  The fact they camp on the scene means more people may have seen your style from them first.  Some SS may be better networked than you, with more industry friends – making them feel like they’ve stolen from you could blacken your name.  Many of the higher echelon comedians who are accused of stealing their acts (more than just a couple of jokes) have found greater success then those that they’ve allegedly stolen from.  Many have successful careers as actors.  Sometimes the solution may only be to ask to write for the SS, you are still working in the industry and you’ll be able to use their connections to further your next career move.

“Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate — and quickly.” Lazurus Long (Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYwaWvN5kMo&w=560&h=315]

 Victim of Success

Who:  A rising star, someone who may be a ten year overnight success.  An act who has achieved a growth in success and now is feeling pressure to follow it up.  I touched on the concept of ‘Second Album Syndrome‘ in a previous article.  Their goal is to further grow their career, or at least maintain the new lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed too.  If they realize they’re stealing another comic’s material they can justify it to themselves by saying they’ve worked hard, gave others a hand, were stolen from and deserve their success.  Now they have bills to pay, and they must be paid rather than slide down the socioeconomic ladder.

Problem:  This act is now a goldenboy, they’ve been accepted and praised by the masses.  They spent 10 years developing an act that has now exploded and garnered them a lot of success.  Their problem is, now, they have to develop another act (as good as or better than the act they took 10 years to build) in less than 12 months, or lose any momentum they may have gained.

The VoS may not even realize they’re doing it, in that way, they share some traits with the SS.  Now that they really have to push themselves to create material they may find themselves drawing concepts from deep memories, unknowingly, of acts they saw years ago.  Or they could be douchebags with a cocaine habit that they need to feed and judge the risk of stealing some unknown’s material with the fear of not having a solid second album (or DVD).

Solution:  The solution is fairly similar to the solution for the SS.  Talk with them quietly.  It’s very important you have proof of ownership of your material.  Many comedy celebrities have a posse – a team of friends they count on, either to help develop material or write it for them.  It’s possible the material you think was ripped off was actually ripped off by a writer and passed on to the unknowing VoS.  Usually some arrangement can be reached, and if necessary (and you have solid proof of when you created your material and where they VoS saw it), you may want to think about pursuing legal action if your material was tantamount to their success.  Usually it doesn’t have to go that far (as long as no public humiliation has happened).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xP-m4tE4ys&w=560&h=315]

If there is someone who’s gained a reputation for stealing material, make sure they don’t see yours.  Stories abound about how comedians would drop off shows if they heard Robin Williams was in the room – just because they feared he’d steal their material.

Danger:  The danger to your career, is evident.  If you’re a lower echelon comedian entering a flame war with a rising or established star it may damage your career chances  even if you have documentation to point to.  If you’re an upper echelon comic with a new star using some of your old material, it may be seen as sour grapes to attack their use of your material / concepts – like you can’t handle seeing someone else succeed or do what you did but better.  Comedians must remember that average audience members don’t care who wrote something, just who made them laugh.  Without documented proof, you’re a crackpot.  You’ll upset those that are currently working on projects with the VoS – burning bridges.  You risk coming across as whiney and you’re inviting others to come in and examine every joke / performance you’ve done.

line 2 Cutting Edge Hack

Who:  The Cutting Edge Hack (CEH) may be the most oblivious of joke thieves.  Habits include having a notebook, paying attention at shows and being excited by good ideas.  They tend to sidle up to performers they respect often exclaiming how well written a piece is.  They rarely give ‘tags’ to their friends.

Problem:  Most all of us can agree on what hack is.  But how does something become hack?  I’m sure someone somewhere wrote a very funny joke about airline food – and then a lot of other people made similar observations.  Now the idea of airline food is a joke.  Well the Cutting Edge Hack is similar to the person who wrote the 2nd joke about airline food.  They like to spot ‘trends’ in comedy, so they can appear hip and have jokes about the same subjects that their idol / friends do.  They don’t see this as stealing, they’re just using a tired premise – yours.  They’ll see an idea that another comic does, and then put their spin on it.  They may be good writers, but just not good creators.  Maybe they’re lazy, or maybe they don’t have much world experience – so they live vicariously though the jokes of others.

Solution:  If this happens, speak to them quietly.  Most likely they don’t see borrowing a concept as stealing.  The best solution I can think of is building a community.  Where comedians will write together often, where comics give tags to each other when they think of them.  In that kind of atmosphere it’s easier to educate newer comics to the sense of propriety and that working together you get stronger.  By thinking of tags for other comics you will learn to write for other’s voices, a good skill to have if your career goals include becoming a writer.

