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A Lesson from The Fan on Comedy

In 1996 a fairly bad movie called The Fan came out.  It starred Robert DeNiro and Wesley Snipes as an obsessed baseball fan and the object of that obsession, respectively (in case you thought the old white guy was the athlete and the cut black guy was the fan).  After murdering a rival interfering with Snipes’ character’s success, DeNiro has a conversation with Snipes hoping to receive some indirect credit for his daring actions, but is instead told by Snipes that his renewed success was the result of no longer caring.  Accepting that it is merely a game and that there are more important things than baseball relaxed him to the point of re-gaining his skills.

I feel like the same advice, applied in a different and much more “Murphy’s Law”, could apply to my comedy career.  In 2013, the comedy videos I made stemmed from a “who gives a sh*t” and “what are they gonna do, continue to not book me?” attitude grew my reach exponentially and garnered me a bit of respect, as well as a fair number of requisite haters.  I had been in a comedy troupe and decided I did not like the cautious direction they were taking so I struck out on my own and starting making the videos (since April the video view score is 380,000 to approximately 2,000).  Here’s the clip from the fan if you don’t know it:

Of course, the flip side to all of this effort was less time working a paying job and more time producing content that was free to enjoy, but not free to produce.  Also detrimental was being part of an entertainment community with increasingly cautious rising stars who claim to be free speech warriors, but are generally safe in the content they produce (e.g. accepted controversial targets like religion, which are actually incredibly safe in the warm bosom of comedy) and the targets they question.  Veterans and newbies like my stuff, but those rising middle class doesn’t seem to embrace my stuff as much.  They are like the Republican voters (I will avoid a house-field slave comparison – oops) who do not have the 1% loot, but may have a shot (or think they have a shot at it) so they vote against their current interests in hopes of being part of the 1% one day.  Comedy Academy, the biggest project I put together in 2013 will definitely be a no holds barred, I-Don’t-Give-A-Single-Fu*k project I have ever done and it will be funny to many, but to the comics with heat they will probably avoid it like the plague because as much as some of these guys act cavalier and brave, they are the ones who now “care” a lot.  Maybe too much.  Oh well.

But that is all preamble to the day job search that I am currently doing.  I even found a few jobs in law that would be perfect for my particular set of skills (which I say like Liam Neeson in interviews) that I applied to in the last week.  Because I am done waiting and worrying about the comedy cliques, booking practices, choices and management-booking synergy that is denying some people of fair shots at spots, I can be a little more relaxed knowing that all I need is just enough money to remove the stress of desperately hoping for industry/cool kid approval.  But this is of course when comedy rears its Murphy’s Law head because just the very week I start finding jobs that would be good for me…. I get 4 paid gigs to round out the month of January (have not had a month like this in 6 months).

I am convinced that comedy is just a spiteful bitch in permanent ex-boyfriend/girlfriend mode – it’s only concern is to keep you emotionally and/or financially insecure.   But fortunately I don’t care anymore so hopefully that means more good news is on its way.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on PodomaticiTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!

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How Comedians Should Approach Black Friday

Thanksgiving is approaching, which used to mean a time for food, football and family, but now it means food, football and “fu*k off that is my discounted gift.”  Many stores are now opening on Thanksgiving to get a head start on trampling part-time workers to death in a race to get items for cheaper.  It is a great way to get discounts, while also getting the thrill of engaging in a real life Hunger Games.  Basically it is the civilized nature of  looting except you pay for the stuff instead of stealing it and tragedy is a result of the looting instead of the cause of it.  I have the convenience of small reserves of cash and a high amount of familial apathy so Black Friday/Douche Thursday (my name for the new shopping day) has little effect for me.  But as a seller of goods (or as I call my CDs “greats”) I realize in this day and age I need to offer Black Friday deals for comedy fans.  But in a day of $5 downloads, YouTube and a general disdain for paying for on-line content I, along with other comedians need to adjust and make offers that are too good to pass up. So here are my suggestions for how to get people excited about your comedy content this holiday shopping season:

1) Offer things in exchange for buying your albums or other merchandise.  During the year it is tough enough to get people to buy your comedy products, but with Black Friday competition it is nearly impossible.  So the least you can do is offer things to get people to buy what you produced (because the thing you produced may have cost money and may be a quality product, but who the fu*k are you?).  Sort of like going to a movie and demanding free popcorn and soda for showing up.  That is the baseline of comedy purchasers’ expectations. “I bought your album, don’t I get the other three free along with a limited edition engraved mug and watch?”

