Is The Boss Laughing? Why Corporate Shows Are Easy

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There’s hardly a gig I haven’t done: nude cruises, kids’ birthday parties, comedy clubs,  The Tonight Show, colleges, parades, corporate events – you name it, I’ve done it. Of all of them, corporate shows are unique in at least one respect: the audience is keenly attuned to the boss’s reaction.

It’s not like performing for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, of course, but corporate audiences do tend to be inordinately cautious about not laughing until they’re sure the CEO is.

Which makes performing for corporate audiences a nightmare, right?

Wrong. Why not? The reason is simple: the CEO isn’t worried about what her boss thinks – she is the boss. While employees, desirous of keeping their jobs, are taking cues from her, she’s simply enjoying the show.

This is one of the reasons corporate shows tend to be far easier than, say, college shows, where the boss (i.e. professors and faculty) are processing the show through their politically-correct (i.e. leftist) ideological lens rather than simply having a good time.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance on the Late Late Show.

Event Production and the Most Important Person in the Room

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“Boarding the plane this morning I very politely asked the gentleman in the seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats with me so that *** wife and I could sit together.”

Crickets. Silence. Due to a technical snag the audience missed only one, three-letter word. But that’s all it takes. A comedian knows where the laughs go but an audience, hearing the story for the first time, has to figure out for themselves. To do that, they need to be able to hear every single word.

The technical aspects of event production aren’t as mundane as they may seem: don’t spend a lot of money on a remarkable speaker or entertainer without ensuring that the sound is equally remarkable.

“Boarding the plane this morning I very politely asked the gentleman in the seat behind me if he would mind swapping seats with me so that his wife and I could sit together.”

Laughter. Magic. Connection.

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Event Planning And The Scourge Of Round Banquet Tables

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Let’s be serious for a moment: audiences should be seated facing the speaker.

Imagine a photographer going from round banquet table to round banquet table taking pictures of people without asking anyone to turn around and face the camera. To do so would be absurd. But it’s no more absurd than introducing a speaker or entertainer when much of the audience – by virtue of the fact that they’re sitting at round banquet tables – still have their backs squarely facing the podium or stage.

Before introducing an entertainer or speaker to the stage, take a page from the photographer playbook and request that those whose backs are to the stage to at least offer the presenter their profile.

This and a few other simple changes very often make the difference between an audience which is engaged and one that is not.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or learn how a head injury forced me to reinvent myself from a conventional to a comedic juggler.

Happy Performers Make Happy Audiences

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The Orange County Magic & Comedy Showcase in Orange, California is remarkable: instead of limiting the amount of time performers spend on stage, its producer and emcee Joe Derry limits the number of performers. By leaving it to performers to self-police their time on stage, they are freed to spend all their focus on what they’re doing.

Everyone – including the audience – benefits tremendously.

“No one is prowling the back of the room with a watch and a flashlight, waiting to give you your two-minute light” explains Derry. The result is like a much-needed breath of fresh air: performers are relaxed and enjoy an unmistakable sense of camaraderie that’s virtually impossible with the assign-a-slot mindset that prevails at so many showcases.

When I was building up my stand-up comedy act at open-mics, giving performers “the light” was deemed a necessity – and few things go further to ensure that performers are put on ice from the moment they arrive.

By limiting the number of sign-ups instead of the amount of time they spend on stage, Derry’s showcase avoids another problem that famously vexes the format: an audience that consists mostly of sign-ups anxiously waiting their turn. At the OCMC showcase, the audience is comprised overwhelmingly of Orange county locals patently grateful to have a different (and free) magic show right in their own backyard each month.

Learning magic under the auspices of the Long Beach Mystics, Joe Derry knows that happy entertainers mean happy audiences: a lesson more bookers and show producers would do well to learn.

(In addition the monthly showcase, Joe also stars in his own weekly show, Merlin’s Magic & Comedy Dinner Theatre. Both are hosted by the Rib Trader restaurant).

Questions or comments? Leave them in the section below.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com or watch me relate an awkward conversation I had on an elevator.

Event Planners And The Folly Of The “5-Minute Break”

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For many event planners, few things seem to make more sense than inserting a 5-minute break just before the entertainment is to begin. Attendees, after all, will have spent a good chunk of time sitting through a lengthy awards ceremony or something similar, so what could make more sense than inserting a “short break” to stretch their legs so that they can fully enjoy the entertainment that follows?