Danger:  Handle it wrong and you will gain the resentment of someone who thinks you’re jealous.  They may even think you’re version of the joke is hack – something they’ve improved on.  That you can’t handle better they can write your joke (which is now theirs).  You’re just trying to keep them down and can’t handle their success.

line 1 Performing Sponge

Who:  The Performing Sponge (PS) is a fantastic performer, with great presence, an affinity for mimicry and is able to sell sea water to a drowning man.  Everything they experience and see they can bring to the stage.

Problem:  Everything they experience and see, they can bring to the stage – including acts they’ve gleaned.  Sometimes it’s subconscious, most I’ve encountered have theatre training, which compliments their gifts and help refined them.  In theatre you’re handed a script to interpret.  You develop improv skills so you may act or speak as your character without the need to formulate what comes out.  If they hear an idea – they see it as fair game.  It’s not the idea (script) that is important but the interpretation, on which they put their stamp on.

Solution:  Again it comes down to a quiet, private chat.  This form of thief shares much with the SS, VoS and CEH.  They may have respect for the acting craft but may not realize that stand-up comedy is a separate discipline with it’s own set of rules.  Most people serious about theatre will respect that when pointed out.  With this sort of joke thief, respect goes a long way.  They have skills you can recognize, and indirectly by sampling your material, the show they respect skills you have.  It is in both of yours best interest to educate each other and come to an amicable solution.

Danger:  The danger comes is the PS refuses to recognize the rules of material ownership in comedy and decides to continue doing material about whatever they come across, including other people’s jokes (premises, set-ups or even word for word).  These types of acts can be very popular, asking bars not to book them, or other acts to refuse to be on shows with them may be hard – but if they borrow from all they work with, it will get easier.

Hopefully we can better understand the motivations of the joke thief, to recognize them sooner and deal with them effectively.  Summarizing what is above:

  • Approach them privately and quietly (not publicly or via rumour)
  • Assume it was done innocently.  Remember, parallel thought can and does happen
  • Have proof that is easy to point to, be open to the thought they may have been first
  • Do it as soon as you can, the longer they do another’s joke the more they’ll feel it’s their own.
  • Try to build a rapport, mentor them on stand-up writing etiquette

These things will help build and strengthen a community, and that will make all comedy communities stronger.  What you must remember is, that someone may steal a joke from you, but they don’t steal your ability to write better jokes.

Yours,
Ash

 

How To Stand-up Comedy Contest (part III)

Kick Ash November 2009 CJ WaterhouseIn this, part three about stand-up comedy contests, I’ll explain how I run my monthly comedy competition, Kick Ashiest, as part of the weekly open mic The Kick Ash Comedy Show.  Again I’ll be explaining the reasons for the choices I make. The Kick Ash Comedy Show is a weekly open mic starting 9pm every Tuesday in Andrews Pub, located at 1239 Guy, Montreal, Canada.  Acts either get asked to perform by me, or book with me by sending a message to the Kick Ash facebook fanpage. The monthly competition is Kick Ashiest, a play on the show’s name, which is a play on my name.

KAshiestFKick Ashiest

Kick Ashiest (Kick Ash’s monthly competition) runs every 5th week.  From the previous 4 King of the Mountain shows I pick my favorite two performers each week.  I occasionally ask for feedback from friends who attend the show but generally I try to take note of those that make a special connection with the audience.  It’s my choice, but hey, it’s my name on the show.  I never tell anyone that they are auditioning for me, and I’ve not corrected anyone who thinks the audience vote for King of the Mountain selects the Kick Ashiest participants (well, until now).

The goals of this competition are:
1) to show my confidence in new acts
2) to put together the best show of the month, and let people know it is the best of the month.

How it works

The show is set up with a host (most often me), an opening act, followed by those in the competition (in a predetermined, random order) and ending with a closing act while scores are tabulated.  The show ends with me naming and awarding the cash prize to the winner.

Expert Judges

Expert Judges

Scoring works on two points.  An audience vote and judges.  Yep, judges.  Most comedians who dislike ‘contests’ top three peeves are: judges, judges and vomit on their shoes.

“I’m a comic’s comic.”
“Judges don’t understand the craft.”
“Comedy is subjective, if they don’t like what I do – how can I win?”