2) Give stuff for free just to get people to give you their e-mail.  OK, so maybe it was too ambitious to expect people to pay for content, even if you throw in lots of freebies, especially on Black Friday.  So instead, offer them all of your content (on top of videos and podcasts, give them albums, t-shirts, etc.) for free, IF, and only IF, they give you their Hotmail account that they use for spam.  That way you will build a connection to them that they only save for important e-mails about penile enlargement.

3) Do chores for people. On top of offering content for free you should volunteer to clean their house or babysit or wash their car in an effort for them to consider accepting your comedy materials for free.  You may lose time and money, but you will have increased by at least 9% the chances that your comedy album will be a prominent coaster in the guest room of their house.

4) Sexual favors.  People, this is not the normal shopping season – it is Black Friday in the Internet age of $5 Louis CK specials and free viral videos and streaming services!  If you want people to give you their g-mail account to actually see (but still ignore) your newsletter and comedy content you have to be willing to give more of yourself to your potential apathetic fan.

5) Murder for hire.  How committed are you to gaining new fans?  Comedy success and booking opportunities are about access to emails, Twitter followers and YouTube channel subscribers.  On Black Friday I recommend offering to kill a person that your potential fan hates.  If they still cannot follow you on Twitter or share a free video to friends after you kill their nagging landlord or mistress threatening to out their affair then maybe your content is just not that good.  So perhaps you need another couple years of seasoning and skill, but of course there is no guarantee that in the future the environment will be as friendly to content creators as it is now.

Happy Thanksgiving comedians, comedy fans and people who clicked on this by accident.

Check out my web series fund raising campaign here – http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/comedy-academy CAMPAIGN ENDS 11-30-13

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on PodomaticiTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!

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Two Pieces of Unconventional, but Obvious Comedy Advice

A few years ago my then-girlfriend called many comedy clubs on my behalf (never representing herself as an agent or manager, but simply “calling on behalf of J-L Cauvin” to create an impression that someone besides me cared about my comedy career) soliciting work on my behalf.  She got several good responses, several non-responses and one from a manager at a major club that was meant to be rude and sarcastic.  His advice was that “[J-L] should dump his girlfriend, get in a car, travel the road for 2 years going to every club and one-nighter, change his name to something Jewish and start sucking dick.”  Now I took every piece of advice this manager offered, except changing my name because my Catholic faith is too important to me, but I thought today, based on a couple of irritating e-mails I received yesterday that maybe I could offer readers and comedians a couple of pieces of unconventional comedy advice.

Advice #1 – If you are a new comedian or a “soon-to-be” comedian, don’t send this to an actual comedian:

Some aspiring comedian (a guy who says he plans to be a comedian) wrote this exchange with me after sending me a friend request

STBC – I’m a soon to be comedian

J-L – Ahh

STBC  – Me as a comedian I have the whole package (reminder he is a guy who is planning to do comedy)

J-L – Congrats. Why are you telling me?

STBC – some have the talent to it but not business material not knowing and preparing well you can be talented you don’t know the business very well as a superstar

This was the entire exchange.  I understand people like this exist, but my advice is if you are a swaggering tool who has never picked up a mic, don’t email comedians you do not know telling them how great you are.

Advice #2 – Do not join a group of comedians if you are the only one with chops and/or ethics.

Yesterday I spent the whole day e-mailing clubs and schools for gigs.  I received an e-mail back from a school that I performed at twice as part of a group and the e-mail said “Oh no – we had no idea you were not still in the group when we re-booked the group.”  Never, I repeat, never join a group with unfunny people, no matter how industrious or friendly they appear to be, because if they do not have the chops to do comedy then they are just playing a money grab game.  And they will grab your money when they get the chance.  I’d name them and detail all their transgressions, but that wouldn’t do anything unless you want to track down some unfunny content from insignificant, amoral people. And who needs that?

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!