As it happens, it’s a terrible idea for all involved: for the speaker or entertainer, certainly, but most of all for the audience. Take the awards ceremony example: the employee-of-the-year award has finally been handed out. It’s is the culmination of the evening. The volume, energy and excitement in the room is at its peak. Now is the time to harness that energy and channel it into introducing the evening’s entertainment, right? Instead, you invite everybody to step outside for just long enough to have a cigarette.

And this is assuming, of course, that five-minutes after the break has commenced that everyone will have taken care of their business and is now settled in, which of course never happens. In reality, for most of those in attendance it takes five minutes to just to begin a break. (I lived in Germany for several years and even there a 15-minute pause is understood to mean closer to 20 minutes. You think you’re going to wrangle up 400 Americans in five minutes? Let me know how that goes).

Shortly before an event recently the planner gave me a run down of the evening. When he got to the “short, five-minute break” (not to be confused with a long five-minute break) before I was to be introduced, I interrupted him.

“About that five-minute break. Can we just skip that?”

“Sure. Why?” he said.

Then I read him this blog. Just kidding: I explained that in my experience all the only thing a short break accomplishes is the entertainer is introduced with no focus: people are milling about, standing in line for drinks with their backs turned to the stage, etc.

Then his eyes lit up as if I was describing something in his own experience. It turns out, I was: “Hey, yeah!” he exclaimed. “We had that exact same situation last year when we had a stand-up comedian at our event. Nobody was paying attention until about ten minutes into the show.”

Gee, I can’t imagine why.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or watch learn how I reinvented myself after a head injury forced me to become a comedic juggler after years of being a conventional one.

What’s the value of a two-dollar tip?

2What’s the value of a two-dollar tip? Some might say it’s nothing to scoff at. Others might suggest that it’s very much worth scoffing at. Others still might say it depends on the service rendered.

One interpretation that often escapes us: a two-dollar tip is worth two dollars (or two-hundred cents, 16 bits, etc.)

Too often we allow our characterization of things to eclipse the things themselves. When an athlete on the losing end of a contest is mocked for saying “It is what it is” he is uttering more wisdom than his critics know.

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com.

How I Started Standing Up: Part II

Over time, my stand-up comedy became a natural prelude to my “Unnatural Act”. Here I am performing face juggling with a billiard and a ping pong ball.

I didn’t start doing stand-up until my mid-thirties. I had a lot of experience speaking to audiences by that time, however: I had been performing for nearly two-decades as a comedy juggler. When I started hitting open-mics in Denver and elsewhere working on my first five minutes of stand-up material, I would walk on stage with a highlighter pen, a slap bracelet, two half dollars and a billiard ball neatly concealed in my pockets and a host of other time-tested accouterment. The moment I lost trust in (or, just as likely, simply blanked on) my stand-up material, I’d hit the eject button and break-out the props from my pocket and then could coast from there.

Sometimes I’d bail on the stand-up if I if I had the least little memory lapse. Not wishing to be seen looking at my crib sheet, if I had one,  I’d simply bail and boom! my variety act would inflate in seconds and I was gold again.

When I stopped working with a crib sheet on the stage stool – it all seems so shabby now – is when I really progressed in terms of memorization (a facet of the job which was much less onerous than I feared when I realized I only have to memorize as I write, not commit to memory a 45-minute set.

Crib sheets are a crutch, not to mention an unwelcome distraction to the audience to see you pouring or – sometimes worse – glancing over your notes. Stand-up comedy is a conversation between the audience and the comedian. Why give them even a brief invitation to end the conversation?

Anyway, if I bailed on the stand-up (or just had more time to fill) I’d produce a highlighter pen from my pocket and and noticed an unmistakable increase in focus from the audience: the comedian is doing something unexpected and suddenly everyone’s curious about what’s going to happen next. That was a powerful thing to harness for me and has been ever since.

I learned the importance of being interesting at all times. I wish lecturers and teachers would learn this from the best comedians! It’s pretty simple: engage the audience and start telling jokes.

I learned to resist any urge to be explicit with the audience about demanding their attention: I pretended to just assume it. “Never let them see you sweat” became my mantra, if not my motto.

In terms of developing material I would have been better off without all those props, as all it did in the end was postpone my emergence from hypersensitive in terms of audience reaction to sort of a “Trust, but verify” approach: I don’t sweat any given moment but keep my eyes on the big picture.

And for the love of God, don’t be loud. What’s that? You have to “sell” the material? Please. Have you stood in the back of the room beneath the speakers and shouted into the microphone as you do? It’s horrible.

