Monday, July 4, 2011

Stand Up and Deliver

I get it now. Comedy is really like any business. Goal #1 is to develop a good product. In Comedy, the product is a great set. The product is not a tangible good or service, like let’s say a new toothpaste, pill or laundry detergent. No, the product is to get good on stage. To entertain an audience. To develop a set that consistently delivers more times than not. To borrow an old hokey slogan from the Ford Motor Company---“It’s Job #1.”

What this means, to me at least, is to concentrate on writing, performing and honing my “set.” To treat each gig—paying or not—as an opportunity to learn and improve. Or, to now borrow from the title of that Edward James Olmos film, to “Stand-Up and Deliver.” It may sound obvious and intuitive, but there are so many ways to become distracted in this business or to look for shortcuts, as in any other, and it took me the better part of a year to fully come to this realization.

Again, if you liken a comedy career to other businesses, without the “product,” there is nothing else that really matters. One can network, schmooze, develop a website, order glossy business cards, get a great headshot, create a blog (oops!), kiss ass (oops again!), Facebook, Tweet or Link In our little fingers to the bone, or follow the trajectory of every other newly minted comics or even inflate credits (sitting in the audience at SNL is not the same as “You’ve seen him on SNL!”).

I’m not saying in any way these other activities are not important, I'm only saying that without concentrating on your “product,”--- your set and stage skills--- it’s all for naught.

Over the course of my former career, I worked for three great companies that had an incredible array of products—Johnson & Johnson, Colgate Palmolive and Sony Corporation. And, I can tell you from a bird's-eye view that no amount of promotion, advertising and networking networking, would have amounted to much without products like a Tylenol, Colgate Total toothpaste, or Sony’s CD technology. To use clich├ęs like“it’s where the rubber meets the road,” “the money talks and the bullshit walks,” or “the audio matches the video" are understatements And,at times the product was so good that customers and vendors sought us out or found us before we got to them!

It seems to me to be similar in the comedy world. For what it’s worth it, to me it seems to be another “80/20% rule.” Write, perform and hone 80% of the time; do the rest during the other 20% of the time.

Okay. I know. There is definitely some truth to “It’s who you know” or “being at the right place at the right time.” Or, “it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow”—sorry for being crude, but I thing that one is clever.

I’m not there yet. But I’m trying to chart a more focused course for myself. For me at least, it seems that without the product, the rest is nothing but false advertising. So there, I said it.

I would love to hear your comments and reactions. And to tell me where your feel I’m not on-track or not “getting it.” Oh, and please subscribe. It tells me this is a decent use of my “20%.”

All the best to you. And Happy Birthday America!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

CareeringToday: Great Impressions

We all know about the importance of a positive initial encounter. A first impression is a lasting impression. It’s critically important you think about how to make a positive first contact before a job interview. You may not think you can do much to insure a great first impression, and that is partially true, but some variables are within your control.

As a career recruiter, I have interviewed thousands of candidates. Unfortunately, unlike other encounters, there are no job interview “do-overs.” You may be able to recover from a shaky first impression with someone you wish to date, a potential customer, or a new friend. But an interview is so dependent on rapport, fit and chemistry that a deadly first impression is — well, deadly. After all, employees generally spend as much time together during their waking hours as they do with their families during the week. And, in this tight job market, employers are extraordinarily cautious about making a job offer to a candidate.

Making Great Impressions
So, in Part I of “Great Impressions,” I’m going to give you a “laundry list” of hints, tips and “watch-outs.” Some may seem obvious, but trust me I’ve seen applicants even in the upper ranks of management make avoidable mistakes. And, although some of this may seem a bit much to remember in the moment, in these difficult times you can leave nothing to chance. So, here goes:

•Even if you are told when scheduling the interview that it is a “business casual” environment, it is not so for the interviewee. Dress up—you can never really over-dress, but you can easily under-dress for the occasion. Be certain your hair, make-up and grooming are impeccable. In most situations it is best to dress conservatively, particularly as you don’t want your outfit or jewelry to be distracting. Your choices are a reflection on you.

•Get to the interview 20 minutes early. Mapquest the directions or get them off the company website. Allow plenty of time for potential traffic or late mass transit. If you are wearing a jacket, hang it up while you are driving so it is wrinkle-free when you arrive at your destination.

•Have a comb or brush and breath mints available for last minute grooming in your car. After you announce yourself to the receptionist, ask to use the lavatory and check your appearance one last time to be certain you are well “put together.” Ask the receptionist if there is a coat closet so you do not have to carry around an overcoat. Travel light inside of the building. A leather portfolio with extra copies of your resume and two pens is best, but an attache case and/or presentation portfolio works, too.