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10 Ways to Make Your Comedy Career Sound Good…

One of the harsh realities of the comedy business is that it is tough to make a living.  As one comedy club booker on the road told me “it’s a buyer’s market” for comedy talent so unless you are a) a local or grandfathered-in favorite, b) have management extorting spots for you, by using their more prominent clients as leverage with clubs or c) are independently and/or unlimitedly wealthy or have a measure of fame, the road is no longer a really viable existence for a working comedian (look no further than the unregulated comedy club management business to see what a marketplace does to workers without any regulation or fair standards – workers get paid the same or less than 20 years ago).  As a NYC resident there are many clubs around and I can get a guest spot at almost all of them (guest spot generally means unpaid).  Guest spots are sort of like being a dumb slut of comedy – you have value and are respected for things you can do at night, but not enough for clubs to acknowledge your connection publicly.  So just being funny and working hard are not enough to make a living and focus full time on comedy without belonging to one of the aforementioned categories.  Of course producing things like podcasts and high quality videos, necessary ways of expanding your comedy portfolio to gain more notice, also take money.  Sometimes people say you need to spend money to make money.  My comedy saying is you need to have money to make money.  So that means it is time to dust off the real resume and update it. 

The first problem when you have been doing comedy full time for 4 1/2 years (and over ten years overall – it is a nighttime business so the only things I was missing out on for the first 6 years was road work) is that you have a gap in your resume of real employment.  Now with my last full time source of income being a sizeable law firm in New York City the gap may look to subsequent employers like I was caught up in some sort of corporate fraud, or given my size, perhaps a violent incident. 

“So, what have you been doing since 2009.”

“Getting my soul raped.”

“Oh, prison?”

“”No. comedy.”

Now I understand my situation may not be unique in the comedy world, though it may not be commonplace either.  So I have been working to figure out how to help comedians adjust their resume to make their full time comedy experiences appear more enticing to regular employers. So here are my ways of bolstering your resume comedians:

1) Run a weekly podcast for only a few listeners = “have successfully sound engineered audio programming for over a dozen clients”

2) E-mail bookers without responses = “routinely corresponded with and advised corporate leaders on ways they could improve their businesses”

3) Travelling on Greyhound and Southwest to gigs because the gigs pay little money = “spearheaded green energy initiatives to reduce greenhouse emissions in public transit”

4) Producing YouTube videos = “Coordinated with Google to produce on-line content”

5) Embarrassing or offensive tweets = “engaged in social media outreach on controversial and hot button media topics”

6) Guest spots at clubs = “engaged in volunteer work and community service with local businesses”

7) Sleeping with club waitresses = “organized and scheduled events for food service industries”

8 ) Selling hacky t-shirts after shows = “successfully created and sold artistic designs to market”

9) Running a bar show/Barking = “coordinated social events for numerous small businesses and engaged in community outreach for those events”

10) Out of money from comedy = “currently seeking new and challenging opportunities to utilize my skills A/K/A great around the water cooler”

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday!

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10 Years In Comedy – The Worst and Best…

The celebration of my ten years in comedy continues this week with another retrospective post.  Admittedly, Monday’s post had the celebratory feel of a 9/11 memorial service so with today’s post I hope to offer something a little more instructive and even-handed.  My ten years in comedy have taught me many things, both good and bad and I thought I would share what I believe my worst and best decisions were in those ten years and how they impacted my career.

As is my nature let’s start with the worst decision.  For many comedians, both delusional (majority) and realistic, the goal is to get management.  Having someone reputable and connected guiding you, but more importantly for tangible benefits, getting you in front of people with power in entertainment, has become the holy grail to most comedians.  A lot of comedians talk that rap of  “I just want to get better,” but getting better, especially early on, when the highs from compliments and laughs are super high, is really just a means to the end of money and recognition, if not fame.  I once had management.  I had sent out a mass mailing to a bunch of agencies and even though I was only 4 years in to comedy, I believed (correctly) that my volume and quality of material was at least moving beyond my peers so I thought – “it’s time for me to take the next step!”  I sent a DVD/headshot/resume (which included every club I had done an open mic at) to dozens of managers and crossed my fingers.