My friend and one of my favorite comedians in Jeff Wayne. He taught me a lot of valuable things. Among them was “Of course if a joke gets absolutely no response, you have to comment on it. But as long as you’re getting something – anything – from the audience, you’re best bet is to smile and get on with it.

A lot of it is the overall impression you leave with the audience during the show. Little things can undermine your credibility or like ability. Sometimes jokes stop being funny for no apparent reason. Easy come, easy go!

Many of my fellow open-mic comedians were the exact opposite. They seemed to be utterly oblivious to the audience’s non-reaction. I’d see the same guys week after week sharing onstage the same stories, telling the same anecdotes (rarely did they tell “jokes”, i.e., “As a comedian married to a German I sometimes have to go outside the marriage for laughs…” ). The hacks plow through their material like bloodthirsty wolverines, utterly indifferent to the audience’s reaction

I was the other way: I had to learn to resist my tendency to be hypersensitive and made even more so because I had in my pockets the comedy equivalent to the military’s meals Ready To Eat.

Another good rule of thumb I learned from Jeff: if you hear or see something from the stage that the audience can’t hear or see, forget about it. They don’t know what you’re talking about. Get back to the jokes.

It takes discipline to sit down and write daily, whether it’s a stand-up comedy bit, a blog or prose or fiction of any length. Writing what comes to mind throughout the day is easy:  jokes, like trouble in New York, find me. I write throughout the day (except on those not-infrequent days when theres no signal) so that I can get on with my day. Staring at a blank screen while standing over the joke hole just doesn’t work for me. If I am going to transition to longer-form writing – maybe take baby steps with some two liners? – then I will have to learn to sit down and organize my thoughts. Just learning to be not-necessarily funny when writing is a challenge.

In the meantime, I have succeeded making my bed most days. The good Admiral McRaven is right: one of the satisfactions of making your bed each morning is repairing to it each night. Here’s my made bed.

Anyway, this signal I’ve been receiving makes my job mostly clerical: sorting the jokes by category (I keep every joke in a single document and hashtag it with one of the above routines that would likely provide cover for it. For example, a joke about my wife would be tagged with #family). I then gauge the jokes onstage with my patented “Tell joke, listen to audience reaction” stand-up comedy system.

I learned I wouldn’t write anything funny until I found I was performing it regularly. Looking back at my first notebooks I literally wonder: “What was I aiming at here?” The notebook was quiet and comfortable and never tested me. So the problem was I wasn’t going out there to perform stand-up enough. You have to be a writer and a performer – a rare combination.

At real gigs I’d throw in a line here or there during my show, but the audience wasn’t expecting stand-up and if they had, they would have been disappointed. A couple of reliable lines here and there, yes, but nothing qualifying as an actual bit.

I had to begin performing as a stand-up regularly to figure out who I was really writing for. My only clue to answer the question “What’s my persona gonna be?”  was the from observing the patter and speaking-style I employed in my comedy juggling act. There was surely a lot of overlap in in my stand-up persona and my variety act persona – but whatever rough transition remained I hope I have polished into something deemed seamless.

I knew it important to meld the two modes together stylistically, especially since it became apparent that my juggling days were numbered. I have the advantage, too, that audiences tend to get giddy when my kind-of nerdy, boastful comedian personae suddenly gives way  to this nerdy, boastful juggler persona who’s kicking a billiard balls into his eye socket and stuff.

Stand-up comedy also made me at once more self-aware and less self-conscious. I learned that I was kind of clever, not to mention preoccupied with TSA guidelines. Stylistically, I  strive to be a pretty cool customer who manipulates the audience onto his wavelength without appearing to be striving do so. My motto is “Never let ’em see you sweat”.

When I finally started performing stand-up regularly – in-and-around Denver – I had an interesting perspective. Backstage, I’d be surrounded more-or-less relaxed open-mic guys who had more experience than me in stand-up but whose overall performing experience was dwarfed by my own (having performed some iteration of my comedy juggling act my whole adult life). I remember at one venue in a relatively small but beautiful old stone theater in Arvada we were told shortly before the show that the microphone wasn’t functioning and we’d simply do without.

Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. For the other guys it seemed a minor detail. Holding a microphone in my hand was for me a welcome thumb to suck and served as a small equalizer between a novice like me, who had long grown accustomed to speaking with both hands free – and guys who had been hitting the open mic for months or years. In other words, holding a microphone was comforting luxury for me and deprived it I felt distracted. For them, it simply meant they’d have to do their act the way they’ve done it many times before: at other open mics, at home in the shower, driving, or whatever.