•Since you are early and will no doubt spend time in the lobby, pay particular attention to the environment: employee interaction, employee body language, style and condition of facility, etc. You don’t need to be a super sleuth, but you’d be surprised about the clues you can pick up.

•If you are waiting for an extended period of time, stay calm. Take a few deep breaths. Often the longer you wait, the more anxious you may become. Don’t start reading the magazines or newspaper in the lobby. It will distract you from focusing and will be awkward when you have to stand up when the interviewer finally approaches. Better to go over your notes, resume and pithy questions. A mentor once told me to stand vs. sit for five minutes before your interview as you will seem more energetic and in control. I don’t know if I agree, but I pass it along for consideration.

•When the interviewer appears, smile, offer a firm handshake, make good eye contact, and follow her lead in walking to the interview room. Walk side-by-side, not in front nor in back of the interviewer. Seem to hang on to every word the interviewer says—never have you heard such “pearls of wisdom.” Compliment the person on the facility (unless it is a total dump!) or some other nicety as long as it seems sincere and befitting of someone with a great positive outlook. Accept an offer of water, but not coffee or tea. Spillage is a catastrophe (I’ve experienced this) and if nervous, your heart could start racing from caffeine.

•When you get into the interview room, ask the interviewer where she would like you to sit – you’re the visitor. Once seated, sit up straight, legs together or crossed but not apart, unbutton your jacket, slightly pull the bottom back part of your jacket down for maximum fit and wait for the interviewer to take the lead.

•Be aware of your overall tone as much as you can—voice modulation, body language, expression, enthusiasm.

Now, you’ve done a great deal of what you can to take control of making a good first impression. In Part II of “Great Impressions” we’ll focus on how to best conclude the interview to help create a positive lasting impression.

You may feel such tips are a bit much to pay attention to on top of answering the questions and “being authentic,” but believe me when I tell you, many times it is very difficult to recover if things don’t start off well. There are many variables outside of your control, but some things are very much up to you.

Follow these suggestions when interviewing, and you're certain to make a good first impression!

All the best,
Mark

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Are You Ready for Your Next Comic?"

I have been doing comedy for a relatively short period of time. But for most of my life, for 35 years in fact, I have been a fan of comedy. I followed comedians,and entertainers in general,the way others follow sports. I assumed that because of my passion for watching comedy,following the comedy world and being infatuated with the entertainment industry in general, that that knowledge and passion would help me figure out what it takes to get up in front of an audience and make people laugh. It does not!

I was always funny. Not a week went by when a someone didn't say, "You missed your calling." I was the funniest guy in the den, at the kitchen table, bar, classroom and office. I had seen most "old school" and new, break-out comedians, read every book,every magazine article and listened to most recordings of comedians since the 1960's. And yet, all that exposure to the great and not-so-great comics and writers did little to prepare me for when I got up on the stage and attempted to make people laugh.

I've thought a lot about this. A lot of things took me by surprise. These revelations were 35 years in the making. I wanted to share a few thoughts with fellow new comics starting out.

(1) The most obvious, of course, is the transition from the sidelines to the stage. The first thing I realized in being "stage funny" vs. "living room" funny is you have no history with the audience members, no good will built up, and there's no comfort in trying to make strangers laugh vs. your friends and relatives. It becomes painfully obvious from the moment you hit the stage and fire off your first joke.

(2) There are a lot of funny (and funnier)people out there. I may have been the funniest person at the dinner table or amongst my friends, but at a comedy club, open mic,comedy class or show, I'm one of many. It's like being the best athlete in high school who goes off to play college ball with the best athletes from 30 high schools. You're now one of many at your level and the bar has been raised. And, more seasoned comics may not have as much native comedic talent as you, but they've been at the craft long enough to have developed the technical skills, confidence, timing and ability to hone material that new comics lack.

(3) The business side of comedy is just as critical. Although many new comedians are not making enough money to refer to comedy as our "business," there are many business-related habits that should be kept in mind from Day I. Relationship building, not burning bridges, thanking people, developing your comedy persona and brand, developing relationships and being reliable are critical in any business, and just as critical in comedy.

I have so much more to learn. I am still a neophyte in the comedy world. It's a humbling experience to go up on stage and perform for strangers. To open yourself up and share your thoughts and feelings with an audience. I can't yet say I'm having a good time up there. For every shark, phony or "poser" I've encountered, I've also met a bunch of great people whom I would not have otherwise met.

I love the challenge of it. I wish I had started years ago.

Best of luck.  Book me!

Mark