What many comedians forget, is that every time we go onstage we’re judged.  Every joke we tell, audience members judge, if they like the joke, they laugh.  If they don’t, we get silence.  Selecting two specific people to be judges doesn’t change that, it just makes it two specific people.  That said, I ask certain people to be judges.  People I know, or who are recommended to me, as involved in the arts or even specifically comedy.  I’ve had pro comics, comedy bloggers, news host, burlesque performers and musicians all work as judges.

Judges judge on two attributes:
1) Material: how well written are the jokes?  How original and unique a take does the performer have?  Does the material flow from one subject to the other in a seamless fashion?
2) Stagecraft: how comfortable is the performer onstage?  Do they interact well with the audience, are they natural onstage or awkward?  Do they know how to use a microphone?  How professional do they seem, have they taken notes onstage?

Each attribute is scored out of 5, each judge adds the totals for each performer together for a potential of 10.  The two judges’ scores are added together for a total out of 20.

Audience vote:
The audience, via ballot, vote for their two favorite acts.  The reason behind voting for two was covered in Part II of this article.  As the closing act performs, I quickly tabulate the audience votes. Bonus points are added to the judges’ scores:
most votes: +5
second most: +4
third most: +3

So, if someone so wows the judges to get a perfect score, as well as wows the audience to get the most votes – the highest score attainable is 25.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen.

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Why?

I chose the acts, because I like the acts.  I get to see the show I want to see.  I show confidence in the acts I like.  I want them to know I believe in them.

There are two judges, to account for differing tastes in comedy.  Just like every audience member, each judge will view each competitor based on their own merits.

Audience bonus points enter an element of wild card.  If someone can bring the entire audience behind them, they have a better chance of winning.

Added to the show are an opening act and a closing act.  The opening act prevents anyone from feeling like they are first up.  The closing act gives us time to tabulate the scores so we can award the winner the prize.

Did we say prize?  Maybe this is people’s why; $50!  Yep, living the dream.

The Kick Ash Comedy Show is every Tuesday, at Andrews Pub, 1239 Guy in Montreal.  Show time is 9pm sharp, doors open at 11am.

How To Stand-up Comedy Contest (part II)

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

In this, part two about stand-up comedy contests, I’ll explain how I run one of the two different competitions which are part of  The Kick Ash Comedy Show.  I’ll also explain the reasons for the choices I make.

The Kick Ash Comedy Show is a weekly open mic starting 9pm every Tuesday in Andrews Pub, located at 1239 Guy, Montreal, Canada.  Acts either get asked to perform by me, or book by sending a message to the Kick Ash facebook fanpage.

The two competitions are Kick Ashiest and the subject of this article, The King of the Mountain.

King of the MountainKing of the Mountain

King of the Mountain runs each week that isn’t the Kick Ashiest (the show’s monthly competition).  In a nutshell, the audience votes for the favorite two acts to come back the following week to act as host and closer (and earn a little cash).  This competition started because I was beginning to feel host burnout.  Each week, with the same regulars I found it hard to keep it fresh 52 times a year.  Rather the continually asking others to host a show with my name on it I turned it into a competition. Occasionally winners selected cannot perform the following week so I step in to fill their role and I act as the defacto replacement guy.  Also, I sometimes schedule myself a spot and get voted in as a King of the Mountain too.

The two primary goals of this competition are:
1) to have acts advertise to their networks (friends, family and fans), raising awareness of the show brand, getting a few more butts in seats.
2) have the winners feel recognized, and given a chance for advancement.
3) encourage audience members to remember the names of performers they like

A game of king of the hill in progress

a group of 3rd graders enjoying a game of king of the hill

The competition’s name comes from two sources., the city of Montreal’s name and a sadistic kids game.  Montreal is a contraction from French “Mont Royale” or “Royal Mountain”, the city’s most prominent landmark (next to Chez Paris Gentlemen’s Club).  King of the hill, for people who grew up with protective parents, is a “game” where children would pick a high spot (such as a hill or the top of the monkey bars) and whoever  held that spot at the end or the longest, by pushing down and tripping their competition, was the king.  (Losers could be identified by needing to wear hockey equipment and eating via straws).  By combining those two things we have King of the Mountain.  Every performer who goes onstage is eligible, including those who won the week before – so it is possible to build a streak.  King of the Mountain thus refers to comedy king of Montreal.