Memorization and desensitization were other big factors: memorizing my material and desensitizing myself from constantly checking the pulse of the audience and learning to simply charge on.

The microphone looms larger in the mind of comedians than most audiences will believe. What’s the big deal? Remove it from the stand and put it back when you’re done! But my friend and arguably world’s funniest man Phil Tag likes to rehearse his stand-up when possible on the stage with the lights under show conditions and the microphone on. For a guy who’s been doing it for decades and with appearances on The Tonight Show, you’d think he’d enjoy the comedian’s unique privilege of not requiring much, if any, tech rehearsal.

Over time, I would learn the lesson which I still apply to so many aspects of life: that most things that happen during a show are as big a deal to the audience as they appear to be to you.  If doing your set without a hand-held microphone is no big deal to you, it will be a non-issue to the audience. The same goes for your bald head, paunch, cleft lip, whatever.

Mentally, I divide my stand-up into a handful of routines, or, to save time, I call “bits”. They are, in the generic order I do them, whatever that means:

family; drinking; work/little man; S.F. vs. L.V.;/gambling; dad; headlines; nude cruise; reading; credit/ID theft; stimulus/ hair gel/flying;

I did not write out any of these routines in anything close to a linear fashion. As outlined above, I just wrote stuff down throughout the day and over the above themes emerged and coalesced as I cherry-picked jokes like these.

By not straying from my comfort zone I’ve been able, over time, to generate a stand-up comedy act which aesthetically and temperamentally suits me nicely enough. If I am going to write anything of any length, though, I’ll l have to leave my comfort zone.

When I’m ready, I’ll let you know about it.

Thanks for reading,

Dave

Return to www.daviDDeeble.com

Big, Empty and Quiet: 7 Ways to Foster Energy in an Otherwise Dead Room

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Sometimes by solving one problem you create another.

This came to mind recently when I performed on a cruise line featuring something called “freestyle cruising”. Long gone are the bad old days when passengers had two choices: dinner followed by a show or a show followed by dinner. Today, passengers make reservations to eat whenever they like – and at an increasing variety of onboard restaurants. In addition to dinner reservations, passengers have a long list of other by-appointment activities to participate in such as rock climbing or ice skating. This means more options for passengers and more onboard revenue for the cruise line. But here’s the rub: as onboard options proliferate, some passengers now complain about a lack of opportunity to take in each night’s headline entertainment.

One cruise line’s solution was to adopt what they call their “3/35” format: instead of the industry standard of two nightly, 45-50 minute performances, passengers now have three seatings to choose from, with each show lasting only 35 minutes.

Having protected itself from passenger complaints about lack of opportunity to get good seats at the shows, the cruise line now receives a new complaint: the extraordinarily low-key atmosphere that prevails these sparsely-attended, third-seating performances. This problem would be less acute in a small venue, but with showrooms at sea increasingly the size of small countries, one of the three shows invariably feels more like a dress rehearsal: an ideal atmosphere for teenagers in the audience to make out in semi-privacy but hardly the high energy environment one strives for in a live show. The message sent is less “It’s showtime!” than “Here’s your third-seating performance now leave us alone, you ding bats.”

Having come the long way around the barn, here are eight simple practices to avoid the “dead room” effect.

1: Provide incentives for people to sit near the stage. In the example above, the cruise line could place on each front-row seat a free bingo card or raffle ticket or one of the  trinkets (coffee mugs, key chains) for which passengers have shown themselves willing to knock over old ladies and infants.

2: Close off the balcony. But what if someone insists on watching from the balcony? Then make something up. Tell them the balcony seats have just been shampooed. That it’s just been fumigated and poisonous for a while. Or better yet, be straightforward and tell them the truth: that it’s your policy to close the balcony so long as there are seats available below.

3: Arrange for ushers to politely encourage people to sit near the front and you’ll find that others will soon follow suit without any prompting. Remember that people are far more inclined to sit near the front if they aren’t the first to do so.

4: Tape-off the back rows or, better yet, splurge for some seat covers  (“Reserved”!) to funnel people toward the sweet spot: front and center.

