What Makes a Great Radio Show for Comics (and tips on how to maximize your appearance)

With a Fan in BIrmingham, outside the Stardome.

Just got back from doing one of my favorite radio shows in the country, Dave and Carole. This Milwaukee morning show (I’m at the Comedy Cafe this week) is great for comics.  Dave does a great job of setting up the comic and Carole has great instincts on when to jump in and elevate the comedy. The two of them are good laughers, but it never seems inauthentic. They should write a textbook and send it out to other radio shows on how best to help a standup succeed over the airwaves.

Having a good appearance is a two-way street, though. Comics should do a little research on what the format is for the station.  For example, if it’s a younger demo (alt.rock) you should do material that connects more with single people.  If you are are on a country station, you need to try to be more cheerful and more family oriented.  It also helps if you listen to some of the show before you go on-air, so you can get a feel for the pace of the hosts and maybe you will get something you can play off of that they were talking about earlier.

The most important thing you can learn is not to just throw jokes out, but make your funny fit in a conversational tone.  For example, I can remember early on I was on a radio show in Dallas and I did my closing bit (at the time) about dating a bi-sexual woman who I called Slinky.  The design of this bit is more like a street joke and when I finished telling it, the hosts groaned. They should have because the way I told it was in a corny standup comic way. I know now I could do the joke and it would do better because I learned from that experience that you have to change the way you deliver material on the radio.  You are best served by speaking more conversationally and make the comedy come off in a seamless fashion, instead of like when you are standing in front of a brick wall.

One other thing about radio is that it is MUCH BETTER to be in-studio as a standup. Having to call-in (phoners) just don’t work as well. The reason for this is because if you are in-studio together, you have the host(s) undivided attention and there is way less of everyone interrupting each other in mid-sentence. There is definitely something about having a human interaction in the room together. This is why salespeople are never going to the majority of their work with some kind of Facetime/Skype technology.

Recently a sports station was nice enough to allow me to do a segment with them, in conjunction with me appearing at the local comedy in the city. I told them I would come in whenever they would like me to, but the host said he would prefer just to do a phoner they could tape. I tried to explain that it would be better in-studio, but sports stations rarely, if ever, have a comic in, so I think he was uncomfortable with that. I’m also sure he felt like he had more control over the segment if he taped it, so he could splice and dice if it didn’t go well. Well the segment went just okay…but it would have been at least twice as good if I when in-studio. Sometimes logistics just make it impossible to do anything but a phoner, but if you can, always try to do a live bit. I tell clubs I will come the night before, as long as they pick up the hotel, so I can guarantee to be in-studio. It makes a big difference which definitely translates into ticket sales, if anyone is actually listening to the station.

It was cool today that when I got to the Dave and Carole studios, their producer (Marcus) handed me a copy of their latest best of CD and my last appearance was on it. What made it even better was that the only other non-show regulars on it were my friend Mary Mack and this hack comic named Bill Cosby. I’m not going to kid you, it’s cool to see your name on CD with Bill Freaking Cosby. That gave me even more confidence when I came in-studio to really slam and I did. One of my favorite radio appearances I’ve ever had.

(Yes, every once in awhile I’m a little self-congratulatory here. I promise I will get back to my nightmare hellgigs soon.)

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