How It Works

Every nonperforming member of the audience receives a ballot through the show. (Other comics are encouraged to come support their friends).  The host is tasked with reminding the audience about the competition throughout the show and the names of those competing.  On each ballot, the audience members are asked to write down their favorite two acts, the order doesn’t matter, the spelling doesn’t matter – but it has to be two.  After the show, I collect the ballots, and within the next few days contact the two acts that received the top most amount of votes.  They have the option of returning the following week for a paid spot, either as host or to close the show.

Strengths

Why do I run it this way?  Having an open ballot encourages the performers to bring out people to the show, more friends = more votes (unless your friends don’t vote for you because the all secretly hate you).  Choosing a second performer means they’ll have to honestly pick someone alongside their friend.  A written ballot is hidden, so there is no public “clap off” or humiliation to the acts.

 Weaknesses

vote-ballot-boxThe main weaknesses to this format are related to the ballots.
1) Ballot stuffing has occurred, but generally has been easy to recognize when one person has dropped in a number of extra ballots.
2) Booking two comedians who share a social circle, is a little dangerous.  If their friends decide to preselect who’ll they’ll vote for and not judge it on the performances they see that night – it’s a bit dishonest and unfair.
3) A comic could potentially suggest to his friends to use their second vote on the worst act of the night.  To my knowledge, this has never happened, and would be hard to co-ordinate to have a large enough impact.
4) Trust.  I’m the sole person counting votes.  If people don’t trust me to be fair and honest, then why participate?

Impact On The Show

Currently, I would say this format has been a positive impact on the show.  Generally new performers are more excited to perform, audiences have seen an elevated level of quality from the comedians, so word of mouth advertising has increased.  Newer performers who win are given the opportunity to stretch themselves by closing the show or hosting for the first time.

Most of all, people are paying attention to who’s had the longest streak.  The current streak record is 4 shows…  Who’s going to beat that?

Yours,
Ash

How to Stand-up Comedy Contest

Ask Ash: What’s the best way to run a comedy contest that everyone will agree is fair and balanced?

Judges small

Quick Answer: It’s impossible.

Now for the long answer… (Part I of II)

2011 Montreal Contest

2011 Montreal Contest

A lot of performers hate comedy contests; “they’re unfair”, “they’re rigged”, “it’s a popularity contest”, “they’re judged by people who know nothing about the craft of comedy”, “it’s an artistic medium, so personal taste is being judged – not skill”, “the zombies are attacking”, “I never win”…  many many complaints.

It’s good to recognize comedy contests for what most of them are; publicity opportunities.  Most contests can be divided into two types: regular advancement ritual, or one-off awareness event.  Both of these types of contests are attempting to raise awareness of not only their brand (club, festival or charity) but also for the performers involved.

Many working pros today list amoung their credits appearances at Seattle International Comedy Competition, The Great Canadian Laugh Off, San Francisco Comedy Competition, Just For Laughs Homegrown Competition and Last Comic Standing – it’s a way to elevate and legitimize your work.  These major contests draw press as well as industry scouts and usually have someone to manage press interactions, arrange interviews and make sure that information is going out – not only to advertise their event but to help promote those performing (and doing well).

Regular advancement rituals usually (but not always) are limited to local comedy clubs, and open mics.  Generally, new comics (or long time open miccers) are given the chance to strut their stuff in an effort to move up to guest spots, pro gigs, weekend work and a small bit of cash.  Yuk Yuks’ Great Canadian Laugh Off final week is open to international acts but the contest runs months prior in their clubs around the country with finalists from various cities coming together to compete in the semi-finals and a chance to make it onto the finale ‘winner take all’ show.  Winners are presented with a contract, cash and a chance to tour the country.  That’s way cooler than going into your boss’s office for a performance review.

One-off awareness events tend to be either fundraisers, part of an awareness campaign or on the business side, a bit of a cash grab.  When an organization wants to raise funds for a project or charity BUT can’t afford a single large name comic (or can afford only a single comic of status) they sometimes decide to fill the night with up and comers / open miccers who’ll work for free (or the chance winning a prize).  This benefits the organization in keeping their costs / outlay down, and it benefits the comedians in a chance to be seen by an audience that may not typically go out to open mic shows, and for the winner – a small press bump or at least a credit to assist them getting bit of paid work.  Even when a smart business savvy person (or organization) decides to run such an event in an effort to earn personal cash, they have to arrange press, sponsors and raise the profile of the event to make it worthwhile for the comedians to come out.