To my surprise, several months after doing the initial mailing I received an email from someone at a very well known management company.  It surprised me that they would contact me over some smaller outfits that I had reached out to, but so be it.  I ended up having some very good conversations with Jamie, the manager who contacted me and then a very inspiring call with the head of the entire company.  After that I was submitted for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and before you could say “Who the fu*k is J-L Cauvin?” I was booked for the show.  I ended up getting one other regional television booking a couple of months later, all while higher-ups at the agency kept telling me to move to California.  However, my name was not signed to any paper, signifying an official relationship and although confident that I was funny, I was not confident enough to leave NYC on the encouragement of people working in the most dishonest business in the world.  But Jamie continued to call me once a week to chat and to tell me about things he wanted to submit me for.  On a personal front he also made a few correct predictions about my ex-fiancee.

But then just as I felt like I was building momentum Jamie was let go (as it was presented to me) by the management company.  And I had a very abrupt decision to make – do I stick with the individual who has helped me or do I stick with the big name company with more connections?  I chose the company – or the road more frequently travelled – and that made all the difference unfortunately.  My ex-fiancee and I broke up and I had a subsequent pair of mediocre showcases (though one was a NACA college showcase and last time I checked – student body presidents from small colleges in the Dakotas are not power players in Hollywood) in the wake of that personal annoyance.  The management company quickly lost interest, but did not tell me to look elsewhere for representation for another 6 months.  Meanwhile, Jamie now represents several writers in Hollywood and appears as loyal as ever to his talent. 

Since my decision to stick with the name instead of the person I have not been back on television and have had to hustle and fight for every small piece of the comedy pie that I have had over the last 5+ years.  Who knows what would have happened if I had stuck with Jamie.  Perhaps nothing, but having someone who believes in you in your corner is something that, I have learned the hard way, is invaluable in entertainment.   So if there are any young comics struggling or comics just starting to see a rise in their fortunes, choose the person who believes in you over the person who impresses you the most (assuming, of course some base level of competency in management for both parties – needless to say the woman in my building that I chat with in the laundry room believes in my comedy 100%, but I would not have her manage my career).  It is a mistake I have made and will not make again.  It is the same logic that showed why Boof was such a better choice than Pamela in Teen Wolf.  Someone who believes in you will give effort that cannot be intellectually manufactured.  They will fight as hard as you because they share your belief in yourself.

So what is possibly the good decision here of this ten year journey?  Well, recently I had a couple of meetings with managers, based largely off of the success of the Louis CK video (their lack of subsequent contact has given me comfort knowing I may not need to make a tough decision on picking representation).  I also got an opportunity to do a web series shortly after leaving a comedy group that I had been part of.  These are small things, but they are the result of a simple decision I made –  to stop trying to be successful.  This was more a mental choice.  I still work as hard as I have been, but I now have removed expectations on myself.  The only demands I place on myself are to make good comedy and good comedy products.   Anything after that is not really in my hands.  So when a young comedian says they only want to get good I don’t believe them.  You have to have that natural inclination to egotistical attitude humbled out of you (I don’t even mean bragging or talking sh*t – I just mean that intoxicating feeling that takes hold of you early in your career when a good looking woman tells you you were funny or when a crowd pumps you up – it is too strong early on not to have your ego, even if quietly, take some control of your expectations). Some guys keep rising and then believe they can pontificate on what it means to be a comedian, but their experience is the exception, not the rule.  I now just want to be great because that is all that is left for me to aim for.  When no other validation seems available or possible that is when being great at comedy for comedy’s sake can really and finally take hold. 

So I guess this whole post could summarized by saying the worst decision I made in comedy was putting my faith in the wrong people and the best decision I made was letting go of the mental state that got me to have misplaced faith in the first place.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!

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Comedian Speaks At South Bronx High School Career Fair…

A few months ago I was asked by a friend of a friend who had seen me perform at Gotham Comedy Club if I would be willing to discuss my career at their South Bronx high school career fair.  My first question was, “which career – my defunct practice of law or my depressing practice of comedy?”  The answer was all of the above.  Now truth be told it was rather ironic to ask me to speak to young people about my two careers, because other than print journalism I am not sure you could pick two careers more on a path to destruction than law and comedy.  My guess is that law will be the first white collar profession to start going the way of manufacturing in America.  Companies are looking to get leaner and reduce their legal expenditures, and other than the absolute top legal talent which will always be in demand and command top dollar, much of the grunt work done in private practice will eventually be automated.  Fortunately government work will always exist as long as we have a society that has both an increasingly large group of have-nots and for-profit prisons because people will always be needed to defend and prosecute crimes.