5: Play some pre-show music already! It can be high-energy like The Beatles’ cover of “Twist and Shout!” or classic ballads like Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Bewitched”. The main that is that it isn’t intrusive and adds to the atmosphere and anticipation. Burning 45-minutes of music onto a disc and playing it on a loop costs pennies and goes a long way to creating the atmosphere you want. What are you waiting for?

6: Three words: balloons, beach balls. I’ve performed for audiences which got so much pre-show enjoyment from watching someone send corkscrew-shaped balloons rocketing toward the ceiling or by batting around a beach ball that I got the impression they would have been content to do so the rest of the evening. If anything, the commencement of the show proper can actually be a letdown (not advised if where beverages are available).

7: For the love of God, have the courtesy to give an on-stage introduction. Asking an entertainer “Would you like an on-stage introduction?” is another way of saying “Are you going to insist I put on some pants?” Don’t fax it in, do your job. If you know a great, short joke that you can tell forwards and backwards, by all means, tell it. If you can engage the audience in anyway, by all means do so. Anything you can do to remind the audience that they are part of the show rather than idle observers is a step in the right direction.

These are just some of the ways to create some energy in an otherwise dead room. If you have thoughts on the subject, leave a comment below.

Return to daviDDeeble.com or see how a head injury forced me to reinvent myself.

Four Ways To Botch An Entertainer’s Introduction

The best introduction I ever received was at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. The comedian who gave it was a big fan of my work and his enthusiasm was hilariously over-the-top yet unmistakably authentic: “Your next performer is unbelievable! How can I describe what he does? There’s no word for it! You just have to see it! You’ve never seen anything like it! I just have to bring him out so you can see for yourself! Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to David Deeble!”

He had the audience laughing during the introduction in such a way that suggested they were thinking one thing: I have to see who he’s talking about.

While no entertainer should expect to be introduced each time with such unbridled enthusiasm, this anecdote does provide some clues ensure that you don’t inadvertently place the evening’s entertainment behind the 8 ball before it’s even begun.

Below are a two of the best ways for emcees, event planners and entertainers to make an entertainer’s introduction an energy-depleting momentum-killer.

ENTERTAINERS:

MAKE YOUR INTRODUCTION AS COMPLICATED AS POSSIBLE

Simple, straightforward introductions are for celebrities whose accomplishments are well-known, not for you! I like to think of my introduction as indistinguishable from my resumé: “Tell them I’ve performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Last Comic Standing and America’s Got Talent – in that order. Then say I appear regularly at the Magic Castle in Hollywood – don’t forget the in Hollywood part – and that I’ve opened up for Ray Romano and Kevin James. Then tell them I specialize in performing at private functions and corporate events. Then tell them my website – www.daviddeeble.com – that’s two d’s, understand? – and conclude with ‘Please welcome the comedy of David Deeble!’ But with feeling, okay?”

INTRODUCERS, EMCEES AND EVENT PLANNERS:

YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE SUBMITTED A STRAIGHTFORWARD, EASY-TO-UTTER INTRODUCTION

This is a corollary of the above. Sure, memorizing a lengthy, in-depth bio and relating it to the audience with unmistakeable zeal is difficult, but don’t forget your place. After all, you’re dealing with an entertainer and showing deference should be your highest priority. Whatever you do, suppress the courage and commonsense to say “I want to give you the best introduction possible. I suggest we shorten this introduction and make up for the missing credits by bringing you onstage with lots of energy and enthusiasm”.

BEGIN THE INTRODUCTION BY DIVULGING THE NAME OF THE ENTERTAINER

By all means, take the wind out of the show’s sails! Performers tend to rise to the occasion when their name is followed by applause, so why not begin by stating the name of the entertainer followed seamlessly by the rest of the introduction? Better yet, conclude the introduction by omitting the performer’s name and let the introduction just kind of trail off. Here’s how you would put me behind the 8 ball: “David Deeble is a comedy juggler. Let’s give him nice welcome.

CONTAIN YOUR ENTHUSIASM, IF ANY

If you are a personal fan the work of the entertainer you are introducing, why on earth would you want to let the audience in on it? All it does is give the entertainer one of the best imprimaturs there is: a testimonial. Your introduction should say, in effect: “I don’t know who this gal is and the fact that I’m introducing her does not imply an endorsement on my part. I have been tasked with introducing her to you and that is all. Anyway, here she is.”

An introduction can set the stage for a fantastic evening of entertainment or leave the audience wondering if now would be a good time to sneak in a smoke. If you have any thoughts on what makes or breaks an entertainer’s introduction, leave your comments below.