Annual competitions like Just For Laughs Homegrown or the Seattle Comedy Competition draw performers from around the world who compete mainly for the bragging rights – pitting themselves against the best who are selected to perform. The three things to remember with both of these types of contests is judging is subjective, no one forces you to participate and like any opportunity, it’s only as good for you as you make it. When you are part of a contest it’s important to take advantage of any resources they give you.

  • Volunteer for press access.
  • Make sure you have a package ready for interested parties (the more upscale the competition, the more you should put into your package).  For small competitions, usually a business card is okay.  For international competitions with representatives from prouduction companies, networks and agencies present, have a DVD show reel, resume, headshot and a spec script(s) (both printed and pdf) prepared to hand out.
  • Work your offstage skills, showing that you’re good at handling self promotion and are an asset to the competition (and any future bookers)

Part II will focus on how I run two small competitions at my little open mic in Montreal

Yours, Ash

 

How (Not) To Stand-up Comedy: Stage Greed

Bill Hicks(originally posted February 20th, 2006)

Tonight I may have been tested.  Tested and I failed.  Failed badly.  Tonight we had our 2nd Annual Bill Hicks‘ Memorial Rant Off, an event I look forward to.  Not just for the chance to spew bile and tell the world how broken it is, but also the chance to see comedians stretch out of their comfort zone, try something new and work on new performance skills.

By warning the crowd of what they’re in for, advertising it as a special night we hope to draw people who want to hear this particular style of comedy.  At the start of the show very few people in the audience admitted to knowing of Bill Hicks.  But the stragglers who came in late did, and the crowd was educated.  We had a good crowd.  No, we had a great audience.

Many of the young comics here in the scene stepped up to the challenge, everyone did their best sets that I’ve ever seen them do.

Gingers Comedy Dawgs

Yanick Simard

Nick Simard and Cheryl Hann really stood out.  But with such a great crowd, with so many comics on the show a little thing crept into the process.  Greed.  The laughs were so great, the crowd so willing to journey with us on flights of fancy and hate, it was hard to get off stage.

Onstage at Gingers

Cheryl Hann

 

We had a special guest show up, last minute.  Mike McQueen (now based in Toronto).  I asked him to do just five minutes tight and squeezed him in just before the last act.  Mike did just that, kept to time and did a great set.

Problem is, I’m an ogre for keeping the show from running long.  I do it to keep the audience from feeling worn out.  If a crowd leaves wanting more, they’ll return sooner.  Optimum time is an hour forty-five, two hours tops.  When we burn most all our “A” material on an audience, they’ll return and may be persnickity if we do mainly jokes they’ve heard before.  With such a small audience base (Halifax NS is a big town, not really a small city), we need to encourage repeated visits.

At Gingers Comedy Dawg

Mike MacQueen

We started at exactly 8pm.  Mike came off stage (after his tight 5 minutes) at 9:54pm.  The closer was supposed to do 10 to 15 minutes… more if time was available and the crowd willing.  I had the choice to say no to the closing act, save it for another time.  Problem was, I was the closing act.  I had looked forward to this show for weeks.  I had prepared special material, dredged up older material that had not seen the light of day for years because of it’s bile.  I wanted to do this show.

Like a spoiled brat I did it.  It was 9:57pm by the time I hit the stage.  I abridged some jokes, editing on the stage trying to cut, losing myself not to the jokes but the need to get off stage.  But too much of what I wanted to do got out.  I false ended several times.  The crowd was with me.  I attacked the comfort of the audience, I yelled at them as to how they have the power to make this a better world… and if they didn’t, the possible consequences.  Then I ended on a pussy joke.

It was cathartic, but I felt like an unprincipled ass.  I was greedy for the stage attention that I did what I feel is bad for the future of the show.  Generally I didn’t do much material or the style of material that people see regularly from me, but I taxed an audience.

Time will tell (by the number repeat customers) if what I did was so wrong.

-Ash
February 20th, 2006

The 10 Major Fails of Starting Stand-up Comedians

Ask Ash: What do I need to know to do an open mic?F1000007

1)      Don’t write what you think people will laugh at.  Write what makes you laugh.  Rehashing topics that your favourite comedians joke about is called hack.  You’ll be more real and more surprising to the audience if you share your original take on something new.

