Comedians Behind The Mic
April 21, 2015
While preparing to conduct a workshop for the 4th Annual Comics Rock convention, I am once again reminded of some of the misconceptions by comedians of being on the air. The convention's founder and organizer, comedian Hope Flood, was reminiscing on all the things she had to learn when she worked for me as a member of BJ Murphy's Morning Show in Dallas. My mind was fresh on the subject because of a conversation I had earlier in the week with someone who was replacing a member of their ensemble cast.
It Looks Easy
This happens a lot, a comedian sits in with a personality or personalities to promote their performance at a local club. The comic has a good time and wants to know how they can join your crew or get on the radio somewhere else. The next thing you know your GM is commenting how funny the show was and your brain starts to mull over the possibilities. Meanwhile the comedian is already contemplating a steady paycheck and how easy it will be to make things funny.
What Do Some of Them Think?
While preparing for the workshop, it dawned on me that I had never asked Hope what her misconceptions were before her stint for me as a radio co-host.
Hope: Sam, when BJ asked me to join his morning show, I had to learn what was expected of me. I remember flying into Dallas and meeting with you, I was glad that you trusted BJ enough to want to hire me for his team. I hear a lot of the same things from other comics that I didn't understand at first.
Hope: Well, learning how to let listeners and guests express their opinions without pushing mine. I learned not to be the controversy, but to talk about it. Please make sure you address that in the workshop.
Coach: What was hard for you?
Hope: Not having an audience and having to trust my team for feedback. I had to learn other ways to test my views on some things before mentioning anything on the air. Getting up so early every morning was really hard and doing my part for daily show prep took a little time; focusing so early was hard. Comedians work late and wake up. Also, I had to pick up on knowing when to put myself into the conversation and when to hold back.
Coach: When I critiqued the show, I always tried to make sure you understood what I was trying to get you guys to do. I encouraged you and the team to work together off the air to learn each other.
Hope: I was lucky that BJ and the other co-hosts were experienced in radio and had worked together as a team long before I joined them. I could not believe how much we hung out and practiced off the air. It did make it easy.
Coach: Tell me some of the things you think I should stress in the workshop.
Hope: That thing you used to tell me about radio being free.
Coach: Yes, people pay to come and see comics perform, but radio is free and listeners are coming in free; a lot of families and kids are listening. It is about building listenership as opposed to people coming to see you in a secured area.
Hope: Yeah, that's it. I guest on various shows of my comic friends with shows on Blog Talk radio. They need to, as you say, learn the process of how to take what they know and make it work for radio.
Coach: It is true; something can be funny on the stage or TV in one way, but it might need to be dealt with differently for radio. I am not necessarily talking about language as much as how to relate to the consumer attention span.
Hope: You worked with Sheryl Underwood and some with Rudy Rush; how was that for you?
Coach: It was a learning experience for me, working with successful stand-up stage performers gave me a chance to observe their strengths. But I knew the number-one thing was not to try and make them radio personalities. They needed to understand the process of on-air business, staying in their lane, expectations, and the pace for the daily grind. I was lucky they were both open to leaning how to use their strengths without taking away their ability to be fun as well as funny.
Hope: One last thing, make sure you cover how to conduct interviews.
Coach: I will and I am looking forward to working with your attendees.
Checking With Others
Getting perspective from a comedian/entertainer who had the experience of learning how to interact within a radio entertainment ensemble provides a clearer picture of how to help others who might enter the radio arena.
I took my conversation with comedian Hope Flood and cross-checked it with Elroy Smith; he worked with Steve Harvey; Skip Dillard, currently working with Harvey and Earthquake; and Rob Wagman, who helped guide Nick Cannon. All three generally agreed on three key elements for entertainers to successfully work in commercial radio:
- Be coachable
- Learn how to condense material
- Being funny isn't always necessary, being fun is