Comedy FAQ’s & Answers by Dave Schwensen

I approached Comedy FAQs with trepidation as I intended to read the book through and not with a particular FAQ in mind. However, the book appears to be a solid resource of comedy advice with a broad range of focus from pure novice to working comedian. The book is written by Dave Schwensen, a talent coordinator for comedy clubs, network, and cable television. Billed as an FAQ, the book is separated by questions from comedians, Schwenson’s personal response and then discussion of the same topic by one or more professionals. The questions are sub-divided into four categories: Pre-Stage, On Stage, Off-Stage and Backstage. Interviews included a wide variety of comedians such as George Carlin, Margaret Cho, Richard Jeni, Mark Curry and Greg Giraldo. Each one offering personal anecdotes and great advice; spoiler alert, last section has an awesome piece with Carlin discussing writing. There are a lot of topics that I would have never dreamed of asking about and responses I found very surprising such as breaking into the college market and corporate shows.

Now, the book was far from perfect. There were no fewer than three glaring errors which would have been caught by anyone capable of pressing spell check. There were several side boxes with definitions, a comedian’s ‘job description’ etc that were not integrated into the text very well. In fact, some of these side boxes appeared to be padded with unnecessary verbiage to fill space. Second, reading the beginning of the book was physically painful for me. If you have been in comedy ever, skip to the questions that apply to you—the further into the book the better. The opening takes a lot of barnyard tours to answer simple questions and Schwensen tries to insert jokes into many of the early responses to the book. I am guessing many of these are artifacts of his live workshops which do not cross over to print readily. Schwensen does include some wordplay in other parts of the book, but, thankfully, focuses more on the topics. He also, in the first couple questions, kept reiterating that the goal was to make people laugh which, I would hope, is obvious. I also question the utility of including verbatim e-mails with comedian questions. I think that rephrasing the question for the sake of clarity (and brevity) would have been sufficient to start each section. However, I want to emphasize that these quirks fade away about seven questions (20 pages) into the book and are broken up with interviews that provide strong information.

I would love to see a second edition of this book printed. First, it still references sending in videotapes which (I’m putting my neck out here) I don’t believe are in use as much anymore with the continued movement into digital formats and DVD hardware. Also, I’ve seen discussion on acting websites that submissions are becoming increasingly digital which may change how people invest in promotional materials. This along with the fact that at least three of the comics interviewed for this book have passed away gives the book a slightly dated feel despite it only being six years old. Second, I’m sure there are many new questions these days (e.g. the place of social media technologies in stand-up comedy promotion).

I would say this book is a good reference for comedians are moving up from amateur to professional and need professional advice. Personally, I found several sections to be very informative, and I will be giving those particular sections another read through.

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