2)      It’s called a microphone, it can amplify your voice so everyone in the room can hear it BUT it’s not infallible – you need to know how to use it.  Make sure it’s close enough to your mouth to catch the sound, but not so close as to distort (or fuzz) it.  If you don’t know how to hold a mic or use a stand, ask for pointers.  It’s not a bad thing, actually it’s recommended.

3)      Arrive early to the show.  If you have questions for the host / producer, try to email them ahead of time.  If you need help with the equipment (mic stand / mic / gtfots light) it’s best to ask before the show starts AND best to do it before the audience begins arriving.  The last 10 minutes before a show starts are very busy for those putting on a show, and they’ll be less able to politely answer your questions then.

4)      Know your place in the order, whether you know ‘which number’ or ‘who you follow’, be ready to go to the stage.  You should have a foot on the stage by the time the host is saying the last syllable of your name.

5)      Sit in accessible spot, if there’s a change to the running order you should be easy to find (without disturbing the show).  Don’t sit up front.  Most hosts do crowd work, and the default is to talk to people in the front row – which almost always turns out crappy or appears fake when it’s an act on the show.

6)      Prepare.  Don’t wing it.  Know your jokes, or at least the punchlines.  Few things grind a set to a halt like a long set up without a punchline.  Admitting it, though, can save you.

7)      Don’t overwrite.  Know what the jokes sound like, say them aloud to yourself as you’re editing them.  Somethings look great on the page, but sound awkward when spoken.

8)      Edit.  Don’t try to fill the time, try to get as many laughs in as short a time as possible.  Most open mics appreciate comics who volunteer to do shorter time.

9)      Keep to time.  If you plan on going short, let the host know (usually while the act before you is on, but also prior to the show start).  That way they can curb their bathroom / smoke break to be sure they’re ready when you’re getting off stage.  Don’t go long.  You see the warning light, get off.  On a show with 12 acts, and each act does 2 extra minutes, the entire show is almost an extra half hour longer.F1000013

10)   Remember, the audience is there to laugh.  All you need to do is give them the excuse.

Ask Ash: Bulletproof

The question I was asked (several different ways) was “do I have to be bullet?” “what did I do to piss you off?”, “can’t you get someone else to go first?”, “I’m better later in the lineup”, “but I got people coming to see me…”  Okay, those last two are more statements not questions, but they amount to the same complaint: “why do I have to go first?”

Bullet [boo l-it]; noun

  • first (non-hosting) spot on a comedy show
  • from the idiom “bite the bullet”:  to force oneself to perform a painful, difficult task or endure an unpleasant situation
  • slang “bullet” as ace, or ‘one’ card

Comedy Nest December 14, 2012On a typical (non serial) professional show (2-4 comics), the person taking bullet is pretty much undisputed.  Usually the bullet goes to the person with the shortest time:  In the case of a two person host/headliner show, it’s the non headliner; three act show, again, the non headliner or the host; four acts – the person doing a showcase (7-10 minute) set.

On a showcase, contest, or festival set, where most all the comics are doing nearly the same amount of time the choice of who goes first should not be taken lightly.  For the purpose of this article I’m going to express the choices I try to make when picking a bullet for a common open mic and explain why.

To understand the reasoning of having a strong bullet slot on a comedy show, it helps to understand its impact on a show.

  • A strong bullet performance proves to the audience that the show is worth sticking around for
  • In the perception of some audience members, the host doesn’t count as part of the show, so it is important to start with an experienced / strong act
  • shows with consistently weak opening acts will find their regulars (and those drawn by word of mouth) coming later, further impacting the show and the venue negatively.

The bullet should remember they are not really the “first” act.  The host has gone on first, and their job has been to take a group of individuals and make them an audience – the bullet does not go up cold.  That said, the host has a limited amount of time to do all the tasks that help make the show go better and having a first act that knows how to comport themselves can make the difference.

Let’s look at some of the factors that go into choosing a bullet performer:

  • Consistently strong performer
  • Capable of engaging the crowd if necessary
  • Stylistically different from the host

A booker (or the person who paces a regular show) looks to bring in an audience for the full show.  If a show is front loaded with weaker, less popular acts, audience (and potential audience) members will regret coming early and plan to only come late in the future.  Potentially, people unimpressed with the first acts could get up and leave seeing nothing worth staying for.  This can lead to bad word of mouth and bad press for the venue and show.  To alleviate this, a smart booker would choose to have one of his top 3 acts open the show, which draws people to the show’s start.  A late audience member complaining that they missed their favorite act because they showed up late is word of mouth advertising attesting to the quality of show and recommending getting there on time – a double win.