Not only did I bring this uplifting message about a career in law, but I also brought a wealth of knowledge on how to not succeed at comedy despite doing everything under the sun to increase exposure and develop one’s comedic skill set.  Thanks to Twitter and YouTube, which have everyone thinking they are hilarious, and a system that favors cheap labor force (newcomers who do bringers and local mediocre talent to emcee and feature without the need for lodging) and benefits the already established upper echelon of comedic talent (unlike many of the banking 1%, at least the comedic 1% still has to work hard and provide an actual product to people to maintain their elevated status), the ability of an up and coming, hard working talent to rise through the ranks by simply working hard as a comedian is becoming more and more difficult.

I was inspiring kids in the tradition of great lecturers like Dewey Finn.

But despite this depressing duo of life failure I of course said yes for a couple of reasons.  The first reason was this had the potential finally to be my moment to plant the seed of an inspirational movie.  After all my father is Morgan Freeman black and my Mom is even whiter than Michelle Pfeiffer so let’s just get Lean On Dangerous Minds into production already!  The second and more serious reason is that it is important for inner city kids to see people from different walks of life and to get real exposure to careers that they might not encounter in great abundance, or at all, in their neighborhood.  Having been lucky enough to go to an elite private school, most kids have Ivy League on their minds from the first day of high school and even if your parents were not lawyers, bankers or doctors, many of your classmates’ parents were.  We often take this exposure for granted, but in some communities “college is a white people thing,” is a common idea, not because of some laziness, but because it is so unfamiliar to them (this was an actual quote a friend of heard at a Boys and Girls Club a few years back from a black teenager).  So before I resume mocking myself and the career fair, the idea behind the career fair is essential to broadening the minds of kids like those I met yesterday.

And of course the third reason I said yes is that I love the Bronx because it is full of Latin women.

So I arrived at the career fair and my name tag said J-L Cauvin – “Comedians At Law.” I chose to use Comedians At Law, my touring band of lawyers-turned-comedians, because at least it was an eye catching and semi-respectable title for an affiliation. My other options were “J-L Cauvin – 270 pounds of wasted potential” or “J-L Cauvin – ticking time bomb.”  In other words it may have said “career fair,” but I occuppied that thin line between “inspirational career fair” and “scared straight program.”

 

"You wanna be a fu*king comedian!?? You want your family to cry all the time? You wanna eat in airport and Greyhound bus stops??"

 

I sat down at a table flanked by an attorney, an actor/aspiring producer and a speech coach and waited for the kids to come in and soak up my years of bitter knowledge.  Of course I immediately became a softie when these kids came in. I underestimated how young 10th and 11th graders actually look and finally was willing to admit to myself that R. Kelly really may have been in the wrong.  Despite the youth of some of these kids their questions seemed oddly adult and parental.  Here’s a sample:

  • “What made you go from law to comedy?” Truth: Laid Off What I said: I wanted to follow my passion.
  • “Don’t you make more money as a lawyer?” Yes. (while holding back tears of rage)
  • “How come I never seen you on TV?” What I said: Because I was on at 130 in the morning. What I wanted to say: Who is Your English teacher?  And you are a 16 year old Latino with a tongue stud so you are not in my target demographic.
  • “What’s your best joke” What I said: I don’t really tell joke jokes, but more like funny mini stories that aren’t safe for high school.  What I wanted to say: Well it starts with anal sex with an ex girlfriend…
  • “Have you been on Comedy Central?” (no answer – I just walked out and went to the train to go home)
"YOU WANNA BE A COMEDIAN?? YOU KNOW WHAT IT DOES? IT KILLS YOUR BRAIN CELLS SON IT KILLS YOUR BRAIN CELLS!!!!

This was just a sampling of the interactions I had, but it was a worthwhile event for these kids.  They were able to meet many people in different fields from acting to PR to computer science to medicine, and that is all well and good, but I would like to think that I may have done the best work of anyone.  Thanks to me, dozens of kids in the South Bronx met me and will now probably avoid attempting careers in law and stand up comedy like the plague.  Now they have a fighting chance at a good life.