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Don’t Make These Mistakes

Applause Break surveyed some of the nation's top comics, asking them to help new comics by identifying common mistakes made by stand-up newbies.

by Chuck king
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DELRAY BEACH – Scaling the stand-up comedy mountain isn’t easy.

For every Kevin Hart, Jim Gaffigan or Dave Chappelle, there are thousands of aspiring entertainers who never make it far from that barroom base camp stage.

How do comics reach the summit and become elite? It starts with being funny – genuinely funny. But there’s much more.

Last week representatives from South Florida Improvs held a highly praised presentation detailing their process for booking acts. The Improv instructed local comics on what they can do to improve their chances at success.

Applause Break is approaching the subject from a different angle.

In the first installment of our Comedy Classroom series, Applause Break asked some of comedy’s heavy hitters a simple question: What are the biggest mistakes young comics make?

Below are some of their responses, compiled into a list of the Top 12 Mistakes New Comics Make. Hopefully this list will aid in the climb not only for South Florida comics, but comics everywhere.

TOP MISTAKES NEW COMICS MAKE

No. 1 – Thinking You Have More Material Than You Really Do
“I tell every new comic, 2-3 minutes max should be your first time up because you’re dealing with so much of the newness of the lights, the mic, the audience. The first time I went up there it was like a whitewash in my brain. Don’t try to go 5, 10. You don’t have 5-10 minutes. You’ve got 2-3. And you’ve got to absorb the experience first.” – Dean Napolitano, national touring comic with multiple television and movie credits who is currently producing his own one-man show.

No. 2 – Trying Too Hard To Emulate Another Comic
About 95 percent of us get into this because we saw a comedian and were like, ‘Oh my god, I want to do that, I want to be that.’ For me it was Robin Williams, so when I started I had a lot of Robin Williamsy things in my act but I developed my own thing. You can use a comic to emulate as a stepping-off point, but don’t try to be the comic that you emulate. Be yourself who is influenced by that person.” – Flip Schultz, veteran of the South Florida and Los Angeles comedy scenes, who has numerous television and movie credits. An accomplished writer, Schultz recently collaborated with Dana Carvey.

No. 3 – Equating Vulgarity With Comedy
“They come out really, really dirty. They think that’s what’s funny. That’s your first sign of an amateur. They go for the shock value to get the laugh and not the creativity for the laugh.” – Rene Harte, co-owner/general manager, Palm Beach Improv

No. 4 – Hanging Out Only With Other New Comics
“I’m not saying don’t hang out with open micers or other young comics. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is, you’re not going to learn anything. You’re really not. Go to real comedy clubs or go to comedy shows that have older, professional comedians. Some of these comics may suck, you never know. But you’re going to learn something by just watching – even if it’s what not to do. Learning from a guy who started a week earlier than you did is not going to teach you much.” – Joey Medina, international touring comic who came to fame as one of the Original Latin Kings of Comedy

No. 5 – Expecting Overnight Success
“It’s going to be a while before you start getting paid. Don’t think you’re going to be on Letterman in a year-and-a-half – although it’s happened before.” – Carl Rimi, headliner, actor and producer who’s currently in the final stages of production of his movie, iPossessed.

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No. 6 – Relying Too Much On Audience Participation
“A lot of young comics (ask an audience member), ‘So where are you from?’ They’re using that to get to their next joke. But whenever you ask the audience questions you’re giving up power. I would say to young comics, don’t poll the audience just to go somewhere. Make statements more than ask questions.” – Bret Ernst, national touring comic who portrays Cousin Louie on the hit NetFlix show “Cobra Kai.” Ernst is in the final stages of his third stand-up special, “Domesticated Animal.”

No. 7 – Not Being Prepared For Inspiration
“Always have a notepad. There’s something about seeing your handwriting and seeing the doodling, it kind of brings you back to the essence of the joke. Don’t worry about spelling. Don’t worry about all that stuff. Just get the idea down.” – Ramon Garcia, headliner and comedy instructor at South Florida Improvs.

No. 8 – Trying To Hide On Stage
“One of the mistakes young comics make is taking the microphone out but not moving the mic stand. I feel like they are still guarding themselves with the microphone stand. I think that’s a big one.” – Jamie Blanchard, Veteran Midwest headliner who recently relocated to South Florida.

No. 9 – Not Realizing They Suck
“I think I see a lot of comics not writing. You’ve got to have new stuff. You’ve got to work it out. And a lot of comics will say their jokes and they’ll bomb – which is completely normal – and then they won’t change them. They just keep saying it that way. You’ve got to listen to the joke. You’ve got to change it up. You’ve got to listen to your sets. And you’ve got to realize you suck. A lot of good new comics think they’re just great. That’s a nail in the coffin. You’ve got to think you suck. You’ve got to be aware you’re shitty. Everybody just thinks they are awesome. Self awareness is important.” – Mark Normand, one of America’s hottest touring comics and writers who’s resume includes a stack of late night television appearances.

No. 10 – Placing Too Much Emphasis On Social Media
“You see these kids doing the social media and it’s dumb content. The problem is, that shit lasts forever. It’s like doing a porno movie. It’s never going to be off the internet. What they should be doing is working on their writing.” – Jimmy Shubert, national touring comic with decades of stage and acting experience.

No. 11 – Moving To A Big City Before They’re Ready
“Moving to a major market too soon – going there and assuming you’ll get to New York, you’ll get to L.A., and you’ll just hit the mic scene hard enough that you’ll become this measurably better comedian. Don’t go to one of those cities without a plan – especially in the modern age. There’s so much potential to elevate yourself on social media and gain a following to where you might actually be useful in those cities or be a bargaining chip. Just going there without a plan is a waste of time.” – Sean Finnerty, national touring comic and former co-host of Amazon Prime’s Fireball Run.

No. 12 – Forgetting To Have Fun
“They forget how important it is to look like you’re having fun on stage. They don’t realize that. I think that’s so important. The crowd’s got to think that you are having a good time and young comics don’t get that, yet. They get too caught up in their head about the words and the jokes and all that shit and forget to be goofy and have fun.” – Tim Hanlon, fast-rising comic who, along with Matt Bellak, are currently touring nationally as the Dope City Comedy Tour.

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