As a performer, the detriment of going first is added pressure to deliver a good set.  The easiest way to deliver a good set is to use tried and true material, but for seasoned acts, the purpose of performing in an open mic like environment is to try new material.  As bullet you have less time to experiment or test newer material.  You still can work new material in by book ending (surrounding it) by some of your better tested jokes, plus smart bookers tend to give a little more time to quality bullet comics.  Professional comics have to perform no matter how they’re feeling when scheduled (well, they could call in sick if they can find a replacement, but comics who don’t perform ‘because they don’t feel like it’, end up losing potential work as well – because said practice isn’t really “professional”), so performing bullet spot as an unexpected pressure is good practice to learn how to adapt and work when you feel less than fully prepared. A good booker will not pace the same person over and over in bullet, bullet spots should be balanced with spots later in the show (including close).

Now when the show has been paced and you tell the booker (or host) things like:

“I’m better later in the line up”
They hear “I’m not good enough”

“can you switch me with…”
They hear “I don’t trust your judgement”

“I got people coming to see me…”
They hear “I couldn’t be bothered to tell them to get here on time”

What you should hear when you’re asked to take bullet:

“Hey, I think you’re pretty good.”

Yours,
Ash

Ask Ash: How to write a (comedy) review

“I saw that show and give it three stars.”  How frustrating is it to read a show review like that.  How do I know I agree with the reviewer?  No idea.by Sergio Aragones

I’ve had only a few frustrated writers, reviewers, audience members ask me how to write a review for a comedy show, but I’ve heard way more artists complain about a bad, inaccurate or vague review.  So, for both sides of the fence I’d like to outline some of the best facets of a good review.

How do you write an effective comedy review?  What do you need elements should you identify.  How descriptive of a comedian’s set should you be?  What were the atmosphere and venue like and did it affect the show.  Let’s examine some guidelines (again, this is just my opinion, but I do believe you’ll find it helpful) to writing a good (comedy) review.

  1. Set the stage.  Describe the location, the atmosphere.  Name who you are reviewing and your expectations from past work.  This could be as simple as saying “I went to see comedy veteran Jim McDonald at the Comedy Vault.”  It depends on who you think your audience is, if you think they are familiar with the ‘Comedy Vault’, and if ‘Jim McDonald’ has a widely known reputation.  It is sometimes best to act as if your audience will be unfamiliar with your references.  Put in emotional references and descriptors.  If a venue makes you feel a certain way each time you go there, if it reminds you of anything that may put you (the reviewer) in a certain frame of mind, it is good to mention.  If you’re familiar with the comedian’s work, what you’re expecting, their style – even references.  If you only know them from word of mouth, how long it’s been since you’ve seen them.  All of these factors can affect your state of mind, and how you will report on the show, they also will allow a reader to judge how you’re approaching the show compared to how they’d approach it.
  2. Describe the work.  Here you should describe the meat of the show.  Did the comedian(s) meet your expectation?  What sort of atmosphere did they create?  What was the material subject matter?  It is important to note that you should never, ever, put a punchline in a review.  Glossing over subject matters yet stating how you reacted is much better; “Jim McDonald let loose with a story on tricycles that blew me and the audience away.  Laughter rippled through the crowd as his simple charm and rural witticism reminded us all what it was like to be three.”
  3. Criticism is more than complaint.  If something in the show is not to your liking, don’t be afraid to express it – but explain why.  It is possible that something you disliked would be a reason someone else would like to go.  “I was disappointed to not hear Jim’s great joke about etch-a-sketches, in total I don’t think he did any of the jokes from his first album.”
  4. Summary.  Summarize what you thought of the show as a whole, if you’d recommend it, if there were caveats to those recommendations.  This is to be your opinion, know why you made it and be able to express it.
  5. Be accurate, nothing spoils a good (or bad) review more then misspelling the name of the artist (or venue) involved.  Dates, showtimes, names – all these things can easily be verified IF you didn’t take notes the first time through.
  6. If you’re reviewing an ensemble show (showcase, open mic, sketch) it sometimes can be overwhelming to review everyone.  Watch the entire show, but pick out only two or three acts who you think deserve the individual attention (for good or ill).

Now review some shows, doing so is a great practice in writing, plus you’ll also get a better grasp of how to pace your own sets and who knows, maybe you’ll encourage someone to go see something live.

Yours,
Ash